Benjamin Kauffman Polk


Polk, Benjamin Kauffman

Personal Information

Occupation:    American architect
Location (state):    CA

AIA Affiliation

Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 1950-1976

Biographical Sources

American Architects Directories:
Biographical listing in 1956 American Architects Directory
Biographical listing in 1962 American Architects Directory
Biographical listing in 1970 American Architects Directory
Biographical information:
Contributed by the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley:
Benjamin Kauffman Polk was born in 1916 in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Amherst College, the University of Chicago, and studied structural engineering at Iowa State University. In 1952 he earned an equivalent master's degree from the School of Planning, Gordon Square, London, in the field of Research in Regional Development. Polk served in the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1946, and married Emily De Spain, poet, artist, and designer in 1946.
Polk practiced architecture in San Francisco from 1946-1952, and in Asia from 1952-1966. He designed and constructed more than fifty projects during this time. In 1957 he established the partnership of Chatterjee and Polk, which become the largest architecture firm in Asia. His major projects include: The Jallian Walabagh National Memorial in Amritsar, India, the Royal Palace for King of Nepal in Katmandu, and the great Buddhist Tipitaka Library in Rangoon, Burma. He also designed many large commercial and industrial buildings, universities and schools, and a theater in Calcutta, India.
In 1966 he returned to California, settling in Los Osos. From 1966-1980 he was a professor of architecture at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. During these years he also developed an improvisational piano technique, and traveled to Paris in 1977 to study with French composer Nadia Boulanger. After living in Salisbury, England, from 1981-1991, he returned to his home in Los Osos, California.
Polk is the author of Architecture and the Spirit of the Place, published in Calcutta in 1961, and India Notebook - Two Americans in South Asia of Nehru's Time, written with his wife Emily.

Related Records

Partner of George T. Rockrise
Partner of William J. Watson

Archival Holdings

The American Institute of Architects Archives
      Membership file may contain membership application, related correspondence. Membership files of living persons are not available. Contact the AIA Archives at archives@aia.org for further information.

Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Collection Number: 1994-1. Extent: 2 boxes. The Benjamin Polk collection spans the years 1938-1993 and is comprised of his scrapbooks. The collection contains photographs, correspondence, Polk's writings, and news clippings, primarily about Polk's projects. The scrapbooks also include some personal papers, such as biographical information, correspondence, and material about his music. The collection was donated in 1994 in four binders, and its order has been maintained. The original binder number is marked on each folder. Link to online finding aid: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf4g5004kq