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William Keck (1908-1995)

Dates of Interview:

August 21, 22, 28, 29; September 11, 12, 1990

Location of Interview:

Keck's home in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

302 pages
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Biographical Summary

William Keck was born in 1908 in Watertown, Wisconsin. He studied architecture at the University of Illinois and received a B.A. in 1931. After graduating, he joined his older brother George Fred Keck, who was an accomplished architect, in Chicago. One of the most recognized inovations of the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago was the Kecks' glass and steel "House of Tomorrow." William left the office to serve in the military from 1942 until 1945. Upon returning from service, he formed a partnership with George Fred—Keck & Keck—and worked in that firm for the rest of his career. The Kecks were pioneers in the field of passive solar architecture and avant-garde modern design and received numerous awards for their work. The apartment building they designed and lived in at 5551 S. University Avenue in Chicago has been designated a Chicago landmark. The Kecks were awarded the First Illinois Medal in Architecture from the University of Illinois-Champaign in 1980. William was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1969. He died in Chicago in 1995.

Interview Highlights

William serves as spokesman for George Fred and the firm of Keck & Keck. He speaks about George Fred's early jobs; George Fred's partnership with Vale Faro; the Miralago Ballroom in Wilmette, Illinois; the House of Tomorrow and the Crystal House at the Century of Progress Exhibition, 1933-34; early modern residences; the Chicago Workshop and Marianne Willisch; solar housing; the Chicago Bauhaus; CIAM; Mies van der Rohe and European influences; other Keck-designed houses; history of the Keck firm.

Miralago Ballroom, Wilmette, IL, 1930.
Historic Architecture and Landscape Image Collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Century of Progress International Exposition, Crystal House, Chicago, IL 1933.
Photograph courtesy of Hedrich-Blessing, Signature Collection.

Interview Excerpt

"[The House of Tommorrow] was a very special house. Well, at that time, of course, there was the difficulty of trying to get a loan on any kind of design that was modern. It was almost impossible to get a loan from any kind of bank or a loan company—to the point where Fred was discouraged about it, as far as trying to get something built. So, what he wanted to do was to go as far out into left field as he possibly could with a design, and then bring them back to earth enough to show what could be done to help sell the idea to the banks....We got plenty of publicity out of that. Of course, all the newspapers said, 'If you live in a glass house, don't throw stones,' and all that kind of headlines." (pp. 47-48)

Additional Resources

William Keck images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Keck in the Department of Architecture and Design

Funding for this oral history was provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Funding for the electronic presentation of this transcript was provided by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.