Richard Marsh Bennett was born in 1907 in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He studied architecture at Harvard University, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1928 and master's degree in 1931. He worked in New York in the office of Walter Dorwin Teague (1936) and later for Edward Durell Stone (1936-1938), before co-founding his own architectural office with Caleb Hornbostel (1938-1943). In 1947 Bennett was invited to Chicago by Jerrold Loebl and Norman Schlossman to join their firm, renamed Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett. While at that office, he designed the new community of Park Forest, Illinois. Bennett also designed numerous suburban Chicago shopping centers, including Hawthorne, Oakbrook, and Old Orchard. Bennett's work has been known as "basically humanistic" because his forms took into consideration new technology and materials as well as social concerns. He retired from Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett in 1975 but continued to teach, as he had done throughout his career as a practicing architect. He taught at various institutions, including Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (1934-1936), Columbia University (1937-1940), Vassar College (1937-1943), Yale University (1940-1947), Illinois Institute of Technology (1975), and Harvard University's Graduate School of Design (1975-1984). Bennett was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1953. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1996.
Bennett speaks about why he became an architect; study at Harvard University; travel in Europe; Caleb Hornbostel; the Wheaton College Art Center competition; the Century of Progress International Exhibition in Chicago, 1933-1934; teaching at Yale University; coming to Chicago to design the new community of Park Forest; working with Elbert Peets; studying the needs of people; the how and why of architecture; the health of cities.
Oakbrook Center; Oak Brook, Illinois, 1959-1961. Photograph courtesy of Sears, Roebuck & Co.
"Here's the other thing that I think is important to remember: the clients you have are people first. You never know why they are hooked on certain ideas. I like to say an architect is like a doctor, he prescribes buildings. The truth of the matter is that when we do a building we prescribe an environment that does things to and for people. I am convinced that we don't study people enough. For example, our shopping centers are a little different from others. It's based on the theory of how a lady goes shopping...she'll come home and she will tell her husband she's so tired, she shopped all day. What she's saying is, 'I'm as tired as you are. You were making the money and I was spending it, but I was spending it wisely because I found a bargain.' What this means is that she will come back and complain about how many places she went to. If you listen to ladies, they're always talking about this business of finding things and the work it is to shop. If you don't furnish that kind of an environment, you're not fulfilling their psychological needs." (p. 48)