Thursday, April 8, 2010

Location, location , location

Great buildings are great buildings, period. Lousy buildings are like wrong notes in a symphony, it all depends on where they are.

Chicago has many great buildings that are great for many reasons. I wouldn't put together a list my ten favorite buildings because I like different buildings for different reasons. We have lots of bad ones too but most of them can easily be ignored because they are set amongst other bad buildings. It's all about location. The truly bad buildings are the ones that bring an otherwise wonderful neighborhood or street scene down a notch or two simply because of their presence.

I mentioned in my previous post the Perkins and Will building at 444 North Michigan. All in all it's a dull but innocuous Modernist building, not terribly offensive apart from the fact that it towers over the Wrigley Building, cutting off that great building's silhouette from the sky, sucking the life out of a once breathtaking view up Michigan Avenue. It's the architectural equivalent of a squeaking clarinet in the middle of the slow movement of a Mozart concerto.

An other criterion for the road to architectural perdition in my book is based upon what the bad building replaced. An ironic tradition in Chicago is that the better the building torn down, the crappier the replacement. More than one unquestionable masterpiece of Chicago architecture was replaced by a parking lot. Some replacement buildings were so insignificant, they disappeared without anyone taking notice. Others live on in infamy, constant reminders of the failures of our stewardship of architectural heritage.

Making a list of ten or so examples of architectural malaise based upon these criteria will be easy, something I plan to do over the next couple of weeks in this space. By contrast I'll also look at some of the great buildings of this city that have taken full advantage of their prominent locations.

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