Lillian & Willis Leenhouts, FAIA, practiced through their Milwaukee architecture firm from 1945 to 1990. Building their reputation on modernist design with regional and environmental sensitivities, the firm designed over 500 built and unbuilt works. The majority of these projects were single family homes, though their work also included apartment buildings, libraries and churches. The work is characterized by sensitivity to site, poetically marrying the beauty of nature with passive solar design and functional planning. Typically designed with a modest yet sensitive public presence, the work examines the role of communal spaces and their relationship to the outdoors.
Lillian was a co-founder of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture. She was the first licensed female architect in Wisconsin, and served as the first woman on the Wisconsin Architectural Licensing Board. She received an honorary doctorate from UW-Milwaukee, and in 1975 she and Willis were inducted into the AIA College of Fellows. In addition to building communities physically, Lillian and Willis built them by reaching out to the community. They taught construction repair to low-income homeowners and renters and conducted art, reading, gardening and music lessons for under-privileged children. Lillian established the Architect’s River Committee, an early supporter of the cleanup of the Milwaukee River and catalyst to the Riverwalk.
Lillian’s strength of character and commitment to architecture serve as inspiration for an annual scholarship offered at UWM-SARUP. It was initiated in 1990 with contributions from professional associates and friends of Lillian and Willis Leenhouts, and has supported scholars with over $25,000 in scholarship money as of 2010.