Holocaust museum, S.F. library architect James Freed dead at 75

new york (ap) | Architect James Ingo Freed, a longtime partner of I.M. Pei and the lead designer of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died Thursday, Dec. 15 in New York. He was 75.

Freed was also the designer of San Francisco’s new main library and several buildings at Stanford University.

His death was announced by his firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

Born in 1930 in Essen, Germany, Freed came to the United States at age 9 as the Nazi terror gathered momentum in Europe.

He went to work with the internationally renowned Pei in 1956, and was often overshadowed by him, even as Freed built an independent reputation with apartment houses, public buildings and office towers around the country.

Freed’s designs include the giant glass caverns of the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center in Manhattan and the country’s second largest federal building, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington.

His crowning project, though, was the Holocaust Memorial Museum, heralded by critics for its ability to evoke the death camps and ghettos described in its exhibits.

“This is an architecture that sears the memory and invades the dreams,” wrote Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune. In the New York Times, Herbert Muschamp called it “a work of such enormous power that it defies language.”

Freed, an unobservant Jew who had lost touch with his heritage until he was hired for the project, told an interviewer from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997 that he never knew quite how to react when people told him how much they liked the building.

“You can’t have a normal response,” said Freed, noting that it seemed inappropriate to express enjoyment in a structure that memorializes the slaughter of millions.

“So I say, ‘Oh, yes, you did see it? Too bad for you, it was such an awful experience,'” Freed said.

At the time of his death, Freed was awaiting completion of the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., of which he was the principal designer.

The memorial, near the Pentagon, is comprised of three asymmetrical stainless steel spires — each over 200 feet tall — meant to resemble contrails of Air Force jets peeling back in a “bomb burst” maneuver.

Freed is survived by a daughter, Dara Freed of New York, and a grandson. His wife, Hermine, died in 1998.