Architect Walter Netsch dead at 88

Netsch died of pneumonia Sunday at his Chicago home, said his wife, former Illinois State Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch, who was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1994.

Netsch, a Chicago native who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, spent nearly all of his architectural career in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where he concentrated on institutional projects.

Many of Netsch's geometrically complex buildings departed from the glass-box orthodoxy of the International Style championed by such earlier 20th century figures as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Many were vilified when they were first built, and some were even later demolished.

But many current scholars maintain that Netsch's work represents a significant break from the style of the 1950s and 1960s and anticipates the unorthodox, computer-generated shapes of such contemporary architects as Frank Gehry.

"He was one of those creative figures of the 1960s who broke the mold and paved the way for a younger generation to follow," John Zukowsky, former chief architecture curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune.

Netsch's first Chicago structure was the 19-story Inland Steel Building at 30 W. Monroe St. Completed in 1958, it is now an official Chicago landmark. Gehry, who owns a share in it, has said that its stainless steel exterior helped inspire some of his own sculptural, metal-covered structures, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park.

On Northwestern University's Evanston campus, Netsch designed the main library and the Lindheimer Astronomical Research Center. Other prominent Netsch structures in the Chicago area include the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, the east wing of the Art Institute of Chicago and Hermann Hall, the former student union building at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Netsch took early retirement from his SOM partnership in 1979, but remained a consultant to the firm until 1981.

When the late Harold Washington was elected Chicago mayor in 1983, he named Netsch to the board of the Chicago Park District -- an appointment which was held up for three years by City Council infighting.

Once installed, Netsch was named president of the board and worked to dismantle its centralized bureaucracy. He pushed for more cultural offerings in the parks program and moved to resurface more than 500 playlots that were considered unsafe.

But personal clashes led Netsch to step down as president after one year, and he resigned from the board in 1989.

Netsch is survived by his wife, two nephews and a niece.

For more on Netsch, visit

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