Stanley Tigerman, 1930-2019

John Hill
4. June 2019
Photo: Screenshot from a short film produced for a Stanley Tigerman retrospective at Yale School of Architecture in 2011

"Controversial" architect Stanley Tigerman, arguably the most important late-20th-century architect in Chicago, has died at the age of 88.

Tigerman describes himself as controversial in an interview produced for the Yale School of Architecture in 2011 (embedded at bottom), when his alma mater held a retrospective exhibition on him. He goes on to say how he speaks his own mind, is "not always polite," and has problems with people who commercialize architecture — his common enemy. 

He also jokes in the film that "there will be lots of people when I pass away that will be delighted he's gone." Yet the words upon Tigerman's death yesterday at his home in Chicago are anything but. Lee Bey, former architecture critic for the Sun-Times, called him on Twitter, a "passionate critic of the built environment ... who cared about Chicago." And Paul Goldberger took to the platform to describe Tigerman as "a man of wit, warmth, earnestness and passion for architecture and for Chicago."

In his decades as an architect in Chicago following his 1961 graduation from Yale he produced buildings that were labeled Postmodern but were highly idiosyncratic and, most importantly, very cognizant of end users. Most notable is the Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (1978), which featured bright red walls and a wave-like window that echoed the undulating counter inside, a tactile surface for the people using the building. (The building at 1055 West Roosevelt Road was later converted to a bank and repainted.)

Stanley Tigerman, The Titanic, 1978 (Photo © The Art Institute of Chicago)

Tigerman was a talented draftsman who could use imagery to provoke. His most famous illustration was The Titanic, a 1978 collage that depicts Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology sinking into a body of water, most likely Lake Michigan. The photomontage was produced around the time Tigerman and six architects — the "Chicago Seven" — mounted one exhibition to counter another, One Hundred Years of Architecture in Chicago, that favored a Miesian view of architecture in the city. His contrarian nature, established in the 1970s, did not diminish as he aged.

In 1986, he partnered with his wife Margaret McCurry to form Tigerman McCurry Architects, and in 1994 he co-founded the public-interest school Archeworks "on the premise that good design should serve everyone." Around that time I met Tigerman during a visit to his office with my fellow students in fourth-year architecture school. While my first impressions were aligned with the "controversial" label, his advice to us was honest, passionate, helpful, and memorable. 

If Tigerman will be remembered for a single building, it will be one he realized in 2009, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago. Tapping into his Jewish upbringing, the building is a heart-wrenching procession that tells the story of the Holocaust but ultimately ends in an uplifting space of illumination — both literally and figuratively.

Among his numerous accolades, Tigerman received the AIA Chicago Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Tigerman died "after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," per Architect magazine, which pointed out that Tigerman and McCurry had recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

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