A new look at the late architect Harry Weese

July 19, 2010

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey) 

I thought about architect Harry Weese last week while strolling into a meeting last week at the former Time Life Building, the modernist bronze skyscraper at 541 N. Fairbanks Court.

The building is part of an amazing portfolio of mid-century buildings and projects by Weese and his firm, Harry Weese & Associates. Though the era is largely defined these days by the work of SOM, C.F. Murphy & Associates, Mies van der Rohe and his successor firms, Weese was there too. He designed the 17th Church of Christ, Scientist at Wabash and Wacker; the Washington D.C. Metro system; the wedge-shaped Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown,with its IBM punchcard-looking window scheme. He studied under Alvar Aalto and was a colleague of the Saarinens. He helped save and oversaw the restoration of the Auditorium Theater. He did the first loft conversation in Chicago (the building above), turning the 16-story North American Cold Storage Warehouse at 345 N. Canal into the Fulton House condominiums in 1981. He and was a leader in the charge to create the Printer’s Row district in the South Loop.

All that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what he did. Yet Weese–though not forgotten–isn’t as well-remembered as he should be, given his talent and influence. Perhaps that is about to change.

Chicago magazine this month has a worthy piece on Weese. The story is a prelude to a long-awaited (by me, at least) book on Weese work by professor/writer/historian Robert Bruegmann and comes 12 years after Weese’s death in a VA facility in Manteno. The magazine’s slide show is particularly cool. Meanwhile here’s a personal favorite: Weese’s silvery, nautical Swisotel on east Wacker Drive:


(photo by Lee Bey)