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Christopher John Chamales (1907-1993)

Dates of Interview:

November 1, 1983

Location of Interview:

Chamales's home in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

53 pages
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Biographical Summary

Christopher John Chamales was born in 1907 in Chicago, Illinois. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was given a fellowship to attend the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts during his senior year. He remained at MIT after graduating in 1931 to complete a master's degree in architecture and was awarded a second fellowship to travel in Europe. In 1939 he was called by the Greek government to design a master plan for Athens and its port, Piraeus, and spent two years at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he studied city planning under Eliel Saarinen and completed the Athens commission. Before organizing his own firm in Chicago in 1945, he worked for industrial designer Raymond Loewy and the Chicago architectural firms of Holabird & Root and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Chamales is also remembered as the architect who successfully opposed an overpass between Michigan Avenue and the Outer Drive at Oak Street in Chicago. He was a fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters. Chamales died in 1993 in Chicago.

Interview Highlights

Chamales speaks about the Century of Progress International Exhibition, 1933-34; working at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; working on his master plan for Athens and Piraeus; working for Walter Ahlschlager; the National Transport Terminal Project in Chicago; Cranbrook Academy and Carl Milles; Eliel Saarinen's entry to the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition, 1923; his experiences at Cranbrook; Raymond Loewy; Holabird & Root; a personal story.

Plan of National Transport Terminal; Chicago, c. 1950.
Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Perspective rendering of St. Constantine Hellenic Orthodox Church; Chicago, 1946.
Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"One day I got a call from John Root. Not having met him at AIA meetings, I didn't know him personally. He said, 'Mr. Christopher Chamales, would you like to come to the office? I want to discuss a few things.' I said, 'Of course.' It was right across the street at 333 North Michigan Avenue. So I ran over there, and he said, 'We here are very much distressed that you, an architect trained just like we are--you are our contemporary, you are our colleague--are working for hated people like industrial designers that swipe our architects. You shouldn't do that.' I said, 'My dear Mr. Root, it's a job. I get good pay.' 'We'll double your pay if you come and work for us. What would you like to do, design lamps and stuff?' 'No,' I said, 'I want to do architecture, of course. That's what I'm doing now.' He said, 'I know, I saw the drawings.' I don't know how he saw them. I don't know. So I changed jobs, and I was [at Holabird & Root] for about a year." (p.29)

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Christopher John Chamales papers, 1919-1987
Christopher John Chamales images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Chamales 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.
Publication of this oral history in web-accessible form was made possible by the generous support of The Vernon and Marcia Wagner Access Fund at The Art Institute of Chicago, The James & Catherine Haveman Foundation, The Reva and David Logan Family Fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and Daniel Logan and The Reva and David Logan Foundation.