Introduced to buildings through selling, not designing, Robert Brannen was a boy when he began tagging along with his father, who sold real estate. But even then he had an eye for architecture.
“I had grown up in the real estate business, watching my father from an early age,” Mr. Brannen told the Boston Business Journal in 1996. “I was as young as 12 when I accompanied him on field visits, where I became interested in design.”
Moving to Boston after college, he was mentored by well-known architect Pietro Belluschi and later went out on his own before cofounding Jung/Brannen Associates. That firm became one of the largest in the nation, designing memorable buildings in the city such as One Post Office Square and serving as the architects for the restoration of Custom House Tower.
Mr. Brannen, who was known as Buz, died in hospice care on July 29 of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. He was 90 and had lived in Sudbury, after many years in Lincoln.
His firm’s significant Greater Boston projects included One Financial Center, One Lincoln Street, and the Tufts University student center.
Jung/Brannen changed skylines beyond Boston, too, with projects such as the Poynter Institute for Media Studies building in St. Petersburg, Fla., which the New England Regional Council of the American Institute of Architects awarded a top honor for good design.
Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell praised the “handsome” building in a 1989 column.
Jung/Brannen Associates “returned to an older Florida tradition, one more suited to the Caribbean climate, a tradition of broad overhanging roofs, porches, wood screens, and trellises that work to create natural shade and breezes,” Campbell wrote.
Mr. Brannen often worked on designs with the firm’s cofounder, Yu Sing Jung, and architect Robert Hsiung, who was with their firm.
With One Post Office Square, the final design was “highly influenced by the configurations of the various buildings in the surrounding area,” Mr. Brannen told the Globe in 1979.
While the building “had a focus of its own,” he added, it was also designed “as a piece of urban sculpture to react with other buildings in the viewer’s line of vision.”
In a review, the Globe’s Campbell praised the project, which also included the Hotel Meridien.
“The lobby at One Post Office Square, compared to that of any other office building built in Boston in decades, is a sensuous feast. Floods of sunlight glitter off brass accents and bounce up onto walls that are, amazingly, surfaced in a dozen kinds of richly colored marble set in intricate geometric patterns,” Campbell wrote.
“This is the kind of old-fashioned embellishment we’re always told no one can afford anymore,” he added. “How can it happen in this ordinary, speculative office building? According to the architects, Buz Brannen and Yu Sing Jung, the multi-colored marble didn’t cost any more than, say, conventional travertine, thanks to new technologies developed in Italy. The marble for One Post Office Square was precut and glued to backup panels in Carrara, Italy, following the architects’ designs, then shipped to Boston. In other words, it’s marble prefab. It looks marvelous.”
Mr. Brannen’s “focus was that vision, that master plan,” said Joe Mamayek, a principal at the design firm SGA who had been recruited out of college to work for Jung/Brannen.
Mamayek recalled that Mr. Brannen’s “eye was always on the building strategies, looking at the end user in a single or multi-tenant building: ‘How do we get the best value for the developer and client?’ And then look at the opportunities for architectural details.”
Mr. Brannen was born in 1931 in Seattle and grew up there, the younger of two siblings whose parents were Robert Brannen Sr. and Marie Wittwer Brannen.
His nickname, Buz, was leftover from childhood, when his sister “called him her baby buzzer,” his daughter Sarah said.
Initially studying engineering at the University of Washington, Mr. Brannen interrupted his studies to join the Army Reserves, and returned to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.
“I like to build things, draw things,” he told the Boston Business Journal. “It seemed natural to become an architect.”
After finishing his studies, he headed east.
“Boston was the center of the universe for architects at the time,” he said in the Journal interview. “For a young architect, it was a place to come and try your wings.”
Working with Belluschi, Mr. Brannen helped design the Julliard School in New York City. In the late 1960s, Mr. Brannen launched his own firm, and then cofounded Jung/Brannen.
Mr. Brannen was part of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. The Boston Society of Architects presented him with its Award of Honor in 1998.
While in college, he met Barbara Straight through friends on a waterskiing outing. They married in 1956 and had two daughters, Sarah and Jennie, who now both live in Sudbury.
“She thought he was cute, and he was just completely smitten,” Sarah said. “He fell in love with her the day they met, and he was in love with her the day she died.”
Mrs. Brannen, who died in 2017, was a home economics teacher who became an accomplished weaver of rugs. She and her family renovated an old farmhouse and barn near Lucca in the Tuscany region of Italy.
Mr. Brannen had been introduced to the area while visiting with Belluschi, with whom he also had helped design the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.
“We worked in and around Lucca,” Mr. Brannen recalled in an Architectural Digest interview, “and I returned, sometimes with Barbara and the girls.”
Friends in Italy showed the Brannens the farmhouse and several acres of olive trees, which soon became the family’s second home and design project.
While growing up in Seattle, Mr. Brannen “loved music and loved art and wanted to be an artist,” Sarah said. “He had the soul of an artist.”
In addition to his two daughters, Mr. Brannen leaves his sister, Suzanne Pocock of Seattle, and two granddaughters.
At his request, no service will be held.
Mr. Brannen “was a very endearing person. His personality was very much a gentleman, and one who would listen intently in conversations,” Mamayek recalled.
At work, Jung and Mr. Brannen focused “on the family first, in knowing everybody in the company, knowing the spouses, knowing the kids,” Mamayek said. “That was very endearing and very important, and a lasting element that built the culture of the company.”
The work at a growing firm was intense and often complex.
“We developed a system that monitors every task, in the hundreds,” Mr. Brannen told the Globe in 1987. “It shows every hour of every task. I monitor every job, 50 to 100 jobs, once a week. I can tell with great finesse where every project is and whether there are problems.”
To step away from the pressure, he headed to Maine, where “he loved to go sailing, because when you’re sailing, you can’t really think of anything but the boat, and not hit a rock,” Sarah said.
In a way, sailing drew on skills similar to those he used at work.
“I believe in creative problem solving,” he told the Boston Business Journal. “I have artistic thinking skills, but I get most excited when we solve a technical problem in an artful way.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.