Summers ’49, Mies van der Rohe protégé, outstanding alum passes

Gene Summers

Gene Summers

Gene Summers FAIA, who left his design imprint on some of the world’s most recognizable Modern landmarks, a protégé of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and an outstanding alumnus of Texas A&M’s College of Architecture, died Dec. 12 in a California hospital from liver cancer.

Summers, (1928-2011), who earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree at Texas A&M in 1949, served as supervising architect from 1950-66 for Mies, one of Modern architecture’s pioneers, 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 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.

He designed a building that by all accounts is a staggering structural achievement, [wrote] (,0,2743250.story) Chicago Tribune critic Blair Kamin.

“The convention center's roof, which extends 75 feet beyond its supporting columns, covers 19 acres and weighs 10,000 tons, according to the American Institute of Architects' ‘Guide to Chicago,’” wrote Kamin. “The main exhibit space, encompassing 300,000 square feet, has just eight supporting columns.”

From 1973-85 Summers was a real estate developer in California, restoring landmarks including the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and the Newporter Resort Hotel in Newport Beach, Calif.

In 1985 he moved to France, pursuing his passion for [art] ( and bronze furniture [design] ( . He returned to Chicago four years later, serving as dean the Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture until 1993.

“Gene was perhaps the most vigorous and thoughtful proponent for updating Mies’ pedagogical legacy to find relevance in new eras,” said Donna Robertson, dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture. “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.”

Summers, said Pauline Saliga, associate curator of architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, was a charming and engaging man, notable among architects for his considerable talent and uncanny humility.

He talked about his education at Texas A&M, working in Mies’ office, designing McCormick Place and much more in a five-hour [interview] ( (5K PDF) with Saliga.

“Although Gene Summers is revered by the architecture cognoscenti for his pivotal role in the history of Chicago design,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Philip Berger in a 2004 [article] ( , he is unknown to the general public. Berger noted the irony of Summers’ relative obscurity, given his involvement in McCormick Place, the Seagram Building and other Modern landmarks.

Summers’ death was also noted by the [New York Times] ( and [Los Angeles Times] (,0,1882258.story) , which published articles detailing his accomplishments.

posted December 19, 2011