Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg (1913–97) did not keep sketchbooks documenting his creative influences. But “Reflections,” which is designed by his son Geoffrey with fellow architect John Vinci, offers clues to Goldberg’s design inspirations in his personal possessions. His family loaned the Arts Club an impressive collection of objects, which include furniture and products that Goldberg designed himself, modern art, ancient artifacts, and drawings and photographs of his architectural projects.
Goldberg’s art collection suggests his aesthetic influences. Biomorphic sculptures by Hans Arp and Lillian Florsheim (the architect’s mother-in-law) reveal his interest in organic forms. He also owned paintings by Josef Albers, Lyonel Feininger and Paul Klee, instructors at the Bauhaus, where Goldberg’s studies shaped his approach to modernism.
The furniture, design patents and so-called fabrications on view explore structural concepts. Goldberg’s fabrications include intriguing, one-off gadgets that he created for his family and friends, like a rotating spice rack, a winch for adjusting a ceiling light’s height and a souped-up experimental automobile. (Unfortunately, determining which objects the text panels describe sometimes feels like playing hide-and-seek.)
The successful integration of Goldberg’s aesthetic and structural ideas is most evident in his designs for Marina City, which appear at the end of the show along with studies for his other buildings, including River City and Prentice Hospital. These mature projects demonstrate how the architect married innovative structural engineering to sleek, curvilinear forms.
While the Art Institute of Chicago’s ongoing Goldberg retrospective focuses on his professional output, the complementary “Reflections” offers a rare look at the personal effects and creative influences of an architect whose work defies conventional categorization.