“Larger than life.” A phrase that seems to come up in every conversation about Brad Lynch. His imposing physical stature aside, the descriptor always seems to be a reference to his towering intellect or his indomitable joie de vivre. Now in his absence, a void. A deep feeling of loss for conversations not had, drinks not shared, buildings not built. At the same time, we—those of us at Brininstool + Lynch (B+L)—find ourselves thankful for the time we knew him and all the richness he brought to our world.
Brad didn’t care for small talk. Speaking with him meant learning something you didn’t know you needed to know. His deadpan jokes often slipped past everyone at the table, with the only indication that you’d missed something being his sly, endearing smile after the fact. Few matched his encyclopedic knowledge of all things fine art–related, balanced with a wealth of esoteric classic cinema trivia. Never afraid to be provocative, he was never shy with vocal opinions on everything, from who were rising young artists to watch to the best place to get a well-poured martini about anywhere in the country. He was the person you wanted at your party, to be seated next to you at dinner, to design your house.
Successful architects have the distinct pleasure of leaving behind a physical legacy that continues to affect the world long after their passing. Brad’s extensive list of built projects includes no less than landmark museums, thoughtful institutional spaces, and a string of award-winning private residences. In his 30-plus years of practice, he distilled an uncompromising, contemporary modernist style. Not having a pedigree in the lineage of Miesian modernism, so ingrained in Chicago, Brad’s work has its own language: clean but not necessarily minimal, reserved yet rich in detail and material, and never simply generically modern. He joked that his signature was a particular way of detailing an open wood stair, seen in many of his projects. The real signature, though, was the calmness that comes with a refined palette, considered natural light, and effortless procession between spaces. A calmness that is in so many ways intangible, yet ever present in his work.
Brad’s built legacy belies perhaps the greater impact that he had on the field. As an employer, educator, and mentor he touched the lives of countless young architects. By keeping his practice purposefully small, he was able to pass along knowledge in much the way he had gained it, through raw experience and direct mentorship. Along with David Brininstool, he gave every project passing through the office direct oversight, giving the staff unencumbered access to their knowledge. In a city so saturated with mega-firms, this sort of old-school informal education is priceless and impactful.
My personal experience with Brad as a mentor went far beyond the professional minutiae of architecture practice. I met Brad when we both served on an award jury, much to my delight, having admired his work for years. I had recently started a practice with my father, and over the next few years Brad was gracious enough to refer work that B+L was not pursuing. This alone was life changing. When my father died, Brad was the first person I called seeking advice as my practice crumbled before my eyes. He listened. We drank some scotch, and he gave sound guidance. Eventually he would hire me, a job I had first applied for 13 years earlier as an undergraduate. A co-worker who had also found their way to B+L after a tragic loss joked that perhaps Brad was “collecting grieving young architects.” I like to think that it was at least partially true. He was able to see the pain and provide some measure of assurance and stability in a dark time.
Though it was emotionally hard to write this text, it was not difficult to think of things to say about Brad. In the past few weeks, stories of his life have been shared, retold, and memorized. Each builds on an image of a man who lived a life in full measure. In the telling of these tales, we are relieved as much as we are reminded of our collective loss. Whether it be the art that Brad loved and championed or the spaces he designed, we are also reminded to see and appreciate the beauty in the world. And, perhaps more importantly, we are charged with continuing his life’s work of making the world more beautiful.
Matthew Messner is a designer at Brininstool + Lynch in Chicago and a former Midwest editor of AN.