Kevin Pierce, architect, sustainability pioneer and Wicker Park resident loses war with cancer

Date: 
05/08/2013
KPierceFormal

The formal side of Kevin Pierce

Ahead of the curve on green architecture and sustainable development, architect Kevin Kurtz Pierce, 55, longtime Wicker Park resident, lost his battle with brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme) on May 2. 

He was a humble man, self-effacing when it came to his professional accomplishments. Yet his concentration on sustainability, in the last 15 years, had him as part of the team that designed what would become the first U.S. municipal structure to be certified "Platinum" by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The building is the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT), 445 N. Sacramento Blvd., which became the country's first commercial real estate development advancing green business. 

"When we wanted to start on this Christy Webber Landscapes (CWL) location, 2900 W. Ferdinand St., we went to Doug Farr (Farr Associates)," explained Roger Post, General Manger and Business Development, CWL. "I'd watched the CCGT project and we wanted to do something like that but it had to work for a business and cost way less. 

ChristyWebberLandscape

This is the front of Christy Webber Landscapes

"We started talking in 2004, did big concept ideas with Farr and then began working with Kevin on the details and getting the job done. He came up with things that made sense. He gave sound, practical advice." 

"Kevin was Ying to Doug's Yang. Even after Kevin left Farr and Patrick (Danaher) took over the project, we would talk to him occasionally," said Christy Webber. 

"Kevin was always in the middle of a lot of stuff with a lot of very big personalities. He somehow managed all their 'noise.'" 

CWLBack

This is the more private side of Christy Webber Landscapes

My first project with Kevin was the Christy Webber job. I have never worked with anyone who was so creative and had the leadership ability to coalesce a team of people," said Sachin Anand, Principal, dbHMS. 

"I believe that his legacy for me is his inquisitiveness. That is what people got to do when working with him..be inquisitive. It brought out the best in everyone. The result was that the whole produced more than anyone part." 

Professionally generous, he is described by Ukrainian Village's Patrick Danaher, "A consummate teacher, great mentor and friend. He was my boss for almost 5 years at Farr Associates starting about 2001. He will be greatly missed." 

Kevin's designs won multiple Greenworks Awards from the City of Chicago, a Smart Growth Achievement award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and honors from the American Institute of Architects Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. 

In addition to his commercial work, Kevin designed more than 300 affordable, sustainably-designed housing units in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. 

"He leaves us with a series of accomplishments and engagements that are lasting and exciting," says Bill Abolt, Vice President/National Practice Leader Sustainability, Energy & Carbon Management, CB&I Environmental & Infrastructure which recently acquired Shaw Environmental. He knew Kevin long before Shaw, when he was Chicago's Environment Commissioner and Kevin was with Farr. 

Abolt brought Kevin into Shaw to help build a national sustainable practice beyond leed buildings. "He was a thought leader but also a doer. We looked at community plans, infrastructure and organizational operations. His largest current project was the restoration of Lincoln Park Zoo's south pond, Nature Boardwalk

"He will be missed for his engagement in and compassion for the environment and sustainability." 

During his 25-year career, Kevin worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Lohan Associates and Farr Associates before establishing his own firm. Reflective of his dry sense of  humor, he named it Emergency Picnic. Knowing that the ecological war needed to be fought on a grander scale than one green-roof at a time, he joined Shaw Environmental as Director of Sustainable Design. 

His professional affiliations included the American Institute of Architects, for which he was an Illinois Board Member; member of American Planning Association, Congress for New Urbanism, Metropolitan Planning Council, Society for College & University Planning, U.S. Green Building Council and National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition, he was an advisor to the Chicago Sustainable Business Alliance. 

After learning of his illness at the end of 2010, he decided to follow his sustainable crusade by pursuing the efforts of getting great food to many people locally. He joined Ken Dunn's Resource Center Chicago (RCC) as its Chief Operating Officer. 

"He brought cohesion to staff," explained Ken Dunn. "He brought everyone on board. We brought all our programs into one location and expanded our City Farm to 57th and Perry, starting last August. It is almost completed. Thirdly, we started working with U.S. Steel and McCaffery at 83rd and Lake Shore. 

"Kevin knew how to listen and hear one's vision. It is amazing how accomplished he was in so many things. He was a great man and we want to keep his projects going," said Dunn who is working on bringing more funds into RCC to complete projects Kevin helped start and foster. 

On the personal side

KPierce

Kevin's more informal side

Born in Boulder, CO, to Ann Dignan (née Trucksess), Kevin was adopted by James Pierce and grew up in Chico, CA. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture, graduating cum laude, in 1985 from the University of Oregon. He later attended the Professional Development Program at Harvard Graduate School of Design. 

Kevin moved to Chicago in 1986. Living in a modest house in Wicker Park, he became active with the Wicker Park Committee. But few people knew of his passion for music. Particularly fond of his banjo, the Chicago School of Folk Music was where he spent many hours learning the intricacies of pickin' and strummin.' 

"He could make musical sounds come out of any instrument he picked up," says his wife Annie Morse. "Live music in Chicago was something he really enjoyed." 

Kevin and Annie met when they both worked at SOM. She was in marketing. Their personal story begins in 1989 with a contract. "We knew how easy it was to get married and how terrible to get divorced. When you get married, you may get some counseling but then you are on your own to figure it out with no tools," explains Annie. 

Being business people, the concept of a contract meant that you would review the contract every so often and determine whether to right the course or end the relationship. They decided that was a good model for a personal relationship too. So every 5 years, they would re-up their contract. 

"Those who were most opposed to this concept were the young in love lawyers," says Annie with a chuckle. "They said that it was not legally binding." 

Last July, Kevin and Annie did become "legally" married. 

"The Pierce /Morse combo was a very special one that many people glimpsed but probably few knew or understood," says Bucktown's Sam Marts, giving insight into Kevin and his life. "It was maybe best represented by their marriage contracts. This was something that was emblematic of the way they were determined to do things their own way. To design and build their own life. They collected people...most often with people not realizing they were some how part of a new circle. The art they collected was largely about the people who made the art. Yes they enjoyed art that made them think and art they could think about together but first was art that friends made.  

"I would say Kevin was determined. He liked to project the image of an easy going guy but the list of his accomplishments are not the list of a laid back fellow. Kevin had a vision of the world he wanted to build. 

"As an architect who worked with Kevin on his house...and it was Kevin's house. I might use the house as a metaphor. Kevin turned the 'side door' or 'service door' into the front door so that guests entered right into the center of the new plan lay out. The main stair case turned its back away from the formal front door and back to the new center of the house. Facing the street the front porch was completely removed. The house was designed so that those who knew the way or were invited were welcomed right into the center of the house. 

"I have been at many a public meeting were Kevin was determined that people could WALK, or ride a BIKE, or SHARE a car. He must have offered his own car to me to share 3 or 4 times. No bit of land needed to be paved. Any parking place could be eliminated. There were never too many recycling cans. Kevin gave his time to many non-profit organizations so that he could lend his determination to the future of the organization. He tried to walk the walk."   

True to his curiosity, determination and willingness to share, Kevin began a blog in December 2010, after he had the first episode that made his slow growing tumor apparent. His writings, “There’s a Hole in My Head,” which ended on March 28, 2013, open a window into his experience, his humor and his personality. 

In addition to Annie, Kevin is survived by his mother, Ann T. Pierce, Chico, CA; sisters Alex O’Neill, of Chico, CA, and Darcy Enns, of Durham, CA; brothers Mark Pierce of Chico, CA and Jay Pierce of Seattle, WA; stepsister Lindell, of Sacramento, CA, stepbrother Brent Pierce of Coos Bay, OR; 11 much-loved nieces and nephews Jenny, Meredith, Casey, Jayne, Kellen, Maya, Lexi, Jesse, Kelsey, Maggie, and Sophia. He was preceded in death by James Pierce, his father, and niece Katie Kelley. 

A private celebration of his life is being planned later in May. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Resource Center Chicago, 222 East 135th Pl., Chicago, Illinois 60827 

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