Originally named I. M. Pei & Associates, the firm was founded in New York City by Cobb, I. M. Pei, and Eason H. Leonard in 1955. Their first building, the Gulf Oil building in Atlanta, Georgia, was completed four years prior to the official founding of their office. As a subtle yet unmistakably Miesian office building, its completion allowed the firm to quickly enter the American late modernist movement with a wide range of projects including Montreal’s Place Ville Marie (1962), Syracuse’s Everson Museum of Art (1968), and Portland’s Museum of Art (1983), for which Cobb served as lead designer.
Though his firm left behind a significant portfolio of buildings—over 250 in more than 100 cities, according to their own profile—an outsize portion of that legacy can be found in his native city of Boston, Massachusetts. Cobb was the lead designer of John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in New England and one of the firm’s most famous buildings in its nearly 70 year history. Though its mirrored facade was initially controversial for its proximity to the Trinity Church in Copley Square when it was completed in 1976, its sharp lines and clever siting went on to win the firm a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) the following year. Cobb later went on design other projects throughout his hometown, including Moakley US Courthouse & Harborpark (1998), Harvard University’s Center for Government and International Studies (2005), and 30 Dalton (2016).
Like his working partner Pei, Cobb seemed to have never considered retirement as an option. At the age of 91, Cobb published Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works 1948-2018, a 548-page monograph highlighting 70 years of design alongside his essays and transcripts from his many lectures. Reviewing the book in Log Journal, Jeffrey Kipnis called it “a tour de force of writing[…] ingenious, complex, gripping, hilarious, poignant, and profound for any reader.” The following year, Cobb presented a lecture that was projected on stage during Facades+ Boston that highlighted his work on Boston’s One Dalton, one of the architect’s last projects.
Cobb passed away at the age of 93, one month shy of his 94th birthday on April 8.