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James Lee Nagle (b. 1937)

Dates of Interview:

June 16, 17, 18, 1998

Location of Interview:

Nagle's office in Chicago


Annemarie van Roessel

Length of Transcript:

170 pages
View Online

Photograph courtesy of Nagle, Hartray,
Danker, Kagan, McKay, Penney.

Biographical Summary

Jim Nagle was born in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1937, to a family involved in the lumber business. He received a B.A. from Stanford in 1959, a B.Arch. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962, and an M.A. from Harvard in 1964. After graduating from Harvard, Nagle was named a Fulbright Scholar, and moved to the Netherlands to study architecture and urbanism. In 1965, Nagle joined the office of Stanley Tigerman in Chicago, where Larry Booth was also working. In 1966, Booth and Nagle left to open their own firm. 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. Nagle split from Booth in 1981 to open his firm, Nagle Hartray and Associates, now Nagle, Hartray, Danker, Kagan, McKay. Nagle has been a visiting lecturer and critic at numerous universities. Nagle was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.

Interview Highlights

Nagle speaks about his youth in Iowa; his education at Stanford and impressions of California; study at MIT and Harvard; winning a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the Netherlands; beginning his career in Chicago with Stanley Tigerman; starting his own firm with Larry Booth; early commissions; attitudes toward preservation and urbanism; the Chicago Seven exhibitions; revival of the Chicago Architectural Club; later commissions; the impact of the Chicago Seven; opinions and ideas.

Townhouse, "Exquisite Corpse" exhibition, Walter Kelley Gallery, Chicago, 1977.

Elevation of 20 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, 1983.
Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"I remember the reaction to [one of our projects] was, Wow, these guys are changing; they're doing things that are different from what they did before; there's a new movement afoot. So we all got excited about moving on to something that was different. A lot of it really had to do with history. That's what the postmodernist movement was all about. The part that good architects realized right away was that slap-on ornament and that sort of mannerism was not only not tasteful and didn't look very good but that it wouldn't last. The appreciation of history made us all much better architects. One of the things that I find from 1930s and 1940s architecture is that the people who have gone through the Beaux-Arts understand the history of architecture and for the good architects, such as Alvar Aalto and Corbusier, it probably made them better modernists because they didn't learn through abstraction. Gropius was wrong. You should know your history and understand and be able to operate on those levels and then go on to do your own thing and presumably do something that's original. I think that we were going back with the hope that we would turn around and go forward again. Actually, modernrough this change. I find that projects now are more carefully scaled and thoughtfully put together. They rely on nice things in terms of context and they aren't just dropped in from outer space. There's a lot more sensitivity from architects and from the public, too." (p.83-84)

Additional Resources

Jim Nagle images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

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.