Buildings and Brush Strokes: The Art of a North Shore Architect
As a retired architect and active painter, Voy Madeyski captures buildings and objects with extraordinary form and function.
If you've dropped by Glencoe Roast Coffee for a pick-me-up recently, you may have noticed several bright enamel paintings, of cityscapes and canyons, hanging from the cafe walls.
Ask the owner who painted them, and she'll tell you it was Voy Madeyski, a Polish artist, architect and Highland Park native for over 40 years.
After studying architecture in Warsaw, Poland, traveling through Europe and marrying in Paris, France, Madeyski and his wife, Duhata, vacationed to Chicago, in 1966, where they drove a rented convertible from downtown to the south shore, in a short trip that changed everything.
“Instead of going down the highway,” Madeyski recalled, “[we went] down the side streets, all the way to an Indiana beach.”
Looking out toward the Chicago skyline, just a speck in the distance, Madeyski realized this was an architect's town—his kind of town.
“I saw the skyline from far away,” he said. “There was one big sunflower sitting on the beach we were at. It was growing big and happy, getting plenty of sun."
With all the ambition that comes with youth, he and his wife, also an architect, made their way back to State Street, downtown, turned in their rental car at Marina City, and started a new life together.
In the decades to come, Madeyski worked for renowned Chicago firms Fridstein & Fitch, C.F. Murphy Assoc., and Perkins & Will, where he designed the Henry Reuss Federal Plaza in Milwaukee, Wis., and the Dearborn Subway Station, Chicago.
By 1987 he started his own firm, Voy Madeyski Architects Ltd., expanding on the methods he learned from great architects of 20th Century: naturalist Frank Loyd Wright and modernists Mies van der Rohe (Mies, for short) and Le Corbusier.
“Architecture is [half] art,” Madeyski, now in his mid-70s, opined. “I was persuaded into architecture, because I knew I'd never make any money as a painter.”
You can see his style—economical, unpretentious and very much in the vain of Mies, who argued, “Less is more” and "God is in the details"—in his structures throughout Egypt, the Midwest and north shore.
“Mies' architecture was based on emphasizing structure and modularity,” he elaborated on the architect, who more or less, invented the corporate skyscraper with the IBM Building in Chicago and Seagram Building in New York. “His buildings are subjected to a kind of universal system.”
It was a great way to teach beginner architects how to design, he added, removed from ornamentation, religious symbolism and political hierarchy of earlier forms.
While principal for his firm, Madeyski designed the Belvedere condominium in Winnetka, the Terraces of Highland Park and several single-family homes in Glencoe, Northfield and other suburbs.
He stands by his favorite elements of design, glass, brick and steel, but hopes to see a more malleable architecture in the future, much like the structures of architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago.
"He's a contemporary, I admire him," Madeyski said. "Thanks to the computer, his drawings are possible."
Returning to Passion
Madeyski learned to paint, his self-proclaimed passion, from his father.
“It starts with a big canvas and a vague notion of what to do,” he said of the process. “Not knowing how [the painting] might end—there's excitement and discovery.”
He's painted the Tetra Mountains in Poland, which he hiked as young man, and houses and boat wharfs, dense thickets and craggy rocks.
“It's the most beautiful—nature-made architecture,” he said with certainty.
How so, this reporter asked?
“You're asking the wrong person,” he answered. “You should ask God.”
In a piece that represents Hurricane Katrina—a whirlpool of blue splashes with a blood-red eye—Madeyski paints nature in a primitive, yet colorful, state.
In his paintings of architecture, buildings engulf one another, collide and even morph into butterflies, a world apart from the elegant functionality of his actual buildings and structures.
But maybe that's what Madeyski meant by architecture as being half art? The other half—bound by the demands of space and time, materials and environment, engineers and client—is reality.
Either way, freedom exists in both. And now that he's retired, it fuels his painting.
Instead of using brushes, as he did years before, Madeyski uses scraping tools and squeeze bottles full of enamel paint. The splotchy quality and often chaotic lines of his artwork are the effect of these tools and the abstract way he portrays structures.
“I believe my painting has become more complicated, more detailed,” he surmised. “It's one step closer into detail.”
He also finds solace in front of the canvas. Having been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2003—which causes him to shake uncontrollably and complicates his walking, movement and coordination—he takes medication to suppress it but knows to use his drug-stabilized time wisely.
“I walk and talk, read and do other things,” he said joyfully, “and I can paint, [just] not as efficiently as before. When the medication wears off, I become rigid."
He remains optimistic, though he's heard the statistics: five years, 10 years, 15 years to live, max. Who knows, anyways?
"I don't know any architects that paint," he said, looking at his paintings and sketches scattered throughout his house. "I have done so much and accumulated so much, something should be done."