Serge Ivan Chermayeff was a Russian born, British architect, industrial designer, writer, and co-founder of several architectural societies, including the American Society of Planners and Architects.
He was born into a rich Jewish family in Grozny, Russian Empire (currently Chechen Republic), but moved to England at an early age where he received his education. In 1928, he became a British citizen. He first started working as an interior designer for a firm in London. By 1930, he and the German architect Erich Mendelsohn briefly partnered to form their own architectural firm. They created some very important works in the British modernist movement, notably the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex, Cohen House, London, and Shann House in Rugby, Warwickshire. He was also responsible for Gilbey House, an office and factory complex in Camden for gin distillers Gilbey's. These are all now Listed Buildings, being designated Grade I (De La Warr), Grade II* (Cohen House and Shann House) and Grade II (Gilbey House) respectively. They were members of the MARS Group.
During the 1930s, Chermayeff designed a number of bakelite radio cabinets for the British company EKCO.
In 1940, Chermayeff emigrated to the United States where he joined Clarence W. W. Mayhew as associate architect, helping Mayhew design his own residence. Chermayeff taught in 1940 and 1941 at the California School of Fine Arts. In 1946, he was recommended by Walter Gropius to become the director of the Institute of Design in Chicago. He stepped down in 1951 when the institute merged with the Illinois Institute of Technology. Between 1952 and 1970 he would continue to teach at several universities including Harvard, Yale, and MIT. He retired in 1970.
He wrote several books, including Community and Privacy with Christopher Alexander in 1964 and The Shape of Community with Alexander Tzonis in 1971. He died in 1996 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Chermayeff's architectural drawings, project records, photographs, correspondence, teaching and writing papers, and research files are held by the Dept. of Drawings & Archives at Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.
In 1980 he was awarded the Sir Misha Black award and was added to the College of Medallists.
His son Ivan Chermayeff is a prominent graphic designer and a founding partner of New York-based design studio Chermayeff & Geismar.
His son Peter Chermayeff is a prominent architect best known for his design of aquariums, with colleagues, while a founding partner at Cambridge Seven Associates, from 1962 to 1998, at Chermayeff, Sollogub and Poole, 1998–2005, at Chermayeff & Poole, 2005–2009 and currently at Peter Chermayeff LLC.