Mark Sexton co-founded the Chicago-based firm Krueck + Sexton Architects in 1979. Since then, Krueck + Sexton has gathered acclaim for its work in exploring the leading edge of Modernism as well as Chicago’s rich architectural tradition.
In recent years, Krueck + Sexton completed work on restorations of two Ludwig Mies van der Rohe masterworks: the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive apartments and Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, home to the College of Architecture. For Sexton, Crown Hall remains Mies’ most important building, and he’s noted the thousands architecture students, educated at IIT, who’ve gone on to change cities around the world.
Some of the firm’s most visible Chicago design work can be seen in the heart of downtown. During the creation of Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Krueck + Sexton worked to construct the unique glass-block structures and shallow reflecting pool designed by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa. And the firm’s faceted glass facade for 2007’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies has become an icon of the Michigan Avenue streetwall.
Our interview with Mark Sexton reveals a bit more about his strong interests in film and music, as well as his admiration for Louis Sullivan.
1. What project during your career have you enjoyed working on the most?
The most enjoyable project is almost always our current project.
2. What was your favorite subject in school and why?
I loved the physics classes that I took both in high school and college because it is such an elegantly complex subject. I started my university education in engineering but switched to architecture because I became interested in the intersection of science and art, but I never lost my awe or interest in understanding the science of how the universe works.
3. Name your favorite Chicago building.
It’s a bit like naming your favorite limb. Since I have four limbs, I’ll name four: The Inland Steel Building, the Reliance Building, the John Hancock and Marina City.
4. What five things can you not live without?
My wife, my bike, my Linn turntable, movies and optimism.
5. If you were not an architect, what would you be?
I have always been interested in film and how a director tells a story and creates emotion through framed images. I think great directors—with their attention to composition, material and proportion—are, at the most basic, visual architects.
6. If you could collaborate with any historic Chicago architect, who it would be and why?
I would love to team with Louis Sullivan because of his amazing talent of integrating both structure and organic ornament. As the first Chicago modernist, I think he would be amazing to work with today.
7. What is Chicago’s biggest built environment challenge?
The intersection of the car, bike and pedestrian. By enabling the bike and pedestrian to become more dominant, the city would become more connected and sustainable. The planning of the last century was centered on the car, while this one will be centered on the individual.
8. What is the one project type you have not worked on yet but would like to design?
I’d be very interested in designing low-cost housing, where there is such a need for good design. We could use our experience with new materials and computer fabrications to create living spaces that are frugal yet inspiring.
9. What do you love most about this city?
The skyline. There are few cities that embrace parks, water and architecture as magically as Chicago. I love how the whole image of the city shifts with the changing seasons.
10. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright?
I’d like to have them both for dinner next Saturday evening.