Thomas H. Beeby, designer of Chicago’s postmodern Harold Washington Library, became the first Chicagoan to accept a Richard H. Driehaus Prize over the weekend. Beeby is one of the “Chicago Seven” (Stanley Tigerman, Larry Booth, Stuart Cohen, Ben Weese, James Ingo Freed, and James L. Nagle round out the group) who split with modernism in one of its key proving grounds during the 1970s. His postmodern historicism relies on representational imagery and ornamentation, which won him high praise from the committee that awards the top prize for traditional and classical architecture. Public buildings used to be monumental, the group lamented Saturday at the Chicago presentation of the award in Marshall and Fox's 1926 John B. Murphy Auditorium. Speeches by the panel repeatedly stuck up for classical forms against what they viewed as the intellectual tyranny of modernism (David Watkin, a British architectural historian who took home Driehaus’ Henry Hope Reed Award Saturday once likened modernism’s defenders to the Taliban in their rigidity). A student of John Hejduk and Colin Rowe during his time at Cornell, Beeby delved into historical forms while at Yale for graduate school. But he said his apprenticeship began in earnest at Chicago’s C.F. Murphy, under Gene Summers. PBS-affiliate WTTW produced a documentary about the Driehaus winner, called The Invisible Hand: Architect Thomas Beeby. You can watch the film here.
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One of the “Chicago Seven” architects who broke with the city’s modernist aesthetic during the 1970s and 80s, Thomas H. Beeby, will receive the 2013 Richard H. Driehaus Prize. Considered the traditionalist’s Pritzker Prize, the Driehaus comes with a $200,000 purse and denotes a lifetime of contributions to classicism in contemporary built work. Beeby’s rational design is evident in downtown Chicago’s Harold Washington Library. The design pulls core structural elements towards the outside—“an inversion of Mies,” Beeby said, but also a nod to classical construction—exposing structural columns that serve dual purposes as functional elements and ornamental city landmarks. Amid the building’s red brick and granite blocks, ornamental elements display a blended architectural language that is typical of postmodern design: the Board of Trade’s Ceres appears along with corncob spandrels and seed pods representing the bounty of the Midwest, while the form evokes proto-skyscrapers like the nearby Rookery and Monadnock buildings. As a principal at HBRA Architects, Beeby’s portfolio of built work includes many museums, libraries, university buildings, and other institutional projects. His work on churches has made an impact on the discourse of spiritual architecture. Previous Driehaus laureates include Michael Graves, Robert A.M. Stern, and Rafael Manzano Martos. The foundation also gives out the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design.