Gene R. Summers, Renowned Architect and IIT Architecture Dean (1989 – 1993), Dies at 83

Gene R. Summers, renowned architect and designer of iconic buildings such as McCormick Place in Chicago and the Seagram Building in New York, died on December 12 at the age of 83. An IIT alumnus, Summers studied under Mies van der Rohe and went on to work as a project architect on many of Mies’ key projects from 1950 – 1965. Summers later returned to IIT to serve as dean of the College of Architecture from 1989 – 1993. A private service will be held in California this week, and a public memorial is being planned at IIT for the spring.

Architecture Dean Donna Robertson’s message to friends and colleagues of Summers and the college:

It is with great sadness that Dirk Denison and I report the death yesterday of Gene Summers: architect, educator, artist, family man and friend. Gene graduated here in Architecture with a Masters Thesis in 1951. Gene served as Dean of our College from 1989 to 1993. Before that, his professional trajectory was as one of Mies van der Rohe’s right hands, then head designer for C.F. Murphy, then an independent practitioner, developer and artist.

Here at our school, Gene was perhaps the most vigorous and thoughtful proponent for updating Mies’ pedagogical legacy to find relevance in new eras. He chose a graceful rethinking of Mies’ process of education, trying to break down the educational unit back to the intimacy and individual professorial engagement that Mies had in his day of small enrollment and huge faculty talent. Gene imported a new generation of teachers to IIT, trying to find the best in the legacy while moving in to the 21st century. It wasn’t always easy, as opinions could be quite bifurcated. However, Gene believed in the school and the students, and did perhaps the most in encouraging this school to move forward, rather than just look backward.

Gene was a great architect and artist. There is a rich resource of information on Gene’s history and contributions. I encourage you to remind yourself of his greatness through the following links:

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Architects Oral History Project: Gene Summers
Chicago Tribune April 4, 2004: In Chicago Architectural History, Gene Summers is no mere footnote
Summers’ home page at Holly Hunt, which carries his art work

Gene was a generous advisor to me, and always cared about our school and what it could mean in the wider spectrum of ideas. For a man of so many talents, we are lucky that we gained his attentions to our educational mission, and we will all miss and value him enormously.

Obituary from the family of Gene Summers:

Gene R. Summers was born in 1928 in San Antonio, Texas and passed away peacefully on December 12, 2011 surrounded by his loving family.

Son of Frank and Etta Summers, Gene is survived by his wife Jacqueline and their daughter Ali; his first wife Ann, and their children Blake, Karen and Scott, as well as his brother Wesley. Gene is also survived by his eight grandchildren, Sean, Twyla, Owen, Jesse, Sarah, Floyd, Lyle and Anderson.

Summers studied architecture at Texas A & M where he received his bachelor’s degree, and at the Illinois Institute of Technology under Mies van der Rohe where he received his master’s degree in 1951. From 1950 until 1966 Summers served as project architect for Mies van der Rohe, working on important commissions such as the Seagram Building in New York City and the National Gallery in Berlin.

In 1967 he became partner in charge of design in the Chicago architectural firm of C. F. Murphy Associates where he remained until 1973. His best-known project from that time, the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, was completed in 1970. From 1973 until 1985 Summers, in association with Phyllis Lambert, worked as a real estate developer in California where they restored, among other projects, several industrial parks, the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, and the Newporter Resort Hotel in Newport Beach.

In 1985 Summers moved to France where he pursued his passion for art and the design of bronze furniture. He returned to Chicago in 1989 to become dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a position he held until 1993. Summers was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1972.

Gene asserted his own unique style in his life and his work, being fully dedicated to the expression of his craft. Easily shifting between architecture, furniture design, painting, teaching and collecting, with each endeavor, Gene had an understanding of the nature of the materials and a passion for the expression of art.

He was a resident of Healdsburg, California.

Summers’ life and works were remembered by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Public Radio on December 13.