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John Hartray (b. 1930)

Audio Interview with Transcript:

Dates of Interview: November 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 17, and 19, 2003
Location of Interview: Hartray's office in Chicago
Interviewer: Annemarie van Roessel
Length of Transcript: 250 pages

View Online (transcript only)

Video Interview, unedited (2003):

Dates of Interview: January 22, 2003
Location of Interview: unknown
Interviewer: Richard Solomon
Length of Interview: Approximately 2 hours*

Part 1 of 6 (00:38:55): View Online
Part 2 of 6 (00:39:41): View Online
Part 3 of 6 (00:39:46): View Online
Part 4 of 6 (00:39:17): View Online
Part 5 of 6 (00:39:52): View Online
Part 6 of 6 (00:46:15): View Online

Video Interview, unedited (undated):

Dates of Interview: unknown
Location of Interview: unknown
Interviewer: unknown
Length of Interview: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

View Online

Biographical Summary

John F. "Jack" Hartray, Jr. was born in 1930 in Evanston, Illinois, and studied architecture at Cornell University, where he received his bachelor's degree in architecture in 1954. After serving in the military, Hartray joined the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in 1956 and later worked for Holabird and Root and Naess and Murphy in Chicago. In 1961, Hartray joined the office of Harry Weese Associates, serving as chief project manager on commercial and institutional commissions across the United States. In 1977, Hartray entered a partnership with Chicago architects Larry Booth and Jim Nagle, which continues today as Nagle, Hartray, Danker, Kagan, McKay, Penney. Highly regarded for his expertise in structural systems, working drawing production, and office organization, Hartray is also respected for his teaching and writing about the contemporary practice of architecture. Hartray was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

Interview Highlights

AUDIO/TEXT TRANSCRIPT: Hartray speaks about his family, especially his father; studying architecture at Cornell; military service; observations in Korea and Japan; work on the United States Air Force Academy for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; travel in Europe; work for Harry Weese Associates; about Dan Kiley; joining Booth, Nagle & Hartray; new technology; teaching at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT); the new Campus Center competition at IIT; on becoming a writer; reflections.

VIDEO - 01/2003, Part 1 of 6: Early background and education; Hartray helped install theater set designs as a student at New Trier High School, Wilmette, IL (00:00:40); experiences at Cornell University Architecture School (00:04:00); “Learned I could design anything with a T-square and a triangle” (00:05:37); evaluates the curriculum, faculty and fellow students at Cornell University; maintains he was taught only to pass the licensing exam (00:08:12); military service with Army in Korea; liked the country, its architecture, its landscape and people (00:12:48); “I had been so unhappy at Cornell that I was set up to really enjoy the Army” (00:14:34); read about the work of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and their design for the Air Force Academy; upon discharge from the Army he interviewed with Walter Netsch and was hired immediately as one of thirty designers on the Air Force Academy; describes his work and experiences at SOM (00:15:41); speaks to the importance of Mies’s influence on Chicago architecture; briefly mentions Holabird and Root, and Naess and Murphy firms (00:24:25); joins Harry Weese’s architecture firm (00:33:35); jokes that the transition to the Harry Weese firm is “like leaving the Episcopalians to join the Unitarians” (00:37:30).

Harry Weese Associates, architect. Metro Subway System, Washington, D.C., 1966.
Photograph courtesy of Harry Weese Associates.

VIDEO - 01/2003, Part 2 of 6: Describes the culture of the Harry Weese practice. (00:03:00); projects varied while at the Harry Weese firm, including hotels, theaters, industrial work; mentions names of colleagues and their specialties; describes the environment as “marvelously rich;” Hartray worked on mechanical and structural systems (00:05:00); describes the Washington, D.C., subway project (00:13:29); describes his relationship with Harry Weese (00:17:10); leaves the Harry Weese firm to work with architects Larry Booth and Jim Nagle (00:22:00); considers the post-World War II years as the most exciting time in Chicago architecture (00:25:00); “The city would be really boring without Tigerman” (00:29:34); describes his work with the American Institute of Architects (00:32:22).

VIDEO - 01/2003, Part 3 of 6: Becomes Acting Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology School of Architecture after the departure of Gene Summers; “It was awful” (00:00:25); comments on the future of architecture (00:05:13); considers the architects in the Nagle Hartray firm as the best (00:09:48); thinks Chicago continues to be interesting in terms of the relationship of zoning and planning (00:11:25); Hartray sketches and comments; illustrates a few problems confronted (00:17:00); difficult problems always occurred at the Harry Weese firm; examples: Time/Life Building’s two cab elevators; use of brick piers; the Washington, D.C., [subway tunnel] under the Rock Creek Park (00:21:00); models of buildings and views of the office are shown (00:34:04).

VIDEO - 01/2003, Part 4 of 6: Repeats many of Hartray’s comments and thoughts from Hartray #1A; Hartray’s childhood; lived with his grandfather in small Frank Lloyd Wright house in Evanston, IL (00:01:05); describes the faculty at Cornell University as trained, tenured and taught in the Beaux Arts tradition.; they were demoralized because the Modern style was the current style (00:04:06); “Had no idea how to build a Modern building but knew what Modern looked like” (00:08:12); among the excellent Cornell alumni were Phillip Will, Larry Perkins, and Nathaniel Owings who went on to great things; Cornell wanted to produce more of these (00:09:45); entered the Army after graduation; mentions his experiences in Korea late in the conflict; took a course from a Korean carpenter and learned Korean joinery using Japanese tools (00:13:07); hired by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) immediately after his Army discharge (00:16:40); worked on buildings for the support staff at the Air Force Academy site; describes the supervision and the support of Walter Netsch and his interest in modular detailing (00:17:44); discusses Mies’s importance and influence on Chicago architecture (00:24:45); when asked about his personal life considers his best mentor to be his wife, Emma; “Being an architect is terrible because you equate your children as projects” (00:29:40); first job with the Harry Weese firm was the remodeling of the Newberry Library, Chicago (00:34:00); “Harry wanted to do so many things that led to so many detailing problems” (00:38:53).

Harry Weese Associates, architect. Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago, IL, 1975.
Photograph by Annemarie van Roessel.

VIDEO - 01/2003, Part 5 of 6: Repeats many of Mr. Hartray’s thoughts and comments from Hartray #2A; culture of the Harry Weese firm; describes Weese’s skill in solving architectural problems; names and describes other members of the firm, their skills in solving problems and in design; had good, fearless clients (00:03:48); Hartray describes his personal skill at Harry Weese as integrating mechanical and structural systems (00:08:57); acted as the project manager on the Auditorium Building, Chicago, remodeling and working with the mechanical and structural engineers (00:09:38); theoretically in charge of the Time/Life Building, Chicago, and the Metropolitan Correction Center, Chicago (00:10:43); organized the Washington, D.C. subway project (00:11:08); Hartray and two others were sent by Weese to ride subways all over the world, except Buenos Aires; created sketches and videotapes of the subway systems (00:14:41); negotiated the contract for the Washington, D.C. subway project; discusses how the contract allowed a profit-sharing program for the firm that made everyone wealthy (00:15:35); discusses relationship with Harry Weese; as manager of the office Hartray and Weese sometimes were at cross-purposes (00:17:07); great fun architecturally with Harry Weese, solving interesting structural problems (00:18:20); Weese wanted to invest in real estate ventures while Hartray wanted to continue practicing architecture; Hartray left the firm as did others; “It was a golden age, then it fell apart;” joined the Larry Booth/Jim Nagle firm (00:19:57); describes the exciting times in architecture after World War II and after the death of Mies; became active in the AIA in writing standards and specifications (00:26:18).

VIDEO - 01/2003, Part 6 of 6: Repeats many of Hartray’s thoughts and comments from Hartray #3A; experiences as Acting Dean in Illinois Institute of Technology’s Department of Architecture (00:00:20); discusses the future of architecture; dislikes the “celebrity star system” in architecture (00:05:08); mentions other architects in the Nagle Hartray firm (00:09:45); “Architecture is expression of everything that happens from the political systems down to all the people doing the joinery and on down to the microscopic scale; all fits together in a positive way” (00:11:15); interview ends (00:13:30); interview resumes; Hartray draws and discusses problems to solve from his experience: a problem joinery detail on the corner of the boiler plant at the Air Force Academy, then draws what Mies would have done with the problem; also draws how Japanese architecture would solve the same problem (00:14:18); draws and discusses difficult problems encountered and solved at Harry Weese’s firm, including the Time/Life Building, Chicago, stacked two-cab elevators; Brick piers in buildings with no frames for windows (Hartray calls this a joke); Washington, D.C. subway tunnel under the creek of Rock Creek Park and the escalators for the DuPont Circle station (00:19:26); interview ends (00:31:45); views of the office of Nagle Hartray, showing models, plans, staff at work, Hartray conferring with others (00:31:56).

VIDEO - undated: Considers the increase and demand of the baby boom population meant there always would be a building to be built; notes the Chicago Building Department was very influential and sophisticated in developing high-rise design.

Interview Excerpt

"Bucky Fuller also came to [Cornell University] before he had any clients. It took about a week to get accustomed to his vocabulary because he was great at neologisms. Bucky would start a lecture at two o'clock in the afternoon and then we would break at about six-thirty and go downtown and get a pizza and the lecture would continue during the dinner, and then we would go from there to the apartment that he was given to live in and the lecture would end at about two in the morning.... We started out with the dome, but then there were lectures on geometry and how the geometry related to the universe and physics and life. In the meantime, in the studios we would be doing the trig that allowed us to break the sphere up into triangles.... I think he always had [our class] project in mind, and he sort of led you to believe you had thought of it, but I think he had it pretty much figured out before he came to Ithaca.... At that time, you know, there were no calculators, so we were doing this all with an adding machine and trig tables. The idea that you could actually organize a group of people to do this and check the numbers and everything was liberating.... I remember when we were screwing the dome together and Al Hartell said, "My God, it's coming out round!" He was just amazed that we had done it. And then Fuller said, "Of course, you ass, it's coming out round. We designed it that way." It was a globe twenty feet in diameter. It was covered with a kind of wide screen that represented oceans. All the landforms, the continents and islands, were covered in copper screen that was attached to it. It was designed on top of Rand Hall. The North Pole faced the North Star on the dome, and Ithaca was directly up above. So, our dome, as the earth rotated, being attached to the earth, was rotating in formation with the earth. There was a little platform in the middle of the sphere and you could get about six students to lie there with their heads in the middle of this thing. You could look out and see the horizon and stars and you could actually sit there for about five minutes and you see the stars moving and feel the earth rotating." (pp. 25-26)

*Note regarding Videos

All 6 of the videos dated 01/22/2003 are likely of the same interview, though with some slight variation in timing. The first 3 of 6 videos feature Hartray on camera while the last 3 feature the interviewer Richard Solomon on camera. Neither group has been edited.

Funding for the audio interview and transcript was provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Videos courtesy the AIA Chicago Foundation.