Stanley Tigerman (1930–2019)

June 4, 2019

A young generation of architects remember Stanley Tigerman.

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Stanley Tigerman. © Tigerman McCurry Architects.

Iker Gil
MAS Studio & MAS Context

Architect and educator Stanley Tigerman was one of the pillars of architecture in Chicago, the backbone of the discipline and the city. For over five decades he designed and built hundreds of buildings, curated dozens of group exhibitions, and mentored generations of architects. He was always instigating discussions about architecture and Chicago, whether in lectures, interviews, essays, or informal conversations. We all grew accustomed to his presence, his energy, his honesty, his wit, and his wisdom. It felt that it would last forever. I wish it would have lasted forever. Unfortunately, it didn’t. On June 3, Stanley Tigerman passed away at the age of 88.

Throughout the years, I was fortunate to spend time with Stanley and his wife of 40 years, architect Margaret McCurry. While I had met them earlier, it was for the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial when I had the chance to work with them after inviting both (independently) to participate in the exhibition I was curating. Architect Ann Lui and I later interviewed him in his office surrounded by his and Margaret’s architectural book collection for an issue of MAS Context. He discussed his education under a notoriously tough Paul Rudolph, the influential symposia he organized during the 1970s and 1980s, rewriting the established architectural history of Chicago, his role model Mies van der Rohe, ethics, and the next generation of architects. As we mentioned in our introduction to the interview, Stanley shared his central belief that vigorous debate—including harsh criticism, strong positions, and the prioritization of powerful new ideas even at the cost of one’s own comfort—is essential to the forward movement of architecture. But besides these noted moments, we got together more informally, along with Margaret, for many engaging conversations about architecture, Chicago, and just life. He was curious, generous, attentive, and always honest. The conversations resonated many days after our gatherings, and sometimes things that seemed insignificant at the moment became important over time.

He built a lot and drew even more. The Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Pacific Garden Mission, and the Children’s Advocacy Center are just three examples of what he stood for: carefully considered projects that demonstrated a deep care for social justice in general and the users in particular. Stanley and Eva Maddox founded Archeworks in 1994 “on the premise that good design should serve everyone.” It gave them a framework to explore community-based needs aided by many accomplished faculty throughout the years. It demonstrated the capacity of Stanley to rally talent around a powerful, and sometimes quixotic, idea. For the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, he designed container housing for the disabled that would allow a disabled person and a caregiver to live together with a courtyard acting as a communal zone. He envisioned a place where people, no matter what challenges they were facing, could thrive. He was excited not only to present it within the framework of the Biennial but also to explore where in Chicago he could build this development. Ideas needed to be built. Many of his renowned projects during his five-decade long career range from visionary to symbolic, joyful, and clever. They all tell a story and none of them leave you indifferent.

Along with his buildings and bringing together people, as he did by organizing several renowned symposia and the reconstitution of the Chicago Architectural Club with the “Chicago Seven,” his influence was felt in the nurturing of the generations of architects that came after him. He truly believed in passing the baton (he even organized an event to symbolize that when he and Eva stepped down as directors of Archeworks in 2008) and supporting new ideas that could move the discipline forward. He held us accountable for our words and actions, always pushing us to do better. Along with Margaret, they organized salons to make sure that young architects had a forum to discuss ideas and could have a place at the table, making introductions to those with the capacity to develop those ideas.

During one of the last times I met with him, he showed me the ink drawings he was methodically working on again to fill his sketchbook. He was excited about his drawings and knowing more about what we, the younger generations of architects, were doing. It was pure Stanley until the end.

His passing leaves a huge void in architecture, Chicago, and me. It is hard to capture his character and all that he did (his interview for the Oral History project is highly recommended to begin to grasp his rich and complex life) but what is clear is that his imprint can be found across the city. In a way, he was the conscience of the architecture discipline and was not afraid to take a position, which granted him both friends and enemies along the way. It will be impossible to find a substitute for Stanley but hopefully the next generation of architects can continue what he led for many years in some capacity. Chicago and the architecture discipline will benefit from building a strong network of support and mentors for the current and next generations.

I am extremely grateful for the conversations, support, and encouragement from Stanley and Margaret throughout the years. My condolences to Margaret, his family, and all who mourn his loss.

Jimenez Lai
Bureau Spectacular

Stanley Tigerman asked me to take the baton—run with it, stab him with it, stab someone else with it, pass it forward and be stabbed by it—just don’t decline it. In the baton, he asked for courage, strength, diligence, intelligence, generosity, and demanded a younger generation to take care of their own time period—even if it means laying yourself down to help your peers succeed. The idea of the baton, to me, is an idea of dedication to the ongoing cultivation of the field of architecture—something that does not die with the death of individuals, but an idea that remains alive because of all our mutual love for architecture.

I will think of Stanley often as I go on with life and work. There are lessons I will continue to think about, such as the fine line between skepticism and cynicism, irony and critique, the ineffable and the fantastical… To Stanley, architecture was a way of life, and he imparted that value onto me. Stanley Tigerman was the soul of Chicago, and he made his city a better place.

Stewart Hicks
Design With Company

Stanley loved things, but I don’t mean things like objects. He deeply loved everything in his orbit, like the organizations he participated in and the people in his life. He had high expectations for the things he loved, but in exchange he was generous with them. I believe it takes a lot of courage to be committed to things in the way Stanley was, a level of courage that few of us can ever muster. It requires you to proud yet humble, confident yet careful, and thoughtful yet determined. His Jewish heritage, the Navy, architecture, music, Yale, etc. He was their advocate, protector, and instigator.

When I first sat down to write about him, I wanted to write something that would warrant his approval by criticizing the establishment and to explain how his confidence and F.U. attitude is instilled within me. The first time I went to his office we engaged in a lengthy conversation until he switched tone immediately. “Why did you come here?” he snorted. I could see him realizing he had an important role to play for me and he spoke about the importance of bravery, uncompromising dedication, and ruthlessness in the face of weakness. But, over the years, I’m afraid I was more a sponge than the spear he was demanding. I was worried this meant I was failing to live up to his expectations, but he continued to accept and encourage me anyway. His approval wasn’t contingent on me being like him in the way I thought originally. What he was really demanding was for me to be a better version of me―to take a piece of him and be its steward, in my own way. I aim to love things like Stanley did.

Allison Newmeyer
Design With Company

The first time I met Stanley was at his office for an appointment at our (with Stewart, my husband/partner) request. We just moved to Chicago after being away on various adventures with grad school and work. We were excited to be back and there was a feeling we returned home. Naively, we wanted to meet with Stanley to seek his guidance—to introduce ourselves and let him know we looked up to and respected him. He got right to the point by questioning why we needed to move around so much. He said, “You’re not from Chicago. We’re not going to embrace you just to have to move in a few years.” Basically, he told us it would take time and dedication to the city in order to really belong here—and then we could talk. We walked away, not with an ‘I’ll show him’ attitude, but inspired by the ‘Okay, let’s do it’ challenge.

Over time, we began proving our dedication. Fast forward to a panel discussion on drawing, set within an exhibition of his sketchbook collection. I was a little nervous. At one point, he cut me off as I was talking. “Don’t be so timid. You have a voice, and everyone wants to hear it.” I was a little embarrassed, but that was outweighed by my feelings of encouragement. Stanley wanted to know what I was thinking as a younger person and challenged me to be passionate about my own endeavors. This interaction was one of many that inspired me to know that my opinion, attitude, and outlook is valid and important—that I shouldn’t shy away from or apologize for my passions and convictions. The world is a much more interesting place when we challenge old ideas, build on them, sometimes tear them down. Thank you for your gift, Stanley.

Ann Lui
Future Firm

Before I met him, Stanley’s complicated brilliance and ferocity loomed large, in his writings, practice, and the stories I had heard and read about him. He was well-known to be blunt, someone who didn’t suffer fools or ignorance, and judged others by their ability to engage in and receive critique. After I had the honor of meeting him through Iker Gil and through attendance at a few of the Sunday “salons” that he and Margaret hosted for young architects of the city, I learned that these sharper sides were paired with a rare kindness and generosity. In a discipline known for eating its young, for closed doors and ambivalent gatekeepers, Stanley actively worked across decades to both publicly cultivate architecture discourse—through exhibitions, debates, gatherings, publications—as well as through personal encouragement, advice, and support of the next generation. Maybe because he also often felt like an “outsider,” as he told us, he prioritized spaces for others to have the opportunity to rise. At first, I read his kindness as characteristic of the support my partner and I had found in Chicago’s architecture community; after some time, it occurs to me that this tradition of engaging young architects in the city was, in part, his legacy. When Iker and I first presented the ideas around the U.S. Pavilion to him and Margaret, he showed us a collage of Chicago’s Trump Tower sinking into the lake, like his infamous Crown Hall image. He wanted to know why we weren’t being pushier, fiercer, more pointed in our critique. Don’t hold back, he told us. No other Chicago architects had yet embraced our engagement with politics at a precarious moment in this direct and open way. I felt very lucky to have his toughness at our backs: Stanley Tigerman was a unique force of both criticality and sweetness that, in his absence, is marked by an incredible loss for the city and for the discipline.