Haigh Jamgochian, who designed iconic Richmond building, has died

Posted at 3:24 PM, Nov 21, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. -- Haigh Jamgochian, the acclaimed architect whose work included the eye-catching Markel Building off West Broad Street, died this week, according to an obituary printed in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

He was 95.

Jamgochian, known to friends as "Jam," told Greg McQuade in 2017 that his architectural talents were a natural gift.

"I couldn’t read or write," he said. "I could draw and build."

Jam, a Richmond native who studied at Princeton and Virginia Tech, always thought outside the box. While his apartment building on Franklin Street that resembled a treehouse never materialized, his big break arrived in 1960 when the Markel Corporation hired him to create its headquarters.

“It was a sketch that was no bigger than the palm of my hand,” Jam said. “I thought of a bunch of mushrooms made of concrete wrapped in glass.”

“I drew it up and the Markel’s didn’t understand, so I said 'I make you a model.' So I made a model.”

After several redesigns Jam’s creation was born.

“It is circular. It has three levels,” Jam said.

His inspiration?

“Have you ever seen a baked potato wrapped in aluminum? That’s it,” he said.

A band of crinkled metal that Jam helped shape and secure.

Since opening in 1965 the Markel Building has been both celebrated and scorned.

“It got a lot of attention,” Jam said. “It was all in my mind. I had never done it before. I just had a feeling. It makes me sound like a somebody. I’m a nobody.”

But many think otherwise.

Jam’s collection of drawings, photos and models sits in the Library of Virginia’s Special Collections. Jam donated the collection to the Library in 2004.



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