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Myron Goldsmith (1918-1996)

Dates of Interview:

July 25, 26; September 7; October 5, 1986

Location of Interview:

Goldsmith's home in Wilmette, Illinois


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

152 pages
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Biographical Summary

Goldsmith was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1918. In 1939 he received his bachelor's degree in architecture from Chicago's Armour Institute of Technology, where he studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe during his senior year. Goldsmith worked in various architectural offices in Chicago until 1944, when he joined the Army Corps of Engineers. Upon his discharge in 1946, Goldsmith returned to Chicago to work in Mies's office, while finishing his Master's thesis at the Illinois Institute of Technology (formerly Armour Institute of Technology). Inspired by the pioneering work of Italian architect and engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, Goldsmith received a Fulbright grant in 1953 to study with Nervi in Rome. After returning to the United States in 1955, Goldsmith joined the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. In 1958 Goldsmith tranferred to SOM's Chicago office and became a partner in the firm in 1967, distinguishing himself as a master of both architecture and engineering. Among Goldsmith's most praised designs were the United Airlines Hangar and Flight Kitchen at the San Francisco International Airport, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, and the unbuilt Ruck-a-Chucky Bridge, all charaterized by sculptural expressions of form and function. Goldsmith maintained an active teaching and lecturing schedule throughout his career and was honored through numerous awards and exhibitions. He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1972. Goldsmith died in Wilmette, Illinois, in 1996.

Interview Highlights

Early experiences that led to a career in architecture; study under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology; the Army Corps of Engineers; Mies's approach to clients and projects; social implications of work being done in Mies's office; Myron's thesis: "The Tall Building and the Effects of Scale"; 50 x 50 house project; Kitt Peak Solar Telescope and Observatory; study with Pier Luigi Nervi; jobs at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco, 1955-58; types of projects and work at SOM; Fazlur Kahn; the architectural establishment; Goldsmith as a teacher.

IIT Thesis, "The Tall Building and the Effects of Scale", 1952.
Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Ruck-A-Chucky Bridge; Auburn, California, 1980. Rendering by D. Hansen.
Photo courtesy of SOM.

Interview Excerpt

"If you look at [Mies's] work, it seems to me that he explored for a long time. I think that the idea of exploring many solutions to a problem is Miesian. He would not hesitate to make a dozen models or a thousand sketches of something to explore it....On the telescope there were, I'd say, ten or fifteen models of different solutions made and some of them were visually nicer than the others...They led to others and finally there was just one that was preferred. Happily it was, of all that we explored, the most reasonable in cost. It all came together. It was very Miesian, trying to make architecture out of the facts, the plan, the planning limitations, the limitations of normal structures, not fantastic structures. It was the architecture, trying to make architecture out of it, that he taught us. Not to stop at some lower point. Of course, we were helped by that fantastic site of the telescope, the huge scale of it..." (page 87)

Additional Resources

Myron Goldsmith images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives

Funding for this oral history was provided by The Art Institute of Chicago and the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Funding for the electronic presentation of this transcript was provided by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.