Imagine the rush if you could take a building you really hated and just blow it up.
Technically, you already can. On March 23, the Chicago City Council passed Mayor Daley’s proposal to allow the use of explosives for demolition. All you have to do is own the building (a bothersome necessity), fill out the forms, and get about $10 million of insurance–“because we don’t want everybody and his brother being able to implode buildings in Chicago,” pointed out assistant commissioner John V. Kallianis of the city’s Department of Buildings.
But in Chicago, the staggering number of suitable candidates could paralyze even the most trigger-happy among us. We need guidance. And who better to advise us on which buildings to torch but the very people who design them?
So we asked Chicago architects: If you could pick a building anywhere in Chicago and blow it up, which one would it be?
Most of them were ecstatic.
“Does this include inhabitants?” asked John Macsai, a veteran architect at O’Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson (known more simply as OWP&P). “I would blow up some government buildings. Maybe the post office . . . ”
“I love this idea! I might blow up one of my own buildings,” he exulted.
Some people weren’t as comfortable with the proposal.
“I’m not going to answer that because it’s an irresponsible question,” snapped Jack Hartray of Nagle, Hartray & Associates, Ltd., the firm that designed the new Greyhound bus terminal. Then he softened up a little. “It’s so hard to build buildings . . . and there’s too much suffering in doing all of this. It’s too much work.”
“He thinks it’s wonderful, but he’s reluctant to publicly name a building to blow up,” said Thomas Beeby’s secretary. Beeby designed the Harold Washington Library. “He suggests you call Stanley Tigerman.”
Tigerman should have been a promising choice. He’s often called “rebellious” and “unpredictable” and is responsible for the Anti-Cruelty Society building at Grand and Ohio, whose facade is often likened to a droopy basset hound; the Self Park at 60 E. Lake, with a facade patterned after a Rolls-Royce grille and a turquoise color taken from a 1957 Chevrolet; Chicago’s Hard Rock Cafe; and the considerably more understated and more highly praised Chicago Bar Association building at 321 S. Plymouth.
He was also fired last year from his post as director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s architecture school for, among other things, an “autocratic management style.” While many people prefer to resign when given the choice, Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin reported that Tigerman told his boss, “You’re going to have to make this decision yourself. And you’re going to have to live with it.”
Recently Tigerman and interior designer Eva L. Maddox announced the establishment of Archeworks, a sort of small Chicago Bauhaus–a socially progressive design school and think tank.
Unfortunately, Tigerman had already weighed in on the question.
“I don’t believe in blowing up buildings, not even the worst,” he had huffed when we called. “I think it’s not what architects do. They try to make something out of nothing. So I ain’t that lighthearted. Sure we all have our least favorite people, food, buildings, but I’d just as soon that the buildings I hate remain there, for me to vent my angst on. Otherwise I might vent my angst on someone else, I might decide I want to blow you up. I like having buildings that I hate. Then I can say nasty things about them.”
And that was the nice part.
“Years ago,” Tigerman continued, “I saw a photo of Walter Netsch with his hands on the plunger at Pruitt-Igoe, a housing project in Saint Louis, and at the time I said something nasty like, ‘Maybe somebody should be at the end of the plunger at the [Netsch-designed] U. of I. Circle Campus.’ He was wrong to do it.
“All the architects that you are able to get quotes from, my quote would be, ‘They’re . . . not . . . architects,'” he said, slowly stabbing the air with each word as if mentally typesetting them to gauge the effect in print. “Because architecture is about optimism. And any architects that would blow up a building, they would do better to keep a wooden golf club next to their desk and hit the wall when they get angry.”
Walter Netsch–designer of Circle Campus, former Chicago Park Board president, and, incidentally, husband of gubernatorial candidate Dawn Clark Netsch–does not apologize for blowing up the notorious Pruitt-Igoe complex.
“That’s Stanley,” he said calmly. “Stanley would always take the opposite side, you must understand that. You can answer by saying ‘Mr. Tigerman, blowing up is no better or worse than bulldozers, and Mr. Tigerman has bulldozed my campus.’ How do you like that?”
Tigerman, then UIC architecture school director, supported the ongoing changes to Netsch’s campus that Netsch violently opposed. After UIC trustees approved the renovation in 1992, Tigerman was quoted saying, “It’s a great decision which I absolutely support a million percent. I’m only sorry it wasn’t done ten years ago.”
“They went in and knocked down 2,000 feet of raised walkway and the whole center forum and they ground it up,” said Netsch bitterly. “What’s the difference between grinding it up and blowing it up? Destroying is destroying.”
Netsch mourns his walkways. “I have stolen a few pieces and I’m going to erect a small memorial in the front of my house in memoriam of the walkway and the forum.”
And now, let the destruction begin.
(1) 150 N. Michigan. 1984, A. Epstein and Sons International Inc. Popular among ordinary folk, the distinctive building with the diamond-shaped slashed top, formerly known as Associates Center and recently renamed Stone Container Building, is loathed among architects. Out of 29 votes, it took four, with three more architects volunteering it as a second choice.
“If you will forgive a slight, frivolous comment, I consider the building diagonally circumcised,” said Macsai of OWP&P. “It’s a terrible top. It’s vulgar. Anyhow.”
But it is 150 N. Michigan and Doral Plaza together that really infuriate Macsai. “I mean, they are criminally bad buildings individually, but together, they kind of increase the crime in a geometric proportion,” he declared. “They really form the gateway to North Michigan Avenue, because Randolph Street is the border. . . . So here is this tall pair, and they don’t relate to each other at all.
“Mind you, there are great examples where the second architect has a deep sense of respect for the first one,” he said, citing the Congress Hotel as a “beautiful response” to the Auditorium Theatre. “Which here obviously the second building failed to do, it’s in the hands of an insensitive idiot. And the top diagonal cut is so insensitive it’s almost revolting.”
The others weren’t much kinder. “I think it is the main building that ruins the Chicago skyline,” said Deborah Doyle of Doyle & Associates Architects, calling it an “almost signboard type of architecture.”
“It’s in all the postcards of Chicago,” complained Laurence Booth of Booth/Hansen & Associates.
“And then, to add insult to injury, they put in the red and green lights on Christmas,” recalled Kathryn Quinn of Kathryn Quinn Architects. “And everyone like prayed that they wouldn’t think to continue lighting the top, and then they went to clear light. And that was insult to injury. That really did it for everybody.”
Sheldon Schlegman, who designed 150 N. Michigan while employed at A. Epstein and Sons, dismissed his critics. “Well, maybe I’ll blow up the Associates Center, but I’ll fill it with all the naysayers,” he snickered. “Starting with the editors of [now-defunct, but soon to be revived] Inland Architect.”
(2) Capone’s Chicago, 605 N. Clark. 1992, Summerdale Architects. Capone’s is the odd tourist attraction at Clark and Ohio that attempts to turn its murderous namesake into Chicago’s Mickey Mouse.
“I don’t even know what it’s called–that Al Capone thing,” said Gunny Harboe of McClier, the restoration architect who returned the Rookery to its former glory in 1992 and is now working on the Reliance Building. “It’s just sort of a joke. It’s this box with these pastiche, turn-of-the-century or late-19th-century facades stuck onto it. I don’t think anyone takes it seriously as–I don’t know how to articulate this because it’s such a weird thing. It’s not a real building in a sense. . . . I mean it’s just a joke. And I don’t think architecture should be a joke.”
Daniel Taylor of A.S.C. Architects, who recently designed three 15-foot-tall Tina Turner balloons for the opening of the Saint Louis Metrolink rail line, agreed: “Even Al Capone had better taste. . . . Well, I mean architecturally it has absolutely no integrity or any depth to it. It’s an illusion, it’s not real. . . . It might look good as a movie set, where the celluloid deludes the fact that it’s only two-dimensional and not three-dimensional, but unfortunately it actually exists in this city. . . . I can’t even consider it architecture I guess, that’s why I have a problem talking about it.”
“Actually, I think instead of blowing it up we should tommy-gun it, ’cause it’s made of styrofoam you know,” suggested Kenneth Schroeder of Schroeder Murchie Laya Associates, Ltd. and director of UIC’s school of architecture. “And I think it represents the worst image of Chicago in a promotional way, where something like Nike Town represents I think a very positive image of Chicago.”
Summerdale Architects takes the credit, such as it is, for Capone’s. When told we were asking architects what buildings they wanted to blow up, Summerdale’s Pat Thompson caught on right away. “Oh, and Capone’s Chicago is right up there,” he guessed unhappily. Thompson was a good sport, though slightly irritated.
“I think that sort of reaction to Capone’s or for example Planet Hollywood or Ed Debevic’s or Hard Rock Cafe or anything like that is almost a little bit too easy,” said Thompson. “I think people tend to miss the point that these buildings are really sort of like potato chips, sort of a mass entertainment thing. There is not really a lot of serious content intended to any of that. They are probably offensive mainly to people who spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about bad taste.”
Still, Thompson was uncomfortable when asked if he had personally designed Capone’s. “Oh, I suppose you can say that as well as anything. I mean the building is, you know, signage as well as anything. Almost not a building at all–in, in, you know, a certain sense, but I guess you could say that.”
(3) Doral Plaza, 151-155 N. Michigan Ave. 1981, Martin Reinheimer. Doral Plaza is probably best known not for the building itself, but for the small dome at its side, which pops out of the sidewalk on Randolph Street and houses the entrance to La Strada restaurant. And perhaps that’s just as well.
Overcome with disgust, John Macsai was momentarily unable to verbalize Doral Plaza’s shortcomings. “Ucccchhhh. I can’t tell you,” he snorted. “Yes. First of all, the curtain wall is the cheapest thing in the world. It’s ugly. The columns some places are cladded with brown marble, some places are exposed concrete, some places they change shape, some places they disappear. The facade is senseless. . . . Both [150 N. Michigan and Doral Plaza] are thoughtless, senseless architecture. And those architects are very poor architects in my opinion.”
OWP&P colleague John Syvertsen agreed. “It would be nice if it were in fact what it says it is–it would be nice if it were a plaza, which it could be if it weren’t there,” he said. “You think about the great tradition of Michigan Avenue from the Cultural Center south, the impact of Daniel Burnham and his desire to maintain control over the height of buildings as well as material and scale of detail. All of that is really successful on many of the buildings, but then when you start going north from Randolph, Doral is one of the offenders where it starts to fall apart.”
“The Doral Plaza is a mishmash of metal and glass,” said Paul Florian of Florian-Wierzbowski Architecture P.C. “It’s set against a very klutzy base of badly detailed stone, so it isn’t even an all-stone or all-metal building, it’s a weird hybrid.”
As ultimate insult, he added: “And then it has grand staircases that belong in Las Vegas or Palm Beach.”
(4) R.R. Donnelly Center, 77 W. Wacker. 1992, Ricardo Bofill Arquitectura. “It looks like it was designed by two dogs in heat,” said Sheldon Schlegman. We’re not sure what that means, but R.R. Donnelly executives may never look at their headquarters in quite the same way.
Schlegman noted the skyscraper’s classical roots. “It’s got a classical top, like a Greek temple that got–” he broke off and started over. “Something like if you took Mies van der Rohe and one of the great Greek architects and mixed them together.”
His main motive for destruction, however, was frankly personal. “There was a competition, and you should have seen the beautiful building I designed for that site,” he groused. “And then Mike Reschke of the Prime Group gave the project to his buddy Ricardo Bofill.
“Before we blow it up we should fill it up with all the architects that criticize the work of other architects publicly,” he said. “You can quote me on this: Any architect that criticizes another architect publicly, they should just hang him from the yardarms. Because quite honestly, when we do that we just hurt the profession. And our profession is one of the hardest ones around. And when we criticize each other in public, we lower the American public’s confidence in architects.
“But anyway, I would put Mike Reschke on top, and they should fill it up with all the naysayers. Including myself for even making that comment. And I’ll hold Mike’s hand on top.”
(5) Chicago Reader Building, 11 E. Illinois. 1907, Samuel N. Crowen. “I used to want to blow up any new building on Michigan Avenue, but maybe we’ll have to wait on that because they just keep getting worse,” mused Ben Weese of Weese Langley Weese Architects Ltd. when first contacted. But a follow-up call found him a trifle unfriendly: “I’m not too sanguine on the subject, to tell you the truth. Why don’t you blow up the Reader building? Really, there’s a lot of problems out there. This isn’t a subject I can take part in happily.”
Timothy Samuelson, a preservation specialist for the city, was disappointed to learn of the Reader building’s theoretical demise. “Oh, that’s a nice building! I’ve always liked that building!” he said.
Samuelson needed only the address to report within minutes that the six-story red brick building was originally the Hoyt Warehouse, built by Phelps B. Hoyt, a wholesale grocer, in 1907. The original address was 240-242 Illinois, before the city reoriented addresses around State and Madison streets, in 1909. Samuelson’s direction to the American Contractor magazine later revealed the architect, Samuel N. Crowen.
Crowen, who also designed Willoughby Tower at 8 S. Michigan, was known for his Prairie-style apartment buildings. Two merit inclusion in the American Institute of Architects Guide to Chicago: 415 W. Surf and 4338-4346 N. Clarendon.
The Reader building is “a fine warehouse building in the tradition of the Chicago School, with a very geometric, gridlike exterior with large windows, and a fine use of masonry for decorative effect,” said Samuelson, who has apparently memorized the architectural details of every Chicago building for easy reference.
“The way they used the bricks on that building and kind of stepped them out in a little sawtooth pattern, it was very nice,” he said. “It’s an example of the warehouse lofts that once proliferated on the near north side of Chicago. That area of the city had a lot of food-related businesses. It’s a handsome building. I can’t imagine it jumping out and offending anybody.”
(6) Museum of Contemporary Art, 234 E. Chicago. Expected completion 1995, Josef Paul Kleihues. “We should blow up, even before it’s built, the new Museum of Contempory Art on the old armory site,” declared Joseph Valerio of Valerio Associates.
“First off, the museum had an agreement to only cover 50 percent of the site,” he said. “The reason for that was, the city and state and community groups wanted that sense of openness from Michigan Avenue to the lake to remain. So what the museum did–in what I consider to be the ultimate fast footwork–the museum only covers half the site, but on the other half they have a parking garage with a sculpture garden on top that’s raised like 20 feet high, which effectively blocks your view at ground level. The museum itself is a boxlike building.
“The ordinary people that walk up and down Michigan Avenue today are going to look out towards the lake and see nothing but the parking structure,” he scoffed. “Of course it’ll be covered with beautiful stone, but it’s still a blank wall, and the face of this very boxy building. And in effect they knocked down the armory and they’re virtually rebuilding the mass of the armory.”
The new MCA did not endear itself to Chicago architects when the selection committee announced a short list of prospective architects for the new building that didn’t include any Chicagoans. The committee ultimately picked German architect Josef Paul Kleihues. His design, giving the new MCA a limestone base with upper stories of glass and cast aluminum, drew praise from the Tribune’s Paul Gapp and Blair Kamin. It also drew howls from Streeterville neighbors. Like Valerio, they objected to the parking garage/sculpture garden.
Originally, the garage/garden was to rise 16 feet, but furious neighborhood opposition forced changes. Now, says museum PR director Maureen King, the garage/garden will start at 16 feet and terrace down toward the lake, with subsequent levels at ten feet, four feet, and a final transitional terrace starting at two feet and ending at ground level.
Valerio was unappeased. “The change, in my opinion, doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “The change is superficial. The neighborhood is outraged and they have good reason. It’s still a violation of the public trust.”
George Pappageorge of Pappageorge-Haymes Ltd. picked the new MCA as his second choice, with the caveat that he would wait until construction is completed before blowing it up.
(7) Robert Taylor Homes, State Street from 39th to 54th. 1960-1963, Shaw, Metz & Associates. Robert Taylor Homes’ recent prominence in the news no doubt helped it leapfrog past other worthy targets like Cabrini-Green. Wendell Campbell of Wendell Campbell Associates Inc. summed up the architects’ thoughts on the Taylor Homes: “There are too many people concentrated into one environment,” he said. “They don’t have a chance to grow economically or socially. . . . What they did was build buildings, not a community where people could have an opportunity to hear and grow together. What they did was address housing and completely ignore the social needs.” Others who voted for the complex were George Pappageorge, Pat Thompson, and Bruce Graham, formerly a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
(8) Clybourn Avenue, from North Avenue to Webster. Anything that makes it easier to demolish buildings is sad, said Howard Decker of Decker Legge and Kemp Architecture. As former president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, he felt obliged to point that out. Then he ordered the destruction of a swath of land a mile long.
Among the victims of Decker’s rampage are Byron’s Hotdogs and its spiky ball sign, Subway, Bedmart, Jake’s Pizza, and an anonymous dry cleaner. The world will also have to learn to live without Sav-a-Lot, West Coast Video, House of Teak, Pier 1 Imports, Blockbuster Video, and the impossibly cute Webster Place.
Decker hardly needed to justify his choice, but he did anyway: “The strip shopping mall is an essentially suburban motif. One of the things that makes the city different from the suburbs is the density of the experience, the extent to which the buildings come out to the edges of the street, the extent to which the car is not–at least before now, has not been–the only high priority of moving around.
“I think that the strip shopping mall is a real erosion of the physical character of the city, and that particular neighborhood, of course, was previously all big warehouse buildings that came out to the edge of the sidewalk.”
Recently, he said, his firm did design a strip mall, but it was for a suburban site “where it fits in.” Afterward, he attended a seminar with other strip-mall architects. “And ours was the only one that was in the suburbs. All the rest were on Clybourn.”
(9) Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State. 1991, Hammond Beeby and Babka. John Jacobs of Becker Silverstein Associates almost passed over his first choice, the Harold Washington Library, because, he said, “it’s already falling all over itself as it is.
“The details do not support each other. It’s such a hodgepodge of old rehashed forms from the past, thrown together almost like a collage.
“The giant owls on top, they’re clearly out of proportion with the rest of the building. Anybody who goes by that building has the same comment–you’re fearful they’re going to fall on top of you when you walk underneath.
“It’s hard to imagine that that was the best thing they could come up with that would lead us into the 21st century,” he lamented. “I guess that’s what’s so painful about it to me–it’s supposed to be this great signature statement for Chicago, state of the art, lead us into the next century and be progressive-thinking, and yet to me it just keeps going back to the past, it makes all the mistakes of the past and in even a worse form. It’s outrageous. And I know we have to live with it for years and years to come. It’s very depressing.”
(10) North Pier Apartment Tower, 474 N. Lake Shore Drive. 1991, Dubin, Dubin and Moutoussamy. “I think the ugliest building that I’ve seen in a long while is the one at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and the river at the bridge–you know, on the north side of the river, just west of the bridge. Reddish precast concrete building. I don’t know its name, but it’s there,” said Bertrand Goldberg of Bertrand Goldberg Associates Inc., who designed Marina City and River City.
The name is North Pier Apartment Tower, but like Goldberg, most people will know it as the reddish monstrosity looming over Lake Shore Drive, with its parking-garage stories strategically located at eye level for drivers. It’s also the building whose tiny, insufficient parking bay for taxis and delivery trucks constantly snarls traffic on Illinois attempting to get on the Drive.
“Architecturally, it’s not built for people,” said Goldberg. “Who it’s built for, what it’s built for, is not recognizable. And it is a terrible thing to have at the corner of the river and the lake, with all the beauty of the lake just beyond it. . . . The horrible design of course begins at grade level at the entrance to the building, and you get a chance to see two horrors–you get to see that one, and you get to see the upper stories as you drive past it on the bridge. And it really is shocking. It’s a . . . it’s a shocking experience.”
Roland Lieber of Lieber Architects Inc. also excoriated the apartment tower: “When you look across the way at Lake Point Tower, in terms of its elegance, you can see the opportunity missed.
(11) Architecture & Art Laboratories, UIC, 845 W. Harrison. 1967, Walter Netsch for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. “I went to school at the University of Illinois, and the architecture building over there is the worst,” said Karen Johnson of Johnson and Wilson, Architects. “There’s no windows in the building. You can’t open a window to get any fresh air in. That’s been one of the big things that most architects in the city, especially if they went to school there or have been there for any length of time, probably want to blow up.
“It was built by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and it was Walter Netsch, whom I have a lot of respect for as an architect,” she quickly added.
“I guess there was an addition that was supposed to have windows, but anyway it never got that far. . . . It’s also got this incredible circulation space so that you can’t find your way around the building. It moves all over. I mean, a lot of people don’t even know where the front of the building really is.”
Told someone wanted to blow up the UIC architecture school, Netsch said, “Probably Stanley,” meaning Tigerman. “Everybody knows it was not completed because Stanley built a building so it couldn’t be completed. The Art & Architecture building is not complete because it was to be built in two stages, and Stanley Tigerman has subsequently allowed a building to be built that would prevent its completion, a dorm, that ugly dorm on the corner.”
Netsch noted that at the university’s request, he subsequently made a sketch of how to install windows in the building. “And the university never did. It would not be the first time a building had been renovated with the architect’s approval. But if people don’t like a building they’d rather gripe about it. And I hope you got all that on tape. Good. You can use it. Verbatim.”
(12) McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive. 1971, C.F. Murphy Associates. “We could eliminate McCormick Place and put the park back. It never should’ve been built in the first place. That’s my choice,” said Netsch, after considering blowing up a few Loop office buildings to jump start the moribund office rental market there.
“McCormick Place, because it’s a start of doing the right thing in the wrong place. You remember ‘Forever open, free, and clear’?” he asked wistfully, referring to the long struggle to keep the lakefront undeveloped. “We all fought it, I mean us planner liberals; we fought McCormick Place location but we lost. We lost to the Tribune. . . . It’s known as Taggy’s Temple. Mr. Taggy was a famous reporter for the Tribune. So it’s known as Taggy’s Temple to those of us who aren’t proud of its location.
“I’m not against Mies’s [first McCormick Place], and the second building’s a much handsomer building than the first one,” he added. “But they should’ve, after the first one burned down, put the park back.”
(13) Apparel Center and Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans. 1977, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. “Amazing indeed,” whistled Sam Marts of Sam Marts Architects & Planners Ltd. when told that no one had yet voted for the Apparel Center and Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, a bulky building that squats on the river at Wolf’s Point landing. Picture the blank brick base of McCormick Place and double it; then add two huge windowless cement boxes, and top it with a slice of Holiday Inn. “To have that unhappy thing sitting there is unfortunate indeed,” said Marts.
While Marts conceded that as a convention center the building needs to be inward-looking, “I still don’t believe that’s a reason to turn its back completely on the rest of the city. And as an extension of the Merchandise Mart, it makes no reference to the Merchandise Mart even in color. And it doesn’t seem to have any scale, it’s hard to know how big it really is. It’s just a conglomeration of forms.
“And when we consider that [Wolf’s Point] is a symbol of the city, on our seals and everything else, to have that very prominent location ignored by the building that sits there is very unsatisfactory. . . . They even pushed the parking lot out there in front of the building towards the park, so it’s really unhappy.”
(14) James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph. 1979-1985, Murphy/Jahn Architects Inc. David Lowe, professor of architectural history at the New York School of Interior Design, is best known for his book Lost Chicago, a paean to Chicago buildings cruelly demolished. Still, he pounced on the chance to blow up Helmut Jahn’s James R. Thompson Center, known until recently as the State of Illinois Center.
“It’s often the color of tomato soup,” he sneered, “and it makes the seriousness of government seem frivolous. I think the John Henry sculpture in the lobby looks like something left over from another sculpture.
“I think the idea that instead of having a serious dome, the way the old federal building by Henry Ives Cobb in Chicago once had, that it has this sliced off sort of Disneyland top, is absolutely ridiculous. And it always looks to me like the building’s going to open up and we’ll suddenly have a moon shot or something out of it.”
There were practical considerations, too. “I was in there on a summer day when I thought I was gonna roast,” Lowe complained. “Building those huge atrium spaces in a climate like Chicago which is half tropical and half Siberia is–” he broke off briefly. “If you look at the great old buildings of Chicago, they never did that. And they knew something.”
(15) Stouffer Riviere Hotel, 1 W. Wacker Drive. 1991, William B. Tabler Architects. “All around, probably the worst,” said Jack Train of Train Dewalt Associates. Pedestrians who have survived attempts to cross the Stouffer Riviere’s massive horseshoe driveway may recall it as the hotel that appears to be made for visiting cars. “It’s an unfortunately poor building for its prime location,” Train declared.
Paul Florian picked Stouffer as a close second. “It should be in the suburbs,” he said. “It sets the tower, with all the rooms, against the subway, which is noisy, and precludes any view of the river. It’s at the most wonderful part of the river because you can look both ways, and then there’s no view. . . . It’s just very strangely planned. Right down to the plantings, which are deciduous and belong in somebody’s backyard. And the curtain wall on that is precast concrete with marble framed windows, which looks like Budapest in 1960.”
(16) 1027 W. Lill Street. 1994, BGD & C Corporation. “It’s hard to come up with a building you want to destroy, but I can think of one,” said Peter Landon of Landon Architects, who won a special recognition award for social responsibility last year from the AIA’s Chicago chapter for designing the Open Door Shelter, a center for homeless youth in Chicago. Ironically perhaps, he chose to blow up a house.
“My wife works at Lill Street studios, and after working in her studio for about seven years we finally put a window in. And then somebody bought the property next door and got an exception to build one of those monster houses and covered up her window,” he lamented. “So I’d be happy to blow up that building.”
A site visit found that 1027 W. Lill starts out attempting to blend into the neighborhood by using an updated brick townhouse kind of facade, with some nice cement hood molding around the windows and a parapet roof. But then a glassed modern addition juts out of its side above a sunken garage, smack up against Lill Street Gallery.
Actually, about three feet is left between the buildings. Many city dwellers will not find that proximity unusual, but one can sympathize with the Landons’ frustration. “Not only do they have a giant house, but they have to take the light of their neighbors, and that deserves retribution,” said Landon. “It was inconsiderate. So you blow it up. An eye for an eye, right?”
(17) One Congress Center (Second Leiter Building), 401 S. State. 1891, William Le Baron Jenney. One Congress Center, once known as the Second Leiter Building, has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time–right across State Street from the Harold Washington Library. The massive Washington library needs room for landscaping so badly it appears ready to devour its own sidewalk. So Walter Sobel of Walter H. Sobel, FAIA & Associates would blow up One Congress Center and create “a setting” for the library instead.
“It’s not a bad building,” he said, “but it is in a spot which needs to be amplified. . . . The library is a very, very imposing building, and it has very little space.”
“[One Congress Center] may have some historic content, but it’s had very limited use for a very long time, since Sears moved out of there. I remember it with great consideration in that there was a putting golf course on the top floor of that building when I was in high school,” Sobel fondly recalled. “The schools in the city used to have teams that competed. Now that I think of it, I think I got a medal.”
Unfortunately, One Congress Center–really the Second Leiter Building–turns out to have quite a lot of historic content. One architectural historian, quoted in the AIA Guide to Chicago, called it “the first high building to exhibit the trend toward pure forms.” The guide says its architect, William Le Baron Jenney, “must be considered one of the century’s most significant architects.” Jenney’s use of steel beams and girders allowed a then amazing proportion of the Second Leiter Building’s outer walls to be windows.
The building first housed the Siegel, Cooper & Co. department store, then Sears. Nowadays it gives a good imitation of an abandoned building because so much of its street-level frontage is vacant, but it’s largely filled by state and federal government offices.
(18) Quaker Tower, 321 N. Clark. 1987, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. “The city of big shoulders cannot digest a wimp like that,” said Roula Alakiotou of Roula Associates Architects, Chtd. “That building is very wimpish, and I’d love to blow it up. It’s a nothing building, it’s a leftover of the 1960s, a glass squarish tower with no detail, no character, absolutely nothing to contribute to the city. You should drive by it, you’d agree with me. . . . It’s a definite wimp!”
(19) IBM Building, 330 N. Wabash. 1971, Office of Mies van der Rohe; 311 S. Wacker, 1990, Kohn Pedersen Fox. Philip Bess of Thursday Architects picked the IBM Building for destruction. “It’s not that I have any particular animus against that building,” he said, but against its many “inferior imitations.” As the precursor of bad Mies knockoffs, Bess called the IBM building “a deadly model” for architects.
But a few days later he felt forced to add an equally loathesome candidate: 311 S. Wacker, known colloquially as the White Castle building, for its huge, leering fluorescent white turret. On a night drive into the city from the south, Bess had been again struck by its “unbelievably bad taste.”
“It’s because the top of the building calls so much attention to itself. The attention that it calls to itself is appropriate to a kind of monument, and what it’s monumentalizing is just a speculative office building.”
The ferociously lit turret, he explained, is an advertisement. “There’s no other reason. It’s to call attention to itself, to mark itself on the skyline, to sell square footage. It was done at the end of a declining office market in the city and it was intended to be a signature for the developers that would be a landmark on the Chicago skyline, and it is.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marc PoKempner, Hedrich-Blessing, James Steinkamp, Jim Hedrich, University Illinois at Chicago, Bob Thall; photo manipulation/Albert Richardson.