Stanley Tigerman, an architect and provocateur noted for playful buildings that offered alternatives to the glass and steel boxes that characterized Chicago for much of the 20th century, died on Monday in that city. He was 88.
His death was confirmed by his wife and professional partner, Margaret McCurry, who is also an architect.
Mr. Tigerman was raised in his grandparents’ boardinghouse in Chicago, a city in thrall to the pristine modernist towers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies died in 1969, and by the 1970s his acolytes were cranking out uninspired imitations of his buildings. Mr. Tigerman took a different tack, insisting that if Chicago was to remain a creative center of architecture, it had to get beyond the glass box.
He did that with buildings that featured exaggerated neo-Classical details and shapes derived from pop cultural imagery, in whimsical counterpoint to Mies’s austerity. (The architectural historian Emmanuel Petit described him as Sancho Panza to Mies’s Don Quixote.) One Tigerman creation was called the “Animal Crackers house,” after its resemblance to the classic Animal Crackers package; another, copiously curved, was called the Daisy House.
He made at least as big a mark with museum exhibitions, including the 1976 show “Chicago Architects,” which presented the work of lesser-known, idiosyncratic architects whose work Mr. Tigerman felt had been overlooked because they did not follow Chicago’s modernist party line. The critic Blair Kamin wrote in The Chicago Tribune that “historians agree that the show marked a turning point in Chicago architecture, loosening the grip of Mies.”
In 1988, Mr. Tigerman designed an extravagant exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago that set out to present the entire history of Chicago architecture. The installation was based on a series of rooms, each of which was Mr. Tigerman’s riff on one aspect of Chicago’s architectural past.
His books, articles and speeches enlivened architectural discourse for more than 60 years.
“There wasn’t an issue that he didn’t consider, think about, and form a position on, without fear,” said Jeanne Gang, a prominent Chicago architect who considered Mr. Tigerman a mentor.
In 1978, Mr. Tigerman produced an image of one of Mies’s most famous buildings, Crown Hall, part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, sinking into Lake Michigan. He called it “The Titanic,” and it became his calling card.
“Modernism didn’t sink — but it took the critique that Stanley and others offered and made itself something richer,” said Dirk S. Denison, an architecture professor at the institute.
As the movement gained a name, postmodernism, Mr. Tigerman became one of its leading exponents and practitioners.
He spent five years as director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he recruited some of the leading young theorists of the time. While he made the school a flourishing center of architectural discourse, his showmanship and outspokenness did not always sit well with academic bureaucracy, and he was fired by the university in 1993. Two years later, with the designer Eva L. Maddox, he founded Archeworks, a nondegree-granting institute for students hoping to solve urban problems. He remained its director for 15 years.
He formed his partnership with Ms. McCurry, his third wife, in the early 1980s. While she mainly designed houses for wealthy clients (he occasionally did, too), Mr. Tigerman said his goal was to bring architecture to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
He designed the Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter in Chicago; the Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; and an animal shelter for the Anti-Cruelty Society. The shelter featured windows that resemble a dog’s nose, mouth and jowls. Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of The Chicago Tribune, said that the building, with its “reliance on metaphors and signs,” made serious architectural points.
Mr. Tigerman and Ms. McCurry occasionally collaborated on projects, but they more often took on their own projects, each serving as the other’s critic and sounding board. He liked to describe himself as the pro bono wing of their firm, which was known as Tigerman McCurry Architects.
While he was less active as a designer in recent years, Mr. Tigerman remained an ardent proponent of Chicago’s historic role as a central place in American architectural culture, and supported the careers of many of the city’s younger architects, like Ms. Gang. He also helped in Chicago’s unsuccessful bid for the 2016 summer Olympics.
Stanley Tigerman was born in Chicago on Sept. 20, 1930, the only child of Emma and Samuel Tigerman and a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He grew up in the city’s Edgewater section, on the North Side. His mother was a government clerk; his father was an engineer whose career was hobbled by the Depression. (At one point, in a municipal job, he “picked up leaves on the end of a spiky stick in Lincoln Park,” Mr. Tigerman said.)
Mr. Tigerman began charting his career path at 12, when he read Ayn Rand’s newly published novel “The Fountainhead,” about an egotistical architect struggling to protect his work from critics and clients who did not understand his ideas. “I read it, put it down, and decided to become an architect,” he said. (An avowed leftist, he later came to revile Rand’s conservative politics.)
Mr. Tigerman graduated from Senn High School in Chicago and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then spent four years in the Navy, serving during the Korean War, before completing his master’s degree in architecture at Yale.
Back in Chicago, he worked as a draftsman in several offices before establishing a small practice in 1961. Among his early projects was a series of buildings in Bangladesh known as the Five Polytechnic Institutes.
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A memorial to those who lost their lives in 2019
In addition to buildings, Mr. Tigerman designed products. He displayed his lighter side with tableware designed for the Swid Powell company, some based on elements of Italian renaissance architecture, and a cookie jar and coffee and tea set modeled on the house that he and his wife had designed as a weekend retreat on Lake Michigan. He also designed watches for Projects.
Mr. Tigerman’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He married Ms. McCurry in 1979, and the two lived in an apartment building on Lake Shore Drive by Mies van der Rohe — proof, Mr. Tigerman said, that despite his determination to push Chicago architecture in a more pluralistic direction, he nevertheless revered Mies. What he could not accept, he said, was “the blind devotion of his followers.”
In addition to Ms. McCurry, he is survived by two children, Judson Tigerman and Tracy Leigh Hodges, both from his first marriage, to Judith Richards; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Tigerman’s interest in Judaism is evident in his design for the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, in Skokie, which took 10 years to realize and which he said is deliberately unsubtle. “It’s loaded with symbolism, because it is meant to be an in-your-face response to the Third Reich, which wanted to eliminate the history and the culture of the Jews,” he said.
He was the author of several books, including “Versus: An American Architect’s Alternatives” (1982) and a monograph of his work (1989). He also wrote “Architecture of Exile,” his attempt, he said, to find the Jewish roots of Western architecture, which, he admitted, “is a real stretch,” but which was consistent with his lifelong desire to provoke.
Mr. Tigerman said he liked being a contrarian, even if that sometimes dissuaded potential clients.
“This way, whenever someone hires me,” he said, “it’s totally unexpected, and I’m grateful.”
Paul Goldberger contributed reporting.
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