Raimund Abraham, 77, the Austrian-born architect and professor closely linked with Cooper Union and the Pratt Institute, died last night in Los Angeles. Abraham was a visiting faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture and according to the Institute died “early Thursday in a car crash in Downtown Los Angeles” following a lecture, The Profanation of Solitude. A favorite of Cooper Union Dean John Hejduk, Abraham helped make the school a hotbed of theory and design. With his longtime interest in drawing, he influenced generations of students.
Though he is known for his iconic competition drawings, which were never executed, he did co-design (with Giuliano Fiorenzoli) the Rainbow Plaza in Niagara Falls, the interior renovation of the Anthology Film Archives in New York, and, most famously, the Austrian Cultural Forum on East 52nd Street in New York in 2002. He won the commission to design this building by arguing before the Austrian Parliament, telling a reporter at the time that “I fought for the importance of the Republic of Austria supporting radical architecture, not some mediocre office building.”
The building, like the man, was uncompromising in its insistence on powerful architectural statements, and Kenneth Frampton the architectural historian called it “the most significant modern piece of architecture to be realized in Manhattan since the Seagram Building and Guggenheim Museum of 1959.”
Abraham—famous for his black fedoras, grey mustache, and cigars—became an American citizen in 2000 to protest the rise of a conservative Austrian government. He was awarded a Stone Lion in 1985 at the Third Biennial for Architecture in Venice. In recent years, apart from lectures and visiting professorships, he lived in Mexico in a house he completed in 2004.
In an email to faculty, Cooper Union Dean Tony Vidler expressed his "great sadness" at the death of Abraham. "A great visionary, architect, and teacher, his intense commitment to architecture touched the lives of many generations of students and friends," Vidler wrote. "His indefatigable search for authenticity and his trenchant critique of superficiality kept all of us honest. He will be sorely missed."