Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The view up the street

We live on Ridge Boulevard in Rogers Park three blocks short of Evanston. If you drive south on our street in the direction of the Loop, the prominent building of the city skyline is Trump Tower, the new 92 story Skidmore Owings and Merrill giant, now the second tallest building in Chicago. From our neck of the woods, it appears that Ridge leads directly up to the building some 11 miles away. (It does not as the street merges into Hollywood which in turn feeds into Lake Shore Drive).

The other evening as the kids and I were on a little adventure driving into the city, the late day sun filtering through a thin cloud cover bathed Trump Tower in glorious yellow-orange light. The tower's glass surface reflected the light back at us making it shine gloriously off in the distance. The kind of light that time of day makes everything beautiful but this was particularly magical. Picture the Yellow Brick Road leading to the magical city of Oz, minus the Munchkins of course and you get some idea.

Cities with grid shaped plans typically afford few opportunities for buildings to be focal points at the end of streets, as most streets just lead off into infinity, or so it seems. Fortunately the Chicago grid plan is occasionally broken up by diagonal streets, like Ridge that once were trails before the street plan was conceived. The grid is also broken up on occasion when a street will jog one way or other, or will dead end to create the opportunity for a building to be the focal point of a street vista. Two of the most famous examples in Chicago are pictured here. The Wrigley Building on the left dominates the view of Michigan Avenue south of the river, and the Board of Trade building pictured below, terminates the canyon of office buildings on La Salle Street north of Jackson.

As you can see, the view of the Wrigley Building has been greatly compromised by the construction of the massive, box like office building just to the north at 444 N. Michigan. This brings to mind one of the most egregious destructions of a street view anywhere, the building of the Pan Am (now Met Life) Building in New York which forever changed the magnificent Park Avenue vista featuring the glorious New York Central (now the Helmsley) Building and Grand Central Terminal. By contrast, in the case of the Michigan Avenue view, the later construction of the 900 N. Michigan, and the Park Plaza Buildings nearly one mile to the north, with their elaborate rooflines peeking over 444 N. Michigan, celebrate the exuberance of the Wrigley Building, if not entirely liberating it from the banality of a vastly inferior building.

Fortunately the Board of Trade Building has not suffered a similar fate. It's hard to imagine a project that would dare to interfere with this classic view of Chicago, although one never knows.

The aforementioned Trump Tower is now the focal point of Wabash Avenue, both to the south and the north, as the street jogs west as it crosses the river, then back east on the other side of the Tower. Its construction added a new dimension to this view up South Wabash Avenue which has remained relatively unchanged since this poster was created for the Chicago Elevated Lines* in the 1920s.

There are many examples of buildings in prominent locations commanding a street view, The Art Institute, where Adams Street dead ends into Michigan Avenue, The Field Museum, which dominates the downtown stretch of southbound Lake Shore Drive , and of course Chicago's most iconic building, the Water Tower, where Michigan Avenue jogs east at Chicago Avenue. These three are all examples of streets built to accommodate buildings, not the other way around.

Then of course there is the entire wall of buildings on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Roosevelt Road which front Grant and Millennium Parks, the most prominent location in Chicago.

Architects have used prominent locations in town to great advantage creating some of the magnificent cityscapes that define this city.

Perkins and Will, the architects of 444 N. Michigan, dropped the ball on that one. More on the highs and lows of exploiting location to come.

No comments: