by Kiki Yablon
You can't read Chicago Architect, the glossy magazine published by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, online--it's free to members and available by subscription to the rest of us for $35 a year. But the AIA has posted an interview with Chicago architect Walter Netsch, who died in June. It's not the world's most fascinating Q & A--the Art Institute has a much more in-depth one here (PDF), conducted in 1995--but it's notable because it was conducted just last year.
Among other things, he discusses climate change (briefly), his fight to keep his license, and which among his many projects (including the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U of I Chicago Circle campus, and "brutalist" libraries at the U. of C. and Northwestern) he considered failures (bold emphasis mine):
Z: You've had many successful projects. Do you consider any of your projects to be failures?
W: I did some dorms at the Air Force Academy long after we did the campus itself. They really were awful. They were for visiting officers who were out there to have a good time. Well, I didn't design them a good-time joint—the dorms I designed were rather perfunctory.
It was a case of the wrong architect and the wrong client. That project was a flop. I wasn't proud of it at all. But I wasn't going to design a nightclub or a whorehouse. That's what it became. They had a particular ethic of their own. It's not mine. And I didn't understand that. I misunderstood the client, in other words, and designed a lousy building for them.
The Inland Steel building. That could have been quite wonderful. I designed a double glass curtain wall system, much like what you see some architects doing today. It was very energy efficient. But in the middle of that, I was assigned to lead the Air Force Academy campus project. Twenty thousand raw acres to plan, design and build. I wasn't going to complain. But Bruce Graham finished the Inland Steel Building. It could have been a better building.