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Paul Schweikher (1903-1997)

Dates of Interview:

July 6-10, 1984

Location of Interview:

Schweikher's home in Sedona, Arizona


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

229 pages
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Biographical Summary

Paul Schweikher was born in Denver in 1903 and began his architectural training at the University of Colorado in 1921. After moving to Chicago in 1922, he enrolled in architecture and design classes at the The Art Institute of Chicago and then the Armour Institute of Technology. While studying in Chicago, he also worked in the office of Lowe and Bollenbacher and, later, with David Adler. His bachelor's degree was completed at the Yale School of Architecture in 1929. After graduating, Schweikher began a year's study and travel in Europe funded by a fellowship from Yale. Schweikher returned to Chicago in 1930 and began working for several local architects, including George Fred Keck and Philip Maher. His early reputation as an avant-garde architect was bolstered by his inclusion in the 1933 landmark exhibition on modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1934, he became principal and senior partner in the firm of Lamb and Elting, renamed Schweikher and Elting in 1946. He left that partnership in 1953 to become chairman of the School of Architecture at Yale University, and also established a private practice of residential architecture. In 1958, Schweikher resigned his position at Yale to serve as head of the Deparment of Architecture at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon), retiring from that position in 1970. He subsquently moved to Arizona and opened a small private practice there. Schweikher died in Phoenix in 1997.

Interview Highlights

Schweikher speaks about early experiences that led him to a career in architecture; his impressions of Chicago in the 1920s; jobs in the office of David Adler; Buckminster Fuller; the Chicago Workshop and Marianne Willisch; inclusion in the 1933 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; solar studies with George Fred Keck; contributions to the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition; political sympathies in the 1930s; the influence of Japanese architecture; his home and studio in Roselle, Illinois; the roundtable at the Tavern Club; the Arts Club; Mies van der Rohe and the Farnsworth House; Frank Lloyd Wright; teaching and difficulties at Yale; Josef Albers; teaching at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

Paul Schweikher House; Schaumburg, Illinois, 1937.
Photo by Martin Schweig, Jr.
Paul Schweikher House and Studio collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Paul Schweikher House; Schaumburg, Illinois, 1937.
Photo by Martin Schweig, Jr.
Paul Schweikher House and Studio collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"[Japanese architecture influenced my work] probably in too many ways to list but certainly, first of all, in the relationship of the house or home to the out of doors and to the land: a casual, easy refinement of indoor living with very little loss of the advantages of sunlight, winds, breezes, growing things. In fact [it is] a kind of continuation of the gentler part of outdoors into a semi-enclosed interior that could easily become like the out-of-doors, [done] through the use of the sliding shoji screens, the matted [tatami] floors, the large expanses of light in the use of rice paper, the lightness of construction, the refinement of detail, and the close relationship of that detail to the use of the house.... I was a little fearful, as a Westerner, of the durability of the material--paper and wood--as opposed to glass and steel, so I was timid. I always have been. I would like that oportunity to express myself as the Japanese could, given another chance. It's also expensive here to do the things that they do so easily. We lack the skills; we have skilled men but their skills go in a different direction. The American carpenter and his tools are quite different. In fact, the Japanese carpenter at work appears to the Western eye to be doing everything backwards, where a closer look and a closer examination indicate that he's doing them exactly as they should be done: the saw is pulled instead of pushed, the hammer is used almost like a musical instrument, the nail is fitted to do just the task of penetration and not necessarily that of clamping and sealing, and so on." (pp. 121-122)

Additional Resources

Finding Aid to Paul Schweikher House and Studio Collection, 1964-1988
Paul Schweikher images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Schweikher in the Department of Architecture and Design

Funding for this oral history was provided by the Illinois Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.