George & William Keck: Sibling architects who saw the future – Curbed

Chicago’s William and George Fred Keck, sibling architect who spent many years understanding of their workplace in the Michigan-Ohio Constructing in Chicago’s Loop, have been greatest recognized at visionaries. They boldly pushed fashionable design way back to the 1930s, when most owners didn’t dream past cookie-cutter Colonials.

Whereas a few of their designs boldly aimed for the future—one demonstration house featured each a automobile storage and airplane hanger—they have been far more sensible than a few of their plans counsel. As William, the youngest, once told an interviewer, "There's nothing mistaken with historical past and taking the better of it and making use of it to the future." Engineers at coronary heart, they constructed properties with options, not stereotypes, in thoughts.

“No clever particular person would construct in the conventional method in the present day,” George Fred Keck advised The Architectural Discussion board in 1941. “It's only the badly skilled architect who harps on conventional in any respect.”

Throughout a profession that spanned many years, throughout which the siblings completed greater than 800 tasks and have become two of Chicagoland’s busiest fashionable architects, they nonetheless sweated the small particulars. Certainly one of their bigger works, a 16-story public housing undertaking in Chicago known as Prairie Avenue Courts, even utilized shadow research to ensure the shade fell on the car parking zone slightly than the neighboring row homes.


The Keck brothers, two of 5 boys, have been born and raised in the small southeastern Wisconsin metropolis of Watertown. The eldest, George Fred (named after his father, Fred George) turned obsessive about constructing early, impressed by the household’s roots in the furnishings trade. In highschool, he constructed a whole sailboat with out contemplating how he would take away it from the woodshop (he was pressured to come out a store window).

After learning engineering and structure, George Fred spent a number of temporary years working in New York Metropolis earlier than returning to Chicago and opening his personal agency in 1926. His 1929 design for the Miralago Night time Membership in Wilmette, Illinois, which featured a easy white exterior, was certainly one of Chicagoland’s early modernist designs. William would be part of 5 years later, ultimately changing into the second half of the movie Keck & Keck, the place he labored till his passing.

The Kellett residence, a curving, two-story construction with stone and wooden panel partitions, accomplished in 1941 at Winnefox Level in Menasha, Wisconsin.
Hedirch Blessing Assortment/Chicago Historical past Museum/Getty Pictures

At a time when Corbusier was decidedly avant-garde and Mies van der Rohe hadn’t arrived in the U.S., the Kecks have been already eager about streamlined, fashionable designs. George Fred, impressed by Corbusier, took to coronary heart his maxim that architects ought to work like engineers. He would later train at the New Bauhaus in Chicago (now the Illinois Institute of Know-how) and incorporate the excellent of the Worldwide Type into his designs. At the time, the assumption was that solely Europeans designed fashionable properties, so William loved telling the story of how his brother, at a pre-battle design convention at Princeton, was complimented on his English and requested how lengthy he’d been in the U.S.

The brothers’ early brush with fame got here throughout the Home of Tomorrow Exhibition at the Century of Progress Exhibition, which drew crowds to Chicago in 1933 and 1934. Annually, the Kecks created a distinct futuristic house. The primary, in 1933, was an eight-sided Home of Tomorrow which featured a set of excessive-finish home equipment and glass partitions. The next 12 months, they debuted the Crystal Home, a boxy metal prefab that appeared like a cross between the Glass Home and the Pompidou Centre.

Their actual breakthrough, nonetheless, didn’t come throughout the design section of those mannequin properties, it got here throughout building. As workmen assembled the Home of Tomorrow throughout a usually freezing Chicago winter in 1933, the greenhouse impact from the glass facade trapped a lot warmth, they have been in a position to work of their shirtsleeves. The brothers keyed into this vitality-saving side of the design, which turned a cornerstone of their work. Fast, again-of-the-envelope math led them to find properties designed like this might save 15-20 p.c on vitality prices.

For many years afterwards, the brothers pioneered the use of double-glazed home windows, radiant warmth, and siting to make the most of passive solar energy. Beginning with a pair of properties—the Wilde house of their hometown of Watertown, and the Sloan Residence in Glenview, a Chicago suburb—they'd proceed to refine their approach. A 1941 Chicago Tribune article famous the Sloan Dwelling stored the inside at 71 levels with out operating the furnace, need unfavourable-one diploma temperatures. The brothers would proceed to refine these concepts as they designed properties, Eicher-like subdivisions, and the occasional business fee.

At a time when vitality conservation was nicely exterior of mainstream thought, the Keck’s targeted on progressive, extra sustainable design. When shoppers inevitably complained about the warmth trapped inside a Keck and Keck house, William would repeat, many times, that they might all the time simply open a window.

The Crystal Home at the Century of Progress Worldwide Exposition in Chicago in 1934.
Hedrich Blessing Assortment/Chicago Historical past Museum/Getty Pictures

Buildings to know

The Home of Tomorrow, a daring experiment in fashionable dwelling, might be thought of their most influential and provoking design. Constructed from the inside out, with than-chopping-edge mechanical programs encased in an octagonal glass show case, it was designed to “discover options” to fashionable life. Throughout the honest, the house’s matching storage and airplane hangar contained a duplicate of well-known aviator Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft, and saw .2 million guests. It’s presently in the midst of a $2 million restoration project.

One other famed Keck residential design, the Edward McCormick Blair home in Glenview, Illinois, is tragically no extra. Just lately demolished, the house was named a residence of outstanding distinction by Architectural Report in 1957. A stunning two-story glass resident in certainly one of the most scenic corners of the North Shore of Lake Michigan, it was demolished late final 12 months after going years with out a purchaser.

Legacy and popularity in the present day

In the Chicago architectural canon, different names, similar to Mies and Wright, will all the time be bigger-than-life. However their comparatively small output, in contrast the the a whole lot of properties designed by the brothers, means few folks can really expertise life inside their creations. As we speak, Keck properties entice a big premium (the unsold Blair house was asking $10 million). Even the unique 1940 Sloan Dwelling requested $750,000. The brothers have additionally turn into a revered a part of the metropolis’s wealthy design heritage, profitable the First Illinois Medal in Structure from the College of Illinois-Champaign in 1980.

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George & William Keck: Sibling architects who saw the future - Curbed