James R. DeStefano FAIA, FALA, RIBA

We are deeply saddened by the loss of James R DeStefano FAIA, FALA, RIBA | March 19, 1938- August 30, 2022.    

Jim DeStefano, age 84, passed away at his home in Evanston, Illinois, on Tuesday, August 30, 2022.  A native of Chicago, Jim graduated from DePaul Academy High School in Lincoln Park and studied architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. While at IIT, Jim was in one of the last classes to study under the leadership of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. After graduation in 1961, Jim joined the prestigious architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill where he quickly rose in its ranks to Associate in 1964, Associate Partner in 1967 and General Partner in 1973. At the time, Jim was the youngest design partner ever made at SOM at the age of 35. While at SOM, Jim spent much of his early years working alongside Walter Netsch on institutional projects such as the University of Illinois’ Chicago Campus, the master plan and the design of multiple buildings at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA and the expansion of Northwestern University’s Campus in Evanston. He eventually led the design for dozens of projects including the library at Wells College in Aurora, NY, Three First National Plaza in Chicago, Pillsbury Corporate Headquarters in Minneapolis, MN, the Arthur Anderson Training Center in St. Charles, the City Place Office Center in Hartford, CT, the Caterpillar Training Center in Peoria, the 1515 Poydras Office Building in New Orleans, LA, the Gateway IV Office Building along the Chicago River, amongst multiple other projects across the US, Mexico, United Kingdom and the Middle East. He won national, state and local design awards for his design for the Menninger Foundation Mental Health Campus in Topeka, KA, Industrial Trust and Savings Bank in Muncie, IN, the Westinghouse Research and Development Center in Churchill Borough, PA, First Wisconsin Bank in Milwaukee, WI, and the Wells College library in Aurora, NY. In 1974, Jim was named managing director for SOM’s office in Tehran, Iran. He spent 3 years designing a national university in Tehran and master planning a new town for 280,000 people in the Persian Gulf region for Reza Shah Pahlavi, before returning to the Chicago office in 1976 to continue his career. In 1979, Jim was a founding member and director of the SOM Foundation, which administered and awarded grants and annual fellowships. He was named to the Board of Trustees for the Chicago Architectural Foundation. In the 1981 November issue of Life Magazine, Jim was featured in an article on the “Master Builders of the Windy City” along with Bruce Graham, Helmut Jahn, John Vinci, Stanley Tigerman and Public Works Commissioner, Jerome Butler. In 1982, Jim became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and in 1983, he was named the Managing Director for SOM’s office in London. Jim moved to London and spent five years building SOM’s office up to 300 employees and managing the design of the Bishops Gate, Kings Cross and Canary Wharf mega projects in London.

In 1988, Jim left SOM and opened DeStefano + Goettsch in 1989 which became DeStefano + Partners in 1991. Over the next 20 years, Jim built the 3rd largest architectural firm in Chicago specializing in commercial, residential, institutional, retail and master planning. DeStefano + Partners designed over 150 buildings in the Chicago area and was responsible for the River East and Central Station masterplans. Some of the most notable projects were the development of a prototype elementary school for the Chicago Public Schools including Payton College Prep, Westinghouse High School and others. 

His design work also includes the Puerto Rican Gateway flags on Division Street which recently became a historic landmark, the LBGQ Gateway monuments on Halsted Street, and the lighted bridges over the Kennedy for the 1998 Democratic National Convention. In the 2000’s DeStefano + Partners maintained offices in London, Los Angeles and Naples, FL. DeStefano + Partners partnered with Ricardo Bofill’s office in Barcelona on the 77 West Wacker Office Tower and the Citadel Center at 131 S. Dearborn along with Santiago Calatrava on the design of the Chicago Spire located at the mouth of the Chicago River, which was never constructed. In 2008 DeStefano + Partners received the coveted AIA Firm of the Year Award. 

Jim has been a Consulting Principal at Lothan Van Hook DeStefano Architecture since the firm’s founding in 2011. His recent design work includes 1101 South Wabash, Judge Doyle Square in Madison, WI, East Moline, IL Master Plan and City Hall Concept Design in Lansing, MI.   Over his 60+ year career, Jim DeStefano has designed and managed major commercial, residential and civic projects in the United States and internationally achieving recognition with the highest honors in the industry for design and technical excellence.  Jim took pride in his many built projects in Chicago and his service within the architectural community.  He has mentored many young architects in the architectural profession and participated in student programs, HACIA, ACE mentor program and other civic organizations.  Jim believed and supported minority and women owned businesses.  Jim was a kind, considerate and generous human being. He will be greatly missed. To those who have worked with Jim throughout the years, we will all remember and cherish good memories of him.

The DeStefano family held services privately. In lieu of flowers, at Jim’s request donations can be made on his behalf to the Chicago Architectural Foundation www.architecture.org/join-give/give/donations/


One South Dearborn

Dearborn Plaza

200 West Randolph Street

Elmhurst Art Museum

State Emergency Operations Center

Fountainhead Quad Cities Master Plan

Illinois State Capitol Complex Master Plan

River North Storefront and Lobby Renovation

Judge Doyle Square Master Plan

Regatta and Chandler Residential Towers