Lessard Design

For the third time in two years, Chicago-based architect Lucien Lagrange, AIA, has bounced to a new firm. Lagrange, 73, recently announced his partnership with Washington, D.C.–based design studio Lessard Design. The decision to create the Lucien Lagrange Studio of Lessard Designa branded studio within the firm, was a mutual one. Lagrange will serve as a principal of design and head the new Chicago office.

Lagrange, known for his classical style in designing high-end, luxury residential buildings—including Chicago’s Ritz-Carlton Residences and New York’s 535 West End Avenue—has moved from firm to firm since the dissolution of his own Lucien Lagrange Architects in 2010.

Ritz-Carlton Residences in Chicago
Lucien Lagrange Architects Ritz-Carlton Residences in Chicago

Lagrange began his work with Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, becoming a partner after 17 years. He then branched off with his own firm in 1985, where he went on to establish his name as a successful designer with a series of high-profile commissions and about 80 associates at the firm's peak. After dealing with a bitter public divorce from his wife, high-end interior designer and business partner, Jessica Lagrange, in 2009, Lagrange’s good fortune sank and his firm filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Since 2010, Lagrange has set up a Chicago studio in his name through Washington, D.C.–based VOA Associates (2011–2012), Dallas-based HKS Architects (2012–2013), and now Lessard Design.

“We will expand tremendously region-wise and architecture-wise…It was one of my goals really to expand the kind of architecture I’m doing,” Lagrange says. The architect plans to work more on the East and West Coasts, with projects for Lessard Design lined up already in Washington, D.C., New York, and China. He said that his decision to join Lessard was influenced by the fact that the firm has done work in China, where Lagrange has also pursued projects.

"Based on his superb reputation in the industry, Lucien brings a lot to the firm and the firm is offering full support of out resources in our offices," said Lessard principal of business development Dennis Dench.

Park Tower on Chicago's Magnificent Mile
Lucien Lagrange Architects Park Tower on Chicago's Magnificent Mile

“The issue was should I come to Washington, or should we open an office together in Chicago,” Lagrange says. Although the architect wants to broaden his project base geographically, he chose to keep his office in Chicago, saying it would be easier to do projects on both coasts from there. “I know everybody in Chicago, and everybody knows me,” he adds.

Lagrange plans to continue his work in the Beaux Arts mode of his native Paris. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing,” he says, noting that he feels no pressure to change his style. “The clients come to me because of what I do.” Lagrange is the one bringing ideas to the firm, according to Dench.

Lessard Design is known for its work on very low-rise residential homes, while Lagrange has focused more on high-rise structures throughout his career. Lagrange admits that he hasn’t done many projects like this, but that expanding his repertoire will be helpful in improving his design approach.

"Lagrange's style complements our portfolio, which includes several high-rise buildings," said Dench, adding that Lagragne's own portfolio demonstrates his ability to design a wide range of buildings.

Despite being a legendary figure in the profession for 45 years, Lagrange claims he still feels like an outsider to the architectural industry. “I’m not going to get an AIA award for doing a classical building. It’s not modern, and therefore, it shouldn't be done," he says. "People think architecture should be distinctly modern. I’m told I shouldn't be doing what I’m doing, but it doesn't matter. I know what I’m doing and this is what I want to do."