John Macsai was born John Lusztig in Budapest, Hungary, on May 20, 1926. He enroll in the Atelier Art School, now the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. He graduated in 1944 and was primed to become a successful illustrator or designer. During World War II, while Hungary was occupied by Germany, Macsai was sent to a work camp where he "built airfields, cleared forests, and starved." In 1945 Lusztig was liberated by the American army. He enrolled at the Polytechnic University in Budapest to study engineering, which included architecture as a discipline. But anti-Semitism was still prevalent in Hungary, and after his experiences during the Holocaust, Lusztig no longer wanted a German name. So he changed his surname to Macsai (pronounced MAX-eye), a rough approximation of "Macsa," the Transylvanian town of his ancestry.
The architect Bob Diamant, then a classmate of Macsai's, told him about the Hillel Foundation, which offered scholarships for Jewish-European students to finish their higher education in the U.S. Macsai applied and was eventually accepted; seeing the specter of communism slowly overtaking Hungary, he decided to make the journey west. He went to Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, an institution that, as Macsai pointed out to Blum, is a "double lie," because "it's not Miami, Florida, and it's not Oxford, England." With the help of an ORT scholarship, he soon transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he obtained his B.A. in architecture in 1949.
From Hungary to Chicago
Right out of college, Macsai got a job at Holabird & Root, the Chicago architecture firm known for the kind of simultaneously classy and colossal buildings you see in old movies, like the Board of Trade and the original Soldier Field. He then quickly jumped ship to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. He stayed for four years, then worked short stints at various other firms, doing renderings and side projects all the while. In 1955, the architect Ray Stuermer offered Macsai a 20 percent partnership in a new firm he was starting, and Macsai accepted. From 1955 until 1970, the firm of Hausner & Macsai was responsible for many buildings all over the Chicago area. In fact, it's Hausner's design that currently wraps around 1150 N. Lake Shore Drive. Even though it's only half of their intended project, the tower won the duo an award from the American Institute of Architects.
From 1970 until 1975 Macsai worked in partnership with Wendell Campbell. Macsai founded his own office, John Macsai and Associates, in 1975. Most notably, he designed and built numerous apartment buildings in prominent locations in the Chicago area for several developers. Additionally, Macsai was one of the few architects who was interested in housing for the elderly and disabled and he subsequently became an authority on the subject. Always an artist, Macsai also established a reputation early in his career for his masterful architectural renderings. He held a professorship at the University of Illinois, Chicago, from 1970 until 1996, and is now professor emeritus. In 1991 Macsai merged his office with O'Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi and Peterson. He retired from OWPP&P in 1999. Macsai was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1978.
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