Chicago historic preservation champion Richard Driehaus dies at age 78


Chicago historic preservation champion Richard Driehaus dies at age 78

Richard H. Driehaus (Andy Goodwin/DePaul University)

Chicago investor, philanthropist, classical architecture enthusiast, and advocate of historic preservation Richard Driehaus has died at the age of 78. The news was first reported yesterday afternoon by the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, and other local media outlets. As his executive assistant relayed to Crain’s, Driehaus passed away on Tuesday, March 9, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage at his Chicago home the previous evening.

Driehaus championed both personal projects, like a museum of decorative arts, as well as encouraged Chicago institutions to closely consider design when executing public projects. As the founder of the eponymous Driehaus Capital Management, one of the largest investment firms in Chicago, he used his wealth to fund local theater, community organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, journalistic endeavors, and historic preservation causes, especially the preservation of 19th century buildings.

Driehaus was an alumnus of DePaul University in Chicago, where the former College of Commerce was renamed as the Richard H. Driehaus College of Business in 2012.

In 2007, Driehaus opened the Richard H. Driehaus Museum of Decorative Arts to the public. The museum, housed in an opulent neoclassical mansion on Chicago’s Near North Side, is devoted to art, design, and architecture from the 19th century to the present. The Gilded Age manse, designed by Edward J. Burling for wealthy banker Samuel M. Nickerson, wasn’t in great shape when he bought it, however. Driehaus spent his own money to restore its luster and convert the palatial 1883 structure into a museum that stewards part of his personal collection of art and objects.

exterior of a historic chicago mansion
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, housed in a landmark Chicago mansion acquired by the late investor and philanthropist in 2003, opened to the public in 2008. (Alexander Vertikoff/ © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 2014)

As his causes and museum may indicate, Driehaus was enamored with neoclassical buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but he didn’t care much for modern architecture. According to a 2007 profile in Chicago magazine, Driehaus explained why he declined to participate in the fight to save Mies’ Farnsworth House, a modernist icon:

“The problem is there’s no poetry in modern architecture,” he told the magazine. “There’s money—but no feeling or spirit or soul. Classicism has a mysterious power. It’s part of our past and how we evolved as human beings and as a civilization. It’s more organic, more individual, and more interesting.”

Driehaus did support new traditional projects, however. His Driehaus Architecture Prize, established in 2003 at the University of Notre Dame, is awarded annually to practicing architects who design in a classical or traditional style. Past winners of the coveted international prize include Léon Krier, Jacquelin T Robertson, Michael Graves, Robert A.M. Stern, and 2020 recipient, Ong-ard Satrabhandhu.

News of his death spawned Twitter eulogies from Chicagoans, Chicago institutions, and architects across the country. Read below for more on Driehaus’s life and legacy: