Performance Driven, Poetically Crafted Architecture

Remembering Jim Nagle

February 5, 2021
by Don McKay

We are saddened by the passing of our colleague, Jim Nagle, one of the very best architects we have known.

Jim’s success came early as one of a group of architects who claimed design independence from the orthodox Modernism that dominated Chicago architecture at the time. Jim was a designer with good intuition and formidable intellect, qualities that helped him create new paradigms for urban housing that influenced a generation of Chicago architects. Jim’s architecture was rigorous in the traditions of Chicago architectural design but distinguished by an intimacy often lacking in contemporary modernist works. His natural ease working with house and developer clients instilled confidence that extended to those who built his designs. His later house designs are a fully mature realization of modernism’s capacity for warm and welcoming architecture.

Jim enjoyed a rare type of partnership with Jack Hartray, rooted in friendship and perfectly complementary. We had an exaggerated way of explaining our office—Jim looked at a design problem from across the room, Jack as if it was in front of his nose, and it was up to the rest of us to fill the gap. This instilled a firmwide comprehensive approach to design that made it a great place to become an architect. It was a kind of professional family. Even when kids decided to leave home, they remembered their time there as important to their professional growth.

Much of what we experienced of Jim’s design approach remains with us. We approach each project comprehensively, with rigor and an independent attitude that opens creative possibilities. Our work has maintained an intimacy even as projects have grown larger and more complex.

Jim lives on through his family and through the hundreds of architects he worked with and who are mentoring another generation—there will always be something of Jim in our work.