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Gertrude Kerbis (1926-2016)

Audio Interview with Transcript (1996):

Dates of Interview: May 21, 22, 23, 30, 31; June 4, 5, 1996
Location of Interview: Kerbis's home and studio in Chicago
Interviewer: Betty J. Blum
Length of Transcript: 186 pages

View Online (transcript only)

Video Interview with Transcript (2006):

Dates of Interview: September 11, 2006
Location of Interview: Kerbis's home in Beverly Shores, Illinois
Interviewer: Susan F. King
Length of Interview: 1 hour, 53 minutes, 37 seconds
Length of Transcript: 52 pages

Transcript: View Online
Video: View Online

Video Interview, unedited (undated):

Dates of Interview: unknown
Location of Interview: unknown
Interviewer: unknown
Length of Interview: 3 minutes, 43 seconds

View Online

Photograph courtesy of Gertrude Kerbis.


Biographical Summary

Gertrude Mary Lempp [Kerbis] was born in 1926 in Chicago. She studied architecture at the University of Illinois, where she received an architectural engineering degree in 1948, and also at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with Walter Gropius (1949-50). Before and after studying at Harvard, Kerbis worked briefly for several architects, including Carl Koch (1948-49), Bertrand Goldberg (1949-50), and Loebl Schlossman & Bennett (1950-51). Kerbis also studied with Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where she received her master's degree in 1954. After graduating from IIT, Kerbis joined the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where she worked until 1959. She took a position at Naess & Murphy from 1959 through 1962 and again from 1965 until 1967. In 1967 she established her own architectural firm, Lempp Kerbis. Several of Kerbis's projects have received national recognition and awards, including the Dining Hall at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She has been a pioneer in working for equal status for women in the field of architecture and founded Chicago Women in Architecture and the Chicago Network. Kerbis was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1970. Kerbis died on June 14, 2016.

Interview Highlights

AUDIO: Kerbis speaks about her early impression of Taliesin East and its influence on her career choice; working for Carl Koch; studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies; marriage to Walter Peterhans; work at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; designing the U.S. Air Force Academy Dining Hall ; designing the Seven Continents Restaurant at O'Hare International Airport; Chicago Women in Architecture and women's issues; priorities for a woman who is a professional; design/build; teaching; reflections.

VIDEO (2006): Kerbis speaks about her early influences, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Koch, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe; working for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; her approach to designing long-span structures, including the U.S. Air Force Academy Dining Hall in Colorado Springs and the Seven Continents Restaurant at O'Hare International Airport; working as her own developer for projects like the Greenhouse Apartments and the Kerbis Tennis Club; and her role as a female professional in organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, Chicago Women in Architecture, and the Chicago Architectural Club.

VIDEO (undated): Kerbis reviews her career in various Chicago architecture firms and with AIA; notes her first interview after graduation with Holabird and Root when she was told that as a woman she would not be allowed to work with the men in the drafting room.


Air Force Academy Dining Hall; Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1954-1958.
Photograph courtesy of SOM.


Plan of the Seven Continents Restaurant, O'Hare Airport; Chicago, 1959-1963.
Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"When I was starting my firm [Lempp Kerbis]...I was more or less of the opinion--it was very important to me--that I just be what I was, a woman. I felt that society should change. I was developing these ideas about a macho architecture and the phallic high-rise symbol, but I felt that there were other ways of designing high-rises and that society should change and accept us as women. We would have a new society when women were more a part of determining what that society was. That was when I was just sort of starting to define myself..." (p. 122)

Additional Resources

Related archival materials in the R&B Archives


Funding for the 1996 audio-only oral history was provided by a gift from the Estate of Norman Schlossman.
Funding for the 2006 video oral history was provided by the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. It is one of a series of three videotaped oral histories of female architects coordinated in conjunction with Chicago Women in Architecture.
Undated video courtesy Judith Paine McBrien and the AIA Chicago Foundation.