Gertrude Kerbis

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Gertrude Lempp Kerbis (1926 – June 14, 2016) was an American architect. She worked for and studied under some of the most significant modernists of her day, including Carl Koch, Walter Gropius, and Mies Van Der Rohe.[1] She played a leading role in designing several major examples of American modernism, including the Lustron house, the US Air Force Academy, and the O'Hare International Airport rotunda. She founded the Chicago Women in Architecture group in 1973.[2]

Life and education[edit]

Gertrude Lempp was born in the Northwest side of Chicago, Illinois to working class, immigrant parents. Her father, Eugene Lempp, was from southern Germany and her mother, Emma, was from Belarus. After graduating from Foreman High School, she started to attended Wright Community College, but transferred to the University of Wisconsin when her family briefly moved to Wisconsin. She became interested in architecture through reading an article by Frank Lloyd Wright.[3] She was inspired to pursue architecture, but as there wasn’t a program at the University of Wisconsin, she transferred to the University of Illinois in 1948, where she took an undergraduate degree in architectural engineering. She then went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where Walter Gropius was teaching, from 1949 to 1950. In 1954 she received her masters degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where she studied under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Peterhans. She briefly married Peterhans[when?] and they had a son, Julian. They divorced and later she married tennis professional Donald Kerbis who had a daughter, Lisa Kerbis, from a previous marriage. They had another child together, named Kim.[4]



Her first job, while at Harvard, was working in the studio of Carl Koch, a teacher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduation in 1954 she worked at the office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill until 1959.[1] She then worked for Naess and Murphy from 1959–1962, and again from 1965–1967. She started her own firm, Lempp Kerbis, in 1967.[2] Throughout she taught at Harper Community College in Palatine, IL for 25 years total.[citation needed]



  • 1970, Elected to college of fellows of American Institute of Architects[2]
  • 2008, Lifetime Achievement Award from the AIA Chicago Chapter[9][10]
  • 2014 - exhibit launched by Chicago Architecture foundation: Women Build Change to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Chicago Women in Architecture.[citation needed]


Kerbis was a member of, or associated with

  • American Institute of Architects[11]
  • Founded Chicago Women in Architecture in 1973[12]
  • Cliff Dwellers Club, Chicago, first female president[4]
  • Chicago Architectural club

Design style[edit]

Kerbis was inspired by, worked for, and studied under some of the most significant modernist architects of the 20th century, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Koch, Walter Gropius, and Mies Van Der Rohe. Their influences are evident in many of Kerbis's designs. Just as Mies Van Der Rohe developed the use of minimal structural frameworks balanced against free flowing space, the Rotunda Building took a similar approach. The influence of her teacher, Walter Gropius, is seen in the simplistic and aesthetically pleasing, yet functional design of Mitchell Hall, the US Air Force Academy dining hall.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Berke, Arnold. "Chicago's First Lady of Modernism - National Trust for Historic Preservation." National Trust Organization, 22 Mar. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "In Memory: Gertrude Lempp Kerbis, Former SOM Architect". SOM. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  3. ^ Blum, Betty J. "Gertrude Kerbis (b. 1926)." The Art Institute of Chicago. Estate of Norman Schlossman, 21 May 1996. Web. 15 Oct. 2015
  4. ^ a b c Dennis Rodkin (7 April 2018). "Trailblazing architect Gertrude Kerbis dies". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  5. ^ Seed, Suzanne (March 1974). Saturday's Child: 36 women talk about their jobs. Bantam Books. p. 5. OCLC 5462796.
  6. ^ Carter, Karen (2013-08-05), Gertrude Lempp Kerbis: Modern Architect, retrieved 2017-08-31
  7. ^ Carter, Karen (2013-08-05), Gertrude Lempp Kerbis: Modern Architect, retrieved 2017-08-31
  8. ^ Rodkin, Dennis. "Gertrude Lempp Kerbis’s Greenhouse Condos." Chicago Magazine Real Estate Neighborhoods. Chicago Magazine, 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
  9. ^ Carter, Karen. "Gertrude Lempp Kerbis: Modern Architect." Vimeo. N.p., 2013. 30 Oct. 2015.
  10. ^ "History." Chicago Women in Architecture. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2015
  11. ^ Kerbis, Gertrude. "Kerbis, Gertrude,." "Solo Development" Charles Sappenfield, 26 Jan. 1976. Audio. 15 Oct. 2015.
  12. ^ "BWAF Blog: Looking Back, Looking Ahead - Chicago Women in Architecture Celebrates 40 Years - Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation." Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. BWAF, 27 June 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015