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Once described as a “diminutive woman in a hard hat,” Elizabeth “Lisl” Scheu Close (1912–2011) was not only Minnesota’s first modern architect, she was a trailblazer in her field. During a 50-year career she designed hospitals, laboratories, and more than 250 handsome, efficient houses in Minnesota and beyond. She also created numerous designs for prefabricated houses, and more than 10,000 dwellings were produced from her plans.
Born in Vienna, Austria, to a politically and socially well-connected family, Close was raised in an early modern house designed by architect Adolf Loos. According to instructor Jane King Hession, the house attracted visitors from around the world, and this influenced Close’s decision to become an architect.
When it became necessary for Close to leave Vienna as the Nazis rose to power, a family friend arranged her safe passage to America and her education at MIT. In 1936, she moved to Minnesota where she, with husband Winston Close, established the state’s first architecture practice dedicated to modern design in 1938.
In addition to exploring her formative years in Vienna, Hession will place Close’s career as an architect within the historical context of other women in the field. The course includes a visit to the exhibition Elizabeth Scheu Close: A Life in Modern Architecture, of which Hession is the curator, as well as a walking tour of University Grove, a neighborhood in Falcon Heights where 15 houses designed by Close stand.
Recommended: Jane King Hession, Elizabeth Scheu Close: A Life in Modern Architecture (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).
Jane King Hession, M.Arch, University of Minnesota, is an architectural historian. In addition to her recent book on Close, she is coauthor of John H. Howe, Architect: From Taliesin Apprentice to Master of Organic Design (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years (Gibbs Smith, 2007), and Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design. (Afton Historical Society Press, 1999).
Offered in cooperation with the Goldstein Museum of Design.