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Wednesday, July 27, 2016 10:02 pm

'Visionary' behind Headwaters dies

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

The architect instrumental in designing Fort Wayne’s Headwaters Park has died.

Eric Kuhne died Monday in London at 64. According to a Facebook post from one of Kuhne’s friends, Kuhne died of a sudden heart attack.

Through his firm CivicArts, Kuhne designed buildings on five continents. He designed the Titanic Museum in Belfast, Ireland, and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as the Dubai International Finance Centre. He also designed the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent, England, the largest mall in Europe.

Kuhne graduated from New Haven High School in 1969 and Rice University in Houston in 1973. Kuhne graduated from Princeton University’s Graduate School of Architecture in 1983.

While in New Jersey, Kuhne worked for Michael Graves, a renowned architect from Indianapolis who died last year at the age of 80.

Although Kuhne’s work was renowned worldwide, those who knew him well say he held a soft spot for Fort Wayne.

"Eric was a unique personality. He was raised in New Haven – by a military father of modest means – with the biggest ambitions of anyone I’ve ever met," former Fort Wayne Mayor Win Moses said Wednesday.

Though he always had plans for the land that would eventually become what Kuhne once called "the lungs" of downtown Fort Wayne, it took the flood of 1982 for it to become a reality.

"Therein arrives at the right time Eric Kuhne," Moses said.

"The types of success we’re having today with Parkview Field and the Ash Brokerage development and the riverfront all started with Eric Kuhne making a great design across the thumb of downtown Fort Wayne."

Former City Council member and fellow architect John Shoaff said he and Kuhne became close friends during the construction of Headwaters Park. Shoaff at the time was president of the commission responsible for building the park.

"Eric was the visionary. It was his design and it’s a brilliant design," Shoaff said. "Eric had a very rare gift to be able to absorb enormous amounts of knowledge about a site and its history and, from that, bring forth both a practical and a poetic vision of his client’s needs."

Geoff Paddock, city councilman and director of Headwaters Park, said he’s still stunned by the beauty and functionality of the park.

"He was a hometown boy who created this fantastic design that has evolved into not only a really attractive park but a functional flood control component of the city and a great festival center for the public."

According to his friends, Kuhne was much more than his architectural career. Alan Grinsfelder, a local architect who worked with Kuhne on Headwaters Park, said Kuhne was an extremely talented, upbeat person.

"He just had a vision. He was an exceptional designer, and he used history and the past to motivate him on his designs," Grinsfelder said. "He picked pieces from historic architecture, and not just the styles – the philosophies, the proportions."

Shoaff described Kuhne as "extremely bright, full of ideas and extremely generous in all of his attitudes."

"For all of Eric’s friends and family, this is a great personal loss, because he was just such an upbeat, wonderful person," Shoaff said. "He was fun to be around and he was inspiring to be around."

Diana Hartman, a friend of Kuhne’s from high school, described Kuhne as a humble man with "one of the greatest minds of our time."

"I always say Eric’s mind is like a ping-pong ball fired into a very small box at a very high speed," Hartman said. "He never stopped learning, he never stopped listening, he never stopped being fascinated by things."

Despite this, Hartman said Kuhne was a very humble, down-to-earth man. In fact, Hartman said if one were to look at Kuhne’s Facebook page, it would take "about a day" to figure out just how prominent an architect he was.

"His last feed on Facebook was talking about the moonwalk. Michael Jackson’s moonwalk," Hartman said. "He was fascinating."

The Journal Gazette has not been able to confirm any funeral arrangements at this time.

dgong@jg.net