Gertrude Lempp Kerbis
Written by Susan F. King, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
The following is an excerpt from The Creative Constellation Catalog, a celebration of twenty-five years of Chicago Women in Architecture. This catalog was published in 1998 in conjunction with the Silver Anniversary celebration.
Venturing where few women of the time had gone, Gertrude Lempp Kerbis worked for Skidmore Owings and Merrill in Chicago from 1954 to 1959 and with Naess & Murphy, now Murphy Jahn, from 1959 to 1962 and from 1965 to 1967. In the brief five years that she held a designer position at SOM she designed three award winning projects, Mitchell Hall for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, The Skokie Public Library in Skokie, Illinois and the Meadows Club for the Lake Meadows development in Chicago.
In 1967 after being passed over for the position of designer for the McCormick Place Project, Lempp Kerbis abandoned the politics and corporate cultures of large architectural firms, and opened her own architectural practice. She was one of the first woman in the city of Chicago to do so. While having her own practice cleared away one set of gender related issues, another set took its place. In a world that was barely ready to employ and promote women as architects, the struggle to obtain the type of client and project she desired as a business owner continues to this day.
As a solution to this problem, in the early seventies Lempp Kerbis became her own client. At the time, the AIA considered it unethical for architects to act as developers. This time going where few architects, male or female, had gone, Lempp Kerbis acted as both developer and architect on the Greenhouse Condominium Project in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago.
Lempp Kerbis’s designs were influenced by the Miesian school of thought that was prevalent at the time as well as by her engineering background. From the column free interior space and the 300 foot long-span roof of Mitchell Hall to the Atrium concept of the Greenhouse Project, her work was considered at the forefront of technology. As a woman in the field of architecture, she became a spokesperson and role model for other women in the profession as the feminist movement of the seventies took hold.
Sometime during the winter months of 1973-74 Lempp Kerbis mailed an invitation to all the women that she knew in the profession and their friends asking them to meet in her tiny office on Michigan Avenue. More than twenty women gathered that evening and this event was the first meeting of the Chicago Women in Architecture organization. Today Lempp Kerbis is often recognized first for her pioneering work for women. However, her architecture and her methods of practice in the context of their time were equally visionary.
– Authored by Susan F. King, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Kogan, R. “Gertrude Kerbis: Building a Life in a Man’s World.” Chicago Sun Times Magazine. Oct 1, 1978.