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Thomas H. Beeby (b. 1941)

Dates of Interview:

July 28, 29; August 3, 1998

Location of Interview:

Beeby's office in Chicago


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

158 pages
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Biographical Summary

Tom Beeby was born in 1941 in Oak Park, Illinois, and studied architecture at Cornell, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1964 and at Yale, where he received his master's in 1965. Upon graduation he took a job with C.F. Murphy (1965-71) and in 1971, with Jim Hammond, founded Hammond Beeby & Associates (today Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge). Beeby's teaching career began in 1973 at the Illinois Institute of Technology, followed by a directorship at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1979, and a deanship at Yale from 1985 until 1991, where he continues to teach as an adjunct professor. Beeby participated in the Chicago Seven exhibitions and symposia in the 1970s and 1980s in an effort to encourage critical and creative dialogue among architects. Beeby is a much sought-after juror, lecturer and visiting critic, serves on nunerous local and national boards, and has been the recipient of many awards for his built work. Beeby was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

Interview Highlights

Beeby speaks about his early years in Oak Park and becoming aware of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright; his study of architecture at Cornell and Yale; working in the office of C.F. Murphy; joining Jim Hammond to found Hammond Beeby & Associates; teaching at IIT; exhibiting with the Chicago Seven; the role of writing in his career; teaching at UIC; deanship at Yale; the Chicago Public Library commission; the Chicago Architectural Club; and the ultimate value of the activities of the Chicago Seven.

Townhouse, "Exquisite Corpse" exhibition, Walter Kelley Gallery, Chicago, 1977.

Perspective rendering, Harold Washington Public Library, Chicago, 1988.
Chicago Library Design Competition collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Interview Excerpt

"Chicago [Public Library] has a totally rational structure, it's a Chicago frame. It happens to be done in concrete, it has exposed structure in these formed columns that look ornamental, although they're actually the structural formwork. The cores are pulled to the outside, instead of being in the center of the building. So it's an inversion of Mies where you have the core in the middle and the glass on the outside. With this it has a solid outside and an open middle so you have a grid, a continuous grid of columns, that occurs in loft buildings like this. So it's like an earlier kind of building but clearly Chicago. The ornament, I suppose, is more literally historical than it is at Sulzer. It has these molded classical elements, but it has ornamental pieces that are nineteenth-century in ideas but not in origin-they're all original, like the corncob spandrels. All of the ornamental work is originally conceived. So it just took those ideas one step further. The ornamentation on the roof is obviously a major construct, which I think you need to do in that format because in the Loop it's hard to see buildings and you have to read them from the ground. All that was an attempt to make clear that this was a public building. It again deals with notions of this kind of hybrid of modern ideals and nineteenth-century ideals that then come together in the design. So it remains a kind of hybrid, which most of these buildings are from 1980 until 1990. They are mainly hybrid buildings that are very carefully trying to hang on to ideas of modernism while at the same time there's an intervention of new ideas that come from traditional architecture. So the idea of the hybrid was sort of an important concept, which still runs through our work. They are tending to become more traditionally-based, but the idea of this dialog between the modern and the traditional is becoming less apparent as they become traditionally more coherent. I think it took us a long time to figure out architectural languages. One of the problems with postmodernism was the lack of integration of ornamental pieces. We're getting so we're much better at making coherent ensembles of pieces without relying on collage as a methodology." (pp. 125-126)

Additional Resources

Thomas Beeby images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials

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