Monroe Bengt Bowman was born in 1901 in Chicago. After graduating from Armour Institute of Technology in 1924, he found jobs in the Chicago office of Benjamin Marshall and, later, at Holabird & Root. Bowman and his brother Irving left Holabird & Root in 1929 to open their own office, surviving the Depression by designing and manufacturing avant-garde metal furniture. The Bowmans' progressive design work attracted the attention of Philip Johnson, who included them in the ground-breaking exhibition of modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1932. Indeed, they were the only Chicago architects whose work was included in that exhibition. The brothers disbanded their office several years later when Irving left Chicago to work in North Carolina. Monroe continued his practice with commissions mainly for industrial and commercial structures. Monroe Bowman died in Chicago in 1994.
Bowman speaks about Armour Institute; working for Benjamin Marshall; working for Holabird & Root; the office of the Bowman Brothers; his attitude toward architecture; manufacturing metal furniture; the Museum of Modern Art exhibition; the Century of Progress International Exhibition, 1933-1934; working for Alfred Shaw; working in Charleston, North Carolina; his return to Chicago; some biographical information; his current projects.
Study model for the Lux Apartments; Evanston, Illinois; 1931. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
"One day [Mrs. Tiffany Blake] called on the telephone, and I answered...'Would you mind if I brought a dear friend of ours, Mr. David Adler, to the office? He's interested in the things you're doing.'...[Adler] was terrific. Everyone admired him, the person as well as the architect. He did the traditional things, but he had excellent taste, with a modern flair. So, he came up one day with her and looked at the model of this metal building--the apartment house--you know, the aluminum building. He was very much impressed with that and our offices. Now the entrance to our office at 952 North Michigan, in the Rockefeller block north, was a classic design--very simple, though, and designed by Holabird & Roche, the predecessor to Holabird & Root. We had high ceilings. Our office was like a studio. It wasn't just like a workshop. My brother and I had our drawing boards, just the two of us, in that one room. In the reception room, the entrance door was full ceiling height. They're all doing it now, see. When Philip Johnson visited our office, when he represented the Museum of Modern Art, in 1929, he was impressed by that door, this stainless steel door, full height, no transom. They're all doing it now--copycats--but that's the way we did it back then." (pp. 17-18)
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. 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.