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John Vinci (b.1937)

Dates of Interview:

January 16, 17, 18, and 21, 2002

Location of Interview:

Vinci's home in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

186 pages
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Biographical Summary

John Vinci was born in 1937 in Chicago, Illinois, and received a degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1960. While still a student Vinci and several friends organized an exhibition at IIT on the work of Adler and Sullivan, an experience that led to a lifelong interest in historic preservation and restoration. Vinci was a pioneer in the then little known arena of preservation and today he is a respected authority in the field. Vinci started his architectural career at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago, doing salvage work for Crombie Taylor, and in the office of Brenner Danforth Rockwell. Vinci opened his own office in Chicago with Lawrence Kenny in 1970, which was renamed the Office of John Vinci in 1978 and then Vinci/Hamp in 1995. In addition to his preservation work on such structures as Louis Sullivan's Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, Vinci is the architect of many new buildings, most notably the Arts Club of Chicago, completed in 1997. Additionally, Vinci also known for his art exhibition installation designs at the Art Institute and other museums and galleries, a specialty of his for nearly thirty years. In 1970, Vinci also began a parallel career teaching architecture--first at Roosevelt University in 1970 and then moving to IIT in 1972--and publishing on numerous architectural subjects. Vinci has been the recipient of many preservation awards for his work on landmark buildings by such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1989.

Interview Highlights

Vinci speaks about studying architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago; working with Richard Nickel, Crombie Taylor, and Tim Samuelson and salvaging buildings by Louis Sullivan in Chicago; working for Brenner, Danforth, and Rockwell; the birth of the historic preservation movement and the Chicago Heritage Committee in Chicago; salvaging and reconstructing the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room; designing the Freeark House; opening his own office; creating museum exhibition installations; designing new buildings, including the Arts Club in Chicago.

Vinci working on the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago.
Photo by Richard Nickel, courtesy of the Richard Nickel Foundation.

Axonometric projection of the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, Chicago, Illinois.
Lawrence C. Kenny, delineator. Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"Well, if you look throughout history, good or great buildings have been replaced by other great buildings. But you can never predict that. I would never advocate that as a philosophy. I think you have to try to save everything to an extent, and when you lose, you hope that something better will happen. I mean, is the society growing and replacing itself or is it degenerating? That's a good question. If you think of Chicago, there was a statistic that almost every site in the Loop had five buildings on it, and if that is true, and I could almost cite that. I mean, take the Stock Exchange site. There was the first brick house, we don't know what preceded that. Then there was a building before the Chicago fire. Then there was a building after the Chicago fire. Then there was the Stock Exchange. Then there's the building that's there now, which, in that case, is a bad building. But you have to see that society does build on top of it--like in Rome. I was recently in Rome and people walked by some apartment and hotels and said, "On that site, Caesar was stabbed." And what's there now is undistinguished. Certainly the palace would have been better. You just can't predict. So my avocation is to try to save everything and by what you lose the society will become more enlightened and hopefully build something better. And if they don't, it's the tragedy of the society.... If you believe in something and fight for it, it's a strong statement about the society. And certainly preservation has had a hold on the society. Cities are rethinking themselves." (pp. 148-149, 157)

Funding for this oral history was provided by The Art Institute of Chicago.