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Edward Charles Bassett (1921-1999)

Dates of Interview:

January 30, 31; February 1, 1989

Location of Interview:

Bassett's home in Mill Valley, California


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

159 pages
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Biographical Summary

Edward Charles Bassett was born in 1921 in Port Huron, Michigan. He served in the U.S. Army before studying architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from where he received his B.S. in Architecture in 1949. He continued his studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, receiving his M.A. in Architecture in 1951. While at Cranbrook he worked for the office of Saarinen & Saarinen (1950-1955). He joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's San Francisco office in 1955 where he stayed for 26 years until retiring from his position as design partner in 1981. Bassett designed many award-winning buildings that have significantly shaped the urban environment of San Francisco and around the world. He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1977 and he received the Award of Honor for Architecture from the San Francisco Arts Commission in 1985. Bassett died in Mill Valley, California, in 1999.

Interview Highlights

Bassett speaks about working in Alden Dow's office; working in the office of Saarinen & Saarinen; study at Cranbrook Academy; impressions of members the Saarinen family; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's San Francisco office; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's influence on SOM; personal goals.

Weyerhouser Headquarters; Tacoma, Washington, 1971. Photograph by Bob Hollingsworth, courtesy of SOM.

City Hall; Columbus, Indiana, 1981. Photograph by K&S, courtesy of SOM.

Interview Excerpt

"I had a personal attitude, hardly a policy, which was generally agreed to in San Francisco, including the senior designers. No personal credits, just [credit] to the San Francisco office.... I'm sure there would be less confusion if there was a firm-wide policy. Gordon [Bunshaft] has always been identified with his work, as have Walter [Netsch] and Bruce [Graham]. I am unhappy when my name appears, but I do not know what can be done.... I don't think of it as anonymity. I thought of it as appropriate recognition. One would have to go to great pains to be unaware of how many talents and energies share in the creation of a fine building, or of the discrepancy between the truth and the myth kept alive by an obvious cynicism that a building is born full-blown out of a single person's head. To perpetuate that myth, when it takes so many people, so much talent, so much technical expertise, so much dedication and commitment to a professional work ethic of a profession they love, has always bothered me. Always has." (p.130)

Additional Resources

Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

Funding for this oral history was provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.