I am sure many of my readers have driven through neighborhoods in Naperville and noticed some pretty unusual home designs. Some of these homes have really sharp angles, a protruding “bow” or balcony, asymmetrical rooflines and orange doors.These homes were designed and built by Chicago native, Don Tosi (1923 – 2009). The Tosi Collection at Naper Settlement is one of the most fascinating collections in the Archive. When Tosi was five or six, he spent over a year with his grandparents in Italy surrounded by Old World architecture. In 1941 he graduated from Morton High School in Cicero and enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Technology. He started a program in Architecture. Tosi also enrolled in classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Tosi’s education was cut short by World War II.
Throughout the war Tosi corresponded with Bruce Goff, a mentor he’d met at the Academy. Goff encouraged Tosi’s studies and asked him to join a “new” design firm dedicated to a new school of organic, architecture called Kebyar. Kebyar is the Balinese word for “the process of flowering.”
Goff was commissioned to build a house for artist and Academy instructor, Ruth Sickle Ford. The Ford House or “Roundhouse” looks like a pumpkin and is constructed of found items like Quonset hut girders, marine rope, coal and glass chunks and gunner bays from airplanes. Goff asked his young, 25-year-old prodigy Tosi to be his General Contractor. It was this benchmark that set Tosi’s design and philosophy in building.
The post war building boom supplied Tosi with plenty of work. Because he had a family to support, the demands of architectural schooling were replaced by self-study and hard work. Building and designing close to the Ford Home in Aurora, Tosi’s unusual designs fit into the landscape.
In Naperville he built many cookie-cutter homes of the split level and Georgian revival type. Tosi’s unusual Naperville designs were the direct inspiration of Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff and were in demand by artistically inspired clients from Chicago who wanted to live in something different than the run-of-the-mill tract housing of the suburbs.
A Friends of Tosi meeting will be held from 7-9M on Mon., Sept 26, at Koten Chapel, 329 E. School St., on the campus of North Central College. Anyone interested to learn more about Don Tosi is encouraged to attend.