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Bruce Graham (1925-2010)

Dates of Interview:

May 25, 26, 27, 28, 1997

Location of Interview:

Graham's office in Hobe Sound, Florida


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

333 pages
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Photograph by Stuart-Rodgers Photographers.

Biographical Summary

Bruce J. Graham was born in 1925 in La Cumbre, Colombia. He received his bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948. After graduating, Graham worked for seveal years in the Chicago architectural firm of Holabird, Root & Burgee. In 1951 he joined the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as chief of design and was elected a partner in 1960. Graham became a specialist in high-rise corporate structures, designing skyscrapers and office complexes in Chicago and worldwide. Two of Chicago's most recognizable landmarks, Sears Tower and the John Hancock building, were designed by Graham in partnership with noted structural engineer Fazlur Khan. Graham retired from SOM in 1989 and moved to Hobe Sound, Florida, where he opened a new firm, Graham & Graham, in partnership with his wife, Jane. Graham has served on numerous fine art, architectural, and urban planning boards, and is a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. Graham was named an honorary member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1966. Graham died in Hobe Sound, Florida on March 6, 2010.

Interview Highlights

Graham speaks about his family and early background; impressions of Chicago; study at the University of Pennsylvania; working at Holabird & Root; joining Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill; prefabrication in architecture; Sears Tower; Mies van der Rohe and students at IIT; the Brunswick building, Chicago; Chicago sculptures by artists Miro and Picasso; the Inland Steel building, Chicago; the Equitable building, Chicago; about work at SOM; collaborating with Fazlur Khan; the Hancock building, Chicago; commissions in England; the American Institute of Architects; Dearborn Park development, Chicago; structural aspects in various projects; projects worldwide; plans for Chicago; Banco de Occidente, Guatemala; SOM from the inside; women at SOM; projects for the Olympic Games in Barcelona, 1992; reflections.

John Hancock Center; Chicago, 1965-1970.
Photograph courtesy of Hedrich-Blessing, Signature Collection.

Sears Tower; Chicago, 1969-1974.
Photograph by John Zukowsky.

Interview Excerpt

"There were three schemes for Inland Steel, but not as different as you might think they were. One was with all the steel in black instead of stainless steel. Another was black, but with stainless steel mullions. The other one was all stainless steel. [Bill] Hartmann liked the all stainless steel one. I liked the combination because of the distinction of structures and changes in proportion. Hartmann got [Sigfried] Giedion to come over one time and asked him which one we should build. Giedion said the stainless steel one. I had a feeling that Hartmann had preloaded it, but I don't think he did. So we did the stainless steel." (p. 105)

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Bruce J. Graham papers, 1939-2010
Finding Aid to Fazlur R. Khan collection, 1944-1988
Bruce Graham images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Graham in the Department of Architecture and Design

Funding for this oral history was provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.