Honoring the Legacy of Celebrated Professor and Gifted Architect Jack Baker
By Amy Karagiannakis
If you’re an alum of the Illinois School of Architecture, you may have attended an event or reception at the Erlanger House in Urbana. The modernist building, designed by former Illinois School of Architecture professor Jack Baker in 1964 for Professor Margaret Erlanger, is made up of large open spaces conducive for dancing and performing. Margaret, professor of Dance at Illinois from 1948-1974, started the artists-in-residence program and would often invite professional dancers to hold faculty or guest lecturer positions. She bequeathed the Erlanger House to the University of Illinois following her death in 1975 to be used as a space for visiting artists and scholars to stay.
School of Architecture alum, Bill Tucker (BS Arch ’78, M.Arch ’81) remembers spending time in the Erlanger House with his friend and mentor, Jack Baker, “He couldn’t help students enough. He had a passion for sharing and teaching and helping people learn.” Tucker recently committed to a generous five-year pledge donation to the Jack S. Baker Memorial Fund in support of the Erlanger House. This gift will allow the School of Architecture to renovate and maintain this piece of University of Illinois history that has hosted numerous arts professionals and scholars.
Tucker describes himself as probably not being your “typical architecture grad.” He remembers sitting in a welcome session on his first day of graduate school and being told by the professor to look around the room. He recalls the professor saying, “only 50% of you will graduate, and only 50% of those of you who graduate will actually become practicing architects.” Upon graduation in 1981, Tucker accepted a job outside of the architecture profession to work full time at a nuclear power plant construction project in Clinton, IL. He spent the next 15 years working in the last phase of nuclear power plant construction in the United States. In 2000, Tucker moved to London with his family and accepted a position with Bechtel moving into civil/infrastructure and rail systems design and construction work. He recently led construction of the central operating section of the new Elizabeth line of the London Underground, an £8 billion project. As a principal vice-president of Bechtel, Bill is currently directing a project with Texas Central to develop a high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston. Privately financed, this development once completed will mark the inaugural introduction of Japanese Shinkansen technology into the United States.
Bill Tucker story continued
When asked about how his education and experiences at Illinois prepared him for his career, Tucker shared, “I never thought I’d be building power plants, or building railroads, or digging tunnels.” He really valued, not just the architectural education he received at Illinois, but the mentorship from so many influential professors who were at the School of Architecture during his time there. “They taught you about architecture, but they also taught you about being a person and how you think about things. How to think spatially, how to use logic to solve problems, the process of design, how to articulate your thoughts both graphically and through written word, the art of constructive criticism, and the importance of having a strong work ethic. I’ve been able to use those things I’ve learned throughout my career.” Tucker spent a year in Versailles through the Illinois Architecture study abroad program and emphasized how valuable and influential that experience was in his family’s later decision to take his career international.
Bill Tucker first donated to the Jack S. Baker Memorial Fund following Baker’s death in 2013 and has continued to support that fund annually ever since in his honor. This most recent gift was an easy decision for Tucker when he and his wife, Susan were considering where to prioritize their next philanthropic efforts. “It was because of my affinity for Professor Baker and the School’s role in my career’s successes. I was at Erlanger House…I can’t tell you how many times. The School hosted guest lectures and social events. I know it like the back of my hand. A bricks and mortar guy myself, I view Erlanger House as a tremendous resource for the School of Architecture and the University as a whole. And it’s a legacy of an individual that was a great influence on me while I was going through school.”
The success and prestige of the Illinois School of Architecture is the result of the generosity and support of our friends and alumni. If you’d like to learn more about how you can support the renovation and maintenance of one of Professor Jack Baker’s most cherished designs or other giving initiatives, please contact Joshua Hall, associate director of advancement.