Kenneth E. Bentsen

Photograph of Kenneth Bentsen, F.A.I.A.

Kenneth Bentsen, F.A.I.A., ca. 1968.  Photographer unknown.  (Kenneth Bentsen Architectural Papers, University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections [“Bentsen Papers”].)

Kenneth Edward Bentsen (1926-2013) was born in Mission to Lloyd Bentsen, Sr., and Edna Ruth (Colbath) Bentsen. A prominent family in the Rio Grande Valley, his father was a successful rancher and businessman and his brother Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. had a successful business career in Houston and was a U.S. Senator from Texas. Rather than follow in his family’s business and ranching career, Bentsen pursued his passion for architecture. He attended the University of Texas before enlisting in the United States Naval Corps during World War II. After his service he attended the University of Houston and in 1952 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science and architecture.

At the start of his career, Bentsen worked with Mackie and Kamrath, a Houston firm, until he opened his own office in 1958, Kenneth Bentsen Associates, where he practiced until 1991.  Kenneth Bentsen and Associates would become one of Texas’ leading architecture firms designing massive structures and working exclusively with commercial and institutional clients.

Bentsen employed regional architecture into his designs - in that he attempted to form a connection between a design and existing characteristics of a region. During the three decades he ran his firm Bentsen’s clients ranged from business to universities to local governments. His most notable project in the RGV was when he was hired to create the master plan for eighteen of the buildings between 1967 and 1982 at the Pan American University now known as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Bentsen also designed several award-winning buildings in the Houston area such as the Summit that was home to the Houston Rockets. He also developed an expertise in design of health care facilities and created new buildings for Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Medical Center and M.D. Anderson Hospital.

Betty Bentsen and R. Dan Winn House

Source: RGVMOD. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Bentsen-Win Residence

In 1965 Bentsen designed a home for his sister Betty Bentsen Winn and her husband Dan Winn. Bentsen again was inspired by the regional architecture combining the feel of a Mexican courtyard and Anglo-derived Border Brick style.

First National Bank of Edinburg

Kenneth Bentsen Associates, First National Bank of Edinburg, Edinburg, Texas (1964) looking south. Photograph by Balthazar Korab, courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Bentsen Papers.)

RGV Bank Buildings

Bentsen kept with regional tradition and adapted modern classicism when creating the bank, incorporating Mexican colonial elements of of buff-colored bricks, and wide porches. “The modern classicism suggested that this small-town bank was serious and dignified but also up-to-date and modern. It was a sign that despite their provincial location, the bank and its customers were sophisticated and participated fully in mainstream American commercial culture.”

Bentsen was commissioned to design three banks in the Rio Grande Valley.

  1. First National Bank of Mission (1960)
  2. First National Bank of Edinburg (1964)
  3. Texas Commerce Bank-McAllen (1982)

Learn more James, Stephen. (2017). Kenneth Bentsen’s Pan American University: Regionalist Architecture and Identity in the Borderlands. Arris: The Journal of the Southeast Chapter of Architectural Historians, 28, 46.

Pan American University.jpg

Pan American University

Influenced by the Philadelphia master, Louis Kahn, Bentsen adapted a distinctive regional style as he created the master plan and design for 18 of the buildings for Pan American University now called the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas. To this day it is still one of the most important educational and cultural institutions in the Rio Grande Valley.

Kenneth E. Bentsen