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Benjamin Horace Weese (b. 1929)

Dates of Interview:

April 28, 29, 30; May 5, 1998

Location of Interview:

Weese's home in Chicago


Annemarie van Roessel

Length of Transcript:

146 pages
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Photograph courtesy of Weese Langley Weese.

Biographical Summary

Benjamin (Ben) H. Weese was born in 1929 in Evanston, Illinois. Weese received his B.Arch. and his M.Arch. from Harvard and a certificate from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau, France. He returned to Chicago in 1957 to work in his older brother's firm, Harry Weese Associates, specializing in urban renewal and subsidized housing projects. In the mid-1970s, Weese joined a group of fellow architects, the "Chicago Seven," to promote a wider understanding of Chicago's diverse architectural history and to advance the work of more eclectic contemporary architects. In 1977, Weese opened his own architectural firm, Weese Seegers Hickey Weese, in partnership with his wife, Cynthia. That award-winning firm, now Weese Langley Weese, is best known for non-profit and educational projects designed with a sensitivity to vernacular and historic design. Weese has had a long commitment to social service: he was a co-founder of the Chicago Architecture Foundation and also served on the board of trustees of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1974.

Interview Highlights

Weese speaks about his early influences and exposure to architecture through his brother Harry; education at Harvard and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; conscientious objector service in Europe; returning to work at Harry Weese Associates in Chicago; designing housing in Hyde Park and Kenwood; saving the Glessner house and establishing the Chicago Architecture Foundation; opening his own office; activities with the Chicago Seven, including the "Chicago Seven," "Exquisite Corpse," Townhouses, and "Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune" exhibitions;" and the revival of the Chicago Architectural Club.

Townhouse, "Exquisite Corpse" exhibition, Walter Kelley Gallery, Chicago, 1977.

Perspective rendering of the Evelyn Chapel, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL, 1982.
Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"Well, historically, I want to make it clear that I have come from a very intense architectural background and family setting that I benefitted from with the help of my oldest brother Harry and also the contributions of my highly-skilled middle brother John. But then, as one matures, I want to also make clear that we had a civil dissolution of our interests and a kind of branching out that is part of the maturation process. I want to underline the fact that it was perhaps inevitable, but not necessarily unconstructive. It was useful. It brings me to another relationship, which is the kind of family operation in my office, which is collaborative, where the design is a process of interaction. Design is very precious in a lot of people's eyes but there's so much that creates the situation to make it valid that we sit and we trade ideas. I may have more experience or more knowledge because of my age, which can also be a disadvantage. I wanted to say that working collaboratively with my family in a kind of cottage-industry...leaves us as the modern model of a medieval guild." (page 129)

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Ben Weese Papers, 1925-2001
Ben Weese images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works related to Weese in the Department of Architecture and Design

Funding for this oral history was provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Additional funding for the electronic presentation of this transcript was provided by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.