Hugh Newell Jacobsen (1929–2021)

John Hill
11. March 2021
Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Villa in Voorschoten, Netherlands (Photo: Vysotsky/Wikimedia Commons)

Hugh Newell Jacobsen, an architect based in Washington, DC, known for high-end houses organized as pavilions with gabled forms, died at an assisted-living center in Front Royal, Virginia, on March 4 — exactly one week shy of his 92nd birthday.

The Washington Post's March 4 obituary describes the hallmark of Jacobsen's residential architecture "as a Monopoly house because of its resemblance to the piece from the board game." The most recognizable houses were, it continues, "a series of steep-roofed pavilions unfurling like a telescope." Most notable among these is the Fletcher Residence (2002) in Nashville, Tennessee, which graces the cover of a 2006 monograph on Jacobsen.

A couple of decades earlier, Designer Massimo Vignelli edited the first monograph on Jacobsen, published in 1988, exactly 30 years after the architect set up his DC office. He writes in the book's foreword: "Even if his projects span from International Style to American vernacular or neo-Gothic to Greek Revivalism, Jacobsen should not be considered an eclectic since his projects are unmistakably Jacobsen in essence and form." 

Vignelli singles out the Blumenthal House (1971) in Maryland as particularly significant in forming Jacobsen's own architectural language. "In this house," he writes, "we find all the elements of Jacobsen's architecture: the articulation of the roofs, the recessed entrance, the double chimney stack, the interior spaces, the ceilings high to the roof, the flush gutters, the white skin." 

Even though Jacobsen's firm, Jacobsen Architecture, LLC, has also worked on museums, higher education, historic renovation, and commercial projects, it's the houses that have consistently garnered the most attention. The firm's website even boasts that their houses have been featured twenty times in Architectural Record's annual Record Houses issues, no small feat.

One of Hugh Newell Jacobsen's three sons, Simon, is also an architect and is a founding partner, with his partner, of Jacobsen Architecture. One of the other sons, John, told the Washington Post that their father died from complications from COVID-19, but Simon told them the pneumonia he died from was recurring and was unrelated to the coronavirus.

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