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Natalie De Blois (1921-2013)

Dates of Interview:

March 12, 13, 14, 15, 2002

Location of Interview:

De Blois's home in Connecticut


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

156 pages
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Biographical Summary

Natalie de Blois, born in 1921 in Paterson, New Jersey, began her architectural studies at Columbia University in 1940. On graduation, she was hired by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to work with Gordon Bunshaft in their New York office, where she stayed until 1961. Under Bunshaft she contributed her expertise to some of the most challenging commissions in the office, such as the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio; Connecticut General and Emhart in Bloomfield, Connecticut; the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey; and the Pepsi-Cola and Union Carbide buildings in New York City. In 1961, de Blois moved to the Chicago office of SOM, collaborating with Bruce Grahamand working there until 1974. Soon after, she moved to Texas where she taught and worked in Houston and Austin. De Blois was also active in several women's architectural organizations, aiming to improve the status and acceptance of women in the profession. De Blois was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1974. De Blois died in July of 2013.

Interview Highlights

De Blois speaks about her architectural study at Columbia University, New York City; work on commissions with Gordon Bunshaft in the New York office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; study as a Fulbright Scholar in Paris; moving to Chicago to work in the SOM office with Bruce Graham; her interest and participation in improving the status of women in architecture; how she balanced professional and personal responsibilities; teaching and working in Austin and Houston, Texas.

Pepsi-Cola Building (aka Olivetti Building), New York City, New York, 1960.
Natalie de Blois and Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Photograph by Annemarie van Roessel.

Union Carbide Building, New York City, New York, 1960.
Natalie de Blois and Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Photograph by Annemarie van Roessel.

Interview Excerpt

"All cities are different. I've lived in quite a few different cities, in Texas, Chicago, and New York. Each one is a different place, totally different, and is generated from different forces. I thought Chicago had sort of an inferiority complex about being the Second City. But I didn't see it that way at all....I was flabbergasted when I got to Chicago. I found out that everybody talked about nothing but Mies van der Rohe. Everything was Mies. There were people who had done detailing in Mies's office; there were people who studied with Mies at IIT. I was not familiar with Mies....I didn't understand Mies....An aspect of the SOM Chicago office that I liked a lot was...I was in the mayor's office almost immediately about one project or another development. First one was the Illinois Central air rights studies and then Equitable. These were more city planning projects. They were projects that involved the environment of the city....I'm talking about communication between the SOM office...and City Hall, and the different people at City Hall who were responsible for the development of different areas.... I went to the New York City Building Department maybe once or twice in my first eighteen years....There was no interface between the mayor of New York and what Skidmore was doing. But in Chicago, this was a very important contact that Skidmore had made, Bill Hartmann, and, I guess, Walter Netsch. They, all three of them, were very much politically involved. I thought it was very interesting and thought it was a good experience." (pp. 85, 88-89)

Funding for this oral history was provided by a grant from the Paul and Robert A. Barker Foundation.