A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of August

The Trenchcoat

August 29, 1900 was the birthdate of artist and architect Oscar Ernest Nitzchke.

Oscar Nitzchke entered the Ecole des Beauz-Arts in Geneva in 1917 and the Atelier Laloux-Lemaresquier in Paris in 1920. In the years 1921 and 1922 he studied at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris and began working in the office of the Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier. Nitzchke joined the Atelier du Palais de Bois in 1923 under Auguste Perret, the French architect who pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in architecture.

In 1936 Nitzchke made a set of presentation drawings for a building for a private client, Maison de la Publicite, that failed to reach completion. These drawings were later acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and displayed at the Pompidou Center in Paris.

In December of 1938, Oscar Nitzchke came to the United States to become Associate Professor at the School of Architecture at Yale University, and to work with the architecture firm of Harrison & Fouilhoux in New York as head of design research. While working with Harrison & Fouilhoux, Nitzchke took part in the design of the Alcoa Building in Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Opera House projects. During the time he was with the firm, he also worked on the design for the Mellon National Bank and Trust Company in Pittsburgh, and the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Nitzchke worked with the firm Harrison & Abromovitz for fifteen years. He left to become the head of design for Jim Nash Associates in New York, a position he held from 1958 to 1961. Nitzchke retired in the early 1970s. In 1981 Nitzchke’s architecture designs were shown at the Paris Exposition at the Pompidou Center; in 1985 at the Institut Francais d’Architecture in Paris, and at New York’s Cooper Union in 1985.

Despite becoming deaf in 1951, Nitzchke continued to develop imaginative projects for competitions such as the San Salvador Cathedral in 1953-1954, with its soaring concrete shell vaults. In 1970, he retired to Paris, preparing drawings for exhibitions of his work, living with his family until his death in 1991.

Although he built little and seldom appears in standard histories of modern architecture, Oscar Nitzchke was much admired among avant-garde architects. During his fifty years in practice, he consistently produce innovative designs that remain surprisingly fresh. His later work articulated form and materials in their marked legibility of functions. An example of this were Nitzchke’s designs for prefabricated buildings with the use of external corrugated copper and steel cladding, which made no attempt to imitate traditional materials as earlier prefabricated buildings had.

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