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Obituary: Kari Jormakka (1959-2013)

Friends, colleagues and students mourn the death of Vienna University of Technology architecture professor Kari Jormakka

[OBITUARY] Kari Jormakka, Professor of Architectural Theory, at the Vienna University of Technology, died suddenly in his sleep last week, aged 53.

Well known for his enthusiastic lectures and for a range of interests that bridged philosophy, history and aesthetics, he reportedly had ‘a personal library [which] could keep a small town reading for months.’

Born in Lappeenranta, Finland, in 1959, Jormakka studied architecture at Helsinki University of Technology and went on to complete a doctorate at Tampere University of Technology in 1992, famously referencing 500 works in his thesis (‘a number he chose for its beauty’).

His teaching career took him to a number of academic posts, his first a three year stint at Tampere University of Technology (1986-1989), followed by positions at Ohio State University (1989-1995), the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, where he was Walter Gropius Professor of Architectural Theory and Design (1993-1997), and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was Assistant Professor of Architecture (1995-1998).

In 1998 he settled at the Vienna University of Technology, where he was known as an attentive teacher who would spend hours with students discussing their work. The university described Jormakka as a ‘committed advocate for substantial and meaningful architecture’, adding: ‘Few people could match Kari’s rare critical capacity … for all those fortunate to engage in discourse with him, the experience was not only impressive, but also inspiring and uplifting.’

Jormakka often used his lectures as a testing ground for theories he put forward in his books. These included Flying Dutchmen: Motion in Architecture, which looked at how Dutch practices such as OMA, NOX Architects and UN Studio had incorporated movement into their buildings, and Eyes That Do Not See, in which he explored his theory that 20th century architecture was characterised by a return to decoration as a rebellion against Modernism.

Will Alsop, a former colleague in Vienna, described him as ‘one of the good guys’. He said: ‘He truly could not be pigeonholed. As an author, academic and thinker, he was always stimulating, but as a teacher he was supreme. He was much loved by students, in part because he would always be surprising in his responses and therefore inspiring.’

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