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William Hartmann (1916-2003)

Dates of Interview:

October 30, 31; November 1, 2, 1989

Location of Interview:

Hartmann's home in Castine, Maine


Betty J. Blum

Length of Transcript:

204 pages
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Biographical Summary

William Hartmann was born in 1916 in Springfield, New Jersey. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he earned his bachelor's degree in architecture in 1938. He was awarded a Rotch Travelling Fellowship and after working in several architectural offices in Boston (1938-39) he used his fellowship to travel around the world. Upon his return in 1945, he joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's New York office. In 1947 he transferred to direct the work of SOM's Chicago office and stayed there until he retired in 1981. Hartmann is credited with personally enticing Pablo Picasso to design a sculpture for the Daley Center Plaza in Chicago. He was one of the organizers of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and from 1956 through 1960 he served as its first director. Throughout Hartmann's career he served on political and cultural advisory boards. He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1963 and received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lake Forest College in 1968. Hartmann died in Maine in 2003.

Interview Highlights

Hartmann speaks about his years at MIT; travelling around the world on the Rotch Travelling Fellowship; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York and Chicago offices; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Lake Meadows, Chicago; Inland Steel building and Daley Center in Chicago; working with Picasso, Joan Miró and Alexander Calder; international commissions.

Pablo Picasso, Untitled, Daley Center; Chicago, IL, 1963.
Photograph by John Zukowsky.

Interview Excerpt

"The modern architecture that [SOM] identified with eliminated decoration. Basically it was an evolution from a handicraft kind of building technology to an industrialized building technology. That was the key to it. When you gave up the handicraft part, you gave up the artisan and the craftsman who would carve limestone and wood and other materials that led to the expression of a building. In industrialized architecture, you were using components that were made by machine, and decoration wasn't appropriate for the machine. So, when you come to decorate an industrialized building, you decorate with an artist....We wanted the best artists to collaborate. So, on the Terrace Plaza Hotel [in Cincinnati] we had several artists....Saul Sternberg, who did drawings primarily of the Cincinnati scene in the main dining room in panels. We had Alexander Calder do a mobile in the main reception area....Ward Bennett designed several things, including lighting...And the most important was we had Miró paint this mural for a special dining room on the roof of the building." (p. 78)

Funding for this oral history was provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.