John Carl Warnecke was an architect based in San Francisco, California, who designed numerous notable monuments and structures. He was an early proponent of contextual architecture. Among his more notable buildings and projects are the Hawaii State Capitol building, the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame memorial gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery and the master plan for Lafayette Square.
He received his bachelor's degree from Stanford University in 1941. While studying at Stanford, Warnecke made the acquaintance of John F. Kennedy, who was auditing courses at the university. Warnecke received his masters degree in architecture from Harvard University in 1942, completing the three-year course in a single year. While attending Harvard, he studied with the highly influential architect, Walter Gropius. After graduating from Harvard University, Warnecke worked as a building inspector for the public housing authority in Richmond, California. He established a solo practice in 1950 and incorporated as a firm in 1956. At first, he set a goal of applying Modernist architectural principles to major types of building. But his work soon reflected a desire to harmonize building designs with the environment in which they were set as well as their cultural and historical setting, an architectural theory known as contextualism.
Association with Kennedys
Warnecke's reputation as a world-class architect received a substantial boost when he was asked by the administration of President John F. Kennedy to save the historic buildings surrounding Lafayette Square. The Park Commission's proposals, which came to be known as the "McMillan Plan," proposed that all the buildings around Lafayette Square be razed and replaced by tall, Neoclassical buildings clad in white marble for use by executive branch agencies.
In February 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy lobbied the General Services Administration to stop the demolition and adopt a different design plan. Mrs. Kennedy enlisted architect Warnecke, who happened to be in town that weekend, to create a design which would incorporate the new buildings with the old. With this project, Warnecke was one of the first architects to receive a commission from the Kennedy administration. Warnecke conceived the basic design over that weekend and worked closely with Mrs. Kennedy over the next few months to formalize the design proposal. The design was presented to the public and the Commission of Fine Arts (which had approval over any plan) in October 1962, and with Mrs. Kennedy's backing the Commission adopted the revised Warnecke design proposal.
Warnecke's design for the square was based on the architectural theory of contextualism. Not only did Warnecke's design build the first modern buildings on Lafayette Square, but they were the first buildings in the city to utilize contextualism as a design philosophy.
Warnecke was appointed to an important federal post and received two important commissions from the Kennedy family in 1963. On June 21, 1963, President Kennedy appointed Warnecke to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Warnecke's first important commission from the President was the design for a presidential library. Plans and sites were discussed in May, and on October 19, just 34 days before his assassination, President Kennedy (with Warnecke by his side) chose a site next to the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. As Warnecke and Kennedy had only discussed general themes for the design, I. M. Pei was selected by the Kennedy family to be the library's actual architect.
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