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Harry Weese

Dates of Interview:

March 4-24, 1988

Location of Interview:

Weese's office in Chicago, Illinois


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

274 pages
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Biographical Summary

Harry Mohr Weese was born in 1915 in Evanston, Illinois, and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, receiving his bachelor's degree from MIT in 1938. After graduation, Weese was awarded a fellowship in city planning at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 1939, Weese joined the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Shortly thereafter, he began his own architectural practice with Benjamin Baldwin, his brother-in-law and former Cranbrook classmate. In 1941, Weese joined the Navy as an engineering officer. Weese returned to SOM in 1946, but left to open his own office, Harry Weese Associates, in 1947. Throughout his career, Weese was an outspoken advocate for architecture and planning that embraced the social, political, and economic realities of contemporary urban life. Among his most recognized designs are the Washington, DC, metro rail system; the United States embassy in Accra, Ghana; and the Arena Stage complex near Washington, DC. Weese also led the restoration of Louis Sullivan's Auditorium building in Chicago. Weese was recognized through numerous awards and honors, and served on many blue-ribbon panels in the arenas of architecture, urban planning, and the fine arts. Weese was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1961. He died in Manteno, Illinois, in 1998.

Interview Highlights

Weese speaks about his early influences and exposure to architecture; education at MIT and Yale; fellowship at Cranbrook; joining Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; reflections on the Baldwin Kingrey store; opening his own office; work in Ghana on the American Embassy building; beginning work on the Arena Stage building in Washington, D.C.; renovating the Auditorium building in Chicago; designing the Washington, D.C., Metro system; serving on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee; designing the Metropolitan Corrections Center in Chicago; work in Columbus, Indiana; Weese's role in the Chicago AIA.

Metro Subway System, Washington, D.C., 1966. Photograph courtesy of Harry Weese Associates.

Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago, IL, 1968.
Photograph by John Zukowsky.

Interview Excerpt

"Here's the way [the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, in Chicago] happened. Didn't want any windows, so we had a skylight. The ceiling is hung and it's plaster and the structure is strutted like that. For a while we were going to have the struts exposed and you could see the slung ceiling, but then I thought that was a little too far-fetched--it would be too extravagant--and so I went with a straight roof up to the oculus. There's a skylight on top of the oculus--it's a little bit like the Roman Pantheon, which has a twenty-foot-wide skylight....The other thing, that sunken garden was for the benefit of the Sunday School, which didn't have any windows--it was all underground on lower Wacker. So it was all functionally structural and in every other way."

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Harry Weese Collection, c.1915-2004
Harry 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: Harry Weese and Harry Weese Associates

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.