Carl Luckenbach, a prolific architect who designed Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome and buildings that still adorn the University of Michigan’s campus, died Jan. 9, 2022, at the age of 86.
Born in Detroit in 1935, Luckenbach developed from an early age a deep interest in design, thanks in part to the influence of his father, Owen Luckenbach, one of Michigan’s most prominent architects. Carl Luckenbach, a loyal Omicron Deke from the class of 1957 at Michigan, designed dozens of iconic structures throughout the United States and across the globe. His talents as an architect earned him international acclaim and major awards during his 58-year career.
An avid football fan since his days at Michigan, Carl was hired in the early 1970s to design what would become the Pontiac Silverdome. After it opened in 1975, the colossal arena with the inflatable roof hosted World Cup soccer matches, a Mass delivered by Pope John Paul II that drew more than 90,000 people, and concerts by, among others, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley. It was best known as the home of the Detroit Lions for 27 seasons.
“Dad loved football,” said his daughter, Elizabeth Luckenbach. “When he was hired by the university in 1991 to lower the field at the Big House by three and a half feet and to expand the stadium’s capacity, he negotiated his fee to include first row, 50-yard line season tickets. He attended as many home games as he could.”
After getting his degree from Michigan’s College of Architecture and Design in 1957, Luckenbach earned his master’s degree in architecture in 1959 from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Then he took a nine-month trip around the world, visiting Egypt, India, Japan, China, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and England. What he saw on that tour influenced his architectural vision for the rest of his life.
Next, Carl set up shop on his own in a rental house on Maple Road in Birmingham, Mich. After seven years, he joined O’Dell, Hewlett and Luckenbach, a firm founded by his father. Then, in 1980, Carl and his friend of 25 years, Robert Ziegelman, joined forces and formed Luckenbach Ziegelman Architects where he practiced until his retirement at age 83.
According to his family and friends, Carl was as passionate about life as he was about architecture. He loved travel, music, cooking, reading, cars and projects he tackled in his personal workspace, which he created in every home he ever lived.
He forged friendships with many people throughout his life and remained close to everyone in his family throughout several marriages. “He lived an incredible life and left an indelible mark on the communities in which he worked and lived,” said Elizabeth Luckenbach. “Everyone he met felt fortunate to know him.”