Design on the Edge

October 28, 2011 · Print This Article

Chicago loves big ideas. We love big buildings, big architects, and big plans. Why? Well, I suppose because they all have the power to stir the hearts of men. (Oh yea, and some women, too.) In the new book Design on the Edge: Chicago Architects Reimagine Neighborhoods, seven locations are tackled by the rock stars of Chicago architecture. Represented are: John Ronan, Jeanne Gang, Doug Garafalo and Xavier Vendrell, Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen, Patricia Saldana Natke, Ross Wimer, and Darryl Crosby. The project is simple, each of these architects (or team) is assigned a neighborhood designated by an L stop, and they create a visionary design for the site—a way of rethinking what is already there.

Design on the Edge is really an exhibition catalog, but this one succeeds where others fail to be anymore than a memento of a past event. The book is divided logically into chapters  centered on each of the neighborhoods that are considered: Loyola Red Line, Addison Red Line, Addison Brown Line, Western Blue Line, 18th Street Pink Line, Midway Orange Line, 35th Street Green Line. With a short introduction by the architect or team, each section is full of images of the site reimagined as well as the sort of architectural renderings one would expect from a book like this. Although all of the sites have their points of interest, a few stand out as exemplary.

My favorite of these is the project by Ross Wimer of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. He was assigned the Orange Line stop at Midway. Now, if you’ve even taken the L to Midway, then you know what an uninspiring bit of city the terminus of the Orange Line is. Since the site can’t actually be expanded, Wimer envisions ringing the airport with an attractive facade that invites the community to look into the airport. This reimagining includes restaurants and shops designed to bring the neighborhood into the airport. The specific thing I like most about this plan, is that at no point is Wimer trying to hide the airport or make it something that it is not. Instead, he wants to reframe Midway to highlight the way people used to conceive of it, as a gateway to the world. A place that is exciting in its own right. A place of neighborhood pride.

The most important thing to keep in mind with this catalog and the exhibition that it accompanies, is the intention of this project is not to implement these ideas. The heart of this project is really about imagining a different future, a different way things could be. I’m not sure what the contributors thought as they crafted these projects, but to me it seems that it must be liberating to create in a purely visionary way, to unmoor from the practicality of actually having to build project. If you love the city of Chicago, this book will be fascinating. The exhibition runs through July 1, 2012 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Design on the Edge will give you a whole new way to envision our neighborhoods.

Design on the Edge: Chicago Architects Reimagine Neighborhoods
edited by Stanley Tigerman and William Martin
Chicago Architecture Foundation
paperback, $20

Chicago Architecture Foundation Walking Tours

September 2, 2011 · Print This Article

I hate to break it to you, but summer’s over. The good news is that any moment it will be fall. Time to put away the madras shorts and halter tops, and bust out the corduroy and oxfords. September is also the perfect time to go on a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour. CAF is probably best known for their boat tours. Whenever I have out of town guests, I always get tickets for one of these. It’s impressive and occupies a couple of hours, which is especially great if you’re entertaining people  you don’t know very well. But when I want to do something with my friends, just for fun, I sign up for a walking tour.

You might have seen a CAF walking tour while you where in the loop. They’re easy to spot—a group of people blocking the sidewalk and usually they’re all looking up. There are quite a few of these tours available: Historic Downtown, Modern Skyscrapers, Downtown Deco, Millennium Park Revealed, and many more. I have been on all of them, and each is fascinating in its own way. CAF’s docents are responsible for the content of the tours, so no two tours are alike. There’s nothing better on a beautiful fall day than to walk around downtown looking at the buildings that comprise our vibrant city. More than a dozen tours are offered everyday, seven days a week. Try a 7:30 AM Early Risers tour of Chicago Skyscrapers. Too early? What about a lunchtime building tour? And who doesn’t like a little drinky-wink at the end of a long workday. For those folks there are even 5:30 Happy Hour Tours that end at a downtown watering hole.

CAF has bus tours too. I’ve been on nearly all of those as well, but I like to save those for winter when it is too bitterly cold to go outside. These tours are fantastic. They just drive you around in a narcotically warm bus, where you can sip a latte, press your nose against the window, and try to remember a time when it was warm out. Every architecture tour I’ve been on has been a love letter to Chicago. If you are ever on a tour and see a woman in a green down vest, say “hi.” It’s probably me.