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Ezra Gordon (1921-2009)

Dates of Interview:

April 16, 17, 23; May 3, 2002

Location of Interview:

Gordon's home in Chicago


Annemarie van Roessel

Length of Transcript:

196 pages
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Biographical Summary

Ezra Gordon was born in 1921 in Detroit, Michigan. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, Gordon recieved his B.Arch. from the University of Illinois in 1951. Gordon was employed in various Chicago architectural offices, including PACE Associates and Harry Weese Associates, before opening his own partnership with Jack Levin in 1961. Continuing an interest in socially responsible housing and urban development reinforced through work with Harry Weese, Gordon and Levin planned and designed numerous residential developments, notably the award-winning The Commons and South Commons, both in Chicago. Later in his career, Gordon also designed several major buldings in downtown Chicago, including Newberry Plaza and the East Bank Club. In 1972, Gordon joined the architecture faculty at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where he taught urban development, multi-family housing, and building technology until his retirement in 1994. Gordon was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1974. Gordon died at his home in Chicago on June 28, 2009.

Interview Highlights

Gordon speaks about his childhood; his interest in social and political activism; serving in World War II; studying architecture at the University of Illinois; working for PACE Associates; his friendship with John Cordwell and working for the Chicago Plan Commission; working for Harry Weese, Weese's Arena Stage Theatre, Weese's United States Embassy in Accra, Ghana, and I.M. Pei and Harry Weese's redevelopment of Hyde Park, Chicago; his partnership with Jack Levin; designing The Commons, South Commons, Newberry Plaza, and the East Bank Club, all in Chicago; working with developers; issues in multi-family and high-rise housing; general reflections and opinions.

I.M. Pei and Harry Weese and Associates.
Hyde Park Redevelopment Project, Townhouses, Chicago, Illinois, 1959-1962.
Photograph by Annemarie van Roessel.

Ezra Gordon and Jack Levin, The Commons Townhouses, Chicago, Illinois, 1965-1966.
Photograph by Annemarie van Roessel.

Interview Excerpt

"[The design of The Commons] grew out of our earlier experience. And it certainly grew out of town-planning experience that comes out of England and the Scandinavian countries. There's adequate earlier demonstrations of that kind of housing and what it did to promote family life. So the environment plays a big role in the role that family plays in conjunction with that....Anyway, it was not uncommon that we all had concluded that this was the proper approach. No one looked for over-densifying these sites. I and Jack [Levin] always felt extremely sensitive about the relationship of house to site and site to the community, with adequate space around the house and views." (pp. 81-82)

Additional Resources

Ezra Gordon images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

Funding for this oral history was provided by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.