While its status as an epicenter of architectural production is legendary, Chicago is sometimes overlooked by contemporary architectural debate, forced out of the spotlight by the proliferation of media outlets and educational institutions in the area around New York. However in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st, few people have been as devoted to fostering architectural discussion in the city as Stanley Tigerman. In this interview excerpt, originally published by MAS Context as "It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Do," Iker Gil and Ann Lui speak with the famously antagonistic architect about everything from Chicago, to the New York Five, to the importance of keeping friends at arm's length.
At one point in this interview, Stanley Tigerman asked us: “You know the character you need to be an architect? You need to be brave. You need to be strong. You have to have a very strong backbone. You have to have very thick skin because you’re going to get beat to shit by others, without question. You have to have that quality in you to take the criticism that will come your way no matter what.”
At the core of this advice is the central belief that vigorous debate—including harsh criticism, strong positions, and the prioritization of powerful new ideas even at the cost of one’s own comfort—is essential to the forward movement of architecture.
This position resonates across Stanley’s many roles in architectural discourse as practitioner, curator, and teacher. No encounters seem to escape his dedication, often ferocious, to the construction of an articulate battle over the future of design. (He even noted, at the beginning of our interview, his frustration with how others had censored his salty language in publication. His firm stance against the watering down of his positions, against the backdrop of increasingly edited and PR-worthy statements by designers, was refreshingly fearless.) In the 1970s, Stanley curated seminal exhibitions that brought to the fore Chicago architects against rising stars in New York and Los Angeles. In parallel, he also staged discursive events, such as The State of the Art of Architecture (1977), from which this year’s Biennial draws its name, and a series of rough-and-tumble, informal debates at the newly revived Chicago Architectural Club. As an educator, Stanley hosted The Chicago Tapes (1986) conference, a symposium that took after The Charlottesville Tapes conference three years before; at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), he was also responsible for initiating a series of publications. These practices set the stage for decades of service as a moderator, ringmaster, and electric goad to architects in the city: calling upon us to both be self-critical and also engage others in conversation over our practices and beliefs.
To this day, Stanley Tigerman serves as the backbone of Chicago’s rich conversation on architecture and the city, including his warm nurturing of a new generation of architects. Stanley’s dedication to fostering debate—which always includes the demand that architects bring their work to the table and stand firm behind their ideas—has not diminished through the years. His gift to Chicago is his continued fight for the value of potent, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is, discourse.
Ann Lui: During your interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project you discussed the tough critiques at Yale in the late 50s and early 60s. You mentioned one critic that was especially tough on Louis Skidmore Jr.
Stanley Tigerman: Yeah. Who, by the way, is an asshole.
AL: I was wondering how this harsh criticism shaped you as a teacher and as a pedagogue. It seems that Archeworks, the school you co-founded in 1994 with Eva Maddox, goes in another direction and focuses on fostering communication between disciplines. Did these tough critiques inform your thinking when you started Archeworks?
ST: Well, that’s a very complex question. When I was at Yale, Paul Rudolph was the Chair, and Paul was a very tough guy. In the 1959-60 academic year, I was in the Bachelor’s thesis class. The class started in September with thirty students. By the time we graduated, do you know how many graduated on time? Fifteen. Some flunked, some were asked to come back for the summer, some for a semester, some for a year, some for more than a year, some never. When I was there several of the kids ended up on shrink’s couches. One kid committed suicide. Is this a justification for that level of harshness? No, but it was what it was. This is a different time in architectural education. You don’t flunk people because this is a litigious society. The kid’s mommy comes after you and sues your ass.
But that was a very rough time. In my second year in my masters program, I worked for Paul at night. In those years, the architecture school at Yale closed at two in the morning. At two in the morning, the Yale radio station, which was on in the drafting room, played the alma mater “Bright College Years.” We all got up and sang it, and they all went to get drunk, except me. At two in the morning, I went to Paul Rudolph’s office and worked until five in the morning, five nights a week. But I had to be back in the studio by nine, because he showed up at nine. So I had basically four hours of sleep at night. It was a killer. There was a point when I got my masters and Paul offered me a full time job. I said, “Paul, do you see that old, beat-up station wagon belching gasoline at the curb? If I don’t go back to Chicago this minute I’m going to get physically ill. I’m going to vomit, probably all over you.” And I left. It was the hardest two years of my life. It made being in the United States Navy a piece of cake. Those of us who survived it, bonded: Bob Stern, Charlie Gwathmey, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Jack Robertson, Tom Beeby, blah, blah, blah. Irrespective of our differences stylistically, formalistically, whatever, we survived this trial by fire. Paul Rudolph did invent me, what you see is the product of my having been there. If he hadn’t come across me and molded me to his satisfaction I wouldn’t be sitting here. Period.
Paul was very demanding, and he was that demanding of himself. His problem was that, holistically speaking, he never was a whole human being. I remember coming back from Bangladesh one time and on the way back we stopped in Paris. I said, “Paul, do you want to go to L’Opéra, or l’Opéra Comique?” No, he just wanted to sit on the Champs-Élysées sipping drinks. I thought, “Where is your cultural IQ, Paul?” He walked, spoke, ate, shat, and practiced architecture. It’s what he did. He was a supreme, supremo architect, and he was totally single-minded. But that doesn’t cut it, even then. So Paul was flawed, but I loved him. I loved, and I understood the treatment because I had been in the Navy.
So did that infect the way that I then treated others? Yes and no. Archeworks was late in my life. Earlier, when I was at UIC, I burned a kid’s drawings. Burned it right in his presence. It was a shit drawing. As a result, they hung me in effigy, outside the building. I have a checkered career and persona. I didn’t do things the way traditional architects do them. I don’t mean stylistically, but the tradition of architects’ behavior. It’s one of the reasons that my office stayed small, which was done consciously. I didn’t want a big office so I could say no to people, I could actually fire a client, which I have done on three occasions.
I am a perfectionist. I used to believe in absolute values, not relative values. I’ve changed my mind. Times change. I’m thinking more of relative things now. So I’ve changed. But, did my experience at Yale impact my behavior later as a teacher? Yes. At Archeworks, not so much. I don’t think we ever got rid of a student because it was so god-damned small we needed every student. So I had to curb my innate behavior to some degree.
Iker Gil: During the 1970s and 80s, you organized a series of symposia such as the 1977 The State of the Art of Architecture at the Graham Foundation. The event is once again in the news as this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial has borrowed the name for its inaugural edition. What was the format and what were the goals of the 1977 symposium?
ST: It began with the New York Five, which was Eisenman, Meier, Gwathmey, Hejduk, and Graves. Only Eisenman and Meier are alive. And they’re cousins [they are second cousins by marriage]. Did you know that?
ST: It’s a great story about them. They’re first cousins. Eisenman’s mother is the poor one. Jewish family. Meier’s mother is the rich one. So Meier’s mother used to call Peter’s mother all the time and say, “What has Peter done? Richard just won the Gold Medal.” Typical Jewish mother bullshit, right? She would say. “Richard just won the Pritzker Prize. What did Peter ever win?” So Peter is filled with anxieties because then his mother would call and say, “Well you say you are so famous, but you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that. Because Richard’s mother just told me about blah, blah, blah.”
The New York Five was an elitist operation. It was architecture for architecture’s sake. Like art for art’s sake, which is as it should have been. It was not inclusivist. The first reaction to that was Bob Stern, Aldo Giurgola [plus Allan Greenberg, Charles Moore, and Jaquelin Robertson] forming The Greys. Then, the Los Angeles guys did The Silvers. If you can imagine: speed, extrusions, that kind of architecture. And then the Chicago Seven. Why the Chicago Seven? The Chicago Seven was a total bullshit operation. We didn’t then, and we still do not, even like each other. We had nothing in common. Do I ever see any of these people? Absolutely not ever.
I wanted to get them together. I have a history, which began at Yale. When I was at Yale, I brought students from Harvard and Penn to Yale and New Haven, to talk about the state of the art. I have done that a bazillion times. I see architecture as a performing art. I do well working alone, but I do well in groups. I like bringing people together.
You could ask the question, “What did you gain? What happened at that thing in ‘77? I could ask the same thing. You could ask the question, “What happened between Harvard and Princeton; Harvard, Penn, and Yale?” Or what happened at the Passing The Baton event at Archeworks in 2008 when I had Sarah Herda, Bob Somol, Zoë Ryan, Zurich Esposito, and so on?  What was accomplished that night? What was accomplished was that they got to know each other and, from that point forward, they could engage. That happened in New Haven and that happened in ‘77. For me, the result in ‘77 was great, because all those guys became my friends. I don’t have any friends in Chicago because we’re competitors. That’s the other side of architecture: I love competition. I see architecture as a competition. I see we’re all climbing a mountain. And it’s getting smaller. And there’s less and less oxygen. And they’re dropping off. I love it. I love it.
IG: You’re not mellowing out with age.
ST: I’m not mellowing out. No. I’m getting meaner and tougher. Straightaway. Always. It’s my persona.
IG: With The State of the Art of Architecture, The Chicago Tapes, and the other events then the idea was to bring people together, which led you to establish their friendship, but there was something about Chicago too.
ST: The other reason for forming the Chicago Seven, in counter distinction to the Miesian descendants, was because we wanted a place at the table. Make no mistake. It was straight about ego. We met all the time, we had dinners together, but we were not close. We knew that, but we wanted a place at the table.
IG: It was a self-interested relationship.
ST: There was self-interest involved, because without self-interest you got nothing.
IG: In your interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project, you made it clear that there was a desire to make sure you all had a place at the table, but also in rewriting the established architectural history of Chicago.
ST: Yes. It was revisionist history. Everybody needs to make a place. During the Passing the Baton event at Archeworks, there were eight or nine people onstage. The moderator was Ned Cramer, so he called me up to convene the proceedings. I came up with my little suitcase and I said, “This is about passing the baton to the next generation, because you need to help the next generation. There are three different kinds of batons. There is the conductor’s baton. There is the baton that relay racers use. Then there is this baton.” I reached in the case and pulled out, I swear to Christ, a ten-inch hunting knife. I said, “Your job is to kill me.” I tried to hand it to Ned Kramer, but Ned Kramer’s balls never dropped, and he never took it. Therefore, the next generation was weak. Your job, to become an adult, it’s straightaway, it’s about Oedipus. You need to kill your father to take his place. Period. But they didn’t want to take the knife. I mean I literally… a big fucking knife.
IG: I don’t know if anybody would have taken it.
ST: Well, symbolically that was their job. The job is to displace the father, to take the place. That’s why I resented the fucking Miesians, because they never got rid of Mies. They copied it. They never advanced his agenda, and I resented them for that. Dirk Lohan is a shit architect, the grandson of Mies, who uses being the grandson to make money. I mean, ridiculous.
IG: I guess it’s a marketing tool and I know how much you “love” marketing.
ST: I hate it. There is something I hate even more. It’s called branding. I fucking hate branding. You know what branding is? I can draw it. This is branding. It’s called the golden arches. You want to burn that into the brain of customers, not clients even, but customers, so they’ll buy your product. It’s all about money, which diminishes architecture. Guys that diminish architecture are by nature my born enemy, and I treat them that way. People that diminish architecture by using phrases like “value engineering”…ugh, Christ! Those are all the things why I identify with your generation, because they’re all the things that fuck up architecture. And I hate them, like you do. No question about it.
IG: You started two publications, almost at the same time, during your time as Director at UIC as well as when you were the president of the Chicago Architecture Club.
ST: Threshold and the Chicago Architectural Club Journal.
IG: Was the idea for those publications to document what was happening in Chicago, to promote Chicago, or to begin to spark some type of conversation or debate between people?
ST: All of the above. In the same way the Chicago Seven wanted a place at the table, I was up to here [points above his head] with the publishing world being New York-centric. I still am. Log, have you ever tried to read that shit? They feed on each other until ultimately they only have an audience of each other. So the circulation is five, because only five people understand that crap.
While I was the Director at UIC, I went to Monacelli, who was then at Rizzoli, who was my publisher, and I said, “Gianfranco, please publish the Chicago Architecture Club Journal. It’s in the context of history. They did the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club founded way back when. And, for the University of Illinois at Chicago, let’s do a magazine. We’ll call it Threshold.” I wanted Chicago on the map, not just New York thinking it’s the center, because it ain’t.
It was a place for dialogue to engage, and now it’s been fulfilled. Look at all the people that are now in Chicago. That includes you [Iker], it includes Sean Lally, [Thomas] Kelley, Andy Moddrell, and the young people teaching at UIC. It’s sort of becoming a hot-shit place.
IG: It’s surprising that those two publications no longer exist and that neither UIC nor the Chicago Architecture Club published that much after those initial efforts.
ST: It needs continuous prodding. I got five issues out of each. But ultimately, in the biblical terms, in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time for everything and I just can’t be there continuously doing that. I loved when Jimenez Lai did Treatise, the fourteen books and the exhibition at the Graham Foundation. It was obviously self-serving for Jimenez, but it also put together a bunch of really good people. And he did it from Chicago, so I really miss him now that he’s in LA.
IG: Now people like Ann, who has been doing very interesting work in Boston, are coming to Chicago to continue her practice and to teach. So some people are leaving for different reasons but others are coming too, and they see Chicago as a viable place for them.
ST: It’s a work in progress. Chicago, that is.
IG: It’s always going to be.
ST: Yes, it always is going to be, but I got to tell you, it wasn’t always the case. When I came back from Yale in ‘61, the big firm that was worth something outside of Mies was Skidmore [Skidmore, Owings & Merrill]. There were only two small firms that were really good architects. One was Harry Weese, and the other was Ed Dart, Edward Dupaquier Dart. He was a very good architect. That’s what I came to. So it wasn’t always like it is now. Now you can say with confidence that it’s a work in progress. It will always change.
AL: When the Chicago Architecture Club was reestablished in 1979, it was fairly exclusive: it had limited members  and you had to pay high dues to be part of it. However, it seems to me that the most grueling barrier to entry was to be able to hold your own at the debates and the critiques that took place at the Club.
ST: At every meeting, which used to be at the Graham Foundation, there would be two guys, more or less comparable, who would debate each other and show their work, because work is a vehicle for ideas. At the end there was a vote, and there was a winner and a loser. The winner got a certificate with a “W,” and the loser got one with a “L.” I loved that. In other words, I loved documenting what transpired. And that people lose. You don’t just win. If you play major league baseball, if you want to get your contract renewed, you have to hit at least .300. .300 means that seven out of ten times you’re out. You have to understand losing.
IG: I am assuming that some of these debates were fierce and very personal.
ST: Entirely personal. When [John] Syvertsen became president of the club, he put [Tom] Beeby up against me, and Beeby won. I have my certificate with the “L” on it proudly displayed at home. Everything you do counts. Don’t bullshit yourself, and say you can get away with it, because you can’t. Some asshole down the line will engage you in revisionist history and catch you up for lying. You see it all the time in the papers about politics, and movie stars. They think they can get away with something and they engage in something called hubris, which is the problem. You have to be truthful. You have to say what really happened, that you won this and that you lost that.
IG: Do you think those debates made people tougher and helped them create better work?
ST: Yes. Absolutely. They didn’t create better friends, but it did create better work. I realize that not all the work in Chicago was great, but Chicago has a lot of very good architects.
IG: Clearly you’d rather have better work than better friends.
ST: Abso-goddamn-lutley. In Chicago, I’d much rather have better work than better friends. No question about it. And who are my friends not in Chicago? Very good architects. Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Charlie Gwathmey before he died, Peter Eisenman, etc. Jeanne Gang was the greatest supporter of me because I’m very supportive of her. I told her, “Jeanne, it’s simple, when you start doing shitty work, you’ll see that I’m not such a good friend. Because I will call you out for it publicly.” I’m interested in good work, period. Good architecture, good dialogue, good ideas require critical mass. If you live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you don’t expect good architecture, because there aren’t enough guys out there practicing good architecture to have an impact on each other. That’s why Chicago is great. Because it’s tough. I’ve been trying to do that my whole life.
AL: At the end of your text from Emmanuel Petit’s recent book Schlepping Through Ambivalence, you wrote, “It seems as if precious little changes, including the fact that I still miss you.”  It seems to me that a long debate can be very productive or collaborative when it is built on mutual admiration between you and Mies. Who would be a worthy candidate today to do battle with, as Ada Louise Huxtable described your conversation with Mies? 
ST: Mies had a huge impact on me. After a year at MIT, I flunked out. I got a job working for George Fred Keck, who was a wonderful architect. Keck was trying to do what turned out to be sort of a shitty building for the Chicago Housing Authority. He wanted to engage Mies to persuade the head of the Chicago Housing Authority to hire him. I was nineteen and an absolute apprentice, bottom, zero in this office. Mies came to the office, and I was blown away. To meet Mies, for me, was like meeting God. It was like meeting Moses. Mies was incredible. I can tell you endless stories about him. He was a wonderful person.
On the other hand, he was shit toward women, as was Corbu, as was Frank Lloyd Wright. We are all people. We have good sides, but we’re flawed. Mies wasn’t perfect. But Mies, architecturally, philosophically, and theologically, was perfect. Humanistically? Not perfect. But I admired him, and I liked him. He had a big impact on me and he obviously had a giant impact on Chicago.
When Saarinen designed the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport, I used to fly TWA when I went to New York because I loved the building. It was a great building. One time I came into the building, I was going to get a cab going through the concourse, and I saw a poster on the wall. The poster is a picture of the Seagram Building. A great poster. A beautiful elevation of the end of Seagram looking up. And the only words were, “This is the only building by Mies van der Rohe in New York. Isn’t it a shame?” It knocked me out. Why did it knock me out? Because there are forty-five fucking buildings by Mies van der Rohe in Chicago. And there are an additional thirty by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s incredible. So I have a chip on my shoulder.
I am antagonistic to the East. I would never have stayed to work for Paul Rudolph anyway. Between us. There’s no way I was going to be related to New York. No way. Even when I came back, when Cesar Pelli was Dean of the architecture school at Yale, he invited me back for my first big-name professorship. And I was thrilled. I was going home. When I got to New Haven, by the time I got to the architecture building I was in tears. I’m telling you, I was totally undone because I had come home. I was thrilled. I wasn’t even there ten fucking minutes when I wanted to go back to Chicago. I loved going back to New Haven, but every time I’ve gone for Peter’s juries, I can’t stand it. I can’t wait to get out of there. I hate it. Because they’re all so snotty… and think that their shit doesn’t stink, individually and collectively. I have a hard time with those attitudes.
Read the remainder of this interview here, or see below for options to read the whole of MAS Context's "Debate" issue.
Table of Contents
Identifying the Designer As Worker
Essay by Peggy Deamer, Quilian Riano, and Manuel Shvartzberg on behalf of The Architecture Lobby
Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture
Essay by Denise Scott Brown
Sexism is Still With Us
Essay by Justine Clark
Essay by Adrian Shaughnessy
Design and Violence
Zoë Ryan Interviews Paola Antonelli
Project by Mimi Zeiger and Neil Donnelly
It's Not What You Say, It's What You Do
Iker Gil and Ann Lui Interview Stanley Tigerman
Illustrations by Jason Pickleman
Designer As Degenerate
Jessica Barrett Sattell Interviews Dgenerator
A Heroic Debate
Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, and Mark Pasnik
The Personal Debate of Juan O'Gorman
Essay by Fabrizio Gallanti
Political Props: Territorial Performance and the Chamizal Dispute
Essay by Nathan Friedman
Circulating Borders: The BMW Guggenheim Lab
Essay by Marina Otero Verzier
Dialogue Concerning A House's World System (After Galileo)
Text by Dennis Maher
In Plain Sight, An Architectural Hit List
Essay by Max Kuo
Project by Christina Shivers
Expressing Opposing Opinions Through Buttons
Button selection by Busy Beaver Buttons Co.
#TheDress Like No Other
Text by Craig Shparago
- Stanley Tigerman, ed., Passing the Baton: The Next Generation of Design Leadership in Chicago(2008), http://issuu.com/archeworks/docs/passing_the_baton.
- Stanley Tigerman, “P.P.S. to Mies,” in Schlepping Through Ambivalence: Essays on an American Architectural Condition, ed. Emmanuel J. Petit (New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011), 154.
- “Oral History of Stanley Tigerman,” interview by Betty J. Blum, 2003 (Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago), 140.
Stanley Tigerman is a principal in the Chicago architectural and design firm of Tigerman McCurry Architects and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects as well as the Society of Architectural Historians. Of the nearly 500 projects defining his career, 200-plus built works embrace virtually every building type. He has delivered over 1,100 lectures worldwide, he was the resident architect at the American Academy in Rome in 1980, and he was Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years. In 1994, in association with Eva Maddox, he co-founded ARCHEWORKS, a socially oriented design laboratory and school, where he remained as Director until 2008 when they were awarded Civic Ventures’ Purpose Prize Fellows.
Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “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
Ann Lui is a Visiting Artist at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. She is a co-founder of Future Firm, a Bridgeport office interested in the intersection of landscape territories and architectural spectacle. She is also a co-founder of Circus for Construction, a mobile art and design gallery on the back of a truck.
www.future-firm.org | @FutureFirm | @paperarchitect