Jean-Louis Cohen, Visiting Professor in the Princeton University School of Architecture since 2006, dies at 74

Jean-Louis Cohen, Visiting Professor of History and Theory of Architecture whose work examined 20th-century architecture and urban planning, died on August 6, 2023. He was 74.

Cohen’s research activity focused mainly on German and Soviet architectural cultures with an emphasis on the 20th-century avant garde, colonial developments in North Africa, the role of designers during World War II, and the historical planning of Paris. He extensively interpreted the work of pivotal architects, such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and lesser-known figures like André Lurçat.

His publications include Building a new New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture (2020), The Future of Architecture. Since 1889 (2012), Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War (2011), Mies van der Rohe (2007); Above Paris, the Aerial Survey of Roger Henrard (2006); Liquid Stone, New Architecture in Concrete, ed. with G. Martin Moeller, Jr. (2006), Le Corbusier, la planète comme chantier (2005), Alger, paysage urbain et architectures 1800-2000 (2003, with Nabila Oulebsir, and Youcef Kanoun), Casablanca, Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (2002, with Monique Eleb), L'architecture d'André Lurçat (1894-1970) (1998), Scenes of the World to Come (1995), Des fortifs au périf (1992, with André Lortie), and Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR (1992).

Cohen curated numerous exhibitions at internationally renowned instutions, such as the Pompidou Centre and the French Institute of Architecture in Paris, the Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Venice, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. His seminal exhibitions include MoMA’s 2013 “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” and 2007 “The Lost Vanguard,” along with CCA’s 2019 “Building a new New World: Amerikanizm in Russian Architecture” and 2011’s “Architecture in Uniform: Design and Building for the Second World War.” His 2023 exhibit, “Paris Moderne, 1914-1945: Architecture, Design, Film, Fashion,” is on view through October 20, 2023, at Shanghai’s Power Station of Art.

"Jean-Louis was an extraordinary scholar and a remarkable pedagogue,” said Mónica Ponce de León, dean of the School of Architecture. “We were honored to count him as our colleague at Princeton where several generations of School of Architecture students benefited from his intellectual generosity."  

Cohen’s recent courses at Princeton included “Mies van der Rohe and the Architecture of Capitalism” (Spring, 2023), “Russia's Architecture, East to West and Back” (Spring, 2022), and “Gehry in the City” (Spring, 2019), in which he traveled with SoA graduate students to Los Angeles to meet architect Frank Gehry and study his work up close. Like his research, Cohen’s teachings topically varied from 20th-century architectural history to photography and technology of the city. Cohen was also the Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts.

Born in Paris in 1949, Cohen studied architecture at the École Spéciale d'Architecture and at the Unité Pédagogique n° 6 in Paris and received a Ph.D. in history at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in 1985. After having directed the Architectural Research Program at the French Ministry of Housing, he held a research professorship from 1983 to 1996 at the School of Architecture Paris-Villemin. From 1996 to 2004, he held a chair in town-planning history at the Institut Français d'Urbanisme, University of Paris. In 1993, he was appointed the Sheldon H. Solow Chair for the History of Architecture at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. In 1997, he was appointed by the French Minister of Culture to create the Cité de l'architecture—a museum, research and exhibition center—which opened in 2007 in Paris’ Palais de Chaillot. During this period, he directed the two main components of the Cité: Institut Français d'Architecture and the Musée des Monuments Français.

Cohen was awarded the Chevalier des Arts & Lettres by France’s Ministry of Culture, and won the Grand Prix of the Academie d'Architecture, Paris, for the best architectural book of 1996. He was also a member of the Accademia di San Luca, Rome and of the Russian Academy of Architecture.