Bea Lehman: It’s All How You Think

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Republished from an article in the Chicago Tribune on April 21, 2016 by Community Contributor Peter Brancato.

A retired architect, Bea Lehman now spends much of her time on her favorite hobby; ceramics. Seemingly, it would require a similar set of skills to be successful as both an artist and an architect, but Bea disagrees. “Maybe not skills,” she ponders, “but thinking.”

Bea has been thinking about her skills since she was a young girl. In fact, she knew exactly what she wanted to do when she was just 12. “I’m going to become an architect,” she said to herself. “Why I said it, I don’t know. I just knew it was something I loved and I thought I would do well.”

And well she did. She worked for famed architect I. M. Pei for over two decades and became Associate Partner in the award-winning firm now known as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. She worked internationally in cities such as Luxembourg and on the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C, but she’s proudest of the work she did in the city of her birth, Paris. “Our best known project was the work we did at the Louvre,” Bea states proudly. In the mid 1980’s, the museum was completely remodeled. But it wasn’t without controversy. Bea and her team worked on the famous pyramid that occupies the courtyard. “It took years to get built and approved and liked,” Bea recalls. “At first people were scared, they didn’t know what it was.” Many wondered why a glass pyramid was being built and worried it would look out of place. “And then, when it was finally built,” Bea smiles, “everyone suddenly loved it.”

Bea retired from architecture after 24 years and remained in New York, the city she called home since her family moved from France when she was 10. But she realized it was not where she wanted to spend the rest of her life. At the time her daughter was living in Lincoln Park and she sent her mom an advertisement featuring a new high-rise retirement community that was being built in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. One glance at the brochure and Bea knew The Clare was the place for her. In fact, she was one of the first residents. “I never saw my apartment until I moved in,” she says. The building was still under construction. So, was that a concern? “No,” she states flatly, “I’m an architect, so it didn’t worry me. I saw the plans.” Bea quickly knew she made the right choice. “It seemed ideal for me because I moved out here without really knowing anyone and we all started living here at the same time so it was a ready-made group of friends.” In addition to the community, Bea loves the prime location, the access to Chicago’s main attractions and the endless activities The Clare offers. “To find a retirement community that’s right in the middle of a city is absolutely rare and unusual. It’s an ideal place as far as I’m concerned.”