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Herbert, Charles E. “Chick”

Published onAug 18, 2021
Herbert, Charles E. “Chick”

(October 16, 1925 – April 24, 2010)

Quick Facts

Architectural engineering alumnus Charles E. Herbert influenced the architecture of Des Moines and Iowa State. His on-campus projects included the 1960’s Wallace Wilson Dormitory complex, the 1978 Design Center, the 1984 addition to the Parks Library, the 1986 Black Engineering Building, the Memorial Union’s south expansion and the Alumni Center, among many others.

Charles E. Herbert was arguably one of the most influential Iowa architects in the latter third of the twentieth century. His many contributions include the architecture created under his leadership, the firms formed by former employees, and the numerous programs and organizations with which he was involved.

Charles E. Herbert, known to all as “Chick”, was born in Savanna, Illinois and had two older brothers. Later his family moved to Macomb, Illinois where his father owned a menswear store. It is said that this is where he picked up his impeccable taste in clothing. Chick’s higher education started at Rice University, followed by a commission as an ensign in the Navy. He enrolled at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) and graduated in Architectural Engineering in 1951. During his time in school he lettered in basketball and was married to Adrienne, his wife for 47 years and mother of their 6 sons. After his graduation Chick honored a family commitment and spent a year as a wholesale beer delivery man before beginning his career in architecture.

Chick’s architectural career began at Flad and Associates in Madison, Wisconsin. Not being happy with the corporate structure of a large firm, Chick moved to Des Moines and joined Karl Keffer and Associates for several years. He was joined there by a friend from the Wisconsin firm, John Locke. In 1961 Chick and John left to form Charles Herbert and Associates. Their office was located behind the arched windows on the 7th floor of the Richardsonian Romanesque old Bankers Trust Building at 6th and Locust in Des Moines.

Charles Herbert and Associates shaped much of the architecture of Des Moines and central Iowa. One of the more notable projects was the Des Moines Civic Center. After a bond issue for a publicly-funded auditorium failed, a group of civic leaders commissioned Charles Herbert and Associates to come up with a design that would inspire donations from the private sector. Chick’s design for a bold modern structure that related to the plan of the downtown grid was successful at encouraging $9 million in contributions to make the project go. The Civic Center and the adjoining Nollen Plaza served as a catalyst for decades of much needed downtown redevelopment.

Another significant project that shaped downtown Des Moines was Meredith Corporation’s new corporate headquarters. Inspired by the master planning of New York architect Mario Gandelsonas to create a western Gateway Park to revitalize the entrance into the city, Meredith was convinced to build a “gateway structure” to define the west end of this future park. The resulting invitingly modern and energy efficient building was awarded one of several national AIA design awards that Chick’s firm has won.

In 1987 Chick expanded the leadership structure of his firm by taking on three partners and forming Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture (later HLKB Architecture). This firm grew in size and stature throughout the 1990’s, approaching 50 employees and dominating the state, regional and national design awards. This culminated in 2001 by the firm being selected to receive the “AIA Architecture Firm Award” by the national AIA. This annual award goes to a firm that has produced distinguished architecture consistently for at least 10 years and it is the AIA’s highest honor.

As remarkable as Chick was as a designer, this was overshadowed by the effect that he had on his employees. In a calm, quiet and humble manner he inspired his staff to create their best work. He had tremendous faith in young staffers and would turn them loose on projects with only occasional input. Numerous highly successful firms have been started or are now being run by people who started their careers with Chick.

Over the years Chick was a strong supporter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He was instrumental in starting AIA Iowa’s design awards program which helped to foster and inspire design excellence in the state. In turn, the national AIA made Chick a Fellow in the organization (FAIA), and the Iowa Chapter awarded him its first Gold Medal of Honor in 1991.

The Des Moines Art Center was another of Chick’s passions. He spent decades on the Art Center’s board and designed many remodelings and additions. The Adrienne and Charles Herbert Galleries are named in their honor.

Chick made many contributions to his alma mater, Iowa State University. His projects included the 1960’s Wallace Wilson Dormitory complex, the 1978 Design Center, the 1984 addition to the Parks Library, the 1986 Black Engineering Building, the Memorial Union’s south expansion, and the Alumni Center, among many others. He was an avid Cyclone sports supporter and served on numerous boards and committees.

In 2007 Chick was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor given to Iowa State alumni by the ISU Alumni Association. Many of Chick’s employees have taught at ISU and former partner Cal Lewis served as chair of the Department of Architecture.

The legacy of Charles Herbert will endure for ages. His influence on his family, his profession, his employees, his state, and his university serves to inspire us all. He didn’t see himself as a prima donna or a “starchitect”. The slogan of his successor firm, HLKB, was “to do common things uncommonly well”.

Following Adrienne’s death in 1997, Chick re-met an old mutual friend, Marilyn Connelly, and they were married for 11 years until her premature death in 2009. Chick passed away unexpectedly while dining with friends a year later, at age 84.

The Charles E. "Chick" Herbert Lecture was established in 2010 in memory of 1951 Iowa State architectural engineering alumnus. It is part of the ISU Architecture Advisory Council Lecture Series.

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

Charles E. “Chick” Herbert’s obituary was published in the Des Moines Register on April 27, 2010; Jay Pridmore, Des Moines Architecture and Design (2015); David Elbert, “Design ‘Orchestrator’ Herbert Inspired Many”, Des Moines Register, May 10, 2010; his firm’s records are in the University Archives at ISU.

J. Mark Schmidt AIA CSI. Mark worked with Chick’s firms for over 35 years as an architect and specifications writer. He served for years on the editorial board of the “Iowa Architect” magazine and was active in the Construction Specifications Institute.

Schmidt, J. Mark. “Herbert, Charles E. ‘Chick’.” ISU Biographical Dictionary. Iowa State University, 2017.

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