Elizabeth Scheu Close, FAIA
Elizabeth “Lisl” Scheu Close died in Minneapolis on November 29, 2011 at the age of ninety-nine.
Lisl was, quite literally, born to modern architecture. The year of her birth, her parents commissioned architect Adolf Loos to design a house in Vienna. The Scheu House, scandalous in its unadorned stepped form and inclusion of roof terraces – became a gathering place for the Scheus’ circle of influential friends and a magnet for the architecturally curious. Lisl credited the experience of growing up in the house with her decision to become an architect – a modern architect.
She began her architectural training at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna but left Europe in 1932 for the US where she continued her studies at MIT receiving her B.Arch in 1934 and her M.Arch in 1935. She was the only woman in her graduate school class. At MIT, she met classmate Winston Close, who would become her husband in 1938.
Committed to modern design, Lisl sought work with a firm that shared her aesthetic: William Lescaze would not hire her because she would be a distraction in the drafting room; Richard Neutra agreed to employ her if she would pay him for the privilege; Oskar Stonorov hired her. For Stonorov, she worked on Westfield Acres, a PWA housing project in Camden, New Jersey.
For fifty years at Close Associates, the Minneapolis firm she established with her husband in 1938, she specialized in the design of residential architecture, laboratories and medical facilities. One of her proudest architectural accomplishments was the award-winning Gray’s Biological Freshwater Institute in Excelsior, Minnesota.
During the war years, Lisl designed prefab housing for the Page & Hill Company of Shakopee, Minnesota. In 1950, one of her designs was selected by the US State Department to represent the “Typical American House” at the German Industrial Exhibition in Berlin. The house was a major propagandistic success for the US with over 40,000 people passing through it each day.
Lisl did it all – architect, businesswoman, musician, wife, and mother – at a time when it simply wasn’t done. Yet, she always shied away from being labeled a role model for women in the field preferring to be known as “an architect who happens to be a woman.” But trailblazer she was — in her career choice, educational achievements, modern design work, contributions to her profession, and resolute determination to reach her goals. When we remember Lisl that is what we should not forget.
– Jane King Hession
Relevant Links:See Elizabeth Close’s profile in the BWAF Dynamic National Archive Read Elizabeth Close’s obituary in the Star Tribune Visit an online exhibit of the residential architecture of Elizabeth and Winston Close