Margaret McCurry has been practicing architecture for almost six decades, first at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), then as a solo practitioner and, for forty years, as principal in the architectural and design firm of Tigerman McCurry with her late husband Stanley Tigerman. During her career, Margaret has designed and/or remodeled condominiums, country and town clubs, showrooms, museum installations, offices, and countless private residences throughout the United States. Her series of houses in Harbor Country, Michigan, have shaped the identity and character of the area. Margaret’s work has been recognized extensively, including Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Distinguished Building and Interior Architecture Awards from the AIA Chicago Chapter, and both National and Local Interior Design Project Awards from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). She is a Fellow of the AIA and, in 1990, she was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. A Loeb Fellow, she was the president of the Alumni/ae Council of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, served a six-year term as a director of the Harvard Alumni/ae Association, and a two-year term as president of the Harvard Club of Chicago. Years of designing and furnishing award winning residences has honed her expertise in providing harmonious, well-proportioned environments that directly affect the quality of one’s life and thereby one’s ability to function effectively.
IG: Let's start from the beginning. You were born in Chicago, September 26, 1942, and your first house was located at 9350 South Hamilton Avenue in Beverly Hills, a historically Irish neighborhood on Chicago’s Far South Side. Tell us a little bit about the neighborhood as you remember it and growing up in the house.
MM: The neighborhood is about a mile wide, if I remember, stretching from the Rock Island Railroad tracks on the east to Western Avenue on the west. There were two parts to it, divided by 95th Street. The older section to the south is where it gets the name Beverly Hills. My maternal grandfather Tipler lived in a turn of the century brick house on Longwood Drive atop one of the hills at 101st Street. The north section was newer. In 1935, my architect dad was able to buy an empty lot there on Hamilton Avenue. He built his dream house in the International Style on a street shaded by a canopy of elm trees. My grandfather Tipler was a successful dentist with a practice on the South Side on Wentworth Avenue. Wentworth and sections of the South Side changed demographically very dramatically after the war. He never stopped practicing and served whomever walked in the door. When he came for dinner, we children knew it was time to get a tooth pulled. It is very hard to have your grandfather be a dentist. I can remember once when he was coming, I crawled under the dining room table. It had a stretcher at the bottom, and I was so little I could slip under it and wrap my arms around it. My parents had to pry me out from under that table to get a tooth pulled.
The other houses in the neighborhood were a mix of styles. Colonial was next door, Dutch across the street. It was an odd mix. Ours was obviously the only modern house in all of that part of Beverly. Then, somebody built a tripartite, definitely a 1950s house, on another vacant lot a block away. It kind of upset me because that was the only vacant prairie left. I was a butterfly collector. I made a net of cheesecloth and wire, and my friend Sandy and I would capture butterflies there. We knew how to fix them and spread their wings and put them on cotton in little windowed boxes. I also found in that prairie two little garter snakes that were pets called Dotty and Spotty. I don’t know why. I don’t recall that anyone ever said that our house looked strange, and I never thought about it being unique. It did have a flat roof and glass block with steel muntin windows and a French door in the rear. Because it was a 50-foot-wide city lot, there were only a few feet on either side in the set back. There were no windows on the sides. There was an alley in the rear, and a back gate from the yard, which was great for the neighborhood, because you could play back there. The knife grinder man would come down the alley. He had an odd little cart with a bell that would tinkle so you knew that he was coming by. We always pretended he was the boogie man. It was a lovely life for a kid. On summer evenings, the Good Humor ice cream truck sounded its bells and, if you were good that day, you had a nickel to spend. But the real treat was the Rainbow Cone, an institution on Western Ave. A couple of blocks north, there was a sledding hill in the Dan Ryan Forest Preserve near my Kate Starr Kellogg grade school’s playground, and I could ride my Schwinn New World bicycle anywhere in the neighborhood. Beverly was a very safe, simple place to grow up, an idyll which lasted until my twelfth year when we moved to Lake Forest. Today it is gated, which is very strange. You can enter one way, and only exit another way. It is an integrated neighborhood now. It wasn’t then.
My sister Marian and I shared a second-floor bedroom. One of its corner windows looked out over the screened sleeping porch. It used to get hot in the summer on the South Side, especially far from the lake where you didn’t get much of a breeze. My mother’s childhood home in Hamilton Park had sleeping porches, as did many in the neighborhood. It was one of the architectural features of the time of pre air conditioning. However, when it rained our drain tended to back up. When it did, our parents would wake us up in the middle of the night to man the bucket brigade. Our other casement window opened above the screen porch below that had a gridded glass roof. I could climb out that window and, treading carefully across the roof joists, shimmy down a small tree that grew beside porch, which I used to do some afternoons instead of napping. There was one set of two-story houses under construction at the end of the block, and I remember playing in them one summer. I would gallop down the street on my imaginary companion, Trigger, and swing from the roof beams. It was kind of a daredevil stunt. I didn’t think about what it might mean to fall from the second floor when you are using the joists as a balance beam.
My grandmother Ella McCurry lived with us. Her room above the garage opened to a back deck over the rear portion of the garage. She had been an intrepid schoolteacher in rural 1890s Washington state. She rode a horse to class and taught me how to read before I entered the first grade. That was a very special room with French doors. It became my younger brother Alan’s when she died. The enclosed staircase curved upward so when my parents had friends over, we could sit out of sight on the stairs and listen to adult conversation. They didn't feed children before adults, so we were always seated at the dining table with whomever came over. It was a learning experience to listen to those conversations.
IG: Is the house still there?
MM: Sort of. Some owner has tried to integrate it into the historically styled homes in the neighborhood. Its three-foot-high base is black silica brick. Above was Chicago common brick painted white. It has since been sandblasted. The casement windows were Hope’s steel windows, so probably single glazed. And then, of course, there was the glass block. In front, its diffused light formed my mother’s dressing area. I have always loved glass block and use it when I can. Unfortunately, its R value means that you have to use it sparingly. But of course, at that time, that wasn’t so important. It was really a wonderful house. The light steel windows have now been replaced with wood. The windows weren’t that large anyway, so once you start adding heavy wood frames, they get even smaller and the glass block is all gone. It is now a very peculiar hybrid. I am surprised they didn't put a pitched roof on it for the final degradation. Fortunately, we had all the photographs my dad had taken professionally. In one of them, there is a sign out front. Before the war, the country was still in the Depression, and he was teaching and trying to practice architecture on the side. The little sign says: “Paul McCurry Architect” in case anyone wanted to give him a commission. He didn’t join Schmidt, Garden & Erickson until right after the war.
IG: He joined in 1946 and worked there until 1976. Your father being an architect, did you ever go to the construction sites growing up? What was your relationship with him as an architect?
MM: He was designing commercial buildings, schools, and hospitals, so he would take us to the dedications of the completed projects. But he didn’t take us along to any of his construction sites. He wasn’t expecting that his first two children as girls were ever going to enter such a profession. He wasn’t encouraging because he was afraid that architecture was too hard a field for women. We had come from a long line of schoolteachers, so he thought that would be a fine profession. I could even be an art teacher if I wanted to because my mother and I used to paint together all the time. He didn’t encourage me to go to architecture school, which is probably how I ended up entering in through the back door so to speak.
JM: Tell us a little bit more about your mother. Your mother was an art teacher. What were her influences on you and your relationship with her?
MM: She had a master’s degree in education from Columbia Teachers College in New York, which was unusual for someone born in 1907, especially a woman. She was a very gentle loving soul. I think my sister Marian is much more like my mother. She was clearly not the dominant member of the family. Once she showed us a box in the garage where she stored the puppets she had created when she was teaching art. We were given piano lessons and were sent to dancing classes when we were little. I can remember that there was no way I was going to be a ballet dancer. If you have ever put those little pink satin shoes on and tried to prance around on your toes, it is the most painful thing. However, I loved tap dancing, which made noise. Our class would actually perform at the Blackstone Theatre to an audience.
My maternal grandmother Lucy had multiple sclerosis and died when I was very young, so I never got to know her, but she taught my mother, how to sew so mother would make these special costumes for our performances. My sister and I did a tap-dancing act to the song “Me and My Shadow.” I was the dog, and I had a little black velvet leotard with a matching cap. It had floppy ears with pink satin interiors. It was beautiful. And then she made a cat costume for Marian that was white satin with little pink pointed ears. I remember, however, that in grade school I never wanted to take sewing or homemaking classes. I liked the ones that taught you how to wire a lamp, the boys’ classes. I was a tomboy that wore corduroy bib overalls until the school dictated that I wear a dress to class. It is very hard to play ball on the playground in a dress. My knees were always skinned. Mother and I painted watercolors together, attending art classes on Saturdays, but she didn’t paint at home. She was very much a homemaker with three kids to raise. She was a quieter influence on me because she wasn’t an aggressive person. I think when she signed off on raising kids, that’s what she did.
IG: You took drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when you were around ten years old, which was quite a trip from the far South Side all the way to downtown. Tell us about taking the classes and being downtown.
MM: The Rock Island train was a locomotive, a steam engine, and it was a classic. The seats were woven cane and, of course, there wasn't air conditioning, so the operable windows were left open. It was really an adventurous trip because its embankment ran along State Street where the Robert Taylor Homes would later be built. But, at the time, before all the public housing was constructed, the housing was comprised of two flats or three flats. They were probably cold water flats, because some of these neighborhoods were very poor. The train left Beverly and passed through Auburn/Gresham and Bronzeville. Families were sitting out on their back porches and stairs in the summertime. It was interesting to see everyone, and briefly be so close to them. You could almost reach out the window and touch them and hear snatches of conversations. On Saturday mornings, I walked to the train station by myself, which was at least a mile, rode the train by myself, got off in the middle of the Loop at Lasalle Street Station, and then walked down Van Buren Street. My favorite store sold horseback riding gear with boots and saddles in the window. I was never concerned with safety. My parents obviously weren’t either as they sent their kid on the train by herself to the Art Institute. It was fun, I loved the city. I loved the trip, the adventure of it all. And then, of course, the Art Institute. My dad had his classes up in the attic under a skylight. That’s where IIT, or the Armour Institute as it was called at the time, had their architectural drawing classes. My mother had a life membership at the Art Institute, which she purchased when she was a very young woman, I think even before she married my father. It probably cost $15. When he died, she got this letter saying, “We’re sorry, but you have lost your life membership.” She was extremely distressed. One of the most important things she owned was her life membership card. I had to go to the Art Institute and say, “No, look up your records. It was my mother’s membership but in her maiden name.” Fortunately, she got reinstated. One of the key things at the end of her life that we would do together was to visit the museum to see the new exhibitions and have lunch in the courtyard.
IG: Did you ever wander around the Loop going to your drawing classes? Did you ever decide to take a little bit of a detour?
MM: I don’t remember doing that. I remember mostly a dark and rather scruffy Van Buren Street. And the sound of the “L” passing overhead as I walked across Wells Street. I don’t think I ever crossed the river to North Michigan Avenue. There wasn’t actually that much there at the time except for the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower until Mies van der Rohe’s Glass Houses [Lake Shore Drive Apartments] were built. We did obviously drive into the city from Beverly to the Cliff Dwellers. The club for members of the Fine or Performing Arts was across from the Art Institute. I mean, it still sort of is, but then it was on top of Orchestra Hall. Even though women weren’t allowed, my father, a longtime member, would bring us as a family to special events. They had an exuberant, I believe Slovenian, drinking song all the men would sing as we sat down to dinner called Zivio. The Cliff Dwellers was one of the last clubs to accept women members. In fact, in 1979 Stanley and I had to have our wedding reception there. Stanley had picked St. Patrick’s Day for the ceremony but unfortunately, the Arts Club, to which we both belonged, had an event that day. Even my father had voted against women, as did my brother-in-law. But in 1984, when the Club was finally forced to integrate by its younger members, a representative called to say, “Well, you know, now that women are welcome, we would like you to be one of our first members.” I replied, “too late.” And I have never joined.
JM: I want to go back a little bit to the idea of trips. Besides your trips downtown, we understand that, as a family, you went on trips every summer, and they were sort of architectural and exploratory in nature. Were there any that stand out to you or were memorable?
MM: Yes. My father would take two weeks off work every summer, and we would travel to some part of the country to see architecture or study historical sites. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, was a very important early one. I don’t think the streets were paved. If they were, it was with bricks. Guides were dressed in period costumes and told tales of the American Revolution. We stayed in one of the historic homes and dined by candlelight served by liveried footmen. In Gettysburg we walked the battlefields of the Civil War. I read a lot about the Civil War when I was a kid, because my dad was a history buff as well. When you are a kid, and you see all the cannons and military paraphernalia it’s very memorable. My boyfriend Grant in Beverly had a basement with shelving filled with toys. My favorite was a cap pistol with a leather holster. Cowboys and Indians, that’s what you played then. I always wanted to be the cowboy with the gun. To be an Indian we had to cut some of the branches from the neighbor’s bushes in the alley to make bows and arrows because there weren’t any real ones. In Charleston, which is an incredibly beautiful city, I liked learning about the building types. On a tour, we learned that the old houses in Charleston are very narrow and very deep. That was because owners were taxed on the amount of frontage. That geometry created breezeways between the houses, that were also oriented to account for the prevailing winds. It was very interesting to learn that a style of building was simultaneously based on climate and taxation. The streets and enfilade squares of Savannah were important models of the way landscape was integrated into city parks. It was equally exciting to travel West to see the Anasazi Ruins. We were in Santa Fe one August for the Festival of the Lights, which was quite amazing. Sand is put in a paper bag to support a candle called a luminaria. These golden lights lined walkways and lit the parapets of the traditional adobe buildings. We visited Pueblos and saw Native American dances. There were awesome trips into the Rocky Mountains and over Independence Pass into Aspen. I fell in love with Aspen the summer I was eight years old. You could still ride your horse down the center of town and there were hitching posts in front of stores. We rode the two-person ski lift, 1A, up Ajax Mountain and bought souvenirs. During World War II, the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division had trained on these slopes and veterans returned to establish the ski resort. Aspen was a center of the silver mining boom of the nineteenth century. It was rediscovered by the Paepcke family in the 1950s. Walter Paepcke had founded Container Corporation of America and Aspen became a mecca for Chicagoans. Harry Weese had a historic house there. While we children dutifully listened to the orchestra under the famous music tent we were in awe of the sled dogs at Toklat Lodge. Stuart Mace, the owner, told mesmerizing stories of early Aspen as we sat around the dining table suspended by ropes from the wooden rafters. Toklat, the Inuit word for Headwaters, was sited far up Castle Creek near the ghost town of Ashcroft. While that era is over, I always cross-country ski up Castle Creek every time I visit the valley of the Roaring Fork. Twenty-five years ago, Stanley and I built a house in the historic district for our friend Judy Neisser. Aspen was very interested in trying to preserve the architectural character of the West End, which had been filled with the original miner’s cottages. These modest Victorians weren’t necessarily built for Colorado’s climatic conditions. They were what you might find in a Sears Roebuck catalog, or they were constructed by local craftsmen. Many of them with gabled roofs and shingled crickets had snow issues in the winter. Miners would have to climb up on the roof and shovel the snow off. When we built the house for Judy, we designed a standing seam metal roof so the snow would slide off. It was a shed roof shaped like some of the miners’ shacks and their sluices that you could see in the old silver mining camps. We were able to tear down one of the original cottages that Judy purchased because it had been so altered by additions that its original character had disappeared. Aspen had this set of design rules you had to adhere to in order to build a new house in the historic district. The city was trying to discourage you from designing a modern house in the West End. For example, you had to have three feet separating the windows from the first floor to the second floor. They didn’t want two floors of solid glass. There are some houses that did it anyway. At that level of money in the West End, owners would pay the fine and forget it. But you also had to consider the house on either side of your lot. I think these are interesting rules for any community to have. To maintain the character of the street façade, you had to situate the structure within a certain number of feet between each of the two existing houses on either side. You would draw a demarcation line between them, and then you could only shift forward or backward two feet within that. The roof pitch was another rule. To encourage gables, the rule allowed you to build higher than the height allowance up to the midpoint of the gable. We were designing shed roofs and we kept reiterating that, “this shape is half of a gable,” and they said, “No, it’s a shed.” We had to drop the house down a couple feet because they wouldn’t let us call our peak, the half peak. The rule also stated that if your neighbor had a one-story addition on one side of the house, then you had to have one of those too. You could choose what side it was, but you had to do that as well. It gave you a very interesting puzzle to solve, which is how Judy’s house developed the shape that it has. I have always enjoyed problem solving.
IG: Let’s go back a little bit to Chicago in 1955 when you were twelve / thirteen years old. Your father designed a new house in the Campbell subdivision, which is about three miles from Lake Forest. Tell us about that house and your transition from living on the far South Side of Chicago to the northern suburbs and how that period of your life was with your siblings.
MM: Marshall Campbell was my father’s friend who decided to become a developer and buy vacant land in Lake Forest. His wife was our Beverly Hills nursery schoolteacher. At that time, I would have entered the eighth grade the following year and the next year I would have attended public high school on the South Side. My father decided that Morgan Park high school in the Morgan Park neighborhood was miles from our home and not of sufficient educational rigor then to prepare his children for college level entrance exams. My father was very fond of his family, and he didn’t want to, nor could he probably afford to on an architect’s salary, send us away to prep school. He liked to play with us. We built erector sets in the winter, hiked in the forest preserves in the spring and fall, and visited Old Baldy in the Indiana Dunes on summer weekends. He had to find a community with an adequate educational system. Hence, the relocation to the northern suburbs. There he taught us how to play tennis and golf the minute they let us onto Deerpath, the public course at age thirteen. He designed several spec houses for the Campbells, one of which they lived in on Cherokee Road and Greenbay. The one-story one that we moved into down the block on Cherokee and Waveland was going to be a temporary house. They moved us north in June, before the house was completely finished. Since school was miles away and not in session, we had no opportunity that summer to make new friends. Unlike Beverly, our subdivision had few children our age. So, we would ride our bikes to the public library in town, sign out books, put them in our baskets, and ride back again. I would read a book a day when I wasn’t outside. Father had purchased the adjacent half-acre lot and agreed to pay us 25 cents a bucket to pick all the stones out of the dirt so that he could seed a lawn to play on. I found a small white arrowhead while filling my bucket, which I still treasure. He then decided that there needed to be tennis courts. I don’t think there were any public courts in Lake Forest. He tried to join the Onwentsia Club. That’s when you discover that for a new family like ours, there was a very long waiting list, something like ten years, and his children would be gone by then. He gathered some of the other young families that were moving into our subdivision and they raised the money to buy acreage close to the public golf course. He then designed and built the Lake Forest Club, which had tennis courts and a swimming pool. My parents were very happy in Lake Forest. He put an addition on the Deerpath school, the grade school, and was very engaged with the city and on the planning commission at one point. Plus, it is a beautiful place to live. It is just that, when you are in high school, and you discover that your Sunday School class is filled with teens your age who are sent to prep school and that there is an exclusive social hierarchy, you are not so happy. There was a different one in restricted Beverly obviously, but I was younger and more naïve growing up in that homogenous world in a small grade school. Each grade occupied one home room and I often finished assignments early and drew mostly images of horses that the teachers pinned on the walls. I was a good student with a report card filled with E’s for Excellence but Deerpath decided a Chicago public school education was inferior and placed me in a middle level class which carried over into secondary school. Lake Forest High School was the first time I had actually been in school with African American students. Sonny Green, who was very popular, became president of our class. He was tall and a good basketball player. His best friend on the Scout team was Bill Ralston, also one of the leaders of the class who came from a distinguished military family. Bill was killed in Vietnam. Sonny never forgot him and when he started a company, he named it after the number on Bill’s jersey. I was very impressed by that story that Sonny told at an earlier reunion. In 2010, our class of 1960 held its 50th and last high school reunion, which was a scary thing. A lot of classmates came from afar. I helped plan the event along with classmate Pony, who had married Kathe, one of our Elkhart cousins. Afterwards, in a spirit of revived camaraderie two classmates started an email newsletter called “From the Cellar to the Attic.” Our Friday night dances were held in the attic of a building called the Cellar. One of our classmates became the cub reporter who selected a theme like our favorite songs of the 50s to which we all contributed memories. At years end, the two reporters just closed this last chapter of our many trips down memory lane.
JM: Since it was different than the house you initially grew up in in Beverly Hills, was there anything special or notable about this house?
MM: No. It had a very well-organized plan orientated to the south with lesser rooms on the north. It was on the corner, with a wooded lot across the street. Its long south façade had operable ribbon windows and a four-foot overhang. All throughout our childhood the house was unairconditioned. When our dad retired and didn’t choose to winter in Florida, the south sun would shine in under that overhang. He had a sheepskin hide from Australia I had brought back from down under and he would curl up on that in the sun and plan their next adventure. He never stopped traveling. I think my parents’ last trip was to Russia when he was in his 80s. This new single-story house was very much midcentury in character. It was clad in brick painted white like Beverly but, since it was only meant to be transitional until the next dream house was designed, there were no special effects. The exception was the landscaping. Our father hired his friend Franz Lipp, a famous landscape architect, to tackle the flat prairie. Franz planted such a plethora of unique trees and shrubs that I was able to complete my entire leaf collection notebook for my biology class just on our property alone. My familial chores were to carefully circumnavigate these prized possessions on the riding lawn mower and to drive my siblings to school. I shared the driving chores on our summer trips and after college I bought a Honda motorcycle with my first earnings. It was followed some years and many dollars later by a Fiat Spider, my elegant much loved little navy-blue convertible.
JM: After high school you decided to attend Vassar College, a Liberal Arts College in Poughkeepsie, New York. What made you decide to go to there and what did you study while you were there?
MM: My dad took the whole family college hunting on our summer adventures. When we were on the West Coast, we looked at some of the schools. I remember thinking then that California was a very different world. I think I wore very conservative Bermuda shorts and knee socks, and girls on campus wore very colorful pedal pushers. It all felt strange. He wanted us to have a unique experience different from the Midwest, so he was perfectly happy sending us east or west, either one. When we drove east, we looked at women’s colleges called The Seven Sisters. When we traveled to Vassar the spring of my junior year, we drove through the front gate, underneath a gothic building, Taylor Hall, which housed the Art History Department that was connected to the main library. That was the most significant building that you saw when you first entered the campus. When we arrived, I had an interview and picked up an early decision blank. I filled it out and when I got in that fall it was like, “Oh okay, I guess I’m going to Vassar.” But it wasn’t an unhappy decision because I remembered the front gate and that the Art History Department had a stellar reputation. It was just an automatic choice that I would study Art History. It was an old-fashioned art history department. In the professors’ opinions, artists never had any psychological issues. I can remember writing a paper about Michelangelo and using some psychological terms and big red Xs covered them and Bah Humbug scribbled in the margin by feisty Agnes Claflin, the head of the department. She was also the director of the Art Gallery. I usually took five courses every semester plus a sixth one, which was a painting class that was held in the skylit attic of Ely the old Romanesque gym. I don’t think that the Art History department ever knew until the very end that I was also taking Studio Art. Senior year, when the head of the department discovered that, she was contrite and added my paintings to an exhibition. I took as much architecture as was offered in my major—drafting classes and the history of architecture. I had a double minor in English and political science. I remember a lecture in Rockefeller Hall when the lecturer announced, “I’m a Russian,” and we were amazed. “He’s a Russian!” because it was the Cold War. Even in grade school, we had air raid drills. The alarm bell would sound, we would be rushed into the corridor crouch in front of our lockers, and put our hands over our heads, because it was the Korean War. We were always aware of the so-called enemy, and here was one of them, standing at the lecture podium. It was a strange time, the early 60s, just before the revolutions began but change was in the air. Joan Baez was invited to the campus my freshman year by one of my classmates who was from Boston and hung out in some of the supper clubs where she was singing her protest songs. This was before she was well known. I think Vassar held one of her first performances and it was a very important bellwether concert.
JM: Were there any faculty that had any impact on you while you were there?
MM: Not that stand out. And yet they all did. It was their larger-than-life personalities. Lelia Barber, who taught Italian painting, intoning about delicious, delectable Putti. John Christie’s frustrated tirade when none of us in his American Literature class could comprehend Transcendentalism. Alfred Frazer, the medievalist who took our class on an architecture trip to New York to meet Philip Johnson, who shocked us by calling himself a whore. Vassar President Sarah Gibson Blanding, who called a mandatory college assembly in the chapel to lecture us on sex and moral behavior. It was the sixties after all, and freedom was in the air. But a lecturer whose name escapes me explained an important principal of creative writing that has influenced my own work ever since. He asked us to think about the simple sentence: “The smell of steak” and then to imagine “the smell of steak in corridors.” What a world of difference in just one word.
I enjoyed Vassar. A woman’s college was a perfect place for me because, frankly, unlike the South Side or at Lake Forest High School, I was the unpopular kid who wore glasses, was shy and stuck in the middle level. It was a strange, cliquey environment with friendships that went back to kindergarten. I didn’t have the right clothes. I guess I had one felt circle skirt and one angora sweater set. I replaced my sturdy oxfords with fashionable bubbles but still I never had a partner at the Cellar dances. When I got to college sans glasses, I discovered that there were many men’s colleges within striking distance and a bus that went to mixers every weekend. I went adventuring and I had a great time. I almost flunked out fall semester of freshman year because I had neglected my studies. It was great fun to acquire a boy acquaintance in every port. Then I realized that my classmates were at least as smart as I was, if not much smarter, and I’d better knuckle down. I spent the spring semester in the art library in a cubicle that looked out over the front gate and I managed to get the grades back to an acceptable level. I also made good friends that first year and we formed an ecumenical rooming group. There were five of us, two Midwesterners, two Southerners, and a New Yorker, a Protestant, three Jews, and a Catholic and I still see most of them at least once a year.
JM: You stayed in the Emma Hartman Noyes House, which was designed by Eero Saarinen. Were you aware of the significance of that at the time and did that have any influence on you?
MM: I certainly knew Noyes was Saarinen because my dad told me, but it was an odd dorm only a few years old. It was curved with entry canopies we called mushrooms. There were originally to be two of them designed in brick to form an arc surrounding a grassy circle. It had a feature that we called the “passion pit,” which was a sunken pit in the living room that you could sit around. The furniture was all Saarinen. In the evenings, for an hour after dinner, many of us played bridge sitting on purple upholstered pedestal chairs at his white pedestal tables. It was very bright and modern. I liked the fact that it was modern because it felt comfortable like growing up in our house. The rooms were very clean and spare with maple built-in cabinetry, a bed, and a grey metal desk. But it was strange for a new dorm because the way the mechanical system was set up, you could hear conversations above and below you if you were close to the windows. I am remembering less about its architecture because I didn’t think it was that significant compared to Ferry House, which was a small Marcel Breuer dorm designed in the International Style. That dorm was built for scholarship students who received reduced tuition if they cooked their own dinners and did their own laundry. The foreign language departments were in another unique Breuer building. It turned out years later, when the college had to install a sprinkler system in Noyes, that in its concrete ceilings there was no way to hide the piping. When I toured the building at a reunion, my old room looked like a basement. All the dorms at that time had their own dining rooms. A student chore that was left over from the war years was having us spend time in the kitchens, scraping dishes, and helping. It was called “scrape” and you had to sign up for it every semester. You would be stationed in the kitchen with all the dirty dishes coming through on the conveyor belt and you were in line with all these aproned men that I think were mostly Russians. They were very large and sweaty, and I remember thinking, “I hope no visitors look through the window and see me in my hairnet.” But since I was a night owl, I could report to breakfast in a robe which was a treat especially in the winter. With the change to a coed campus, the college converted the neoclassical Students building into all college dining. I think some of the older buildings on campus had more interesting room configurations. They were more squirrely and adaptable to student personalities.
IG: You graduated in 1964. Did you ever consider staying on the East Coast after graduation?
MM: Oh yeah. All my roommates were engaged or about to be and planning to be married the following season but hoping for a celebratory year of freedom in New York City. They were all searching for apartments together on the Upper East Side and looking for jobs. Vassar didn’t have any programs to help with the job search. Someone came to the campus and announced that we could design greeting cards as artists working for Hallmark. Otherwise, the college expected that we would apply to graduate schools. I was anxious to start a career and not ready to consider graduate school as the answer. I would have liked to be in New York and my friends were all trying to figure out how we would live and find jobs. Some of them got jobs in art galleries and had to stuff three souls into a one-bedroom apartment because you weren’t paid a reasonable salary. I had always spent weekends going into New York on the bus to the theater and museums. I roamed all through the city and loved it, but my father was not happy losing his children and made it a little difficult to emigrate there. I finally reluctantly came back to Chicago and looked for jobs here, but for women there weren’t any starting jobs, except as secretaries. That summer, I learned how to use an electric typewriter and take a form of shorthand called speed writing. I can’t remember even now how to do it. It was so demoralizing to realize that this is what you had to be if you wanted to earn a living. Every woman in that class was a graduate of the Seven Sisters, most of them trying to figure out what to do next. Job offers came after I signed up with a placement agency. One was to wrap Christmas presents on the top floor of Marshall Field’s. You would be doing that task in the summer for the Christmas window displays. That was supposed to be artistic. One was being a copy editor at Scott Foresman, which sounded extremely dull. The third one was working in the package design department at the Quaker Oats Company, which was housed in the Merchandise Mart at the time. I took that job because at least it had something to do with design, even though it was the secretary to the head of the package design department, which was very small. I did manage, after about six months or a year there, to get one of the few jobs that women had above the level of secretary, which was a package design coordinator. That was a lot of fun because I could travel to New York, where most of the ad agencies were located and work with them on their designs for the different packaging. At one point, I was assigned to the Aunt Jemima buttermilk pancakes wrapper and scheduled to attend the photography session in New York. Usually, you would be accompanied by the woman who oversaw the kitchens at Quaker to discuss what the food should look like when it was cooked. She and I didn’t have the same idea of how the pancakes should look on the wrapper. She would normally cook the pancakes that would be used for the display, but she decided not to go to New York. I think she figured that if she didn’t go and I didn’t do it right, I would fail and then they could fire me, and I would not be this thorn in her side. I was then, by default, in charge of cooking the buttermilk pancakes. It was quite challenging to figure out how to get their little edges to turn under and to cause their tops to be lacy. I learned how to melt the butter on top by sliding a hot knife under the pat because, of course, by then the pancake was cold. But if it got too cold, then it sank, and the edges wouldn’t round but cave in. I made a lot of pancakes in the search for my perfect pancake, but it was great fun. That week in the fall of ’65 was when the first infamous blackout occurred in New York. As the electrical grid failed, the whole city went black. In fact, most of New England and as far north as Canada, I discovered later were affected. I was supposed to fly back that evening and I soon realized that I couldn’t leave. I had my suitcase with me, but you couldn’t even travel through the tunnels, they were closed. I had to go back uptown to stay with one of my roommates, but there were no traffic lights or taxis. At one point, I hitched a ride on the back of a station wagon that had its hatch down and a family was picking up people. It was very exciting. People were hopping out of cars and directing traffic. I got uptown and had to climb up twenty flights of stairs with my suitcase. Those were interesting days at Quaker, once I rose above the level of secretary. There were only a few of us. I just got a Christmas card from Carol, a Wellesley graduate who worked as an analyst in one of the brand management bull pens. We have corresponded ever since. She lives in Memphis now. There was a Quaker lunchroom, but we never ate lunch in it because the secretaries would whisper about us all the time, like, “well, we know how you got that job.” The men would never invite us to sit with them either for fear of gossip. We would have a sandwich by ourselves on the second floor of the Merchandise Mart, which had a couple of fast-food restaurants. That part wasn’t pleasant. You really didn't have any other friends in the company because they were suspicious of how you managed to move up one level.
IG: During that time, your sister and your brother were taking architectural classes at UIC, which happened to have some involvement by Stanley Tigerman. What did they say about that time or about Stanley?
MM: Marian had also attended Vassar, two years behind me. When I was supposed to be the architect, she was going to be the doctor. She always had an affinity for biology and ecology, but once the premed program required chemistry, she was starting to reconsider. Also, when I didn’t pursue architecture, immediately that decision caused her to rethink premed. My dad would always find something for us to study in the summer. He sent me to camp in Minnesota for two summers when we first moved to Lake Forest, and Marian for one, but that was it for outdoor fun. Instead, we would go to school every summer. That is how the two of them ended up at UIC the summer before Marian’s senior year. Alan, just finishing his freshman year, never had much interest in the subject but my father put both together in this beginning architecture class, and they ended up with Stanley on their jury and I believe Don Hansen as their professor. I am not sure that I remember much about what they were studying, except that Marian was obviously fascinated by the housing project assignment. I just remember her saying that our father sat in on the final jury during which Stanley had this habit of gnawing on his handkerchief as he criticized her drawings. He was known for being a tough critic, a trait he had inherited from Paul Rudolph, his professor at Yale. During her final year, Marian couldn’t switch her major at Vassar, but she took a lot of art courses. She went on to the University of Michigan for two years to study architecture but left before she got her degree to marry Douglas. He attended UIC and was a student of Stanley’s at one point when classes were held at Navy Pier. I remember him telling me that, students in the class after his, hung Stanley in effigy from a water tower atop an old factory where studios were held while the new campus designed by Walter Netsch was under construction. My father introduced me to Stanley one summer at an outdoor AIA event. I worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill then but Stanley was not very interested in some young designer. He kept looking around, like “how do I escape.” Many, many years later, when he was separated from his second wife, I was added to his potential dating list by Ursula, a former SOM friend. I got this call from Stanley and I thought, “I remember you. You weren’t very nice to me. I'll go out with you and show you.” That was our first date. I was going to get back at him for ignoring me ten years earlier. Who knew! One of my college roommates, Ellen, who lived in New York, was visiting her sister in Lincoln Park. Sally Ruth had invited me for drinks when Stanley called. I told him, “I’m going over to see friends.” He said, “I’ll come along.” I brought him with me and he charmed them. They immediately decided this was a keeper and let me know the next day that this was a keeper.
JM: When Marian and Alan were taking classes at UIC, I think that you were also part of the Chicago Beautiful Committee, which was an organization formed by Eleanor “Sis” Daley, the wife of Richard J. Daley, Mayor at the time. What did you do on that committee and what did the committee do in the city?
MM: I believe that different ward Aldermen would propose landscapes or beautification projects in neighborhoods they represented that they thought might be worthy of getting a Chicago Beautiful Award. A group of us would travel around to see the entries which allowed me into a lot of the neighborhoods in the city. We tried really hard to give awards to some of the poorer neighborhoods that were struggling to even have a garden. It was an interesting way of reacquainting myself with the South Side. But then, I realized that all the cold water flats had been torn down and replaced by the Robert Taylor Homes. It was a different world than what I remembered. I also volunteered with Channel 11’s auction to raise money for the station. One year, I was invited to be an auctioneer. I was with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Interiors group at the time so I could persuade different furniture houses to donate furniture to be auctioned off. I was always looking for ways to become more engaged with the city.
When I graduated from college, I spent the first year living at home in Lake Forest and commuting downtown to Quaker Oats. I had that job for maybe two or two and a half years when Quaker management integrated our small package design department into the much larger advertising department. The head of advertising didn’t want another head or any competition, so he fired all four of us. At that point, I got several job offers to go to New York and work for ad agencies because as a package design coordinator I had been working with all of the key designers in the ad agencies there. When my father realized he was potentially losing a child again, he said, “I know Ed Petrazio, who is in charge of hiring at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Why don’t you go there and interview with him?” I did and talked about how much I knew about color separation, printing, and package design. I think Ed was a close enough friend of my dad’s that he figured I could probably fit into the interior design department somehow. I got hired and stayed in Chicago. I worked in the interiors department for eleven years.
JM: The interiors department at that time was run by Richard McKenna, who had been sent to Chicago from the New York office, where he had worked under Davis Allen. It would be good to hear a little bit more about the studio, who worked there, and about the atmosphere of the interiors studio at SOM.
MM: Richard was a tall, elegant character with a hint of a Southern drawl. I was a very junior level designer at that point. I remember distinctly that there was a more senior member named John Hornus who worked directly with Richard. I’m not sure whether Richard was married or not, or whether he was gay. John was. I think there was an atmosphere of “This is our little clique.” I worked on Container Corporation, which Richard didn’t have much interest in, as they were rather mundane projects. I was assigned to a young woman named Kayla who had worked her way up through the ranks as a project manager and knew all the formulas for Container Corporation and their Color Harmony Manual that we all used. I know that Richard was not happy having been sent to the Midwest from New York. I don’t remember quite why or how, but he either went back or disappeared. He wasn’t around that long. John then planned to take his place. The building’s interiors that we were all to work on was the National Life and Accident Insurance Company in Nashville, Tennessee. John wanted to be the chief designer, and I was to work under him. I remember that he had an apartment in 900 or 910 [Lake Shore Drive], and I did as well because when he travelled, I was the designated keeper of his Prussian Blue cat. I had a little efficiency apartment in 900. It faced west so I could watch the John Hancock building under construction. But at National Life, the executives were not interested in a junior designer. They wanted Davis Allen, head of interiors of the New York office. He became the key designer and John tried a power play to unseat him by presenting an alternate design proposal. It failed and John was fired. I ended up working under Davis Allen, which was an amazing opportunity. He was a wonderful man, very cultured, and a great mentor. The National Life job continued for a number of years, and I traveled back and forth to New York to work with Davis. He designed much of the furniture for National Life’s executive suites, which he had done for many other projects in the New York office. He was never allowed by that office to patent any of it, whereas Charlie Pfister, who was head of interiors in the San Francisco office, was able to design and receive a patent for the Pfister sofas, which are still at Knoll. He could suspend his royalties while he was at Skidmore until he retired. Davis was always very upset that he never was able to do that with far more furniture designs than Charlie Pfister ever had. I had a lot of 11”x14” printed drawings in folders of the furniture that Davis had designed in the New York office, as well as for National Life because there was a lot of interchangeable activity between those two offices. I have given them all to the Art Institute now.
I learned a great deal about detailing, proportion, and the significance of the reveal. That part of working at Skidmore was a great design education. Being a woman there without an architecture degree was not as great because there were also fiefdoms. I realize that you [Julie] are there now, but you missed some of the great internal struggles between Walter Netsch and Bruce Graham. Myron Goldsmith was the third partner, but he usually got the hand-me-down jobs that Bruce didn’t care so much about. I always wanted to work with Bruce. If you did well on his team, then you would also be rewarded reasonably well in terms of raises and promotions by Bruce. We were definitely divided in our loyalties. Unfortunately, at one point, I had to work with Walter. Stanley worked for Walter on the Air Force Academy project when he was at Skidmore for a year or two before he went off to Yale. He could remember that whenever Walter would come into the drafting room to look at his drawings, he would start to talk about baseball or some other extraneous topic. Stanley would then realize, “I guess he doesn’t like what I drew.” On the other hand, Bruce would say, “That’s shit.” You could do battle directly with Bruce, but Walter was sneaky. His team had to attend little brown bag luncheons, where he would explain his Chrysanthemum theory, which followed upon his Field theory. It was not a happy time working in that environment. Later, I worked with Myron on the interiors of The St. Joseph Valley Bank in Elkhart, Indiana. It was a really nice job to have and I was charged with commissioning Helena Hernmarck, a famous Swedish fiber artist, to create a tapestry depicting a midwestern prairie to hang behind the teller’s counter. Natalie de Blois was on the team as well as the project architect. She was, of course, having a difficult time at Skidmore. I remember at one point, we couldn’t even wear pants in the office, we had to wear dresses. That was the age of the miniskirt, so it was like, “well, okay, fine.”
I can remember that I was assigned to working on the Mart Plaza Holiday Inn, and this was during a recessionary time. I think Skidmore normally wouldn’t have taken a job with that low of a building budget. It had to be really cheap, but the Kennedy family owned the Mart. I got assigned the lead interior designer role. It was a real challenge, but it was rewarding. However, working with some of the people at Holiday Inn corporate wasn’t quite so rewarding. There was an arrogant young brand manager in charge. If he couldn’t identify with what you were designing say, for one of the restaurants, he would begin to twitch and get very testy in the meeting and say, “does it look like Club 21 in New York or something similar?” I would say, “No. It is the Apparel Center. This has a very different character.” We were working on a bar that, for some reason, was called Mad Anthony’s. I never figured out why. In one of our conceptual meetings he said, “Let’s have these wicker baskets that you can sit in hanging around the bar.” I remember thinking that was just a horrible idea. In the presentation room, there was no center table. We were all sitting on chairs in a circle. I can remember sitting there, in my mini skirt and tights, just wagging my leg back and forth a little bit and saying, “that is an interesting idea but if I snagged my panty hose on one of those baskets, I would be really upset.” That was the end of baskets. Instead, I said, “let’s display labels from all the Apparel Center company’s clothing under glass on the bar top.” That was a major learning experience because I figured out what you had to do, to sell your ideas. You had to work out the psychology of whomever it was you were trying to convince, that your design was really a great one and they should agree with it. That, for me, when I began my own firm, has been an important ingredient in how you are able to work with a client, achieve the things that you are hoping to do, and make them happy at the same time. That moment in that meeting room was an important learning curve. I think that is the difference in a way for those that can start their own firms and those that must work for others: to understand what it means to have that direct relationship with your clients. To problem solve creatively on your feet while simultaneously juggling a design that you are convinced is the correct solution. That Skidmore experience was satisfying, certainly. What wasn’t was the political climate. I hadn’t gone to architecture school, that was something supposedly held against me. And I was a woman, so the firm could keep my salary at a lower level than my male counterparts. At one point, the partners put a spec writer in charge of the interior design department. He invited us to his home in the western suburbs. I think it was for a Christmas party. We walked in the door, and I can remember that right in the front hall was this giant fish tank. There was this half of a goldfish floating in the fish tank with bigger grey fish swimming around it. It turned out that those were piranhas and he fed them goldfish for their meals. Whenever there was a recession, Skidmore tended to lay off the middle level of employees because they were starting to make more money and they figured they could start over fresh with younger, cheaper ones. You always had to have a job that you were in the middle of so you could hopefully manage to get through one of these recessionary periods. When one of them occurred, I was still working on the Mart Plaza that continued for a couple years. Our fish tank leader fired some of the women that were married because he figured they had husbands that could look after them and kept some of the men that were married so that they could look after their wives. Nothing whatsoever to do with the level of talent. In fact, one of the women that he fired is now married to Jim Goettsch, she was an émigré and married to someone else at the time. She was immediately hired at C.F. Murphy and obviously did very well in the firm because she was very good. We ended up with not such wonderful guys in the department because of it. You had to figure out how to survive there because it was a bit of a cutthroat world.
IG: You worked on several projects at SOM, some of them that you have already mentioned: the National Life and Accident Insurance; the addition of the Art Institute, which was the project that you worked on with Netsch; the interiors of the Baxter Laboratories; and the Mart Plaza Holiday Inn. Was there any project that you think stood out when you look back now? A project where you were able to contribute to the most, whether it was in the design, interior design, the design of the furniture, or another aspect.
MM: Probably being in charge of the Mart Plaza Holiday Inn. When I worked on the Art Institute addition, it was Walter’s project as partner, but it was an associate partner under Walter whose name escapes me now to whom I was assigned. We were supposed to design the members’ lounge. I can remember that I had done very well and was designated the senior designer on the project. At that time, Mary Block was a force because her husband [Leigh B. Block] was the president of the Board of the Art Institute. John Maxon, the vice president of collections, was also very involved with this. I was very excited about my first real chance to be the senior designer. I was told that Mary Block liked lapis lazuli as a color. I went through the collection of furniture in the Decorative Arts Department at the Art Institute and thought it would be interesting to take one of their chairs and have it replicated as the seating in the members’ dining room and lounge. I acquired some photographs of one of those I liked and then I went to Tiffany’s and borrowed some plates of Royal Crown Derby Old Imari China. Their patterns were red and lapis colored. Then, I went to the Fortuny showroom, which has incredibly beautiful historic fabrics, and I thought that I could use one of their patterns and we would encase it in resin for the tabletop. The fabric had lions outlined in silver on a lapis lazuli background. I had this really quite elegant scheme laid out in one of the Art Institute’s conference rooms. As I began to make the presentation, I remember Mary Block just sitting there, smoking away, and looking [makes a face]. She looked like a bulldog anyway. At one point, she took her cigarette and ground it out on the Royal Crown Derby plate. When I went to sit down, John Maxon took his cane and put it across the arm of the chair next to him so that I couldn’t sit there. It turned into this very strange tension-filled meeting. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out that Mary Block, of course, really wanted to be the interior designer, not this young upstart woman. I remember as we were walking out of the meeting that William Hartman, the managing partner, put his arm around my shoulder, which was unusual for him, and said, “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” Now sometimes when I visit the Art Institute, I make a point of locating the gallery where Ivan Albright’s portrait of Mary hangs and remember the museum’s description of the Chicago artist as the “master of the macabre.” Then, they brought Davis Allen in to deal with her. If anyone was going to work with madam, it was going to be the star of the Interior Design department, so they had to fly Davis in from the New York office to deal with Mary Block. Now that I am remembering, Davis was also doing the interiors for the Istanbul Hilton at the time. When Skidmore was courting the Blocks, they traveled to Istanbul and the partners arranged for Davis to meet them there and squire them around, which he did, and that is how they knew him and wanted him. I ended up working with Davis again but behind the scenes. That was one of the most ugly periods at Skidmore, to know that no matter how excited you got about designing something unique and how well you designed everything, it was a political thing. There was another difficult time when, after I had finished National Life, Walter was running out of work, so some of his people got assigned to Bruce, which was always a tricky situation. One of them was Jim DeStefano, who would become an associate partner, and was definitely a Walter product and not pleased with having to work under Bruce. Bruce assigned me to DeStefano as senior designer and he wasn’t happy with that either because he had been working with Don Powell and Bob Kleinschmidt, and they were all part of Walter’s team. He gave me a lot of information on the project that really wasn’t correct. I made some preliminary designs based on that material that we were to take to Bruce. I made my presentation to Bruce, and I could see Bruce frowning and saying, “Is this really the program for this?” DeStefano basically said, “she thought it was,” or something like that. He had fed me all the wrong information so I would look bad in front of Bruce. I was taken off the job and he got Powell or Kleinschmidt to do the First National Bank of Milwaukee. That is when my star crashed. Bruce would have liked me to figure out that I was being used by DeStefano and how to cope with that. I was very young, and I didn’t realize that level of evil existed. But it did. That was the worst of Skidmore. But these experiences are also all learning curves. They make you realize what strategies are needed to accomplish your objectives and to watch out. That had to be near the end of my time at Skidmore.
IG: You were there for eleven years in total, correct?
MM: Yes. There wasn’t really any other firm I necessarily wanted to join. I don’t think Perkins&Will had a strong interiors department then. Most of the firms didn’t, and there weren't that many. I don’t think interiors was considered a significant arena anyway. I was moonlighting at night the last couple of years, because obviously I was certainly underpaid. The excuse was “well, you don’t have an architecture degree.” When you were working for Bruce, you got raises. When you worked for Myron, to monetarily support his people was beyond his ken. He didn’t fight for his portion of the pie, which was handed out every year among the different offices: how much you got, how much you could pay people, etc. Few wanted to work for Myron for that reason. Walter was a different animal too because he had his pets. If you weren’t his pet, you didn’t get very far either.
When I finally parted from Skidmore, I had some clients of my own. I had remodeled a chemical company for its president Tom van Straaten, and I had worked for his brother Bill van Stratton, who sold art to the SOM interiors department for corporate offices. He had a gallery. Figuring that I was inexpensive, he had me work on furnishings for his home and later converting a warehouse space into a new gallery. I progressed from there into getting a lot of different clients because I could span the area between interior design and architecture. That is when I hung out my shingle. Margaret I McCurry Limited existed for about five years, during which time I met Stanley.
JM: One more thing while you were at SOM. You had taken a five- or six-week grand tour in the spring of 1975 while you were working there. We would like to know where you went, what you were interested in, and what you learned from that trip.
MM: It was my first time abroad. I had saved enough money and enough vacation time at Skidmore, because we were working frantically around the clock all the time. You had to punch a time clock, which I assume you don’t have to do anymore. I had punched a lot of extra hours. There were many days where we worked until midnight on presentations. Afterwards, you would walk over to the Palmer House, because there was no life in the Loop in those years, except for a few hotels. From the Palmer House one could catch a taxi home. Now I walk, but one didn’t then. When I had my Fiat Spider, I would drive myself, so I didn't have to take the bus late at night. That spring I flew to London and spent most of my time in the British Isles. I remember visiting Sir John Soane’s historic home and museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which was a very important lesson because of the way that he was able to layer space architecturally. It is really a very small infill building, but there is so much in it at so many different levels. It was interesting to see how your eye would follow spatial progression and how it made a small space infinite. That was one of the important things I remember most about London. While there, I took a bus to Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, where I was able to wander into the center of this prehistoric stone circle. Ever since I have been fascinated with powerful ancient monuments and subscribe to archeological magazines. I flew from London to Zürich because there was a young man that worked at Skidmore and Brigitte Peterhans knew him. Brigitte would travel every summer to visit her mother in Germany. We had arranged that Brigitte would drive and meet me in Switzerland and Uli would take us around for a day or two. Then, we would set off on a little adventure driving from Zürich to Milan. I remember that it was very rainy in Zürich. It was gray, and everybody everywhere had beautiful, patterned umbrellas. It was much quieter than London. I don’t remember too much more about it because we stayed with Uli’s family outside the city. Then Brigitte and I set out to drive through the mountains. We went to St. Moritz, and on down to Lago Dorta in Italy. Life with Brigitte was something else. We ended up the first night in one town where it must have been an Italian holiday because there was no place to stay. We settled in this strange little inn, in this room where we had to share this four-poster gigantic bed. I remember Brigitte putting some of her clothes under the mattress, opening the window, and hanging others out in the night air to get the wrinkles out. The next morning, I was a little groggy because Brigitte was an active mover arounder and I spent the night clinging to one side of the bed and not getting a lot of sleep. She was up at dawn, pulling in her clothes that hung out the window, and impatiently saying, “no German man would ever marry you.” And that was true. We ended up in Milan and she actually was a very good instructor. In Milan, so much is hidden in the inner gardens and courtyards. We would snoop everywhere and she would always say, “you have to remember this Duomo is the important cathedral here and name the architect.” Every few hours she would duck into a coffee bar for a quick espresso so many years before the trend took hold in America. Then, I flew back to London and took the overnight train to Penzance in Cornwall. From there, I rented a car and in different places along the Cornish coast, stopping at bed and breakfasts for two pounds five a night. That was my limit that translated into $5. The steel structures of Cornwall’s tin mines were strong images and the rocky coast conjured up images from Daphne du Maurier’s compelling suspense novels among many to which I am addicted to this day. One happy memory was driving into Dorset to experience Hardy country and visiting Helena Hernmarck, who was living at that time in a stone manor house on the downs. We had afternoon tea and chatted about other places I should explore, which sent me into Devon and the Dartmoor of Sherlock Holmes and to Bath in Somerset to the Roman thermae and the Georgian Royal Crescent.
IG: Did you work with Brigitte at the interiors department at SOM?
MM: No. She was like a hired gun for Bruce. I just realized this past summer talking to Brigitte that she never passed the licensing exam in architecture. I think she had an odd training in Germany and then at IIT under Mies. She would roam around the drafting room and park in different spots as Bruce would direct her, mainly because she had become very good friends with Jane Graham, who worked at Skidmore in the late 50s. Jane was hired in the interiors department and became the head. She wasn’t Jane Graham in the beginning; she was Jane Johnson. There was a major scandal, and she ended up as Jane Graham. That is where they became friendly, because Jane was Austrian. I read Brigitte’s oral history compiled by the Art Institute and learned more about Jane Graham. At some point during the war, she ended up in Siberia with her parents. She was a force and, because she was Austrian, she and Brigitte could communicate in German. I think that is how originally Brigitte got a lot of clout. Bruce would just send her to different camps to work on different projects. Because she had this direct line to Bruce that nobody else really had, one had to tread a little delicately around Brigitte. I hadn’t seen or talked to her in years until Trinita [Logue] put us together on the deck at 900/910 one summer to reminisce a little bit. We invited Brigitte for tea the last year of Stanley’s life, and she came and brought cookies. We had a nice chat, but we never had that much to do with each other at Skidmore. We never worked on a project together. We just had that strange little adventure for several days. I flew back to England from Milan, and Brigitte drove back to her parents.
From Cornwall, I flew across to Ireland. Ireland was very poor at the time. I remember it was green and brown. There was a drought also, that started in England when I was there. By the time I got to Ireland, accommodations were asking people not to bathe and not to use much water at all. Things were turning brown. Now, in the major cities, buildings have been painted bright multi colors and it is very lively, but then it was a very grim time in Ireland. But it is my ancestral home and so I went hunting for them. I went through the counties where I thought they had lived. I went to cathedrals, and at one in Killarney the priest gave me the leather-bound books for the cathedral. I thought I would find the ancestors. I knew their names. There were three brothers that emigrated during the potato famine, and I was never able to track them. But it was interesting to just spend an afternoon in the chancel where the priest brought out the baptismal records and let me scan the handwritten records. Occasionally, I would meet someone. I encountered a nice Englishman at Bantry house on the south coast and we traveled north a bit together. I remember we found a druid mound right next to a gas station. It was midnight and we were dancing around the druid mound like Celtic banshees. I can’t say there was much modern architecture in Ireland at the time. But it was just a lovely place to be, and I flew home from there. It was the summer of the Bicentennial. I took a lot of photographs and I have piles of them which, at some point, I guess I need to [organize]. Since I was alone, I had a Canon single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses in a Marimekko canvas bag and I would take a roll of film a day. That was also a way of dealing with loneliness, I was collecting images. If I was in a market town, I would put some food in my Marimekko bag. I remember once in Cornwall, sitting on a rock outcropping, looking out over the sea, and nibbling on local bread and cheese. It was also strawberry season that one dipped in clotted cream with tea in the afternoons and those were wonderful things. I would collect food because I didn’t eat in restaurants very often. Each morning, I would consume a hearty meal at a bed and breakfast, but then, as I wasn’t used to sitting by myself inside a restaurant, I would usually eat what I had been gathering along the way, sit outside somewhere, and enjoy it. It was the summer solstice, and the days were very long and light. It was a bit of a lonely time but a very lovely adventure as well.
When I came back, I met Stanley at the end of that trip, in September. I was at Skidmore for a little while after that, and then I left. I remember once I started to know Stanley, we were talking about architectural licenses. My dad had been on my case, knowing that there was the apprentice clause. If you had a graduate degree from a college, and you worked for eight years under an architect who would sign a statement that you had done so in that capacity, then you could sit for the licensing exam. Once I had met Stanley, he put the pressure on along with my father so I decided I would try for this. Stanley was teaching at UIC, where the school offered some refresher classes. I remember going over there to take a course in structures and all the students were curious, “who is that with Tigerman?” I can remember the course and trying to figure out what a vector was. I don’t think to this day I am really sure what a vector is. After all the years at Skidmore, when the firm would fast track their buildings, interiors department designers would be taken along to participate in the architectural design process with clients. I really did figure out how to create a high-rise building from sitting in on all those sessions. When it came time for the structures part of the exam, I could strategize what things had to be and do. If I didn’t know the answer, I just put down B, and I guess there were enough correct Bs in the multiple-choice questions, so I managed to scrape by structures. The rest wasn’t that hard because of all the Skidmore training, but the structures part was a little tricky.
IG: Stanley had worked at SOM in the 50s, for one or two years. Did you ever discuss with him your experiences there?
MM: Yeah. The last couple of years that I was at Skidmore I was seeing Stanley, so he knew what was going on and he knew what life was like at Skidmore. He would tell the story of working on the Air Force Academy team. Everybody was drafting then with pencil on mylar, and he could draw beautifully left-handed. When he was at Skidmore, he attended some party, and he remembered seeing someone there from Skidmore. He was looking at his credentials and discovering that he didn’t have a B.Arch, just an M.Arch. He was trying to understand how this person could get an M.Arch without having an undergraduate degree. He thought that if that was possible, then he would do the same thing, which is how he figured out that it was time to go check out graduate schools. He had flunked out of MIT and every fall became nostalgic about his abbreviated education. I think it was to Yale, Harvard, IIT, and MIT that he applied, saying that he wanted to earn an M.Arch. But he didn’t even have one year of undergraduate school because he flunked out of MIT. He was a licensed architect, however, because he had also acquired his licensure through the apprentice system. I used to always kid him, because I passed the test the first time and it took him two tries. I think because he just thought he could sort of breeze in and take the exams without any study. When he interviewed at Yale, Paul Rudolph was the dean. Paul said that he couldn’t just acquire a masters, he had to get an undergraduate degree first. He couldn’t do it in one year, but he could do it in two. That is how Stanley got his B.Arch. and M. Arch in two years and graduated first in his class. I knew all these diverse subjects that one normally learns in college, and he didn’t have that learning experience. When he was in high school, he took a lot of drafting classes. He was always playing a bit of catch up in terms of getting a liberal arts education, but he read voraciously and enjoyed my filling in some of the blanks that he missed. He just thought that flunking out of MIT was one of the dumbest things he had ever done, not staying and having a really good college experience. So, he played catch up, and he did it really well.
JM: You and Stanley both lived in adjacent Mies buildings: you at 900 and Stanley at 910 Lake Shore Drive. Did you guys run into each other throughout the years?
MM: Not really. I remember seeing him occasionally, and he was pretty dapper then wearing a straw boater and white bucks. He was married to Joanne when he lived there. But we were in different buildings and probably faced in different directions. I was a Skidmore person. He had his own firm, so there wasn’t much engagement until he and Joanne separated, and I was put on a list by Ursula Dayenian. Ursula had been in the interiors department at SOM and I don’t know whether she lived in the building then or not. She does now, and has for a long, long time. But Ursula was working for Knoll and Stanley was a client when he asked her to put a list of potential dates together for him. I was number two on the list. The first one is actually part of my golfing group now, Susan. I have forgotten what her name was before. I think it was Hirsh. Because Susan was Jewish, Ursula decided that since Stanley was also Jewish, that the number one would be Susan. I think he took Susan out once and then moved on to number two. Susan and I laugh about this now. She then encountered Charlie Schwartz and married him much sooner than I did Stanley. We wandered around for a couple years before I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” I still have his boater sitting on a hat stand in the apartment and his white bucks. He was a sartorial figure, obviously very engaged with his world.
IG: I would like to hear more about what the architecture circle was around those years. 1976, for example, was the year of the Chicago Seven. Can you talk about that period and what was happening in the architecture world besides your own work? Who were the movers? What were the most interesting activities then?
MM: There was a book published on Skidmore, and Stanley was always concerned that it left out a lot of architects in Chicago. Some of his friends and acquaintances grew out of his teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, before it became the Circle, where he knew Stuart Cohen. Larry Booth and Jim Nagle were his first two employees. They left after a few years to form Booth and Nagle. I think he used to play racquetball with Jim. The Chicago Seven also included Ben Weese and Tom Beeby. They brought Helmut Jahn in when Helmut came to town. Helmut has never forgotten that Stanley befriended him and brought him into that expanded inner circle, although Stanley would always say, “Helmut, you need a great books course.” They were an odd couple to say the least. Jim Freed came to Chicago briefly as the Dean at IIT, and Stanley added Ingo [Freed] to the original group. Stanley produced the book Chicago Architects with Stuart, Ben, and Larry on the forgotten architects of the twentieth century. A lot on George Fred Keck, because he had worked for Keck for a while when he flunked out of MIT. He also told the story of working for A.J. Del Bianco who taught him how to produce construction documents. Within a few days, he could do a whole set of those documents. I think he did a number of four plus ones and other housing, mostly in the western suburbs. The strange thing is that I got a call a couple of weeks ago from someone who was reading an article about Stanley and discovered that he worked for A.J. Del Bianco. He called me and said, “I have a house in Riverside by A.J. Del Bianco, and I need to remodel it.” He had seen a project that I remodeled, a midcentury house in Glenview. He wanted it to be in the character of A.J. Del Bianco. A.J. didn’t make it into many of the books because Stanley said that he wasted his talent on doing too much production and not enough high-quality design. I thought about trying to undertake this addition to A.J. Del Bianco and then I decided that wasn’t a good move and told him I was too busy. I actually said to call Stuart and Julie to see if they would copy A.J. Del Bianco. It wasn’t a great house, very ordinary midcentury.
Stanley would talk galleries and the Graham Foundation into giving the Chicago Seven + Four shows such as the townhouse competition, which he would then codify in a catalog. After he formed the Chicago Seven, he also resurrected the Chicago Architecture Club, which was founded in 1885 as the Chicago Sketch Club. Even though at the time I had my own predominately interiors practice, it was always tricky trying to get out from under Stanley’s shadow. He thought that, as a teacher, he could influence me to head in certain theoretical directions. I was always headed in others, and that always frustrated him. But then again, that kept life interesting. He was always trying. We would critique each other’s work, but I wasn’t a part of the Chicago Seven. He included Cindy Weese at one point, along with Gerald Horn and Ken Schroeder. Cindy, Pat Booth, and I have started zoom calls together now to catch up on things. Cindy and I were quite friendly before she became the Dean of the Architecture School at Washington University and moved to St Louis.
IG: Around that time, in 1974, Chicago Woman in Architecture was also founded. Did you have any involvement or knowledge about it?
MM: That organization was founded by eight women, including Gertrude Kerbis, Cindy Weese, Carol Ross Barney, and Natalie de Blois. Natalie was at Skidmore when I was there but I was in the Interiors Department and had yet to become a licensed architect. We overlapped on the St. Joe Valley Bank but it was a working relationship. Natalie had been sent to the Chicago office from New York because NY didn’t want to make her an associate partner, so Chicago took her on that condition. That was also the time when women were excluded from many of the clubs and the partners would always have their luncheon meetings at the Chicago Club where Natalie wasn’t included. After I left Skidmore to establish my own practice and became licensed, I never wanted to be considered as just a woman architect; I didn't like that categorization. Some years after they formed, the CWA asked me to lecture there, which I did. In discussions after my talk, all the topics were getting time off to raise kids and how to get your voices heard in your firm. The conversation didn’t have much to do about being a good architect. I just didn’t fit. I realize there are architects like Carol Ross Barney, Roula Alakiotou, and others who have stayed very attached to the CWA. It never was of interest to me to do it that way, I would figure out some other way to become better known. I had to really establish my own reputation.
IG: How did you do that?
MM: The process to establish my own reputation began with our house [Lakeside], which we built in 1982-83. The plan is pretty much me, with my now signature symmetries and simple axes. It was a joint venture, but when it won a national AIA honor award and magazines wanted to publish it, then it was Stanley’s. When we went to accept the award at the national convention, we decided that Stanley would accept as the client, and I would accept as the architect. He was trying at that point to correct imperceptions. He said, “you can also pick the person that writes about the house.” Both Architectural Record and Progressive Architecture wanted to write an article. There was a woman journalist who would write about it for Progressive Architecture. I thought, “Okay, it’s a woman. She might be impartial.” So I agreed. This decision circles back to the Chicago women in architecture and not joining. She came to see the house, we explained who designed what part, and it was maybe 60% me and 40% Stanley. You can see that the baroque steps that go up to the loft are very much Stanley, as well as the stepbacks and grid. But the corrugated galvanized steel siding came from visiting Frank Gehry when he had just finished his house in Santa Monica and seeing the corrugated there and thinking, “what a great material that would be that we would never have to paint it.” It does eventually rust however. After all that, she ended up writing about Stanley anyway. I said, “that is the last time I choose a woman just because she is a woman.”
I was very lucky when I began to do work up here [in Michigan] after our house was published. The first house I designed was for friends Bryan Fuermann and Michael Glass. Michael was a graphic designer. They bought a couple of acres in Sawyer, MI and showed me pictures of their ideal house. They wanted it to typify country life, but life in the south, specifically the Natchez Trace where metal roofs are common and porches are necessities, which was interesting. Outside of our Lakeside house, with its corrugated metal roof, this was the first one with a standing seam. They wanted it to have that quality of Southerness in Michigan. I always thought it looked like a house that Hansel and Gretel would find in the forest. Once I designed that house, and it got published in Architectural Digest, then other friends, as they began to discover Harbor Country, invited me to do houses here as well. I really enjoyed exploring the vernacular of the place. There are some little nests here of midcentury modern and they just never seem to have the character of the old houses that were built earlier. Some of them obviously came out of the Sears catalog, but they just had a lot more character than the midcentury group did. Once I started designing with vernacular references and getting my projects published, then some of the local contractors liked to convince their clients that they didn’t need an architect, that they could actually copy the character of homes I designed. It became one of the reasons why Harbor Country developed the character that it has.
JM: We would like to hear a little bit more about your office that you started on your own when you left SOM. We understand that you started the day that you left, and that it was April Fool’s Day of 1977, and that you started it from the apartment you were living in. We are wondering if you had some clients to get that started and what you worked on while you had your own office before joining Stanley.
MM: The first thing I worked on, I think, was remodeling a chemical company for Bill van Stratton’s brother Tom, the President of the company. Because I had been doing work for Bill, he obviously recommended me to do that project. I then designed Bill’s gallery, in a loft building which garnered the first award I ever won for “Best in Low Budget Design,” because for $15 a square foot, I managed to turn this derelict loft into an art gallery, which was a very interesting experience. The structure was composed of knee-braced columns. I have forgotten their spacing, maybe 20 feet between them, and he was always concerned that you couldn’t get far enough away from the artwork to appreciate it at that distance. He had always been a print dealer, but he wanted to include paintings with large-scale canvases. I had to convince him that we could achieve these vistas by encasing the existing column grid. We established an enfilade series of openings. I would talk to him about the scale of rooms and what it meant in a museum setting to move from one room to the next enfilade on axes. That was the beginning of that parti becoming a very important part of my work: the concept that you always knew where you were doing. I never embraced the modern tendency of shifting planes. Instead, when you looked up, you could actually see a trail, and you could look ahead on the axis or cross axis and through openings, and see nature, or the city, or something. That idea established the way I developed plans, including this house as well. Sadly, some years after the gallery opened, the entire building burned to the ground while it was being remodeled by a developer and Bill lost not only the art but also his complete art library. I understand that he has since died. Later, I designed a log house for him out in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He was not an easy client, but I have reconnected a bit with his brother who lives in Aspen now and I got to see him last summer. Some of the subsequent projects that I acquired were for friends of friends. That was an early way to start building up here as well, to be passed on through the art world to design Judith Kirshner’s residence and then Joan Harris’s. Sadly, that first house for Michael and Bryan was apparently torn down this year. It was a little house on several acres and, of course, the tendency now is to build something big.
IG: One of the projects that you worked on your own, but in collaboration with Stanley, was a renovation in a residence in the John Hancock Center.
IG: Was that the first project that you worked on together?
MM: I would have to check the timeline. Early on, I did some of the interior work on his Boardwalk Apartments, getting carpeting and new furniture for the lobbies. I remember distinctly choosing a paint color and working with the painter. He kept asking me to come to the site and praise his work, which I did including on the final visit. And then I learned that the next day he committed suicide. It was very unsettling. That was one of the first projects I worked on with Stanley outside of this house. And yes, we did an apartment in the Hancock. I had designed the SOM apartment in Hancock, which was a fun assignment, because I specified stainless steel floors and slick furniture. Brigitte got involved commissioning an artist to do super graphic paintings for the walls. Ours was an apartment for Jerry Stone of Stone Container and his wife-to-be, Marian. We proposed a travertine floor because I had connections from Skidmore with great travertine sources in Italy. Jerry didn't want to extend it under a carpet, which was a very foolish decision because later, when he decided to sell it, we got a call from the guy who bought it to try to resolve this issue of a giant swath of concrete in the middle of the living room. After the apartment was sold, they and their important art collection moved into an apartment on East Lake Shore Drive. They then hired Ron Krueck, who was the architectural darling of the art set. That was kind of irritating. I then did some work for Roman Weil who bought the apartment. Professor Weil was one of the heads of the accounting department at the University of Chicago. Stanley’s son, J.J., had just graduated from the University of Michigan and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. He was working at Rizzoli and trading for a friend at the Chicago Stock Exchange on the side, but he didn’t have a business degree. I asked Roman if he would talk to J.J. about the world of trading and business. He said, “He should get his MBA from the University of Chicago. If he audits my accounting course in the summer, we’ll see from there.” J.J. did that and got decent grades so Roman accepted him into the MBA program at the Booth School. It was just one of those odd connections that let you do something special for the family. I just don’t remember much about that apartment being that important a design tour de force. Hancock’s X-braced structure always becomes the dominant feature. Stanley and I together also designed an apartment for Judy Neisser in the Four Seasons. Judy and Ed rented a house in Lakeside on Brenda and Earl Shapiro’s property, and we would all play tennis together and became good friends. When Ed died and Judy sold their vintage house on Fullerton that Jim Nagle had remodeled, Judy asked both of us, Stanley and I, to design her new acquisition. We usually didn’t work together, but she understood that the friction that happened when we did work together was positive and wasn’t going to end up in divorce. We would jockey for who would have the best design idea. Finally, whoever recognized that one or the other’s was the winner, would give up and then we’d move on to the next challenge. Judy’s was very much a collaboration between us. The apartment won a national AIA honor award. Paul Goldberger, who wrote the article in Architectural Digest, described it as Classical Modernism or Modern Classicism. Then, together, we went on to design the Bucksbaum apartment in the Water Tower that was also published in the magazine.
It took a while to establish myself and my work as a separate entity from Stanley and for him to respect the uniqueness of that. It was a thing that took some doing. It was like allowing me to edit what he wrote, for example, his autobiography. I learned he might write three chapters, but the three chapters were really one chapter. If you started on the first one and got that all edited, and then you went to the second one, you realized it was a reiteration of the first one. I learned to go to the third one and start from there instead of going in the other direction. But he would always complain, “you are changing my voice.” And I would say “No, I’m strengthening your voice. When you start out writing about a tree in the forest, you can’t suddenly switch to a boat on the ocean.” Simplistic sentence structuring like that. The last years, he gave up completely and let me do whatever was grammatically necessary, without too much whimpering about it. But it took forty years’ worth of time together. You have to grow in interesting ways or things get stale, which they never did. We were always evolving and exploring new territories. I would always plan our trips abroad because he would announce that 9 to 5 was as long as he wanted to do anything or look at anything. I would have to plant him somewhere and go off on my own, especially if it was in the summer and it stayed light until nine o'clock at night. We would often drive into the center of a little town somewhere in Italy, and I would settle him on the steps of the cathedral, and he would make a drawing. He would always negotiate how many drawings he got to complete in a day, because they would take a while. I would report, “I am ready to move on,” and he would retort, “I am not through with this drawing!” Then I would leave him in the town square and just go wandering around with my camera and return in a couple hours. We would go and have lunch or a coffee. I learned how to negotiate with his way of looking at the world. I now own over 800 drawings of his. He would give them away often for birthday presents or to be auctioned off for architectural causes. He would just cut out a drawing from his sketchbook and send it off.
IG: Talking about trips, when you got married on St Patrick’s Day in 1979, you went back to the British Isles for your honeymoon. How was that trip with Stanley different from your first trip to the British Isles on your own?
MM: Stanley had figured out that monetarily our honeymoon was to be a European lecture tour. It was March, so the weather was a little iffy then. He called up his connections and arranged a lecture at the AA in London as our first stop. I can remember that Stanley had a pair of leather penny loafers with a hole in the bottom because he didn’t have any time or money to replace them. This was one of the lean times. It rained a lot in London and the water would creep in through the hole in his loafers and his socks would get wet. Come five o’clock, we had to negotiate options like, “it is time for coffee, and I have walked this far, and that is enough. It is time to get warm and dry.” It was a combination of wandering through the British Museum or other venues, and always making sure that Stanley had his coffee at a certain point. He was much more interested in the architects or the students that he met. He could just as easily look at a book on the cathedrals of England as visit them. He would make a drawing, but he got far more out of looking at the plans and sections in the archival books. He didn’t ever have to see everything there was to see and I was the opposite. I would race around trying to look at everything. He would just sit quietly and draw, or he would find a bookstore somewhere and go immediately to the architecture section to see how many books mentioned him. Then, he would make a note. “Somebody in Europe published this book and my drawings are in it.” He would make these lists. There is somewhere, probably in the Art Institute’s archives, a pad of paper with a giant list of publications. But he also haunted rare bookstores, especially during his residency at the American Academy in Rome. On one occasion, he found an old book of line drawings that scaled in plan and elevation all the ancient architectural monuments in Italy. He bought it and gave it to Monicelli Press to reproduce as an important reference for architectural students. Our time abroad was often spent in smoke-filled rooms with students and professors talking more about architecture and theory and less about looking at the buildings.
JM: You merged your office with Stanley’s office in January of 1982. How was that transition? In thinking about your story about compromise and learning to travel with each other, how did you learn to work with each other?
MM: I had my office in my efficiency apartment in 900 and when I married Stanley, I moved over to his altered one-bedroom unit in 910. I kept my office in 900 for several years until we acquired another adjacent efficiency, which became our master suite and my office. We created a double drafting station with a floating storage unit separating it from the bedroom. I hired a student to work for me. This young person would arrive early because she was living at home in the suburbs and could drive in with her father who started work very early. Stanley was often still sound asleep, and we would awake to the sound of her straight edge sliding across the vellum or her drafting pencil being sanded into a point. I always used a student from the University of Cincinnati, because the interior design department had these three-month work sessions. You never had to worry about hiring anyone or firing anyone if you ran out of work. It was a nice way to get a helper and help a student at the same time. Stanley’s office was then just two blocks away on Michigan Avenue and Walton. At one point, I think Stanley was mumbling about that bizarre working arrangement and J.J., his son, said, “why don’t you just become partners?” Stanley thought it over, but he always made quick decisions and he immediately decided that I could move my practice into his space. When I first moved in, I still had my own practice and was designing Bill van Stratton’s gallery. When we became partners, Bob Fugman was Stanley’s key person. Stanley felt that it wouldn’t be fair to bring me in as a partner without offering it to Bob as well. For a while, the firm was Tigerman, Fugman, and McCurry. They were designing Hard Rock Cafes such as the one in Chicago, but eventually Bob was offered a chance to do them without Stanley. He left, started his own practice, and took all the Hard Rock Cafe work away. Stanley then decided he was never going to have another partner, except the one that he slept with, and that was that. The firm then became simply Tigerman McCurry. But he was mischievous. On the glass front door of the office, above our name, we had this etching. I think it was probably a British symbol of someone with calipers hunched over a desk. Without my knowing, after a break in when the glass had to be replaced, Stanley had someone come in and add “Tigerman or McCurry.” It was a while before I noticed his correction. I would often offer advice, whether he liked it or not. Once in a while, an architect like Peter Eisenman would come by and suggest “You should do this.” I would say, “see Stanley, I told you you could do that also.” My critiques got legitimatized once Peter came and commented. It was a learning curve to say the least.
IG: Before Boardwalk in Lakeside, what were other projects in the office during that time? I believe you had the Saddle and Cycle Club as a client for a long time.
McCurry: The Saddle and Cycle Club was a client that I had for a number of years doing just little remodeling projects. I became very friendly with the manager of the club, who was a Brit until just a few years ago, when he moved back to England and started a bed and breakfast in Devon. We would still send Christmas cards to each other until he just disappeared about two years ago, which is sad. Tim Honeywill was his name. Tim would always recommend me as the club went through different presidents. It turns out that one of the board members that I worked with on one of the last projects I did there was Michal Miller. Now Michal has become one of my golfing buddies here in Lakeside. We went through a thirty-year hiatus of not knowing each other and then suddenly we both belong to the Chikaming country club. I had dinner last night at Michal’s house. It’s odd the way the world turns with these tangential relationships. Unfortunately, after years of doing a lot of groundwork at the Saddle and Cycle Club, when they really had a major remodeling project, they hired one of their own members, Darcy Bonner. That was the end of work there. For years, I also worked on the Michigan Shores Country Club in Wilmette. I did some major remodelings there that were very satisfying because the building had good bones and it had just been badly treated over the years. After I don't know many years of working there restoring different sections at different times, there was finally a board member, a woman, who insisted on being called Mrs. so and so, who wanted her own decorator, and that was the end of that. Boards can be nasty things sometimes.
IG: Did the tea service for Alessi also happen at that time?
McCurry: You know, that was another area where obviously, Stanley was asked to design the tea service as one of several current starchitects. We went to see him [Alberto Alessi]. He had a place on Lago Dorta. When Stanley was at the American Academy, we went up north to visit him. It turned out that we jointly designed the Alessi silverware project. We were driving around Italy tossing ideas around, but it was always very difficult getting my name on anything we did together. I think Swid Powell occasionally says Tigerman McCurry at the bottom of some of their objects. Stanley loved doing tchotchkes. I have a collection of watches that he did. Our Michigan cottage turned into a steel mailbox and there is a little China tea set and tray, but the tea spout never poured very well, the tea dribbled down the side, so it is more of an art feature. Actually, we don't own one. I think we gave that to the Art Institute. Judy had one. He really enjoyed designing all these objects. I like to make furniture more and he liked to do tchotchkes. That is how our partnership worked. So much of the life of an architect revolves around the relationships that you accumulate over the years and how they sometimes appear at odd times.
When I was asked to design a line of outdoor furniture for Landscape Forms, it was through Richard Heriford who was in charge of their program at the time. He had been a furniture representative at the Merchandise Mart when I was buying furniture or he saw the early work I did designing for Hickory Business Furniture (HBF). He then asked me to join the team. I worked for them for a number of years, which was terrific and got royalties on a line called Lakeside and later Windmark, although now they have almost expired. Some of the steel furniture that is on the porch was the second iteration. The benches were the first ones. It was very interesting also because three of us, one from each coast and me in the middle, were invited to take Landscape Forms into a more interesting direction. The company is located in Kalamazoo. I was supposed to represent the transition group because of the furniture that I had designed for HBF, that was a reinterpretation of some French or Italian deco antique lounge chairs that Judy Neisser owned. All these ideas emerge and converge in strange ways. When we were building the house for Judy Neisser in Aspen, the house across the street was one of the old cottages. It had this white picket fence that was something like Tom Sawyer could have made. But the pickets were cut off, the boards popped up and down and made an interesting pattern. When I was thinking of what a bench would look like, I thought about taking that same “picket” fence and putting its configuration into the back of the bench. It became a nostalgic best seller, and that same configuration is now the fence around the Mansueto’s pool here in Michigan as well. It’s a variation on it. You never know when you are going to see something in your wanderings that sticks in your mind as if that something is going to appear in your work later. When I was designing the benches, the price points were very important to them, and the product had to hit a certain price point that would make it competitive. They said that the more welding and grinding you had to do, the more expensive an object became. I tried to figure out how to configure the bench in metal that was just a series of bends instead of having parts to be welded. That is how the bench got its particular structural shape. I thought it would be a six-foot bench but that size came in over the desired price points. I asked, “what is the standard size of the sheet of steel needed to form the seat and back?” And it was 58 inches or something close to that. I said to just make the bench that size. It is a slightly odd size, but it brought the price point into an area that was competitive. That was fascinating. I have always loved designing furniture, because I first learned the art from Davis Allen at Skidmore, and I have never stopped caring about the crafting of it.
IG: Apart from the fence, you used other motifs for the furniture, like grass and leaf. From the bench, you did the litter and planter, correct?
MM: Yeah. The “picket” fence version was offered partially in wood and partially in a synthetic look alike. They wanted to also be able to sell college campuses and other companies on the idea that they could put their own logo on the benches that would be laser cut into the version with steel seats and backs. I have always liked the ginkgo leaf because it is a simple very identifiable shape. I loved thinking about how we could create the leaves that would start in a linear pattern and then the wind would figuratively blow them around and they would sort of scatter. A lot of this inventiveness comes from all the years interacting with Stanley, where you really began to think of infusing an idea with many layers of meaning or interpretation and how you would also create something with that sense of humor that he always had. I remember thinking, “well, if I start with little tufts of grass cut outs on the seat, what will happen if they grow bigger and wavier on the back.” The waste cans were a very hot seller, especially the ones with grasses.
You never know when or how certain architectural images that you see in your travels that stay with you will emerge later. Like the house I did for Joan Harris here in Michigan. When we were at the American Academy, Stanley was driving to Spoleto and I was taking pictures out the car window, when I saw this wonderful old stone farmhouse that stretched out, across the fields with attached buildings. I had that image in my mind’s eye when Joan said that she wanted a house sited on an old apple orchard that had passed its prime and wasn’t bearing fruit anymore. The land stretched out along a ridge, overlooking a manmade lake and I thought again of this Umbrian farmhouse. Its series of stepped forms became the inspiration for Joan’s, albeit in different materials. When I lecture, I show the two collaged together. It is clad in corrugated metal, but the stepped ends faced with concrete panels take their form from this house [Lakeside] where Stanley is responsible for the “extruded” ends being a lathed grid, because he was very involved in grids at the time. He wanted the measurements to be in biblical cubits i.e., the length of one’s arm from fingertip to elbow. When I designed Joan’s house, I also thought about the houses I had seen traveling through New England, where the ends were different from the front and back. They were often stone, because the stone fireplace was located at one end, and it made sense to not put any combustible material near where you would have a fire. Joan was actually from Connecticut originally, so my reiteration would relate as well to the homes with connected barns that you see on the East Coast. It would also harken back to the history of American architecture, but by way of Italy.
JM: It would be great to hear in more detail about some of the projects that you have talked a little bit about, such as the Boardwalk house in Lakeside. You were just starting to allude to the importance of grids and cubits. Maybe you can talk a little bit of more about the historical references or the formal geometries of the Boardwalk house.
MM: Boardwalk’s plan is axial, with a central double height piazza, that all the rooms and lofts open into. Even though it is only an 800-square-foot footprint, it feels much larger. Wherever you look, you can look from one room into the next enfilade and then out into the landscape. That axiality was a very important concept in the evolution of my work. Starting with the Van Stratton Gallery, I was beginning to realize the importance for me of order and symmetry. I am a double Libra. Its symbol is the scales that Libras are always trying to balance. There is something to do with one’s persona as to how one then finds clients that understand the importance of that balance. So many of these commissions are country escapes and clients are searching for harmonious environments. For example, in Joan Harris’s house, there is a stair that rises from the living room on center and directly opposite the fireplace. I remember Stanley talking me into making it taper, so it starts out below at four feet wide and ends up above at three feet. It is a forced perspective, based on Michelangelo’s Laurentian library stair. Once in a while, his nibs would pop in on my projects and have brilliant thoughts. The rear porch is interesting too because it has a corrugated fiberglass roof so that the light still floods the living room to which it is attached. When you talk about our house Boardwalk, is it a barn with monitors, or is it a basilica with clerestories? Is the porch a baptistry or is it a corn crib? Boardwalk has those multiple readings and often in lectures I talk about them and how important it is to create layers of meanings and historical relationships, even though one designs a new, fresh form that has never existed before. If someone came and said to me, “I want a house on the North Shore that is French country” I wouldn’t design a copy. I lost a job to Bob Stern that way. This potential client came in the office for an interview and he said, “my wife wants French country.” And I said, “What is wrong with American country?” And then he hired Bob Stern to get his French country. I have always tried to set up enough parameters, or lack thereof, that I have the freedom to do something unique, even though it has memory and history. It is still something that has never quite been there before. A project might have antecedents but then it evolves into a more creative act. That was true of this Red House. I called it the House of Five Gables when I designed it some years ago. My original clients recently sold it to relocate to the West Coast. The new Chicago owners want to add onto it. The wife has a store on the North Shore, and she needs a separate office. They are talking about turning the car park into a garage and putting her office on top. The house is so symmetrical and balanced with its barn-like five gables that I have to think about how to do an addition. I have to think about barns, with gables, and sheds up against the gable, or whether I will switch the image entirely. The siding is vertical tongue and groove boards painted “lipstick red,” a bright color that tends to fade in sunlight. It turned pink at one point, and my clients had to repaint it red again because they wanted to use an indoor color, rather than a Cabot stain that would have been the usual barn color red. I prefer the bright red because it refers to the classic red but is not mimetic. I will probably talk to these new clients about cladding the addition instead in corrugated galvalume because the windows are trimmed in aluminum, so using it would be a combination of the two. I can keep the center as unviolated symmetry, and then this addition will be unique and off to the side. I have to figure out how to talk them into that. It was interesting that this is the first time I think that, outside of certain clients that have been clients for twenty odd years, that someone has sold a house to somebody else and that someone has come back to the original architect. It is actually because of their interior designer Arlene Semel, whom I've known casually for a long time and who had a house up here. These have been her clients for many, many years. In the past, they have used another woman architect who a couple years ago built a house for them in California, which unfortunately was destroyed shortly after it was built by one of the many fires. It was up near Calistoga, I think. They decided they didn’t want to rebuild again. As much as they love that part of the world, they didn’t want to put themselves through another potential fire again.
IG: You are mentioning the idea of these clients that you have had for twenty and thirty years. It would be interesting to hear more about those relationships that you have nurtured with clients. What are the qualities that you think they see in your work that make them come back to you for their condos in the city or second homes in other places?
MM: Stanley was always fond of telling people that, as an architect, I was like a little terrier dog. That if I sank my teeth in your ankle, I wouldn’t let go until you succumbed to what I was trying to talk you into doing. I have a much longer attention span than he did. He was a quick study. His ideas would come like lightning, very quickly. I think his best work came when there was someone in the office that could really take those ideas, develop them, and care about them, and who wasn’t adverse to having Stanley change his mind in two seconds. It never bothered Stanley if a client didn’t like his first scheme. He was perfectly happy to produce another inventive idea. One of the first group of clients for whom we designed multiple projects was for our friends the Shapiro family. We remodeled a historic lake house for the parents that has a Jens Jensen landscape. And then I built the two houses on the property for the Shapiro children. Stanley and I did them together, but most of the work was mine. One process for acquiring new work was getting published in Architectural Digest. I remember the house that I built on a 400-acre former cattle ranch in the Sonoma Valley. The wife had been collecting articles on my work for years. Whenever I was published in Architectural Digest, she would cut it out and save it. Her collection started with the first house that I designed for Bryan and Michael, which was just recently torn down. When she wrote me, she said, “I have this collection of your houses I have saved for many years.” Her husband then wrote me and said, “We are in California. How does that work?” Fortunately, my answer was based on these relationships that one establishes. In 1993, I was chair of the AIA Committee on Design. About that time, I met my friend Heidi Richardson, who happens to be H.H. Richardson’s great great granddaughter. She grew up in his home outside of Boston. For a few years, Heidi attended the Committee on Design events, and we got to be friends. She had since set up her practice in Mill Valley, where she lived. I was able to say to this couple that I had a good friend who would be my associate architect in California. I designed that house with Heidi, and we had a great time building it. I would travel to the West Coast and stay with her and her husband Michael who is a planner. To this day, we try to get together once or twice a year and travel to some part of the country or Europe. We were all planning to go to Switzerland, until COVID struck. We have circumnavigated the Great Lakes twice, both clockwise and counterclockwise, and we have had all kinds of architectural adventures, including skiing in Aspen and staying in the house Stanley and I designed in the West End for our friend Judy. These kinds of relationships evolved, whether it was through the Committee on Design or being Chair of the Graduate Council at the GSD at Harvard. I was the first Loeb Fellow to Chair the Council. That is where I met Kathy Simon from San Francisco and some other people, including Ronnette Riley, my friend in New York. We haven’t ever worked on a project together, but we do a lot of traveling as roommates with the COD.
One day, twenty plus years ago for example, Joe Mansueto contacted the office to set up an appointment with me. He had just bought a condo in an historic building on Lincoln Park West that had been remodeled by another architect. I was very busy at the time, but Joe was the founder of Morningstar, which he explained was named after the last line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: “The sun is but a morning star.” He didn’t quite know what he wanted, but the unit needed some remodeling. To this day, I don’t know how he found me. And I thought, “I am building houses from scratch. Why do I want to undertake this?” But I was persuaded by the opportunity to enjoy creative license while problem solving. I worked with Melany Telleen, our senior interior architect, and we had a really good time. With Joe, you needed to present him with not only the design idea, but also, its efficiency and effectiveness. He is always interested in history and relationships. This particular penthouse unit was located on the top two floors of the building and included several terraces. But it had a big square concrete column in the living room that was very bothersome, very in your face. You always had to go around it to enter an adjacent space. I said “Joe, what if we got rid of this column? Not exactly get rid of it, as it is structural, but what if we created a series of smaller columns like a historical arcade?” He agreed and we jacked up the ceiling and were able to put in a concealed beam supporting four columns so that you moved through the elegant colonnade, rather than around one clunky one. The condo was published in AD and it was the first of several projects I designed for Joe and Rika, who married Joe midway through the remodeling.
Joe is from northern Indiana, so he wanted a second home in the country. Some years before he became my client, I had remodeled an old farmhouse on thirty-five acres in Three Oaks for Chicago friends with whom we used to play tennis. However, when Tom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Eleanor decided to sell it and return to the city. One day, I got a call from Joe saying that they were looking at it. I had to tell him that it was 2x4 construction, not well insulated, and still needed a lot of work. He bought it anyway. I completed the remodeling and furnished it with local folk art. I added a swimming pool complex that was on the axis of the old house. A pool house, trellised deck, and hot tub form the top of the T, and the 100-foot lap pool with a shallow children’s section formed the stem. My favorite non-picket fence surrounds the grassy compound. The family lived in it for maybe two years or so when Joe called and said, “We need a new house. We are going to have this one become the guest house.” We walked around the acreage and where there had been a cornfield, there was a big open space. We agreed that the new house would go there. I built that house for them in white corrugated metal with raincoat yellow windows. My design, with half silos abutting basilica forms, references farm buildings. The interior’s French limestone floors are practical. The white oak paneled walls are a bow to Joe’s desire for warmth and tradition. Maria Smithburg designed the landscape, which includes two parterre orchards, one with a variety of apples and the other of pears, and so the house is named the Orchards. I worked with Rika a great deal. Rika can read plans and has a very strong design sense. Whether it is Japanese textiles, or American folk art, we have always been very much in tune. For the Orchards, we made a lot of the quilts for the beds out of kimono fabrics. There was a woman in North Carolina that collected the fabrics and designed the quilts in classic patterns, and they were lovely. I am now acquiring a new set of quilts as the silk fabrics have a lifespan. This time, I found a quilt maker in the Seattle area that imports Japanese fabrics and designs unique quilts from them. This time around, we are working with Patricia Belyea. That is in a way how things cycle. Joe and Rika have been terrific about always calling me back, whether it is something that needs work in the existing houses or to design a new one. So, I have always been available to do even the smallest things. Little things grow into big things.
Joe and Rika were raising three kids in the condo that I had originally remodeled, and space was tight. They were also tired of living in a small condo building. There is a greater degree of intimacy with other owners than one would like in trying to have anything done with the building. They wanted out, so they were looking, but the children still wanted to attend Francis Parker [School], so it had to be within Lincoln Park somewhere. Rika and I, over the following couple of years, started looking at possibilities of townhouses that they could buy or another condo. By this time, Joe had become published as one of Chicago’s newest billionaires. There were obviously issues with the security of his family and that was very important to him. He was still hoping they would find a condo in a high-rise, where it would be safer. I remember that Rika and I looked at an elegant one that had been designed by David Adler. But it was designed at a time when family relationships were different. One had maids and the kitchen was in a separate place, there was no family room, and the layout was much more formal. Rika still does a lot of the cooking, and it wasn’t the way she wanted to live her life. We started talking about how we would have to remodel this Adler to suit her family and eventually, I just said, “Rika, it ought to stay an Adler.” She agreed, so we kept looking, and then, she found a listing for a nineteenth-century brick townhouse in the historic district which had a vacant lot next to it. I think that Larry Booth had designed the garage addition which occupied a portion of the vacant lot creating an L shaped building. It was Italianate and its exposed side had never meant to be exposed. It should have been one half of a pair, like so many others are in Lincoln Park. I did some drawings showing how you could make the side that was never meant to be exposed a little more attractive, which included modifying the interior. There was also a stucco townhouse next to it for sale that was more French than Italian, and we were going to try to put the two together, even though the floor heights were slightly different. We were also looking at how we could create enough outdoor space. We had to go before the Lincoln Park Landmarks group, which Ben Weese chaired. We were told that these design ideas that I had for the side of the Italianate house were not acceptable. The side of the house had to stay the ugly side that was never supposed to be viewed. Rika and I just looked at each other and said, “Ahhhh [grunt].” However, she was still considering a purchase. Her real estate broker had an inspection done, and the inspector was very clever. He turned on all the faucets in the entire house and we discovered that water was bubbling up through the garage floor drain flooding the entire floor. He did remind her that the water came from the street through zinc pipes and maybe, one would need to replace that piping. Suddenly, Rika didn’t want an old house anymore. There were two different real estate agents on the two different houses that we were trying to put together. Very cleverly, the one representing the smaller French house was also representing lots on St. James and Deming Streets where old Columbus hospital was being razed and a planned urban development (PUD) established in its place. She got back in touch with Rika and I. We went over and looked at the eight lots on St. James. Rika was trying to figure out if this new possibility was an option and how many they should buy. By then, I had known the family for so long that I said, “Joe is going to buy all eight.” He did indeed, so that he could control this part of the two-block long street. Because there had existed an ugly old hospital, it really wasn’t such a wonderful street but ideally it wasn’t in a landmarked section. A lot of the old townhomes had been turned into apartments and some rather unattractive apartment units had been built with little zoning. There was a high-rise very near the west side of the vacant lots. But what appealed to Rika especially was that there wasn’t really a condo group associated with the complex that would affect the lot owners, although it turned out it was a little more so than we thought. Your property still had to be a part of the PUD condominium high-rise under construction on the corner of St. James and Lincoln Park West. There have been some conditions we have had to carefully adhere to within that relationship including being adjacent on the east to a shrine to St. Cabrini, the hospital’s founder, still in use. That is how the design of their house evolved. By connecting a central section with links to smaller sections, ala Palladio’s Villa Emo, we tried to make the house appear as though the divisions were maybe several townhouses and not one large one as had occurred in other new construction in adjacent neighborhoods.
IG: In this case it uses a steel frame, a different approach than its surrounding context and some of the houses that you have been talking about in Harbor Country.
MM: That Sullivanesque mandate of form following function goes back to the earlier Skidmore years during which I spent eleven years becoming a modern designer in the Miesian tradition. You never lose that sense of form-making either, even when you explore the vernacular of a region. In this house, Rika was basically the client. I feel it has some Japanese sensibility to it as well. Certainly, the two landscaped courtyards were designed with that idea in mind and Maria Smithburg of Artemisia worked on those with us, looking at a lot of historic solutions while creating two unique partis. The whole story of the design of the house is enormously complex because it was going to sit on top of a two-story parking garage below, where people of the condo would be parking. That structure was all concrete. It was a very tricky condition because, to come from the garage into the house, you had to ascend three and a half feet to the street level and then an entire story to the private park level in the center of the block shared by all residents. When you got eight lots, you got sixteen parking spaces and a driveway, which of course one didn’t need all of either. We were able to take the eastern half of that driveway and turn it into the mechanical system for the house. Because the ceiling height in the garage was 12 feet, we built up a floor in that same section where the parking stalls were located and turned it into the lap pool. Rika has always been interested in swimming as an exercise. We were able to raise a false floor up the three and a half feet that you need for the lap pool’s depth. The pool sits on the concrete bottom of the garage. Its focal point at one end is a bamboo garden that abuts a Japanese bath. We also completely removed one whole floor of the existing concrete structure, because it wasn’t built carefully enough. We had to get back down to where the entire house could be constructed of steel. That is when Bulley & Andrews, the contractor, brought gigantic cranes onto the site to take out whole chunks of the concrete. We also had to figure out how we could deal with this three-and-a-half-foot difference from garage floor to first floor and to allow for handicapped access. Besides the stairs, there is a ramp that circumnavigates a raised section designated for a sculpture, so friends in a wheelchair could enter the home as well as from the street front. It was obviously a complicated planning challenge to get these different relationships worked out.
A few years after the house was completed, they contacted me again. I knew they had a condo in Florida, but Joe had spontaneously decided to buy one that was under construction. This time, Rika had gotten much more involved with the Francis Parker school board as its chair. She is not a Florida person anyway. She has very dark hair and, as she reminded me, when you are in the sun, it absorbs a lot of heat, so she has to wear a hat and she really wasn’t interested in just sitting on the beach. This project would be much more Joe’s and the children’s. She just said, “I trust you. You and Joe work it out together.” It was a difficult condo floor plan, with spaces angled more toward views of the ocean than aesthetic proportions. Unfortunately, it was too far along to be able to have it become a gut renovation as the timing would have interfered with the building getting its certificate of occupancy. We still needed to fix certain strange relationships. When it came time to select furnishings as well as the finishes offered, I showed Joe the Frank Gehry laminated maple chairs from Knoll. I knew that Joe’s preference would be to introduce more wood into the unit, not with wood paneling but with furniture. I said, “This is Frank’s Cross Check Chair.” He said, “Isn't that a hockey term?” And I said, “Yes, Frank is a hockey player. He has played hockey all his life.” That was the relationship that made the chairs important to Joe: that Frank had designed them because of his history with hockey, how they got their name, how you bent the wood to form the unique shapes and to create a springiness in the seats. We also selected Aalto bentwood lounge chairs and an eclectic mix of other interesting objects.
I have learned over the years how different clients react to my process of building them a new house. I always ask the couple to compose a list of what they want to see in the house, what their feelings are about it, what relationships are important to them. I ask them to do it without discussing it with each other and to keep it secret until I see it. Then, we sit down together, and we review the lists. You can tell by the order of things what is important to one over the other. Then, you figure out where the compromising might occur and what is important to both. That way, I make sure that both parties are equally involved in the process, even though one eventually will take over, like Rika did on a couple of the houses and then Joe took over on the last one. Interviewing potential clients is also an interesting psychological process. I remember I lost a house here in Harbor Country to a North Shore architectural firm, also from the East Coast. This husband-and-wife couple came into the office for an interview and they showed me a house they had built in Aspen. It wasn’t a very distinguished house, but I wasn’t about to tell them that. I said, “I have built a house in Aspen’s West End as well for a friend.” Both sat across from me, and I knew I was very carefully looking at him and her, and her and him as we talked. He was very charming, and she was very dour. At some point, I thought to myself, “She is not going to hire a woman architect.” It became very clear that she was not interested in having her husband relate to another woman. And that was that. Plus, they also said, “Now we want to use stone, as we did in Aspen.” They planned to demolish the old Swift estate on the property. It wasn’t a great house, but I had tried to subtly tell them that the vernacular of this area isn’t necessarily stone. It is historically wood clapboard and shingle, but she didn’t want to hear that either. They hired this suburban architectural firm. It is not a bad house, more in the style of Robert Stern, but it would not have been an easy relationship. At the conclusion of the interview, I knew I didn’t need to do this project. I just want to work for happy people open to ideas.
IG: We are going go back a little bit to talk about those early projects for Tigerman McCurry as an office. Projects like the gallery that you did in River North because that was one of the first interior projects that won an award, and it was very influential both in terms of the design as well as the way you represented it.
MM: I have talked about this house, Boardwalk, not only in its axiality, but the interior where all the rooms share a double height gathering space in the center as I said much like a piazza. Also, it’s proportions, for example, room size to ceiling height, which is a proportional calculation that you also learn at SOM. If you are designing a banking floor, is a 14-foot ceiling high enough? That is the height of the main floor of the bank I worked on with Myron [Goldsmith] and it is sort of right there proportionally. But that was the budget too. This little guy has, in different ways, of course, repeated itself in many other reiterations. The River North gallery is really all about using very simple inexpensive materials, drywall and French doors. Being more about use, spatial relationships, axiality, and how you experience the art in rooms that are in sync with it proportionally, rather like, at a smaller scale, the rooms and their axial flow of a traditional art museum. Also, the French doors in the gallery are just like the French doors that are here. The grid has always been interesting as it signifies measurement, whether it is muntins as you see on these doors or, at some point, the jump to the Red House, where instead of using muntined windows, I used windows themselves as a grid. That has been a transformation from the more typical usage to taking square windows and configuring them in grids. All of my houses that have, and so many of them do, the great central space, it is related to the people that inhabit them, such as the balconies here at Boardwalk that function as overlooks where people in the loft rooms above can look over and share in the central space or look across and communicate with each other. That is true of the Orchards here in Michigan, where the windows in two of the children’s upper bedrooms look out over the double height living room space below. They can look down on their parents or open the window and chat. It is also a window axiality-wise, if there is such a word, where in the living room itself, the double height windows are aligned completely with the windows in the two bedrooms. Like scouts, the children can look across the living room and on out to the driveway to spot anyone approaching the house. Even though they are little rooms, they have that quality of being able to look afar and feel large. Each of those two rooms had the ceiling exposed allowing us to put an extra bunk bed in a loft above with a ladder to get up to them. The extra “room” becomes either a bed for a friend or a secret retreat. I have done variations of that theme quite often as it also serves to attract grandchildren. The house I did very early on in Michigan was another old, remodeled farmhouse. When we designed an addition for the master bedroom, it was connected to the original by a traditional hyphen. I learned about hyphens from Palladio, when we were in Italy. It is almost like a giant reveal, in a sense, between two parts of the building. In that house, the master bath became the flat roofed reveal or the hyphen. In the gabled story and a half of the original farmhouse, we located bunk beds for children. They could climb out those windows on to the flat roof of the hyphen, which is fenced and that became a little play pen. We placed a gable roof over the master bedroom wing but we put a flat ceiling in that bedroom, so that the kids had a secret playhouse on top, in the attic space. They could go out their window onto their upper deck and then into their little playhouse. I am always looking for ways to add many more layers to the building experiences, fun things to cause families to interact or to have kids want to come because there are playrooms for them as well. Even in Joan Harris’s house, over the master closets, there is a built in ladder to access a loft above in the double height space. It is a very secret place where grandchildren could hide out. I have tried to do that often to encourage multigenerational connections.
The Crayola House sold recently as Paul Bentley, my “sea captain” client, died. That house is an interesting one to talk about because it is different, a variation on a theme as it were. It is clad in corrugated metal, but it is called the Crayola House because the trim on the windows is painted in different rotating colors. And that was Paul’s idea. He was an ad agency guy, and we were originally going to have the window trim change colors three times as the house stepped down, but instead, he did the color changes on every single window. It became this very unique personal expression, which was great. In his spare time, he dove for wrecks in the Great Lakes, so we had a lot of found material around the house. When he died last year, his wife Judy wrote to me. The house is on the beach in Wisconsin, and it was just too lonely a place without Paul. Its waterfront location was really his dream. His version of the list I asked them both to compile at the beginning of the project was written as if he was a sea captain and the house his ship. Its design is a butterfly plan. Stanley did a butterfly as well for one of his houses in Connecticut. I always thought it would be fun to do a butterfly plan and this was an easy one. Its “prow,” the family kitchen/dining, points towards the waves. The two “wings” are angled so one can look up and down the beach in each direction. Each wing has a separate living room. Judy was a teacher, so she asked for a fireplace and bookcases. Paul wanted a lounge with a giant screen TV. Upstairs, there were his and hers widow walks as balconies off the master bedroom, which was also the “prow”. So many of my houses are all about having fun solving the puzzle as to how people relate to each other and how families intertwine.
There was another house I designed more recently with a different puzzle. All this couple’s combined request was that they wanted their shingled house to figuratively embrace you when you drive in. They had acquired a large, wooded lot in Harbor Country, so we designed a paired set of garages centered on axis with the front entry. One drives between them into a forecourt where two identical wings provide the proverbial embrace. The house then steps back into the woods. On the second floor, we designed a playroom ringed with inset bunk beds and a tiny theater. The room had exterior windows in each bunk cubby but also windows that looked out over the double height space of the living room. Again, one of my favorite architectural devices to connect family members.
IG: Can you talk more about how the grid appears in your work?
MM: There is an interesting storyline concerning the Orchards. I talked a bit about building the main house in the meadow, with two square gridded apple and pear orchards through which one drives to approach the house. The pool complex had been laid out on axis with the original farmhouse so two different geometries existed when my clients decided to add a fenced garden. This dichotomy intrigued Stanley who looked at the plan and said, “You have to do a triangular garden, so that one side is related to the pool and the other side to the orchard.” That cleverly resolved the two different axes. Stanley’s quickie one liner made all the difference. Grids have industrial, mathematical, and even musical qualities which you see in the writings of the renaissance architect Alberti. The grid just manifests itself in a lot of different ways and translates as a network of uniformly spaced horizontal and vertical lines. Its simple formula occurs throughout architectural history, and Stanley and I have used it to refer to that chronology. Sometimes it is used in say a concrete floor because it becomes a joint to allow materials to move. Sometimes it has direct meaning in physicality and then other times it becomes a symbolic grid. Boardwalk defines itself in Stanley’s lexicon as an industrial extrusion with grided ends. The lath on plywood ends is proportionally laid out in cubits, the biblical measurement that extends from the tip of one’s finger to one’s elbow.
JM: To build on that idea a little bit, let’s talk about the headquarters for the Juvenile Protective Association, which was one of the first projects that you brought into the firm as Stanley's partner. It is on a 50 by 140-foot commercial site in Chicago and has a different program. We have talked a lot about residential, but I think that you used the idea of the grid with skylights and courtyards in a different way in that project.
MM: It was a lot-line, budget-conscious, commercial project. There was no way by code that you could have windows on the sides. I had to create a series of interior rooms as offices with my signature French doors that looked out into a skylit courtyard-like workspace. This was really my first use of Kalwall as skylights, which is a double walled insulated but translucent material. The psychologists were counseling parents that had abused their children, and these were difficult and stressful situations. The counselors that were doing the interviews needed to have a sense of light coming through and a way of looking beyond the space that they were in. Sconces on either side of the office doors and wood strips that articulated each individual unit contributed to a residential quality that was calming for both groups. The front entry also had a muntined skylight over an open play area for children. The grid is evident in the front façade that is constructed of 16” by 8” concrete block scored to read as 8x8. It is subdivided by contrasting paint into three square sections.
I gave this JPA project as a problem when I was teaching an architectural design course at UIC. Stanley, as director, assigned me to take on the 4th year. The students went nuts because you only had a front and rear façade to design and then you had to deal with a very tight program for the interior space. They wanted to make major statements on the front. Then everybody was into angles. They tried to take the program and turn it into angled shapes and were struggling to get anything that would work for offices out of it. There were more simple solutions, but students have to dramatize. They were very frustrated with that program, which was solvable in the real world.
After thirty-five plus years, Kalwall came back when Stanley and I designed the Education Center at Fernwood Botanical Garden, where we both remembered what an interesting quality of diffused light you got out of the Kalwall. Good ideas and materials repeat themselves many years later.
What is interesting about the multi-colored Crayola House, is that it is an amalgam of all the colors I have used. Once yellow was taken by the Orchards and red by the House of Five Gables, then The Blue House came about because it was on the water. There is an interesting pattern created by the smallest of the square windows, almost looking like a wave as it faces the lake. It is a one-room-wide house with a hierarchy of window grids because the view was only to the road or the lake, and as many rooms as possible needed to face Lake Michigan. The Crayola House on the other side of the lake has another interesting gridded detail as expressed in the 8” square glass blocks of the curved entry. It faces the road, so you get diffused light, but you don't really have the transparency that you may not want when a car is parked in front. When you enter on axis with the prow, the closet doors rotate in a portion of the curve that closes off another section when the closet is open, but when closed there is a view through the opposite curved cabinet into the living room. Paul wanted that gridded cabinet in the living room where he could display all of his nautical collection. You could either see the objects when it was open as you walked in, or when the opposing closet doors were opened, it closed it off again. He enjoyed these secret little ways of doing things. The couple had four boys, so we had to design four equal-sized bedrooms for them. But two of them had operable windows again in their closets that looked out over the double height porch. They were able to have some communication with somebody sitting down below. As I said, the multi-colors were just his very playful way of expressing himself. I don’t know what color is next for my next house or if anybody wants one. It is like orange is the new black or something. We’ll see what comes down the pike, or if I have a chance to design something unusual again. The primaries are taken so we will see.
IG: You mentioned earlier the Glass House that you did in Sawyer. That was your first ground up house. Can you talk about the things that you were exploring and how that house came about?
MM: It was for two friends who wanted it by 1980s standards to have that perceived quality of the genteel, southern experience. They had been south that spring, I think down along the Natchez Trace, and they had acquired a book on the houses of the Federalist period that you would find down there. We looked at them. There was a certain symmetrical formality to them, yet many were very simple planter homes. Bryan and Michael had a very tight budget. I think the 1,600 sf house sans porches and appendages was probably built for $125,000. I had to figure out economies, as we have done in Boardwalk too, where the kitchen and the bathroom backup so they share piping. We planned the central living room that is the main axis for all other rooms. There are two guest bedrooms that flank it and, backup to each other. There are two symmetrical doors that go into those. On the opposite side, on axis, there are two symmetrical doors that go into the bathroom and kitchen, so the two sharing the bedrooms have to cross the living room to get to the bathroom. However, in the living room, to create a symmetrical plan, there is a poche across the front that includes an entry sequence flanked by two alcoves with book shelves/reading nooks for rainy days. There is a surprise stair within the kitchen that ascends to the master bedroom, which is situated above the living room space. Michael and Bryan liked to cook, and Stanley and I would sit on the stairs and kibitz with them while they were cooking. It was fun to have the stair inside the kitchen. It happened to be the simplest place to put it, the most spatially efficient space and then it became a very interactive stair such that the partners could access the kitchen for late night snacks while guests slept peacefully across the way. Economies included 6’ 8” standard French doors, so the ceilings were low. I stepped the ceiling down to the height of the doors on the perimeter of the living room, so the mechanical is housed there, and then the main space steps up nine feet. Just that stepping makes it seem like it is much larger. It is a way of creating a sense of a greater space. Frank Lloyd Wright was great at it. This and the poched nooks are traditional devices that are really fun to think of unique ways to use again. I do that often with houses to add drama and character. A log home in Steamboat Springs has reading nooks off the double height living room and a condo in the Four Seasons had eight-foot ceilings, but I kept dropping boxed mechanical chases on column grids down to seven feet and stepping back up each time, thereby creating spatial progressions and intimacies. The master bathroom was an interior room but I added a frosted glass panel over the sink so it and the hallway borrowed light from each other. Navigating the corridors, I created a focal point niche each time the hallway jogged which it had to do around the building’s mechanical room so traveling became an artistic pursuit. The doors were also sized to reach the ceiling to reinforce the visual sensation of height.
IG: This is a project that you also did with Stanley, correct?
MM: No, not the ones I was just speaking about. We designed Judy Neisser’s condo in the Four Seasons together as well as her house in Aspen.
IG: I see. You mentioned earlier that you worked together in some projects that, but most of the times you did not work together. I am curious to know what were the conditions that would make both of you work on a project together.
MM: Judy Neisser wanted both of us as a team, for sure. That was an easy one because she was a close friend, she knew that the friction that exists when two egos collide was a positive force. She said, “You know, you guys figure out who does what, the two of you, that is what I want.” So, we did. In that Four Seasons condo with its 12-foot ceilings, much of the plan is more Stanley’s doing, even though it is a very classical plan, and all the detailing is mine from the doors to the way that the transoms work. That is a classic Skidmore detail to have the transom look like it is part of the door, and the trim goes up around it, so you achieve a full-height sensation. Taking the flush, continuous baseboard up to the bottom of the windows and repeating that proportion in the base of the French doors creates design continuity. I even used that device, I think, with Joan Harris’s house, where we were trying to save some money. We had tall nine-feet French doors, but we had the muntined glass inset be that of a seven-foot door. We had this very tall bottom and took that same height and carried it all the way around the double height rooms as the baseboard. It begins to give more meaning and purpose to certain decisions that you have established often budget wise. But the high baseboard let us incorporate all of the mechanical units that occurred under Judy’s windows at that same height that we had established for the doors, so the design looked purposefully and proportionally elegant. That was how we worked together. There was a stray column that was very tricky to deal with that occurred when we had to put two apartments together. It occurred in a corridor, and you had to zigzag around it. That is a Stanley column. He talked Judy into liking it by saying it was activating the space as a solitary object. He didn’t try to hide it. He made it an element of the space. I think that was how we worked together. I was doing more of the detailing, and certainly all the furnishings too with Melany in our office. We didn’t interfere that much with each other. Judy was an art collector and had a great eye. She was a great client because, even if she made a snap decision and said, “Well, I want this, and so you would do it,” then she would say, “Hmm, maybe I was wrong. Why don't you redo it?” She would always just add, “Well, that was my fault. We’ll just move on and I will pay for it.” She never was like some other clients that behaved differently, especially when the firm was young and we had to absorb some bad behavior from them to complete the project and hopefully get it published to attract better clients.
IG: You have talked about the essence of the space as well as proportion. Can you elaborate more about the differences, and perhaps the similarities, in the way you approach your single-family homes and your condos?
MM: In a way, the same design theories apply but you are in a smaller space in a condo. How you design it and deal with its existing architecture is always a challenge. For example, when Stanley and I worked together on combining two units in the Water Tower, Ed Dart, the Chicago architect who was well known for well-designed modern homes, was out of his element in configuring this more traditional multi-use high-rise. The dark brown aluminum windows probably started at 30 inches, at least, above the floor. The drywall-enclosed mechanical units were underneath them, as in the Four Seasons, but painted the wall color and capped with a black marble slab. The nine-foot ceiling was radiant, so you couldn’t penetrate it with any down lights. You had to figure out how to incorporate and hang rings of track lights. We were able to create the sensation of taller, more elegant window embrasures by turning them into a diorama. We covered the mechanical units and the window returns in the same dark brown aluminum. Your sense was of a taller space rather than the windows looking just squat. There are ways of using color in that way to create a sense of greater height. We incorporated another classical element both in Judy’s and in the other Four Seasons unit. Usually, when you are creating a plan and organizing space, if the columns are not on a grid, you will find a stray column where you don’t want it to be. What we did in both entries when there was one, we simply put in another one. So again, you didn’t have to go around, you went through a pair of columns. When Judy’s was published in Architectural Digest, Paul Goldberger called it classically modern, or that we were modern classicists, or vice versa, because we used those kinds of devices. When I lecture, I often show the colonnaded porch of the Villa Rotonda juxtaposed with Judy’s twin colonnade because, when we were in the Veneto, we were standing out on the porch and I happened to take a picture of the landscape framed by those columns. I will always in my lectures bring in images from the past that are interesting that I have remembered why a certain device worked, not only structurally, but spatially and visually as well.
JM: I am jumping back a little bit to 86 and 87. You did a Loeb Fellowship in Advanced Environmental Studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. What was your focus during that year? And how did that work influence your practice?
MM: I suppose the only thing I owe John Syvertsen is that he had it the year before I did and recommended that I apply. One requirement for acceptance into the program was to not recycle the elite i.e., if you had attended architecture school already, why would you go back and do it again with the GSD? There had to be a very good societal or environmental reason why you would apply for additional study. But my valid reason was that, even though I was a registered architect, I never attended architecture school in the first place. That got rid of that requirement right away. But even then, as you move through the acceptance process, and there were only approximately ten to twelve positions available and a lot of applicants, you were to be interviewed by two former Loebs. For some reason, they had me interview with Fidel Lopez, a Chicago architect working in development. We got to be friendly later, but it was very clear during the interview that he was supposed to find out whether I was just a pawn of Stanley’s, or whether I was a separate entity. I didn’t like that interview at all, because of the way he was framing the questions, and I didn’t have any proof with me of my own work. I went back to the office grumbling. I called him back and I said, “I am coming back, and I am bringing drawings.” I brought work that I had done up to that point and made a presentation as if he was a potential client. I said, “this is me.” There was supposed to be another interview with another managerial architect like Fidel, which concerned me. I asked to be interviewed by a friend that I had made from the AIA Committee on Design who had a practice in New York and had been a Loeb Fellow some years before. Glen Garrison is now in California and we are still friends. When he was chair of the COD, his unique and very memorable conference was held in the Anasazi Four Corners region at Mesa Verde where we met with Native American architects. I asked the Fellowship if he could interview me instead and they said, “Okay.” I flew to New York, had a nice interview with Glen, and got the Loeb Fellowship. That was the beginning of acquiring a sense of legitimacy since I didn’t have an architecture degree. That Fellowship year was really special but I could only be at Harvard three days every week because I still had a partner and a practice to get back to. By the time you fly east, you lose two hours, and you lose another hour with the time change and another hour on the MTA. That condition makes it very hard to even attend any morning classes the first day. The classes I could take that met in the afternoon were all landscape architecture courses. I took all of those. I bought the courses’ bible: Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants and have used it ever since. It was a lot of learning. It was really exciting to discover many previously unknown tree types, their names, and what works in certain landscape zones and what doesn’t. I can still identify many of them. Those few courses that met in the afternoon were a happy accident. Otherwise, courses met either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings or Thursday and Friday. If I was there, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I wouldn’t get the full complement of any of them either. What I would do is attend a lot of the lecture classes that were taught by some of the famous professors like Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary theorist, and others. I remember learning about historic climate conditions and plate tectonics. The university was a cornucopia and Loebs could delve into all of it. You didn’t even have to write a paper or take an exam at the end. I got to be good friends with Allison Williams who, as a full time Loeb, was on leave from Skidmore Owings & Merrill. Years later, she left Skidmore because they wouldn’t make her partner. She then became a senior architect at A.I. heading up their San Francisco office and then ended up at Perkins&Will where she ran afoul of a San Francisco design principal. She is now teaching at Berkeley, and I just saw her last year. She is widowed now but she had just met Walter our Loeb year. Allison and I became really good friends, as the only two architects of the eleven fellows. The other nine were horticulturalists, photographers, writers etc. Once a week, we would have a special person come for dinner. One of the best people that came was Dan Kiley, the landscape architect from Maine. It was great to meet him and have him talk about his work. I still quote his theories of plants and planting beds. I even did so with Stanley’s plot at Graceland cemetery. Some landscaper made these little round “rooms” and I said to the administer, “You don’t want little round rooms. You want squares, you want rectangles.” Dan Kiley would juxtapose linear forms with living shapes. Nature provides the odd shapes, you don’t have to sculpt garden beds. Geometry becomes a foil for nature. In my time, which was still relatively early in its formation, Loebs weren’t always very welcome at the GSD. “Why are these strange, often non-architects, allowed to come in my room and sit in on my class?” I was lucky because [Rafael] Moneo was the director at the time, and Stanley and I had spent time with him on one of our trips to Europe. On a Sunday in Madrid, we went to the bullfight with him and his daughter just after I was attacked near the Plaza Mayor where I lost my purse and my camera. We told Moneo that I had tried to fight them off but the purse had a strap that they finally tore. I ended up on the cobblestones with skinned elbows. Stanley was too far ahead of me because I was taking pictures to get back in time to help. Everybody else just stood around and watched these three young men attack me. We then went on into the bullfight. But knowing him, I had a little more freedom to come and go at Gund Hall. Also, I had met… who is the Israeli architect that did Habitat?
IG: Moshe Safdie.
MM: Yeah, Safdie was there teaching a studio. He had a chance to compete for the Courthouse Commission in Israel but had to fly to Tel Aviv to make a presentation, so he had to leave his class. He asked me to look in on his class. Well, snotty Harvard students weren’t interested in an unknown handing out crits, “Who the hell is this?” Safdie had given them the problem of the courthouse. I talked to the students trying to explain to them that Judaism isn’t about objects. Those are idols, graven images. Unlike the Greeks or Romans, as a historically nomadic people, architecture is not a Jewish tradition. Judaism is more about a movable text and how one translates the text into architecture. And the students were like, “yeah, whatever.” Obviously, if Safdie had said it, it would have made a difference, but because I was talking about it, it didn’t. Then, an architect named [Boris] Podrecca, who was the star of the moment, came to give a lecture at the GSD. The next day, when I went to look in at the studio, there were little Podrecca variations on many boards. I protested, “You're doing a courthouse in Israel! What does a European have to do with that exercise!” I was surprised to discover that these were scared little kids at Harvard who were afraid to figure out a creative solution on their own and had to copy. They are obviously smart and can always present their work cogently because I have sat in on some juries since then at Harvard. Same at Yale. They will tell a good story, and they will present a very intellectual raison d'etre for their work. But if their hands aren’t there to complement their tale, it’s like, “Sorry, guys.”
IG: Now you have a lecture series with your name, so you left your mark and your presence at Harvard is still felt. What is interesting about those lectures is that they feature a younger generation of architects. It is an interesting legacy in terms of your role in the university and in terms of supporting younger people.
MM: When I led the Alumni/ae Council for three years, the meetings were always very tricky to navigate with Peter Rowe as the Dean. Peter was very difficult. When I put together the formats for his visit to the council, I always had him present a state of the union, like the presidential address. If anyone was new on the Council and dared to question him, he would attack. I had to be very careful in how I orchestrated what his appearance and how we related to him. I guess I did it well enough that, as I was finishing my tenure, some of the other members of the Council contributed funds to my lectureship that the development office set up. Stanley contributed, as did my mother, and then, every year, I fund it a little bit more. I didn’t want a lecture on theory. Theory was coming out of your ears at Harvard at the time, and I was like, “No, let's try for more unique experiences for the students.” It can even be on interiors for that matter. The school has taken my request to heart. They have always used it to invite really unique people. They have had artists and photographers present their work. They had the crazy guy who designed the green walls [Patrick Blanc]. It has been nice. Harvard is also very good about figuring out how to relate well to its alumni. They always call me and thank me. This year I got a call telling me when the lecture was, and of course, I am always welcome to attend it, although it is usually in the middle of the week. I have tried on occasion to get it tied into an architectural lectureship at Vassar that I also fund. Once in a while, they will use the same speaker, if it is somebody Harvard brought in from abroad. Vassar’s Art History Department used to know how to track that person and get him or her to come over to Poughkeepsie.
IG: The effort to create frameworks to bring new generations, support them, and at least have them engaged is an important aspect for you and Stanley. It’s like the salons that you and Stanley host it in your house, bringing in the new generation of architects in Chicago in dialogue with those leading important organizations.
MM: It is really the influence of my father and Stanley, whose mother always said, “You’ll be a jack of all trades and a master of none.” I think Stanley managed to master more than a couple of them, but he would always say that teaching was extremely important to him. A little less so to me. I did teach an interiors course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which I enjoyed a lot. Occasionally, I will get an appreciation note from a student who took it. I asked them to wander through the Art Institute and to choose an artist and a painting that they liked. Then, they had to design a house in the intention of that artist. It was a real challenge for them. I haven’t been asked to do much teaching. That one time that I taught a studio at UIC was when I gave the JPA project, and the kids went nuts. Stanley, then the school director, just decided I was too hard on them. Certainly, you and most of the younger architects that came for a while to our little salon, I really liked a lot. We also invited some of the cognoscenti of the city in the hope that they might open some doors for our protégées. But not all of the younger generation is interested in associating with the previous one. Stanley asked some of the younger recent emigrant leaders of the architectural community including practitioners, journalists, and directors to come to Archeworks to discuss the future and their plans for their particular institutions. He had a symbolic knife on a tray asking each if they would pick it up, reminiscing that his generation set out to dispose of the one before them that was suffocating them. None of them would pick it up. I probably am a little harder, especially on younger women architects whose road forward is so much easier than ours was and yet who choose divisive behavior to advance their agenda. The women of my age who survived harassment on the job site or in the office, or dealt with low wages and discrimination, nevertheless had a code of ethical behavior. Our stories of endurance would fill a movie script. Some of mine from my Skidmore days included traveling with the male architects down to Nashville for National Life and arriving at a motel complex to discover that when the manager handed out the keys you have been assigned a room in the next building from the men because it is assumed that you were brought along for one reason only. Once I was put in a room behind the front desk that was the innkeeper’s daughter’s room, and I swear he sat there all night. The workmen considered the presence of a woman on a construction site to be a bad omen, much like in another century women on a sailing ship, which is why we only appear as a figurehead. [It’s sad when] some millennial architects behave unethically as I have witnessed and who become vindictive when they are threatened. Aware of certain behaviors in our community, the dean of IIT Reed [Kroloff] and the director of UIC Bob Somol have agreed to produce a joint program on ethics for the students, and we will talk about what it means to be ethical, a condition that was so important to Stanley. He wrote about it all the time. One of many potentially ethical positions that I want to emphasize for young architects is to not do free work to get the job. To turn it down because to accept it means that you don’t value your work enough to charge for it nor will a potential client. In my own case, I got the commission to design the McCaskey’s House on Martha’s Vineyard because I wouldn’t. Years ago, the couple came into the office for an interview [he has since died]. Mike and Nancy spent about four hours going through the program and talking about it as though I were hired. And then, when they were leaving, he mentioned they would be interviewing other architects and said, “Would you do some sketches of what we talked about so I could see if you got the idea?” I didn't even hesitate I just said, “No, Mike, I can’t.” I said, “I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe in doing free work, I will instead write you a story.” So, I did. I wrote a two-page essay on what life would be like in the kind of house I would design in West Chop. I described a house in character with the historic homes of the Vineyard but unique with a widow’s walk, spaces that sand couldn’t phase, rooms that breezes would blow through, and the sound of buoy bells that would lull them to sleep, those and other romantic images. This was in the spring of ‘93 when there was another recession and work was scarce. He disappeared for three or four months and then, in September, I got this call saying, “We decided to hire you. Meet us at the skybox the following Sunday for the Bears opening game.” Stanley and I sat in the skybox and watched the game with the McCaskey family. Then, I designed a shingled house with a central stair reminiscent of a light house that ascends to the widow’s walk. Another one of the reasons we aren’t always valued or respected is that we’ll undercut each other’s fees to get the work. When the AIA Chicago chapter tried to establish a fee structure commensurate with the type of work, the Justice Department accused us of price fixing. Now, to join the AIA, architects have to sign a consent decree basically promising to be competitive like contractors and bid on work. Our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is contained in 4-1/2 pages. The legal profession’s fill a book. The television series Law and Order has personalized lawyers and made them admirable professionals. Architects need such a venue as well to create empathy for the blood, sweat, and tears that go into what we create, to engender respect for our embrace of environmental issues and social justice. And like the series that features the blue-collar cops and the white-collar lawyers, we have the same situation with the blue-collar building trades and the white-collar architects. I have tried for years to get an architectural journalist to write a pilot for us. We could call it Design/Build. Ronnette Riley, my friend in New York, has great stories. When the Committee on Design used to meet, we would tell stories over drinks and we would dramatize the program. Then I figured I would take the pilot to Frank Gehry, since he is so connected in LA. But in thirty years, I haven’t convinced anyone to do it. These are the kinds of issues I want young people to tackle and solve. Somebody else can tell them how to be good designers. I want them to be good people, to make the profession something that people value again. That is how I would support a next generation of activists.
JM: I want to ask a bit about process, building on the conversation around ethics. It is important to bring ethics into that discussion and be part of the process. What are the ideal tools or steps to achieving successful outcomes in architecture?
MM: We had several colorful expressions in the office and one of them was a “happy accident.” In other words, to embrace alternatives. Another was the sixteenth-century proverb “to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse” as it were, generally an impossibility but to be open enough with your client to allow that transformation to happen if it can and how you might achieve it. When we were both remodeling Paul and Penny Beitler’s house in Winnetka, which went on for seventeen years, we eventually all agreed on some happy accidents. Very early on, while working on the house, he commissioned us to design the sixteen-story Chicago Bar Association Building, which I got the first shot at designing because Stanley was in Japan at the time when Paul came into the office. We had to develop some designs in a couple days, which Paul wanted to be Gothic in character because he acquainted that historic style with linearity. Of course, Stanley came back and started fiddling to modernize the façade, at least to reference the Art Deco buildings in the area. That project was designed and built in seventeen months as opposed to the seventeen years we, and mostly I given Stanley’s shorter attention span, spent on remodeling and furnishing the 1929 house. At some point during the process, we traveled to Sweden and toured palaces and, of course, in Stockholm, the Asplund library and the Woodland Cemetery Chapel. At one point, Paul showed us a historic stone mansion that Driehaus has since purchased and converted into a museum, but this building was for sale at the time. It was dark and gloomy, filled with heavy, dark marble columns and fireplaces, etc. He wanted that stone character in the house in Winnetka. I said, “we could make your columns scagliola.” He said, “What is that?” I said, “Well, that is a surface painted as faux marble.” He fumed, “You would put faux marble in my house?!” I said, “Well, the King of Sweden had it in his palace!” So, we had scagliola. You know, that retort is seminal in the evolution of an architect. Whenever a parent wants me to talk to their child about the profession, and the would-be student says, “I want to go right to architecture school. I want to be an architect.” I say, “Don’t do that, go somewhere first and get civilized because it is a long life.” Most architects expire with their boots on, to coin a phrase. You have to be able to sustain that life for a long time, so you need to acquire a lot of the ingredients necessary by studying history, religion, philosophy, and all the liberal arts. To not only enrich your own life, but to try to do that for clients as well. In a sense, to use that accumulated knowledge in ways to further your design ideas, but also to cleverly make a decision or a design feel like it is more their own and you just figured out a way to do it. You need enough ammunition to be able to be creative, however you acquire it and store it up. I took pictures, Stanley made drawings. But it was the same thing, capturing something that we had seen somewhere that was so unique and interesting. There is nothing entirely new under the sun. What I was trying to do was to pack in as many experiences as I could looking at the built environment in its many reiterations and thinking about those elements that resonated with me such as the quality of the Shaker’s reductive palate, which is why my second book is called Distillations. What is there about the essence of place that could inform your work? I always tell clients, “If you don’t have the budget for granite countertops in the kitchen, just put in plain plastic laminate. The choice doesn’t matter spatially and someday you will make some more money and then you can change the top.” You don’t have to put the money that should go into the making of space or the character of the architecture itself into the materials. You can create interior poetry with drywall and painted wood. Also, more and more people have come to accept corrugated metal as appropriate siding because I have said, “Well, you don’t have to paint it. In this moist climate, a wood roof is going to rot, and you will have to repaint your wood-sided house every seven years.” Practical comments like that are the way I have approached introducing more creative options into my work. I will talk about Plato’s Cave and philosophical ideas of beauty too. One of the great persuasive lectures that I have heard was given at UIC by my friend Bryan, the one I did the first house for, who now teaches landscape history at Yale. That is another story because when I first met Bryan, he was selling insurance in his father’s insurance firm in the city. But he had a doctorate in Comparative Literature, Victorian literature, I think, from Northwestern University. Over the ensuing years, they spent many summers landscaping the acreage around the house. When Michael died, Bryan decided he wanted to study landscape history. I was very involved at Harvard at the time so I arranged with the Landscape Department for Bryan to come to Cambridge for an interview. The head of the department said to him, “Your degree is in Victorian literature. How are you going to manage to earn an MDes with that background?” But they agreed to give him a shot at it. They would allow him to audit the course in the first year and then, if he passed the exams, they would let him into the school. That was also classic behavior for Harvard or Yale. If you found potentially brilliant students with unorthodox credentials, you would give them a chance to enroll. Bryan, of course, got all high passes and then was awarded his MDes. Stanley helped him get the job at Yale when Cesar Pelli’s wife eloped with another woman and left that position open. We connected last night on a Zoom call initiated by Yale’s Dean of the School of Architecture. I succeeded to the Dean’s Council taking Stanley’s place at his alma mater. One of his most cherished duties was serving on student juries, which he was invited to do at almost every architectural school in the country, but he especially enjoyed traveling to New Haven to serve on Peter Eisenman’s juries in the fall and Frank Gehry’s in the spring. Those two from either coast were some of his closest friends as was Bob Stern, Yale’s Dean at the time and a former classmate. Those are the special relationships that you build over time that I think are really important. I enjoy the process. Stanley was never as concerned with it except for his unique cadre of intellectual peers. He had his buddies, but he never had any close friends really. His last years, as many in this consortium predeceased him, it was pretty much me. Of course, he always liked and courted the younger generation because they were not threatening. People his own age, not so much. He was a true Pied Piper.
IG: You closed the office on Wells Street in 2017 so you almost had four decades of a joint office. Can you talk about the setup of the office, who was there, and how it evolved?
MM: When I first came into the office, we were in a small brick building at 900 North Michigan that has since been torn down to build the Four Seasons. We had a funny little office on the top floor. It had French doors and little balconettes looking over the Avenue. But no air conditioning, just ceiling fans, so in the summer we would leave the doors open and the dirt would blow in. It reminded me of when my dad would talk about working in a pre-airconditioned office in the Loop when he was a young architect. He would buy his suit jackets from a London tailor, because they had buttons on the sleeves. You could undo the buttons and roll up your sleeves. Then, you would put your white sleeve protectors over your cuffs so you could draw, and you wouldn’t get your sleeves dirty with the graphite from your mechanical pencils. There was a little bit of that era as well in the office. Stanley had an oversized pencil hung from the ceiling, creating a circle around the central dome. At that time, he decided that he would make three of his architectural employees associate partners because people were always saying to him, “You don’t have a normal architectural office. You just have all these young people,” which he usually did as a product of his teaching studios and being that Pied Piper. Every Friday night, he would buy drinks for all of the office. We would spend half of that evening drinking and talking over the week and the work. These were his kids basically. As they grew a little older, they of course wanted a little more autonomy. At one point, he did make three of them, David Woodhouse, Tim Sullivan, and Bob Fugman, associates. This was just when I was moving into the office with my own clientele, which would have been around 82 or something.
IG: It was 82.
MM: That year was another recessionary one with little work and Stanley had to take out what he called the juice loan on the furniture to pay their salaries. He also went on the lecture circuit to raise more money. He brought back a folk art papier-mâché goose from a lecture he gave in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also brought this funny painted wood mantel piece with decorative flowers that hangs over the fireplace here in Lakeside, and there is a carved and suited cat playing a fiddle in Chicago. Tim got drunk at one of Stanley’s parties in his apartment and wrung the goose’s neck. Stanley kept all three on, with almost no work at all with the help of a loan, which took him at least ten years to pay off. As soon as times got better, two left for greener pastures. Bob hung around for a bit when Stanley offered both of us a partnership and created Tigerman, Fugman & McCurry. Even then, he left after a few years because he wasn’t bringing in work, he was really the project manager of the firm. He wanted to be responsible for his own work, but he was never able to bring it in, except when he left with the Hard Rock Cafe account in tow. Stanley designed the Chicago version, but he was traveling and teaching, and Bob was the main client contact, hence the offer to leave with them. That third departure was when Stanley said, “I am never going to have another partner, except for one I sleep with.” That was the early culture of that office. When the building was sold, and plans were to tear the building down, we had to move. At the time, we were designing showrooms at the Merchandise Mart for NeoCon. I did several NeoCon variations for Herman Miller and Haworth. Stanley did Formica and Thonet. It was a time when companies would hire architects to create unique venues for NeoCon.
When we looked at spaces to rent, we saw that there was an old brick former warehouse that was close enough to the Mart and the staff could commute by train to its station. It seemed to be a good potential office space and the price was right, even though the area was rather derelict. We were the first tenants to move in and selected a second-floor space overlooking the street. The landlord’s crew was sandblasting around us and I don’t think the sand ever got out of some of the file drawers. It just rained down on us for a couple of years through joints in the old wood flooring. Stanley hung our gigantic pencil from the ceiling along with one of his soldier/angel cutouts and another of me as an angel. He moved his drafting table into the front room, tucked behind shelving but close to the reception where he could monitor activity. I moved my team into the quieter rear room separated by a conference room and Taber Wayne our office manager. But in our open office plan, I could still hear Stanley bellow “Taber” whenever he had a question. We got so much work one year that we actually expanded into a third room accessed off the reception. That room got very autonomous because there wasn’t one of us to watch over them, and they began to build little fiefdoms. It was when Stanley was designing a building in Yugoslavia. Then the war broke out and he lost that assignment. He resigned actually, because I think the commission was from the group that supported the Serbians and they were doing unpleasant things to the Bosnians. Stanley didn’t want to work for them, so he resigned. Then, as times got tighter, we shrank back. When we had seventeen or eighteen people, and enough work for all of them, the office was quite profitable. I am sure firms figure this ratio out. That was the year that we made some money. We started the Tigerman McCurry not for profit foundation with the profits.
Archeworks also took a toll for fifteen years on developing the office. Through the various recessions, I would get busy, or Stanley would. One or the other of us would carry the firm. The Mansueto projects, carried us through ‘08 and beyond. Stanley’s Holocaust Museum also helped. One of my friends wants to republish some of the small books that were created at Archeworks, and I have just said, “I don't even remember who published them.” Some might have been Monacelli. They don’t even have any publishers name in them. I suggested she talk to Eva [Maddox].”
IG: Were you ever directly involved with Archeworks or was that something that was Stanley and Eva’s?
MM: Stanley and Eva. I think that what was difficult for the office was that Stanley committed a great deal of time and energy to keep it going. He had to both teach and raise the money for the school’s activities since the money for building the building was donated by our friend Judy Neisser and the land for the building was donated by our landlord. He contacted architect friends to donate drawings for Archework’s auctions and to contribute articles for the school’s publications. Eva, as program director, got to pick the projects, which varied but included the design of head pointers for cerebral palsy victims. It was a school whose mantra was design for social cause. The two lectured on the projects of the school, even traveling abroad to do so. On one occasion, Stanley and Eva set up a lecture tour at schools in India and Bangladesh, and Lynn and I accompanied them as spouses, which was an unusual position for us. They invited local architects or designers to teach but needed to raise considerable funds to pay a director. They struggled to get the appropriate students because, while they gave their one year graduates a certificate, the school was not accredited. At some point, after fifteen years, Stanley decided that Archeworks had run its course for him and he resigned, leaving the board and the school in hands of a younger generation that he had recruited, but that architectural couple only lasted through one term. Characteristically for him, he never looked back, but his architectural projects had lost momentum in the interim. Had he not been fired as director from UIC by a new dean who listened to the complaints of ancient professors that Stanley was trying to convince to give up their tenure and retire in favor of a younger generation more in tune with the theoretical positions students expected, he would have turned the school into something more important. He had brought to the school teachers like Bob Somol, Catherine Ingraham, and a collection of young turks. After the tenured faculty caused his dismissal from the directorship, the dean had expected that he would simply return to teaching and remain, but that was not Stanley’s style. He left the school causing the revolt of the current students not to return for many years until Bob Somol, one of his recruits, became the new director and invited him to give the keynote lecture. Meanwhile, the office waxed and waned. The two of us always had a deal that if a job started to go south for some reason, we could just get rid of the client. That would happen on rare occasions. Stanley would always be so enthusiastic in the beginning of a project. I remember one client who kept picking up Stanley’s pencil and drawing on his drawing. I knew that relationship wasn’t going to last very long. I could do the same thing. I had a client who was always very slow in paying our invoices. Once they wrote a check and forgot to sign it. When I sent it back and said, “You forgot to sign the check,” of course, the check never came back again. We have had a few not-so-wonderful clients, but we always had that agreement that if either one of us couldn’t handle it, we were free to dump them. Which we did, which is probably why we stayed small. You couldn’t always judge the keepers early on. Usually, you had to wait to see whether a client paid the first check or not.
IG: You finally closed the office on Wells Street in 2017 and then Stanley passed away two years later. But you are still a practicing architect, so I am also interested to learn about what this new phase is, what other big projects that you are looking forward to, what you think your contributions will be in this phase of your career.
MM: Not only was there not a lot of work the last year we spent in the office, but Stanley was struggling with COPD. Ever the realist, when it turned out that Yale only wanted his original drawings for their archives and not the entire work of the firm, he arranged with the Burnham Library at the Art Institute to take all of our archives. There, they would be codified and made available to architects and students to study the complete process from soup to nuts as it were. Stanley wanted to remain a teacher even in absentia. Although we had the Education Center at Fernwood Botanic Garden [Buchanan Township, Niles] in the office that last year and several others to complete, our staff could see the handwriting on the wall and began to slip away. Our senior associate Jeremy [Hinton], pretty much ran the office and worked with all the young people, as I have never been that interested in teaching someone from scratch how to do CAD and stuff like that, but Jeremy was good at it. His family was in Southern Illinois, and so, after he met an old classmate working at a firm in St. Louis, he decided to join him there. Rachel [Oleinick] was left to finish the last punch lists for St. James, and Melany Telleen to finish the interiors. But then Rachel left right in the middle of developing the Education Center’s construction drawings, which was not the greatest behavior since she stayed in the city and just moved to another firm. Taber [Wayne], our office manager, also left with two weeks’ notice after twenty-one years and that was pretty much a disaster, because she left a year or so before we closed the office to find a job closer to her home on the Illinois/Wisconsin border. That summer J.J. came in to try to pay the bills. Then, Jessie [LaFree] who really wanted to be an architect, applied for the job and learned the necessary procedures, but in the interim our long-term insurance policy slipped through a crack. I guess she has since gotten her license.
IG: She is teaching at SAIC.
MM: She wanted to learn how to run a firm but also left near the end. Melany, loyal to the last, stayed until archivist Nathaniel Parks came with a crew from the Art Institute to pack up all our files. What wasn’t taken, our material samples and many of our catalogs, she found homes for or donated to architectural or interiors schools. She then left to begin a lifelong dream of living and working in France. That dream began in Paris with a return to academe, earning a masters at Parsons School of Design located near the Decorative Arts Museum. Stanley had also decided to donate all our architectural library to the Graham Foundation, both from the office and from home. I held back many books in my collection of historic cities, antiques, and landscape architecture. The curator of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, Zoë Ryan, chose a number of our models for the museum’s collection as well as many of our architectural drawings traded over the years with other architects. Stanley was hoping to sell off his own drawings. Sam Vinz [cofounder of Volume Gallery] organized a show with 850 of Stanley’s travel sketches and virtually wall papered the gallery with them. I guess he sold about 25 of them. I have to figure out what to do with all the rest. Stanley faced everything very directly. He did what was needed to be done. He was always concerned about how I would fare without him and he hadn’t quite figured it out exactly. It was so strange to move the practice home and I thought at one point about renting space. We had chairs, tables, and everything and I was thinking whether I would try to make it a larger office, but the work was really petering out at that point. It didn't help when an architectural acquaintance of Stanley’s came by the office as the packing up was underway and called Crain’s to report that Tigerman McCurry was closing the office. No mention of our relocating to 910, and so Crain’s immediately published it like that, like a scoop. We had no chance to send out a notice to friends and the press ourselves as we did when we moved in many years ago. That year Stanley had a postcard created with a baby picture of him in a buggy. The image was bifurcated by a text of cut out letters that read, “If you want to see your little Stanley in one piece, he will be at 444 N Wells.” Instead, one day in May, we just walked away. I gave the furniture to a not-for-profit for teachers. I brought the server, two computers, two plan files, catalogs, and the smaller models home to fill the empty shelves vacated by our architectural library and hung out my shingle.
If you Google our website or me, the name still comes up with those Crain’s or Curbed articles that claim erroneously that we told Dennis Rodkin that we were retiring. I can’t get them to undo or delete them. Every so often, Dennis Rodkin calls me if one of Stanley’s houses comes up for sale. And I’ll say, “Dennis, I’ll give you some more information if you get rid of that article.” And he says “Oh, yeah, sure.” Right. It still stays. Things have been a little tricky since, when we closed the office, we had no staff but there was work to complete. Zurich Esposito, the executive director of the Chicago Chapter of the AIA, was a friend that connected me with Craig Cernek. That has been great, because not only is Craig a good project manager and can remote on to my computer, but he also has his own practice. We had been practicing distance learning before COVID made it essential. That situation is good in that we have a good working relationship. Craig can also do all the project management nitty gritty that I never was particularly fond of. Whenever the computer has a glitch, he can fix it, and patiently tries to instruct me in its intricacies, but it reminds me too much of my beginning years pounding a typewriter for me to consider it a friend. Together, we designed the Florida condo for Joe and Rika, completed the remodeling of a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian for the widow of Stanley’s Black Barn, and finished the Botanic Garden. I tried marketing ideas like hiring Houzz for a couple years to see if any interesting clients would come out of that relationship, but they never did. I think the AIA was enamored of them briefly as a way of getting work for architects, but it never evolved into anything in particular. I was a little concerned. I guess I technically don’t have to work as we saved enough to keep the wolf from the door but one also gets very nervous about having to change one’s lifestyle. Fortunately, I will always be an architect and my favorite m.o. is creating buildings. Lakeside has been an incredible refuge during this COVID time, and the friends that I have made here are invaluable. Plus, my farmer blood is very satisfied tilling the soil as my ancestors did, but it never was of interest to Stanley. He was very indulgent allowing us to have this retreat. He would just come and sit on the screened porch, read, and watch me get my hands dirty. He never lifted a shovel; he didn’t even know what a rake was. The natural world just wasn’t in his psyche at all. Strangely lately, and I don’t know what it is, there have been a couple of promising phone calls. People have either seen my books, or they have been actually doing some research, while they are sheltering at home. The whole idea of shelter, or the second home, has become more important again. Previously, everybody was moving back into the city because that is where the life was but, between all the disasters that happened on Michigan Avenue, the crime wave in my formerly safe Streeterville neighborhood and all others, Chicago has become a more violent place. Suddenly, out here, the real estate market has just gone nuts. Everybody is buying up anything that they could possibly find to seek shelter. I have gotten a call from a couple in Northern Indiana. He is working for Notre Dame, not as a teacher but I think he manages a lot of their monies. He is a young guy and they saw an Architectural Digest publication of the midcentury modern house that I remodeled for the Conant’s who were our office landlords as well as friends. So I went to visit them in South Bend. They wanted to replicate the character of the Conant house on a wooded hillside lot that they wanted to purchase in a new subdivision. The Conant house was built of limestone and Paldao wood both on the exterior and interior and definitely didn’t fit their budget. I don’t like to give false hopes. I just said, “We could make it work, but it wasn’t going to be with those materials, necessarily.” I said, “There are a lot of wood windows in that house, and you probably can’t use that amount of glass under the codes anymore, to have that much transparency. He was a businessman. There was some judgment concerning his longevity that the university would make soon. This was two months ago, and that in three months, they would know if they were really going to be permanent. I just told them to spend that time looking at the building codes for the area and figuring out what that meant as to what we could build. They showed me this lot that they were thinking of, which was on a steep hillside. I said, “Well, it's interesting that it is facing south.” On one hand, that is good in the winter. But if you want to go out on the terrace, you are going to be looking at the road. It might be interesting to think about a southern exposure being at the rear of the house. They may look at another lot. They may call back, they may not. I may have discouraged them. Then again, you can’t start out to build something that is just a dream. They must be realistic enough to understand how you can accomplish that dream in other ways, which is what I did with the Crayola House, for example. Paul showed me dream pictures of French châteaux and the insides of ships, with great wooden beams everywhere. Then we discussed the budget. I said, “We have to figure out a different way to accomplish those same goals.” That is where the steeply pitched roofs come in; they were a signature of the French chateaux that he liked so much. So that Indiana couple may or may not come back. I went to Crab Tree Farm in Lake Bluff and I interviewed with another couple from the suburbs that had purchased a large lot overlooking the lake. They have an ambitious program and are also interviewing Booth [Hansen] and others. She loved the Orchards, but he was more of a modernist. I loaned them a copy of my first book entitled Margaret McCurry: Constructing Twenty-five Short Stories. When he read it, he said that my history reminded him of his mother. We’ll see. But it is the first time in three years that any new work that would be of interest has surfaced or that the phone has even rung. It is important that the website is still active. I updated it a bit to show that Stanley had died, but I still see emails coming in all the time addressed to Stanley. Sometimes I get angry, and I send them a one liner saying, “Stanley is dead.” “Oh. We're so sorry.” Well, think about it first before you address, “Dear Stan,” every time. I don’t really want an office again. I don’t want to have a payroll. I don’t want to go through all of that and buying furniture. I really enjoy being in my Mies apartment with floor to ceiling windows in my office. My side of the partners desk looks west at Hancock and obliquely north to the Oak Street Beach. There is another computer if someone needed to come in and work directly with me. I would probably decide that if we got this big job, I would hire one or two people and Craig would keep them in his office. I certainly want to continue to be creative and, probably I will, which means that I am not tackling sorting through all the storage boxes from the office that are stacked in the office or cleaning out cabinets and doing all that dredge stuff when I can be making buildings. If it works, it does. If not, I am going to take Stanley’s manuscripts that he left, that he couldn’t get published, and see if I can't work on them to figure out how I can get that done. One of them is his Irreparable Wounds
one, where he has all these classical references. I’ll tackle that as well and take all my pictures and turn them into digitals. Then I will start to edit those and make books out of them. I may write a book of amusing anecdotes on all the well-known architects we encountered over the years. There are lots of projects that will keep me busy, and I am used to being busy. Stanley used to say, “It’s that damn Protestant work ethic. Why can’t you just come and sit on the couch with me?” “No, there are weeds in the garden.” Anyway, that is me.
JM: Looking back on your career as an architect, what do you think are some of the key contributions that you have had and that are your legacy?
MM: There are young people that worked in the office that send letters still. I got one this year from Megan [Musgrave], who did the interiors for one of the Shapiro Houses up here. It became clear that, even though she had an architectural degree, she wasn’t a strong architectural designer or detailer, so we assigned her the interiors where she excelled. But when things got tight, we had to let her go because her scope was too limited. When Stanley died, she sent a note saying how heartbroken she was to hear about Stanley, and how important her time in the office working for us was, and how much she had learned. I do get those notes occasionally from former employees. It may take them twenty years and, all of sudden, something comes back, and they remember that early training. Even though I haven’t taught that much, I wouldn’t mind teaching again, if I could create fun programs like the one I assigned to an interior architecture class I taught at the Art Institute, where I asked the class to choose an artist in the museum’s collection and to design a house in the intention of that artist. Reed once in a while talks about if he can fund an interiors department at IIT, I could become involved. But that is a long shot.
I was the second woman in 150 years to chair the Harvard Club of Chicago and the first one was not actually Harvard but its sister college Radcliffe. I brought Frank Gehry in to give a lecture to the club. I have tried to always get the public more aware of the value of architecture as an art form. I do battle when I can with James Rondeau saying architecture with a capital A is the mother of all the arts. Artists and their curators don’t see it that way. I have expressed those views in lectures on my work at different architecture schools, but also in lectures to AIA Chapter members. When I jury AIA awards programs or architecture school’s student work, I try to constantly make everyone more aware of what constitutes good design and ways to accomplish it from the public to my own colleagues. Design excellence has been an ongoing cause that has been important to me. When I chaired the Alumni Council at the GSD, that was an important time to establish a relationship with the school, which I continue to maintain.
I have tried to create a sense of placemaking here in Harbor Country where the residents as well as local builders have come to value the vernacular of the region, which I think is really nice as well as upping the quality of the houses here and the farms. It has been enjoyable to watch it evolve and to know that seeing many of my buildings here published has contributed to a certain pride of place. Many of the new houses are very simple ones that have a reasonable amount of character to them, even if they are just contractor-builder-developer built. But our Harbor Country location only 75+ miles from Chicago with its long lakefront has also attracted [as a developer would term it] the one-percenters. When large homes are built on small lots, this scale shift has changed the character of some communities from small town to suburbia.
I enjoyed writing about our Mies building, trying to give it more prominence over 860-880, which was the goal of the condo board. I like to write, I like to paint, I might do some more of that as well. I have always really enjoyed the writing. It is probably the Irish in me that likes to put pen to paper and tell stories. I think I would like to try to figure out what to do with all these Christmas newsletters that have recorded so much of our life together, year by year. They talk a bit about the projects, they talk about places we have been, what it was like to be in a certain place, and what we gained from it. There is always a paragraph on our travels and the sense of place we found there. I am leaving this place [Boardwalk in Michigan] to my sister’s children who have promised not to tear it down. I think they will treasure it and each of them have come up this summer from Chicago, just for a quick visit on the porch. This will be the one thing that Stanley and I did together that will survive, which is nice. The Chicago apartment will be left to Stanley’s children although, since they live in other states, it will not survive as we designed it. It is too unique.
IG: The Boardwalk is a place that, at least to Julie and I, represents you and Stanley. A place that sets the example for how a place like Harbor Country could be developed. It is also a house where many design elements were first introduced and have appeared later in other houses. There is a DNA that many of the houses in the area share with. You can really see your presence. It’s almost like that county is the Margaret McCurry County.
MM: I am hoping that one little guy, Michael and Bryan’s home, is the only one that bites the dust. So far, another one that was sold was expanded by its new owners and turned into part dog kennel.
IG: For those interested in learning more about your work, where can they find more about your work?
MM: Most of it is out here, except for one in the Sonoma Valley in California and one on Martha’s Vineyard. They have all been published up until the last few years, when the editor Paige Rense retired from Architectural Digest. Digest then moved its headquarters to New York and featured Hollywood and all varieties of royalty, whatever it took to make a dime and the new editor dumped many of us non-New Yorkers. I think it has been ten years now since I have been in Digest. Right at the height of the recession, they were publishing glitz, major expensive glitz. Very insensitive. It isn’t an important influential magazine anymore. It was great that Architectural Record published the Mansueto House, but it can’t ever win an architectural award. It’s either too big and jurors are envious of it being so big that they pick it apart, or it is too big to be entered as a small firm project so it can’t fit anywhere. Also, it’s too classically beautiful and that criteria isn’t fashionable. At least I think the bulk of my work has been published and so anyone interested can find it in libraries or it’s on the website. Some of my clients would be happy to have people come in and look at their houses. The Crayola House literally sold in four days when Judy put it on the market. Dennis Rodkin called me and wrote about it. A Chicago couple saw it in Crain’s and went up to see it, and then wrote Judy a note when they decided to buy saying that they had been looking for five years for such a house, either on Lake Michigan or somewhere comparable. This was Paul and Judy’s dream house, the unique Crayola House, created totally for them, but Judy sent me the note that they had written to her, which was very sweet. The Crayola was also their dream, and they were going to keep it just like it was. That is a comforting decision. Several of my homes have sold and have maintained the bulk of their character and that has been reassuring. If that trend continues it will keep Harbor Country as vital and as special as it is.
IG: You also have your two published books, and you mentioned earlier that the archives of the office went to the Art Institute of Chicago. The library of the office also went to the Graham Foundation. Those are also places where the bulk of the information produced by the office will stay.
MM: I know that Nathaniel [Parks] at the Art Institute has been trying to codify a lot of the material. Stanley had hoped that there would be an actual study center, which would have to be built out with the funds that I leave the Graham Study Center. I did convince both Frank Gehry and Bob Stern to agree to share the cost of producing a book that will document all the drawings that Stanley left to Yale, so they aren't just in a box in a warehouse. They will be published and that is important. Yale will sell the book to raise money for the Architecture School. At the Art Institute everyone will be able to go through all our boxes and actually look at the plans and the correspondence that occurred over the course of a project. One will then begin to discover how tricky it is to bring a quality product to life, what is involved in the selling of that creation to a client, how you assess those relationships, the attention paid to detail remembering Mies’s saying that “God is in the details”, and how you correct things that are wrong. That is what Stanley and I wanted, a learning tool for young people.
Thanks to Karen Widi, Manager of Library, Records and Information Services at SOM, for her invaluable help providing photographs of the SOM buildings included in this oral history.