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Harry M. Weese

Harry M. Weese, Architect [1915-1998]

Harry Mohr Weese [1] was born in 1915 in Evanston, Illinois, but grew up in Kenilworth. In 1933, he entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although he graduated in 1938 from M.I.T, Harry transferred to Yale in 1936. Despite the fact that both the Yale and M.I.T. curriculum were based on Beaux-Arts System, Harry Weese stated in his oral history that the Beaux-Arts was petering out, that there was no way that you could afford to build those ornate buildings anymore. You had to have them factory-made. We could see it coming. After graduation, Weese was awarded a fellowship at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, directed by Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen's father. He studied pottery and textiles in addition to city planning. At Cranbrook, Weese was exposed to Modernist principles, working alongside Eero Saarinen, Ralph Rapson and Charles Eames, who were to become significant Modern designers.

After graduation, Harry moved to Chicago and joined the firm of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (S.O.M.). In 1941, he enlisted in the Navy, serving as an engineering officer. When the war ended in 1945, Harry moved back to Chicago, noting that only a handful of people were doing significant modern design in the city: George Fred and William Keck, the Bowman Brothers, Paul Schweikher, Andrew Rebori, Mies van der Rohe and the firm of S.O.M., and he would be more likely to stand out. Harry briefly returned to S.O.M. before opening up his own office, "Harry Weese Associates" in 1947. During these years, the late 1940s and early 1950s, Harry designed homes for family members as well as for others in Barrington, Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, Davenport, Iowa, and in Columbus, Indiana. Bruegmann wrote, "All of these buildings (including the Drucker House) could be described as being modern in a relaxed, Scandinavian way."

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Harry Weese's career flourished. He continued to design houses, but he also received large commissions throughout the world, including embassies, church and school buildings, commercial buildings, urban renewal projects, municipal projects, Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center and his most important commission, the Washington Metro System. Bruegmann points out that the Metro established Harry Weese & Associates as the country's foremost architectural designer of rail transit systems and led to the firm's involvement in the planning and conceptual design of systems in cities in North America and overseas, including Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Buffalo, Toronto and Singapore. Harry also made his mark in historic preservation, leading the effort, in 1964-7, to preserve and restore Adler & Sullivan's Auditorium Theater, supervising the restoration of the Chicago's Field Museum and of Orchestra Hall. In 1979, he refurbished a derelict cold storage warehouse into condominiums facing the Chicago River, one of the city's first buildings designed to revitalize the banks of the Chicago River.

Beginning in the 1950s, shortly after completing the Drucker House, Harry's work began to receive wide-spread recognition. He was published in both architectural journals and popular magazines, including the Architectural Review, Life Magazine and Architectural Record. With a national reputation and an impressive list of commissions to his name, Harry was made a Fellow of the A.I.A. in 1961, and received the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in architecture from the National Institute of Arts & Letters in 1964. His award was received only 10 years after he had completed his design for his sister Susanne's house. In 1978, Harry Weese & Associates received the "Firm of the Year Award" by the A. I. A. That year the Chicago Press Club named him "Chicagoan of the Year."

Weese died in 1998. His New York Times obituary lauded Weese as "a major figure in Chicago architecture and planning since the 1950s." The Chicago Tribune's architecture critic, Blair Kamin, described Harry in the obituary he wrote as "the renowned architect who shaped Chicago's skyline and the way the city thought about everything from the lakefront to its treasure trove of historical buildings." He noted that " ... he presented a humanistic alternative to the sterile, steel-and-glass buildings then being turned out by followers of Mies van der Rohe." This humanist approach is clearly seen in Harry Weese's 1952 design for the Drucker House.

  1. Susan S. Benjamin, Cortney Gray Resnick and Gwen Sommers Yant, Benjamin Historic, Robert and Suzanne Drucker House, Cook County, IL, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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