Matthew Laflin Rockwell was born in 1915 in Chicago. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940, where he earned a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's degree in city planning. Rockwell was one of the few architects active in planning in Chicago. During World War II he was responsible for the site selection and design of what is now O'Hare International Airport. From 1946 through 1961 he was a partner in Stanton & Rockwell, after which he became director of public affairs and urban programs for the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C. In 1963 Rockwell was appointed executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, a position he held for sixteen years. Rockwell was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1968. He died in 1988 in Winnetka, Illinois.
Rockwell speaks about his interest in planning; planning O'Hare airport; D. H. Burnham's Plan of Chicago of 1909; planning and sculpture; how a planner plans; planning and public participation; successful and not-so-successful planning.
"O'Hare was one of our projects and I was the chief planner in the development of O'Hare both as to where it was located and also the design of the field as it emerged....We finally looked at three major locations around Chicago: one was down near the Indiana border, one which was on the south side of Chicago, and then this one [where O'Hare was finally located]. And this one was a good location for potential people density but the field was surrounded by very high smokestacks from the landscape nurseries which ringed the field and we had to carefully plot this so that, if this had been built and operated during peacetime, the smokestacks from these nurseries wouldn't bother it. As it so happened this did become the major airport in Chicago, and all the nurseries disappeared and all this became industrial and semi-industrial around the field." (pp. 2-3)
Funding for this oral history was provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Publication of this oral history in web-accessible form was made possible by the generous support of The Vernon and Marcia Wagner Access Fund at The Art Institute of Chicago, The James & Catherine Haveman Foundation, The Reva and David Logan Family Fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and Daniel Logan and The Reva and David Logan Foundation.