Friday, November 16, 2012


What do Pyongyang and Chicago have in common?

Both cities have buildings that made HuffPost Travel's "Ugliest Buildings in the World" list. I'll give you a second to guess which Chicago building made the list. I knew the answer before the question, had it been the other way around, I would have guessed wrong.

The North Korean capital's entry in the list is the Ryugyong Hotel, a multi-pyramidal shaped hulk that has been under construction for the past twenty years. Having seen pictures of Pyonyang, I suppose any building there could have made this list, except the editors point out that being merely stultifying doesn't cut it, you have to work really hard at ugly to be included.

Anyway, if you guessed Helmut Jahn's Thompson Center as I probably would have, sorry. The building that put Chicago on the map of ugliness is Hammond, Beeby and Babka's Harold Washington Library.

Since I spend a good deal of time in that building, and remember when its construction in the early nineties was cause for great celebration given the fact that we hadn't had a main branch of the public library for well over a decade, I give it a pass.

Still I have to admit, the over the top eclectic pile in the South Loop is in my opinion a pretty ugly building. Here's the assessment from the article:
Neoclassical references collide with a glass-and-steel Mannerist roof; throw in some red brick, granite, and aluminum—and a bad sense of scale—and you’ve got way too much architecture class for one day.
In case you're interested, here's a link to the list, check it out if you dare.

By the way, if you think Bud Goldberg's old Prentice Hospital is ugly, take a look at the post and maybe you'll see the light.


Francis Morrone said...

As you know, Jim, I agree with you about a lot, including the preservation-worthiness of Prentice. But for anyone to judge the Harold Washington Library one of the ugliest buildings in the world is one of the most asinine things I've ever heard. It is a hugely ambitious and gutsy building that, for me, has held up really well over its 20 years. I think it a considerably finer building than Prentice (which I like!). And I really find nothing ill-proportioned in the library at all. I have some misgivings about the handling of the pediments, and I've never been a fan of the interior (but admit I haven't been inside in years, will make point of changing that on next visit to Chicago), but on the whole it works. I am sure it was just a typo, but it's not Murphy Jahn. It's Hammond Beeby & Babka, which under that name or the later HBRA may be my favorite architectural firm in your fair city.

James Iska said...

Thanks for your comment Francis, yes it dawned on me that I attributed the building to the wrong architects at a time when I was not able to do anything about it. The interior hasn't changed since you've been there. The lobby is cold and unwelcoming, it was clearly designed to discourage homeless people from lingering in the reading areas which themselves seem to be an afterthought, in stark contrast to what I consider its rather bombastic exterior. Still after all those years of being without a main branch of the public library in this town, I have a very warm spot in my heart for the HWPL.