Bertrand Goldberg 1913–1997

Born in 1913 in Chicago, Bertrand was exposed to new ways of thinking at an early age. His older sister had broken conventions and was active in radical street theater and the Goodman Theater, a hotbed of progressive thinking. Bertrand left Chicago to study architecture at Harvard College and then went to the Bauhaus in Berlin, one of several Americans at this exceptional, short-lived school for architecture, design and the arts. He worked in Mies van der Rohe’s office, and returned to the United States at the end of 1933 when the Bauhaus was closed. Guided by Philip Johnson to return to Chicago, Bertrand began working in 1934 for the modernist architects Keck and Keck. In 1937, he started his own practice, doing both residential projects and industrial design. He designed prefabricated housing in 1939, and expanded his involvement into factory production of their premade components. During the war he put this knowledge to work for the government, designing portable medical labs that could readily be demounted and assembled. These early projects furthered Bertrand’s interest in structures that could be quickly and affordably constructed, eventually leading to the architect’s embrace of advantageous forms and techniques.

In 1946, Bertrand married Nancy Florsheim, daughter of Lillian and Irving Florsheim of the Florsheim Shoe Company. His mother-in-law, Lillian, was an accomplished artist and avid art collector and the two formed a friendship with shared appreciation of materials, formal innovation and a deep interest in the formal issues of design. At the end of the 1950s, Goldberg began work on two large commissions: the residential high-rise, Astor Tower, was followed by his masterwork, Marina City, the project for which he is best known. This massive project was an entirely new concept in urban planning, and the culmination of his unique design philosophy and innovative engineering. A “city within a city”, it was a complex which encompassed all aspects of life—residential apartments for the middle class, dining and entertainment, and offices and recreational areas were all contained within a meticulously planned urban environment. Socially progressive, Bertrand continued to apply his design philosophy to affordable housing projects, hospitals, college campuses and residential buildings in years following. Bertrand Goldberg Associates also grew, employing over 100 people by the end of the 1970s. His office’s last major commission was Wright College, a five building campus in Chicago’s northwest side, completed in 1992; Bertrand died five years later. His legacy remains visible in the Chicago Skyline, and Bertrand Goldberg’s designs continue to be among the most recognizable and defining buildings of the city.

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