Scales Of Imagery
Thomas H. Beeby (HBRA Architects)


Tom Beeby, 1984

©Monica Pidgeon

The development of my training as an architect I suppose began as a child. I was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, which has the majority of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the Chicago area. And my grandfather actually did contractual work for Frank Lloyd Wright. So there's a tradition of being raised in a place where architecture was of some importance, because of the presence of Frank Lloyd Wright. I think many children thought that they wanted to be architects, which was an interesting phenomenon which I think still exists today in the Chicago area in general, not just Oak Park. The other major influence in my development as an architect I suppose would be my education and study which is fairly diverse for most people of my age. I had a variety of experiences which were quite different which I think affected my work in different ways. I went to undergraduate training at Cornell, where I had Colin Rowe as a thesis critic. I also had John Hejduk as my teacher in my 5th and final year and I think their interests are reflected in my work, though they might disallow it. After leaving Cornell I went to Yale where it was quite different. The emphasis was not really on so much the formal development of architecture as interest in 19th Century American domestic architecture and more intuitive emotional aspects of architecture, largely I suppose under the influence of Vincent Scully. I think Scully probably remains a powerful influence I suppose in the long run on our work. I came to Chicago after leaving University. I Went to work for a large firm. Most of the work in Chicago at that time was in large commercial firms. C.F. Murphy & Associates was one of the major firms at that time. They had done such things as the O'Hare Airport project. They had done the Chicago Civic Centre which was one of the reasons I wanted to work for them because Jack Bronson was still there, and I regarded him as a very good architect. Jack Bronson left almost immediately after my arrival and a series of people came through Murphy's at that time. I think the dominant one was Gene Summers who had left Mies van der Rohe's office to take over the commission for the McCormick Place construction. At that time both Helmut Jahn and I worked for Gene Summers. He was a very strong influence I think on both of us. He had worked for Mies van der Rohe for sixteen years, he virtually ran the office. In the process of coming from a relatively small office to a larger firm he needed people to do the work for them, and there was a series of us of which Helmut and I were part of the group who did most of the design work for Gene at that time. After leaving Murphy's I was there for six years - I went into a partnership with Jim Hammond and it was Hammond Beeby Architects. Later Bernard Babka joined us - he worked for Gene Summers also and became Hammond Beeby and Babka. I think that our work in the early years was based largely on the notions of Mies van der Rohe. As time went on, the influences of my earlier education and earlier experiences somehow filtered their way into the work. The vehicle that allowed this to happen primarily was a series of shows that were done in the mid 70's. in 1975 a group of us joined together in what was known as the Chicago Seven and included Helmut Jahn, Stanley Tigerman, Larry Booth, James Nagle, Ben Weese, myself, James Freed who was at the Illinois Institute of Technology at the time, and later Ken Schroeder and Cindy Weese joined us. And then there were eleven people involved in these shows.


The House Of Virgil

©Hammond, Beeby & Babka

The first show that we did was the House Show, and there were really no stipulations on it other than it had to be in drawing form. And the purpose of these shows was to somehow examine architecture again, to free ourselves from the commercial basis that most architecture had been based on in Chicago. Large firms did speculative work,large office buildings, extremely large institutional work. We wanted to do more kind of personal work with smaller types of commissions. So the house was a logical vehicle to do this and I did a project which is entitled The House of Virgil at that time. And I was primarily concerned with notions of classicism as a basis for architecture, universal classicism which I suppose could be traced from Greece through Rome and then probably through London and then through New England and the Mid West where the Greek Revival was a major style of the Mid West in the 19th Century, particularly in housing. The other idea I was interested in was the concerns that Mies had had with industrial architecture as a classical form, the kind of strict vocabulary of American Industrial building that almost approaches to the classical condition in the repetition of the pieces and the very kind of austere way materials are used. So the culmination of these two notions of the forms of industrialisation and the imagery of classicism were combined in this project through a series of drawings which were meant to be allegorical and they were meant also to have a highly kind of emotive aspect to the drawings. They were done in colour and they used a symbolism of a very kind of romantic nature, I suppose.

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