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Gordon Lee Wildermuth

Dates of Interview:

November 27, 28, 30; December 4, 5, 2007

Location of Interview:

Wildermuth's home in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

230 pages
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Biographical Summary

Gordon Lee Wildermuth was born in 1937 in Lima, Ohio on a farm. Living close to the land as a youth is a way of life that has had a life-long influence on him. In 1961 Gordon graduated from the University of Cincinnati where he studied architecture after which he served with the Special Forces of the United States Army until 1962. Through luck and circumstances Wildermuth was hired as a designer in 1963 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; after four years he advanced to project manager, a position for which he felt he was better suited. His first assignment as a project manager was in South America, the first of many international jobs. Gordon's international work is located in places as diverse as the U.K., Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong. He takes great pride in his work in Saudi Arabia: the Haj Terminal, King Abdul Aziz Airport and the National Commercial Bank, both in Jeddah, and both award-winning projects. He retired in 1988 only to be called back by SOM in 1990 to reorganize the Chicago office. Gordon was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1985. In 1993 he retired for the second and last time, and now divides his time between his farm in Pennsylvania, Chicago, Germany and traveling to far-flung places in the world.

Interview Highlights

Wildermuth speaks about his early years on the family farm and its life-long influence on him; why he entered the University of Cincinnati; how he came to be hired by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; other architects who Wildermuth worked with; internal workings of the SOM partnership; Fazlur Khan; social concerns; international work; two exceptional projects in Saudi Arabia; retiring twice.

King Abdul Aziz International Airport - Hajj Terminal, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1981
Photo by Jay Langlois
Copyright, Jay Langlois/Owens-Corning Fiberglass; Courtesy, SOM

McCormick Place - Phase 2 - Exposition Center Expansion North Building, Chicago, IL, 1986
Photo by Hedrich-Blessing; Copyright, Hedrich-Blessing; Courtesy, SOM

Interview Excerpt

"So, when I came to Chicago, the big shock in doing work, number one, was how you people in Chicago are so involved with your city government, or the city government's involved with you. In New York, in those days, most people, I mean the mayor, he really wasn't involved too much. Here, the mayor and your, what are they called? The aldermen are incredibly powerful people and very influential. Well, starting to get involved in McCormick Place and the World's Fair. Also, a major difference is, I find Chicago, as a Midwesterner, this is shocking, you always think that Midwesterners are far more easy-going and practical than those eastern people. But I came here thinking that things would be simpler. They actually were more complex. I feel it's a much more litigious environment in construction here than in New York but that's just my reaction." (pp. 182-83)

Additional Resources

Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

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