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Gertrude Kerbis

Chicago, USA
Gertrude Kerbis became the first woman president of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
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Gertrude Kerbis became the first woman president of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Chris DeFord/ Handout

Gertrude Lempp Kerbis (1926 – June 14, 2016) was an American architect worked and studied under Carl Koch, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. Their influences are evident in many of Kerbis's designs. Born Gertrude Lempp in the Northwest side of Chicago, Illinois to working class, immigrant parents from White Russia. She studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where Walter Gropius was teaching from 1949-1950. In 1954 she received her master degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where she studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Peterhans. She played a leading role in designing several major examples of American modernism, including the Lustron house, the US Air Force Academy, and the O'Hare International Airport rotunda. She founded the Chicago Women in Architecture group in 1973.

Her Work and Influences

Her first job, while at Harvard, was in the studio of Carl Koch, a teacher at MIT. After graduation in 1954 she worked at the office of Skidmore, Owings, and Merill until 1959. From 1959-62 and 1965-67 she worked for Naess and Murphy until started her own firm, Lempp Kerbis in 1967. Inspired by a Life magazine article about Frank Lloyd Wright she, then a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, hitchhiked to Wright's Taliesin estate in Spring Green. Entranced by the rooms she was seeing as she peered through glass exterior walls, she crawled in a bathroom window and somehow managed to stay the night.

Kerbis began her career in an era when women at architecture firms typically were receptionists or secretaries. If they were permitted to design, they were relegated to interiors departments. She was a couple of decades ahead of her time - a woman in a sea of men wearing white shirts and ties - get an AIA lifetime achievement award.

Chicago, USA
Bostjan, February 15th, 2019