Architect and former SOM design partner Walter Netsch would have turned 100 years old on February 23, 2020. To commemorate this significant date and to discuss the relevance of Walter Netsch’s work, MAS Context organized an event on that day at the Netsch Residence.
During the event, attendees were able to tour the Netsch Residence, recently renovated by SOM, and hear about the career of Walter Netsch from architect Iker Gil and SOM Consulting Partner Brian Lee, who led the renovation of the house.
On Walter Netsch
Architect Walter Netsch was born on February 23, 1920, in Chicago. He studied architecture at MIT graduating in 1943. After several years of service in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he worked with the architect L. Morgan Yost between 1946 and 47. He then joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, first in the San Francisco office, where he worked between 1947 and 1951, and then in the Chicago office between 1951 and 1979. Some of his key projects at SOM were the US. Air Force Academy campus and its Cadet Chapel, UIC Circle Campus, and the multiple educational buildings he designed at Northwestern University and University of Chicago. Netsch left SOM in 1979 and established his own firm.
Among other things, in 1986 Netsch was appointed president of the Chicago Park District board of commissioners by Mayor Harold Washington. He received honorary doctorates from multiple universities, including Northwestern University, and his work has been exhibited at the MoMA in New York, MCA Chicago, Colorado Springs Art Museum, and the Miami University Art Museum, to name a few. On June 15, 2008, Netsch passed away at the age of 88. His wife, Illinois politician Dawn Clark Netsch, whom he married in 1963, passed away in 2013.
Upon the passing of Dawn Netsch, the house where they lived in Old Town Triangle and that Netsch had designed in 1974, was sold to a couple who had fallen in love with the house. The house follows his “field theory.”
“I wanted to have one big space with no corners in the house. But I wanted to define the spaces. I could define them by levels — the living level, dining level, private bedroom level, with a little piece of the dining room coming into the living room.”
The new owners hired SOM to adapt and restore certain elements of the house, but with the goal of maintaining its spirit.
SOM, “A Radical Mind: The genius of architect Walter Netsch,” Medium
Samantha Weiss Hills, “Bringing new life to a design pioneer’s quirky Old Town home,” Curbed Chicago
Mandi Keighran, “A Sparkling Remodel Revitalizes a 1974 Home That Twists Like a Corkscrew,” Dwell
Betty J. Blum, “Oral history of Walter Netsch,” Chicago Architects Oral History Project
Thank you very much to Will Forrest and Mark Smithe for their generosity by opening their house for this celebration.
Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context and the Executive Director of the SOM Foundation. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, including “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss.
www.mas-studio.com | @MASContext
Brian Lee, FAIA, LEED AP, is a Consulting Partner at SOM. He believes that architecture starts with solving the client’s genuine needs, but also must strive to achieve inspirational results that transcend expectations. A fundamental question that guides his work is how a building’s aesthetics, program, and tectonics can provide meaning to those who live and work in its spaces. His hands-on design approach is focused on achieving full integration of the natural and built environment through the most innovative design forms, materials, and construction technologies.
www.som.com | @som_design