Jacques Brownson, architect of Daley Center and 55 E. Jackson building dies at 88

February 22, 2012

Jacques Brownson, the Aurora-born architect who would create two of the city's brawniest examples of 1960s steel-and-glass modernism as chief architect of the Daley Center and the dark-cloaked 55 E. Jackson skyscraper, has died at age 88.

Brownson died Sunday of a heart attack in Colorado, according to an obit by Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin. Brownson lived in Colorado since 1972.

Though not as popularly known as his midcentury contemporaries such his mentor Mies van der Rohe, or Bruce Graham of SOM, Brownson nonetheless left a mark. His Geneva House, located in the town of Geneva, IL, completed in 1952 when he was just 29 and designed as part of his master's thesis, is a confident piece of architecture. The single-story steel-and-glass house with non load-bearing interior and exterior walls has been compared favorably Mies' Crown Hall at IIT or the architect's famed Farnsworth House. A decade later, as chief of design for C.F. Murphy & Associates, Brownson led a team of architecture firms picked to design the new Chicago Civic Center, as the Daley Center was originally called.

Completed in 1965, the skyscraper courthouse and its famed untitled Picasso sculpture became enduring symbols of the rise of Chicago's downtown during the postwar years. The Daley Center is also the architectural cousin to the former Continental Insurance building designed by Brownson that has been completed in 1962 at 55 E. Jackson. Both feature big visible muscular steel columns supporting wide bays.

The Daley Center is a protected city landmark. And 55 E. Jackson was given preliminary landmark status last year.  Brownson left C.F. Murphy in 1966 and served as managing architect of the city's Public Building Commission, the agency in charge of building schools, libraries, firehouses--and maintaining the Daley Center--from 1968 to 1972. He then left Chicago for Denver. Brownson's death came two months after the passing of another 1960s architectual luminary from C.F. Murphy: Gene Summers, architect of McCormick Place's Lakeside Center.

In an 1994 interview with Betty Blum for the Art Institute of Chicago Oral Histories project, Brownson said Mies complemented him on the Daley Center, saying "I wish I had done it."

NORTH SHORE BLUES--a follow-up: On Monday I told you about a developer's plans to demolish a John Van Bergen-designed Wilmette residence with ties to prominent architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler. The Chicago Tribune reported late Tuesday that the developer, George Hausen, saiys he will now consider renovating and selling the Van Bergen home, donating the smaller home--the one with the Wright/Schindler connection--to a preservation group. He would then redeveloping the large lot in front of the smaller home, according to the story. More on this as it develops.