Off-White and Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh

Remembering the great architects and designers we lost in 2021

As part of our ongoing 2021 review, Dezeen remembers the architects and designers who passed away this year, including designer Virgil Abloh and architects Helmut Jahn and Art Gensler.

Other legends who died in 2021 include architects Owen Luder and Paulo Mendes da Rocha and fashion designer Alber Elbaz.

Here we remember 12 of the greats we lost in 2021.


Virgil Abloh portrait

Virgil Abloh

Having originally trained as an architect, American-Ghanaian designer Virgil Abloh transformed the fashion industry by merging streetwear culture with luxury fashion and products. Abloh had previously worked as an artistic director for Kanye West before founding his own brands including streetwear label Pyrex Vision and luxury brand Off-White.

In 2017 he became French fashion house Louis Vuitton's first Black creative director and showed his debut collection for the house at the Palais-Royale gardens in 2018. He passed away in November of this year after a private battle with cancer.

Find out more about Virgil Abloh


Helmut Jahn
Photo is by Ingrid von Kruse

Helmut Jahn

Architect Helmut Jahn, known for numerous buildings across Chicago including the postmodern James R Thompson Center, was killed in a bicycle crash near his home in Campton Hills, a suburb of Chicago, in May 2021.

Born in Germany in 1940, Jahn began studying architecture at the Technical University of Munich. After emigrating to the US to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he left the school in 1967 without a degree and joined American architecture studio C F Murphy Associates. The studio was renamed Murphy/Jahn in 1981 and later just Jahn in 2012.

Other works by the architect include the Sony Centre complex in Berlin, the United Airlines Terminal One at O'Hare Airport and the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

Find out more about Helmut Jahn ›


Fashion designer Alber Elbaz
Photo is by A.KOO

Alber Elbaz

Israeli fashion designer Alber Elbaz, famed for his 14-year tenure as creative director of French label Lanvin, passed away aged 59 in April as a result of Covid-19.

Elbaz, who was born in Morocco, began his fashion career in New York at a bridal atelier before working as head of ready-to-wear at French fashion house Guy Laroche. Following his success at Laroche, Elbaz was appointed creative director at Yves Saint Laurent. He is perhaps best known for his work as the creative director of Lanvin from 2001 to 2015.

After Lanvin, Elbaz left the fashion industry until launching his own brand, AZ Fashion, in February 2021.

"With the sudden passing of Alber Elbaz, the fashion industry has lost one of its brightest and most sensitive designers," said Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief executive Bernard Arnault on Twitter.

Find out more about Alber Elbaz ›


Architect and interior designer Art Gensler
Photo is by Emily Hagopian

Art Gensler

American architect, interior designer and founder of the world's largest architecture firm, Gensler, Art Gensler passed away aged 85 in May after suffering from a long-term illness.

Gensler founded his architecture practice in San Francisco in 1965 with his late wife, Drue Gensler, and James Follett, growing the firm to 50 offices across the world. Gensler is best known for large-scale architecture projects including the 632-metre-tall Shanghai Tower, which is the world's second-tallest building,

The architect was diagnosed with lung disease 18 months before his death, but continued his work for the practice until the end and still had meetings scheduled when he passed away.

Find out more about Art Gensler ›


Portrait of Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Paulo Mendes da Rocha

Described as a "living legend" when receiving the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2017, Paulo Mendes da Rocha was recognised as a major architect of the 20th century, even though his projects were rarely built outside of Brazil. He was highly decorated and received many awards during his career including the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Mendes da Rocha was born in Vitória, Brazil in 1928 and graduated from the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie College of Architecture in 1954, establishing his São Paulo-based practice the next year.

As he typically worked with masses of raw concrete, Mendes da Rocha was often tied to Brazilian brutalism although it was a label that he rejected. His most famous works are located in São Paulo and include the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo, the Brazilian Sculpture Museum and the Athletic Club of São Paulo.

Mendes da Rocha passed away in May of 2021 at the age of 92.

Find out more about Paulo Mendes da Rocha ›


Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Gottfried Böhm dies aged 101
Photo is by Elke Wetzig

Gottfried Böhm

German architect and designer of the brutalist Church of the Pilgrimage, Gottfried Böhm passed away in June of 2021 aged 101. Böhm was the son of a church architect and studied architecture at Technische Hochschule in Munich as well as sculpture at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. After graduating, Böhm worked at his father's studio, which he took over following his father's death in 1955.

Böhm was best known for his brutalist Bensberger City Hall, Museum of the Diocese in Paderborn, and St Kolumba church in Cologne. He was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1985 for his work, making him the eighth winner of the prestigious award.

Find out more about Gottfried Böhm ›


Portrait of architect Owen Luder
Photo courtesy of RIBA Collections

Owen Luder

Owen Luder was a British architect who designed a number of brutalist buildings. He was twice president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – first from 1981 to 1983 and second from 1995 to 1997.

Luder was born in London in 1928 and enrolled at Brixton's School of Building aged 13. In 1957 he went on to establish his own practice where he employed architect Rodney Gorden, with the pair creating some of the studio's most famed works.

He was best known for his brutalist structures, many of which have since been demolished, including the Tricorn Centre, the Trinity Square development and the housing block Derwent Tower. Some of his surviving works include the Catford Centre, Eros House and the South London Theatre.

Luder passed away in October of 2021 at the age of 93.

Find out more about Owen Luder ›


Terence Riley obituary
Photo courtesy of the Knight Foundation

Terence Riley

American architect Terence Riley passed away in May of 2021 aged 66. Riley was the former chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York as well as being a founding partner of Keenen/Riley Architects.

Riley was born in 1954 and grew up in Woodstock, Illinois. He studied architecture at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana before studying for his masters degree at Columbia University in 1982.

His 13-year tenure at MoMA saw him host vast retrospectives on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe while also introducing European architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron to the American public. Riley's firm, Keenan/Riley Architects was best known for designing galleries and museums, including Sarasota Art Museum.

Find out more about Terence Riley ›


Zeev Aram obituary
Photo is by Jessica Klingelfuss

Zeev Aram

Furniture and interior designer Zeev Aram died in March of 2021 aged 89. He was most widely known through his self-titled showroom, Aram Store, which opened on the King's Road in London during the 1960s.

Aram was born in Cluj, Romania in 1931. As the Second World War began, his family fled to Palestine in 1940 to escape conflict and antisemitism. In 1957, Aram moved to London, where he studied furniture and interior design at London's Central School of Art and Design, which is now Central Saint Martins. Graduating in 1960, he worked at architectural practices before founding his own studio, Zeev Aram & Associates.

At his showroom, he introduced many modernists including Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer and Charlotte Periand to the British public for the first time. After meeting Eileen Gray in her early 90s, Aram was responsible for bringing global attention to the work of the architect and designer.

Find out more about Zeev Aram ›


Ernesto Gismondi portrait
Photo is by Pierpaolo Ferrari

Ernesto Gismondi

Ernesto Gismondi was an Italian designer who founded the lighting brand Artemide. Born in San Remo in 1931, Gismondi was a member of the iconic Memphis design movement. He had degrees in both aeronautical engineering and missile engineering.

Gismondo founded Artemide in 1960 with designer Sergio Mazza and built it into one of the leading and most innovative Italian lighting companies. Gismondi died in January aged 89.

"He illuminated the world with Artemide, used plastic for the first time to make furniture, raced with his head held high in the seas of politics and entrepreneurship, opened new horizons in design," said architect Stefano Boeri.

Find out more about Ernesto Gismondi ›


Architect Oriol Bohigas
Photo is by Galazan via Wikimedia Commons

Oriol Bohigas

Oriol Bohigas, a Catalan architect who led the modernisation of Barcelona, passed away in November aged 95. Bohigas suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years before his death.

The architect and urban planner was best known for transforming Barcelona ahead of the 1992 Summer Olympics, converting it into a thriving modern city and tourist capital following the aftermath of the Second World War and the end of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in 1975.

He was a professor at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Barcelona and was elected its director in 1977 before co-founding his firm, MBM Arquitectes, which designed the Villa Olímpica athletes' village.

Find out more about Oriol Bohigas ›


Ken Garland in his studio
Photo is by Unit Editions

Ken Garland

British graphic designer Ken Garland, who was best known for his work redesigning CND's peace symbol, passed away in May aged 92.

Garland was born in Southampton, England in 1929. In 1954 he graduated from London's Central School of Arts and Crafts, which is now Central Saint Martins. A few years after graduating, from 1956 to 1962, he was the art editor of Design Magazine which was published by the Council of Industrial Britain.

He later founded his own company Ken Garland & Associates in 1962 where he created work for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, specifically a redesign of the peace symbol.

Find out more about Ken Garland ›


Pauline Deltour portrait
Photo is courtesy of Pauline Deltour Design Office

Pauline Deltour

French industrial designer Pauline Deltour passed away on 10 September 2021 at the age of 38. Deltour was known for her diverse portfolio spanning furniture, product, jewellery and transport design.

She carried out her work as part of her eponymous studio Pauline Deltour Design Office, which she founded in Paris in 2010. Prior to this, she was the first female assistant of Konstantin Grcic following her graduation from the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs.

Deltour's skill lead her to collaborate with notable brands including the likes Hem, for which she designed a rug made from rope, and Established & Sons, with which she created the range of graphic Bloc tables.


Portrait of Chris Wilkinson
Photo is by Rob Greig

Chris Wilkinson

British architect, artist and co-founder of RIBA Stirling Prize-winning studio WilkinsonEyre passed away in December aged 76.

Wilkinson founded his studio Chris Wilkinson Architects in 1983 and lead the practice until 1987 when his former colleague Jim Eyre became a partner. Together they established WilkinsonEyre in 1999 and the studio went on to win back-to-back RIBA Stirling Prizes – first in 2001 for the Magna Science Centre and second in 2002 for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

In recognition of Wilkinsons contribution to architecture, he was awarded an OBE in the Millenium Honours List and was also the recipient of an Honorary Fellowship of the American Institute of Architecture in 2007.


Richard Rogers

British architect and high-tech architecture pioneer Richard Rogers died this weekend at his London home aged 88. Rogers was one of the world's best-known architects and was responsible for designing the Centre Pompidou, Madrid's Barajas Airport and Lloyd's building in London.

After studying at the Architectural Association and Yale, Rogers set up architecture studio Team 4 with Norman Foster, Su Brumwell and Wendy Cheeseman. In 1967, Team 4 split leading Rogers to establish Richard + Su Rogers Architects with Brumwell, who he had married.

Three years later, Rogers established Rogers + Piano with Italian architect Renzo Piano, which saw the relatively unknown duo win a competition to design the Centre Pompidou in Paris. After the Centre Pompidou's completion in 1977, he founded Richard Rogers Partnership which was later renamed Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in 2007.

The top photo is by Ovidiu Hrubaru for Shutterstock.