The Rise and Fall of Legendary-But-Forgotten Architect Harry Weese


Speaking of profiles of modern architects, if you read one thing today (besides everything we post on UnBeige, of course), make sure it’s Robert Sharoff‘s excellent piece for Chicago on Harry Weese, the architect who played a central role in making Chicago the epicenter of modernism during the mid-60s to ’70s, as well as a number of important rehabilitation and restoration endeavors throughout the city, and was responsible for projects like Washington D.C.’s beautiful Metro system. It’s a who’s who of modernism, as Weese pals around with Mies van der Rohe, the Eames, I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen, among many others, as well as the sad story of a rise to greatness followed swiftly by a series of difficult falls until his death in the late-90s as Weese plunged further into alcoholism, womanizing, financial troubles, and eventually dying in relative obscurity in a veterans hospital he called home for the last decade of his life. It’s a great, if sad read, and a nice, early companion to Robert Bruegmann‘s upcoming book The Architecture of Harry Weese, which is set to be published in September and will hopefully help to revive the legacy of this once-great architect. Here’s a interesting bit from at the height of his career:

In 1968, Esquire published a feature article on the problems of half a dozen American cities and invited Weese to outline his ideas for improving Chicago. Among other things, he suggested raising Lake Shore Drive seven feet, to the level of Buckingham Fountain, and creating a new waterfront commercial district underneath the resulting viaducts. More ideas would follow: building a third airport three miles offshore on an island in Lake Michigan; glassing over Wabash Avenue for a retail arcade; creating a world’s fair to rival Burnham’s 1893 Columbian Exposition.

“He used to send Mayor Daley a sketch of something Chicago should be doing every two weeks or so,” says [former colleague Jack Hartray].