This obituary was published by MAS Context founder Iker Gil. Architects and colleagues remember Betty Jane Blum and the Chicago Architects Oral History Project that she started at The Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1980s. Blum died on November 3, 2022 at the age of 91.
Architectural historian and author
Betty was unique—smart, adventurous, and dedicated to bringing out the most compelling information from Chicago’s premier architects. Her oral histories were not just biographies. They were stories of Chicago’s architectural community and how the city’s talented designers, including such luminaries as Bertrand Goldberg, Paul Schweikher, Gertrude Kerbis, and dozens of others, interacted and influenced each other. Reading one of her oral histories, all of which were grounded in meticulous research, feels like being part of an intimate conversation. And she was a great teacher. Under her tutelage I had the pleasure of interviewing Wilbert Hasbrouck and John Holabird.
Best of all, she was my friend! We traveled to Spain together, often attended lectures, and went out to lunch and dinner. And of course, I loved picking her brain about all the great people she knew. Once we were at a lecture together and the speaker told a rapt audience how indebted she was to Betty’s oral histories. I leaned over to Betty, telling her I was with a Rock Star! She was the best, and we enjoyed many happy times together. Lucky me for knowing Betty as the most competent of professionals and having her as a dear friend.
Founder of Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects and Professor of Architecture Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago
Betty Blum was a sprite, full of energy, focused, sometimes witty, and always charming. I met her when she came to interview me as part of the Art Institute’s Architects Oral History project. Remarkably knowledgeable about twentieth-century architecture and architects, Blum did meticulous work as an exhaustive researcher. After interviewing sixty architects for the Art Institute, she probably knew as much about contemporary Chicago architecture as anyone in the city. Being interviewed by her was delightful and sometimes embarrassing as she knew and asked about things I’d written or done and had long forgotten. She was a good friend of my sometimes coauthor and dear friend Susan Benjamin. In addition to lunching with Betty and Susan on occasion, I really just saw her at SAH (Society of Architectural Historians) events, mostly lectures. When I heard she was sick I was surprised. I always thought of her as youthful and could never believe her actual age. She is someone I really wish I had gotten to know better.
Founder of MAS Studio and MAS Context, and Executive Director of the SOM Foundation
I never met Betty Blum in person but I got to “meet” a lot of architects that practiced in Chicago thanks to her interviews for the Chicago Architects Oral History project. As someone who didn’t grow up in Chicago but was interested in knowing more about those who practiced in the city in the twentieth century, the interviews were an invaluable tool to gain that knowledge. You could learn about known figures beyond the brief descriptions of the projects. More about the why, the how, and what was happening around them to make those projects possible. For other architects that I was not familiar with, it was a perfect entry into their career. At a professional level, the oral histories have been an extremely useful tool to clarify grey areas and shine a light on overlooked aspects that I was researching.
It is through Betty and those that had the vision and provided the resources that we can have a clearer picture of the architectural culture in the city of the last century. It is my hope that we can find ways to continue to document the careers of architects and designers that have shaped and continue to shape Chicago in a myriad of ways.
Thank you Betty.
To read all remembrances, including those by Blair Kamin, Maya Manny, Luigi Mumford, Annemarie van Roessel, Kim Soss, John Vinci FAIA, Karen Widi, Mary Woolever, and John Zukowsky, click here.
Betty Blum joined SAH in 1984.