Dezeen Magazine

"I feel a great responsibility to extend his legacy" says Rafael Viñoly's son

Following the death of Rafael Viñoly, directors and employees of his studio are working hard to continue the Uruguayan architect's work, says his son Román Viñoly in this exclusive interview.

Speaking to Dezeen from his New York office, Román Viñoly, who is a director at Rafael Viñoly Architects, explained how the studio is continuing his father's commitment to socially conscious architecture since his death earlier this month.

"Our employees, partners and clients have really taken on the mantle of his work and his passion for the social contribution architecture can make and they are really driving the work forward," he told Dezeen.

"And that is something that is important for me to do – to support them and make sure his legacy doesn't end on March 2," he continued. "Every single person here is working like I am to extend and honour his legacy."

"We have a lot of work to do for him"

Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly was one of the world's best-known architects. He designed hundreds of projects around the world including skyscrapers 432 Park Avenue in New York and the Walkie Talkie in London.

Román Viñoly explained how he and the studio's staff, some of which have been working with his father for 40 years, now feel a responsibility to extend his legacy.

Rafael Viñoly and Román Viñoly
Román Viñoly worked with his father at Rafael Viñoly Architects

"There is a feeling of responsibility that everyone here shares and we are all perfectly aligned on," said Román Viñoly.

"It really was amazing because he died on Thursday at a quarter to six in New York and, obviously, I called my mother and my brothers and my wife first, but then I called the partners and every single one of them said the same thing – 'we have a lot of work to do for him'."

"I feel, like everyone here, a great responsibility to extend his legacy past March 2."

"There is a realignment of energies"

According to Román Viñoly, the studio is already adapting to life without its founder and leader, who established Rafael Viñoly Architects over 30 years ago.

"Obviously, like any firm that has a very strong founder, when that energy suddenly disappears, there is there is a vacuum, right?" he said. "There is a realignment of energies and that's happening very fluidly."

He sees his role now and for the future evolution of the studio as providing an emotional connection to his father.

"People look to me to know that there's the emotional core of what my father was as I am the most closely associated person to that part of him now," he said.

"I'm not an architect, the partners are the ones who studied at his side and are carrying his work forward in the projects."

"Overwhelming affection kind of shocking"

Speaking about the reaction to his father's death, Román Viñoly said he had been "blown away". Architects and critics including Norman Foster and Michael Kimmelman paid tribute to the Uruguayan architect's death calling him "energetic, elegant and passionate".

However, Román Viñoly conceded that the reaction to his built legacy "hasn't all been good", noting the criticism towards the 20 Fenchurch Street skyscraper, known widely as the Walkie Talkie, in London.

"People will say what they have to say, and it's a complicated life with a lot of product that is not monolithic," he said.

"So that's fair, but I think the overwhelming affection for him as a person has been, to me, kind of shocking."

432 Park Avenue
Rafael Viñoly designed buildings all over the world including 432 Park Avenue in New York. Photo by Arturo Pardavila

Román Viñoly explained that the studio will continue the work of his father and complete the numerous projects that are "fully designed with his intents perfectly clear", and will also create new works that align with his ethos.

"I see him on a continuum of great architects," he said. "And what he believed in, and what he thought, was the right way to practice."

"That being said, he was a very, very strong character, an incredibly talented and driven human being. People here were inspired by that, and now they can really express everything that he communicated to them in their own way."

"Not everyone can walk around and see the work of their loved one"

He believes that as his father's work was so aesthetically broad it will allow those still at the studio to continue Rafael Viñoly's work without becoming stagnated, or repeating a signature style.

"It is interesting because his work didn't look a certain way," he explained. "You know, there are some architects who pass before their time and they have a certain thing, a certain look."

"Then their firms just continue repeating that look," he continued. "That is not possible here."

Rafael Viñoly completed numerous significant buildings all across the world and to mark his death Dezeen rounded up nine of his key projects. Román Viñoly said he takes comfort from being able to see the buildings designed by his father, and added that his favourite was an office for a pharmaceutical company.

"Not everyone can walk around and see the work of their loved one all over the city and all over the world," he said.

"Strangely my favourite is a building for a pharmaceutical company," he continued. "It's the building that most closely resembles the core high concept that generated its design and planning approach. It is really perfectly realised according to the original idea and that's why it's my favourite building."