Photograph by Brad Baskin
Although not trained as an
architect, Lee Bey is one of the most influential people when
it comes to Chicagos built environment. The City of
Chicagos Mayoral Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning
and Design since May 2001, Bey was the architecture critic
for the Chicago Sun-Times during the previous four years.
A Chicago native, he has taken his knowledge of the city and
architecture to City Hall, where he advises Mayor Richard
M. Daley on architecture and urban-planning issues, such as
downtown development, lakefront protection, parks construction,
and architectural preservation. Bey is also the spokesperson
for the mayor on issues that are contentious, such as the
Soldier Field reconstruction, which the mayor supports.
working with Mayor Daley, who is known for having a strong
interest in city building and making Chicago one of the greenest
cities, how much influence do you have on his policy? Do you
find yourselves always on the same page on issues?
I didnt study architecture and neither did the mayor,
but we both approach it in a similar way. Were both
natives who work to improve the city. There are times, as
an adviser, when I am able to challenge a notion or say no.
The face of public housing is drastically
changing in Chicago. Are you the mayors voice at the
table in discussions on public housing?
Yes. And the mayor feels passionate about this. As the new
housing developments get to a stage where they are about to
be approved, the mayors office weighs in heavily to
make sure that the buildings are not just attractive but that
they make sense in the neighborhood.
What has your role been with the
redevelopment of Soldier Field?
When I started in May 2001, construction hadnt begun
yet and we were still pinning down final design pointsthings
that the mayor wanted. My role originally was to see that
those tweaks got in. From that point, my role expanded to
become the mayors person making sure that all of the
processes are working and that all sides are talking to each
other. My role is sort of enforcer some days, negotiator other
days, and hand-holder other days.
Whats the biggest difference
between your prior role as critic and your current role working
with the mayor?
Compared to work with a newspaper, the stakes are higher
here. My actions or inactions can reflect on the mayor. That
was an adjustment that was tough for me to make. People assume
that what I am saying are the mayors words.
When you left the Sun-Times,
the newspaper did not replace you with a new architecture
critic. Now Chicago has only one architecture critic, Blair
Kamin [also Record contributing editor], at the Chicago
Tribune. In your mind, how important is it for daily
newspapers to have architecture critics?
I tried my darnedest to get the Sun-Times to hire someone
else and, for whatever reason, it just didnt. Its
a real loss. Blair and I were the only competing architecture
critics in the United States. Architecture critics are extremely
important, especially in these post-9/11 times. People care
more about the built environment now, and the papers need
to pick up on that and really seize the moment. The architecture
critic can be an advocate and can explain the complex world
of architecture to the layman. There has to be a place for
criticismto challenge why things are being built.