Bruce Abrahamson, a classy architect

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2008 - 8:44 PM

The man behind the A of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson was a lead designer for many area buildings.

Architect Bruce Abrahamson, who led the firm Hammel, Green and Abrahamson and was the design leader on many Twin Cities buildings, including the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul and the Piper Jaffray Tower in Minneapolis, died of brain cancer Nov. 11 at his Minneapolis home.

He was 83.

"His modesty belied his extraordinary talent and vision that proved inspiring to so many others," said Dan Avchen, CEO of the architecture and engineering firm.

Over the course of his career, Abrahamson won more than 60 awards, including the Minnesota Society of Architects' Gold Medal and three national American Institute of Architects Honor Awards for Architecture, including one for the Minnesota Historical Society.

After graduating from North High School in Minneapolis, he trained as a naval aviator during World War II.

In 1949, he received a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1949. In 1951, he earned a master's degree from Harvard University, where he studied with famed modernist Walter Gropius.

After serving a fellowship in Europe, he went to work in Chicago. In 1954, he returned to the Twin Cities to join the firm founded by Richard Hammel and Curt Green, and in 1964, he became one of its leaders. He was the trio's design arbiter.

"Bruce pursued excellence in design" and was a sound businessman, Avchen said. "That was unique."

From 1957 to 1977, he was an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, where Avchen was his student. "He had patience and the ability to understand others' creative points of view," Avchen said.

"Bruce was about understanding the student's idea and helping the student realize his or her own concept," he said. "He was amazing."

He was also the life of the party. Once, he responded to a cream pie in the face with laughter, and he would chuckle at finding his tie chopped into one-inch strips, a former office custom.

Avchen said he made work fun. "He defined the work-life balance before it was an accepted term," Avchen said.

Jack Hoeschler, a St. Paul attorney who was the project coordinator for the old Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul, recalled his work there.

"He was superb to work with, and brought a wonderful sense of style and function," Hoeschler said. "In the case of the Omnitheater, we put particular demands on his skills and he met them marvelously."

He designed buildings in Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth, as well as the Minneapolis Clinic of Psychiatry and Neurology in Golden Valley and the downtown St. Paul skyway system.

In 1995, he retired from the firm but continued to design houses. He took up photography and toured Europe by bicycle. He was a long-distance runner for 45 years.

His son, Tony, of Los Angeles, called him generous and modest. "He devoured every moment of every day," Tony said.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Vickie, of Minneapolis; four daughters, Sue Montermini of Eden Prairie, Lisa Serposs of St. Louis Park, Anni Davis of Stillwater and Nedret Rix of St. Paul; 10 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

A memorial celebration will be held at 6:30 p.m. today at the Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul.

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