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Alfred Caldwell (1903-1998)

Dates of Interview:

February 28, 1987

Location of Interview:

Caldwell's home in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

153 pages
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Biographical Summary

Alfred Caldwell was born in 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri. After a brief enrollment at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), he went to work as a landscaping assistant to Jens Jensen from 1926 until 1931, which indelibly influenced Caldwell's approach to the landscape. After two years in private practice (1931-33), Caldwell became the Superintendent of Parks in Dubuque, Iowa, and landscape designer with the Chicago Park District (1936-39). During World War II, Caldwell left his position at the Park District to work for the War Department. In 1944 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe invited Caldwell to become a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He resigned in 1959 as the result of a dispute with the administration about Mies. Subsequently, Caldwell taught at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1965) and the University of Southern California (1965-73) before returning to teach at IIT in 1981. He was awarded the Distinguished Educator Award from the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. Caldwell died in Bristol, Wisconsin, in 1998.

Interview Highlights

Caldwell speaks about his vision of Atlantis; meeting and working for Jens Jensen; Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin; WPA work for the South Park District in Chicago; Caldwell's farm in Bristol, Wisconsin; meeting Mies van der Rohe and Ludwig Hilberseimer; receiving his degrees at IIT; teaching at IIT; Mies's birthday party; ideas about the city and city planning; his philosophy; returning to teach at IIT after 22 years; his greatest opportunity.

The City in a Garden, Eagle Point Park; Dubuque, IA, 1933-1934.
Photograph gift of Alfred Caldwell to the American Friends of the Canadian Centre for Architecture; on long term loan to the Centre Canadien d'Architecture/ Canadian Center for Architecture, Montréal.

The Rookery at Lincoln Park Zoo; Chicago, IL, 1937.
Photograph courtesy of the Chicago Park District.

Interview Excerpt

"[The most important thing for students to know is] to realize that knowledge is for the sake of knowledge. It isn't to get a job. That's the big thing then and today. I tell the students I'm much more experienced now but I strike that right at the very beginning and I keep on talking about it. I don't know if I ever make any headway but they cannot be educated until they try to learn something for the sake of the learning, not for the job....I tell them now, 'I don't educate you at all, you educate yourself. I only put together a direction of work. I tell you things that you couldn't come to by yourself. The rest you have to do, and the rest that you do is your education.' That is to say, out of that you become educated." (pp. 101-102)

Additional Resources

Alfred Caldwell images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

Funding for this oral history was provided by the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Funding for the electronic presentation of this transcript was provided by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.