James Freed was born in 1930 in Essen, Germany. He was evacuated to Chicago in 1939, where he was later joined by his parents. He studied architecture under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology, receiving his B.Arch. in 1953. After working with Mies on the Seagram building in New York City, he joined the office of I.M. Pei (now Pei Cobb Freed) in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, Freed served as Dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Design at IIT. During the 1970s, he joined the "Chicago Seven," a diverse group of architects who held a series of influential exhibitions and symposia to encourage new approaches to architecture in Chicago. Freed was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1977. He died in New York City in 2005.
Freed speaks about his early memories in Europe; coming to America and settling in Chicago; studying with Mies at the Illinois Institute of Technology; joining I.M. Pei in New York; why he did not suceed as Dean of Architecture at IIT; joining the Chicago Seven; exhibiting with the Chicago Seven; the New York Five, reflections on Mies and his impact on Freed's work.
Townhouse, "Exquisite Corpse" exhibition, Walter Kelley Gallery, Chicago, 1977.
"Mies is always difficult to talk about for me. The problem that I saw at IIT is that we were to be like monks. It was like an order. What Mies did is that he thought of it as a war for saving our souls or the battle for the saving of architecture. Late in his life he once said, "I've showed them how to do it. I am winning the war for architecture." Why he thought of it in terms of war, I don't know. It took me a long, long time to understand that Mies's battle was with ideas. I had to go back and look at the early work of the Bauhaus. I felt at some point I had to do that because I was not catching someone in an off-guard moment, I was catching someone who had been fully formed by the whole history of the modern movement... Mies was a man who did not give ground easily. He was a man who had about four buildings that he tried to make into icons of his time. These four buildings were always done the same way, until you realized that he changed the printing on them and he changed the way they were perceived. But they were always the same. I realized that there were four buildings. Finally, he got everyone to believe that these were really important buildings. And they were." (pp. 11-12)
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.