Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts

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Founded in 1956, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, based in Chicago, IL, makes project-based grants to individuals and organizations and produces public programs to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society.


The Graham Foundation was created in 1956 by a bequest from architect Ernest R. Graham. The year before his death in 1936, Graham had made a substantial financial commitment “to provide for advanced instruction and training of postgraduate work in architecture, sculpture, painting and such subjects strictly germane thereto.”

In 1955 Charles Murphy, Ernest Graham's associate and executer, organized a conference in Aspen, Colorado with the assistance of John Burchard. Participants and consultants included Pietro Belluschi, William Wurster, John Lyon Reid, Eero Saarinen, Catherine Bauer, Aline Saarinen, Rudolph Arnheim, Jimmy Ernst, Robert Iglehart, and Charles Rummel. From these meetings evolved the initial plan which led, over time, to the development of the Graham Foundation as it exists today. The foundation first opened its offices at 216 East Superior Street in Chicago and its activities were carried on by a group of advisors to the director that included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Jose Luis Sert and Sigfried Giedion.

Charles Murphy served as the Foundation’s first President and William Hartmann as the Foundation’s first Director. The character and mission of the Graham Foundation were further refined by John Entenza, who served as Director from 1960 to 1971; by Carter Manny, who directed the Foundation from 1971 through 1993; and by Richard Solomon, Director of the Foundation from 1993 to 2005. Sarah Herda assumed the role as Director in 2006.

Grant programs[edit]

The foundation’s stated and continuing mission is to develop and underwrite research, publications and exhibitions in the general field of architecture, with an emphasis on the work of emerging scholars and practicing architects in an attempt to aid in the formulation of ideas of potential importance not only to individuals in the profession, but also to the development of those facilities and skills needed to meet the expanding demands of the social environment.

In recent years, the Graham’s mission has expanded to include interdisciplinary projects in the fine arts, humanities and sciences which seek to expand the boundaries of thinking about architecture and space. This also includes a broader understanding of what architectural practice might be, including architectural history, theory and criticism, design, engineering, landscape architecture, urban planning, urban studies and related fields of inquiry.

The Graham Foundation awards grants to individuals and organizations annually for the aforementioned projects, as well as two Carter Manny Awards: one for a student at the research stage of the doctoral dissertation and one for a student at the writing stage of the doctoral dissertation.

In 2011, the foundation awarded over $500,000 to 69 individual grant awardees, including the Mobile Food Collective by Archeworks and What Is Modern: An Opinionated History of Modernism by Aaron Betsky. Over $560,000 was awarded to 47 organizations, including the Anyone Corporation for the publication of Log: Observations on Architecture and the Contemporary City and the Canadian Centre for Architecture for their exhibition, Imperfect Health.

Public programs, exhibitions, and lectures[edit]

The Graham Foundation also hosts a robust calendar of exhibitions, lectures and public programs at their Chicago office and gallery, the Madlener House. Their selection of speakers and honorees continues the same mission outlined in the foundation grant program and has been a major part of the organization’s mission since its inception.

The foundation has produced a significant program of exhibitions and lectures for over 50 years, hosting lectures by nearly every major international figure in architecture since 1955, such as Louis Kahn, Buckminster Fuller, James Stirling, Rem Koolhaas, and Thom Mayne. The exhibition history includes monographs on Pritzker Prize winners such as Kenzo Tange, Richard Meier, and Renzo Piano, among others.

Recent exhibitions have included Ceci n’est pas une rêverie: The Architecture of Stanley Tigerman (2012), Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry (2011), Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (2010) and The BIG CPH Experiment: 7 New Architectural Species from the Danish Welfare State (2007).

Lectures and events are held in the Madlener’s third floor ballroom and include speakers accompanying the exhibition schedule, grant award recipients, and distinguished members of the international architecture and design community.

Since 2010, The Graham Foundation has also hosted an ongoing series of experimental music performances and intermedia events organized by Chicago non-profit group Lampo.

Madlener House[edit]

Main article: Madlener House

Since 1963, the Madlener House has been the headquarters of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. The Madlener House is a 20th-century mansion located in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, USA. It is the work of architect Richard E. Schmidt (1865-1958) and designer Hugh M.G. Garden (1873-1961). Commissioned in 1901 and completed in 1902, the house was built as the residence for Albert Fridolin Madlener, a German-American liquor distiller and merchant, and his wife, Elsa Seipp Madlener. In 1970, The Madlener House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1973, it came under the protection of a Chicago ordinance protecting the city’s historical and architectural landmarks. The house was fully remodeled and renovated by architect Daniel Brenner (1917-1977) in 1963-64.

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