The Legacy of Donald Olsen – Modern Master
Donald Olsen (1919-2015) graduated with his Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1941. He won a scholarship to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design but had to defer due to the outbreak and the United State’s involvement in World War II. During the war years, Olsen found himself in Richmond, CA where he worked at the Kaiser Ship Yard designing large manufacturing and office buildings as well as housing, railway systems, fire stations, and schools. Once the war ended he obtained his Master’s in Architecture from Harvard and graduated in 1946.
After a brief stint in the office of Eliel and Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Olsen returned to Berkeley where he worked for a brief time for Ernest Kump, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and finally Wurster, Bernardi, & Emmons. In 1954 Olsen began his own practice and remained for decades a much-esteemed and sought after architect. The same year that he began his own practice he was approached by William Wurster, then Dean of the School of Architecture at UC Berkeley, and asked to join the faculty. Olsen’s career lasted thirty-five years, until 1989 when he retired.
Inspired by the teachings of the Bauhaus and curriculum of Walter Gropius while studying at Harvard, Donald Olsen transported the International Style of modernism to the Bay Area. Olsen’s unwavering loyalty to modernism drove his career and allowed him to flourish both as a practicing architect and a professor at UC Berkeley. This exhibit explores the life and career of Donald Olsen from the start of his career with noted firms such as Saarinen, Swanson & Saarinen, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Wurster, Bernardi, & Emmons to establishing his own practice.
Beginning with Olsen's education and influences, this exhibition, organized by project type, includes his work designing residences, commercial and educational spaces, as well as unbuilt projects. All materials in this exhibition come from the Environmental Design Archives’ Donald Olsen Collection.
Curator: Katie Riddle, Exhibit Team: Chris Marino, Jason Miller, Emily Vigor