The architect who designed Chicago’s Harold Washington Library will be profiled in a new WTTW documentary hosted by popular Chicago TV host and tour guide Geoffrey Baer. Architect Thomas Beeby, is this year’s winner of the Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical and Traditional Architecture. He’s the first Chicagoan to win the prize. The new 30-minute documentary THE INVISIBLE HAND: ARCHITECT THOMAS BEEBY premieres on WTTW on Thursday, March 21 at 8:00 pm, with rebroadcasts on Friday, March 22 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 24 at 10:30 pm.
When Thomas Beeby was a child, he enjoyed playing with model trains. And he enjoyed building the miniature buildings he made to sit alongside the tracks. When he went to his River Forest bedroom window he had a clear view of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house next door. And Beeby’s grandfather, an engineer with a concrete business, would talk about working with Wright. Architecture surrounded the young man from an early age. Beeby says that for as long as he can remember he knew he wanted to be an architect.
THE INVISIBLE HAND: ARCHITECT THOMAS BEEBY, produced and written by Daniel Andries, hosted and co-written by Geoffrey Baer, traces Beeby’s childhood, education and career. After training at Cornell and Yale he started his career at a big Chicago firm helping to design glass-and-steel modern buildings in the style of architect Mies Van Der Rohe. But he felt the dominance of modernism was stifling and decided to rebel against it.
The documentary traces Beeby’s emergence as part of a group of young, up-and coming architects known as “the Chicago Seven” who thumbed their noses at modernism and staged exhibitions of wildly creative designs. The architects were admittedly trying to break the stranglehold of big, modernist firms and attract work for themselves.
After breaking away from the large firm, Beeby became chief of design at his own company now known as HBRA. The documentary explores how Beeby and his colleagues use elements of historic architectural styles to create art museums, libraries, houses of worship, court complexes and theaters. His impact on the daily lives of Chicagoans is significant, as citizens use the Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square, visit his rooms at the Art Institute and the Chicago History Museum, and are entertained at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.
Beeby’s use of historic styles has been controversial. His winning entry in the 1988 competition to design Harold Washington Public Library raised eyebrows from the very beginning. Some called his classically inspired post-modern design backward-looking and thought the more contemporary designs entered by other firms were better-suited to Chicago, a city known for innovative architecture. But in this and other works, Beeby seeks to invest public places with a familiar architectural language that makes people feel welcome and comfortable.
“I remember Tom Beeby from the days of the Chicago Seven,” says Andries. “I loved their mind-bending shows featuring mammoth models of houses I wished could line the streets of Chicago. The chance to dig into that part of his story, as well as his architectural output, was very exciting.” “Don’t let his low-key manner fool you,” adds Baer. “Having spent hours interviewing Tom Beeby and watching him in action as a teacher, it’s clear to me that beneath his conservative coat and tie beats the passionate heart of an artist,” he said.
WTTW is also developing a robust companion website, wttw.com/beeby, where viewers will be able to explore the works of Thomas Beeby in images, video and text. Visitors will have an opportunity to view a photo slideshow, watch web-exclusive video and the program in its entirety, learn about the work of HBRA, and trace a timeline of Beeby’s career.
THE INVISIBLE HAND: ARCHITECT THOMAS BEEBY is produced by Daniel Andries, written by Daniel Andries and Geoffrey Baer, hosted by Geoffrey Baer, edited by Paul Thornton, camera by Tim Boyd and Matt Howe, lighting by Tom Godar and Danny Rozkuszka, audio by Marc Hoppe and Edward O’Connor. Associate Producer is Liz Reeves.
Geoffrey Baer is a multiple Emmy Award-winning producer and program host for WTTW in Chicago. He hosted and co-wrote two previous documentaries on Driehaus Prize winners, Robert A. M. Stern and Michael Graves. He is best known as the host and writer of WTTW’s popular feature-length specials about Chicago architecture and history including Chicago’s Loop: A New Walking Tour, Chicago’s Lakefront, Chicago by Boat: the New River Tour, Biking the Boulevards and Chicago by ‘L’: Touring the Neighborhoods, as well as six programs covering virtually all of Chicago’s suburban areas. He took viewers on a culinary tour in The Foods of Chicago: a Delicious History, which was nominated for a coveted James Beard Award, and explored the surprising side of the city in Hidden Chicago. Mr. Baer also appears regularly on WTTW’s flagship nightly public affairs program Chicago Tonight answering viewers’ questions about Chicago architecture and history in a segment called Ask Geoffrey. His first national prime time PBS special, 10 Buildings That Changed America, premieres on May 12.
Daniel Andries has been a producer with WTTW since 2000. With host Geoffrey Baer he produced and co-wrote Architect Michael Graves: A Grand Tour and Architect Robert A.M. Stern: Presence of the Past. The shows premiered on WTTW, were later rebroadcast nationally on PBS, and gathered multiple Emmys nominations and two Emmy awards. The 2011 documentary Jeanne Gang: The Sky’s the Limit, focused on the Chicago architect who recently was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. It premiered nationally on PBS, won an Emmy for its photography and was featured in the 2012 Architecture and Design Film Festival in New York City. For over half a decade he was the Series Producer of Artbeat Chicago, WTTW’s award-winning weekly arts magazine series. Also of note is the 2006 hour-long documentary Beauty Rises: Four Lives in the Arts, which was critically praised and given multiple awards. Other work on the arts includes Remembering Ed Paschke, arts reporting for Chicago Tonight, Executive Producer for Arts Across Illinois and producer of Arts Across Illinois: CenterStage. Daniel previously worked with Geoffrey Baer as producer of Chicago by Boat: The New River Tour and The Southwest Suburbs: Birthplace of Chicago. Other credits include Out & Proud in Chicago, Irish Chicago, and DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis.
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