Object lessons in architecture | Bleader

Object lessons in architecture

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I like the U. of C. law school, designed by Eero Saarinen. I don't have to use it, though. My circle of friends includes many law students and one former employee; for the most part they very much dislike it, especially the library. So this quote by law prof Douglas Baird, in Blair Kamin's positive but balanced evaluation of the newly renovated building, jumped out at me (h/t Liz, Monica):

Such were the shortcomings that, around the turn of the millennium, the school even entertained the idea of constructing a new building directly to the south.

“I would say, ‘this is great architecture,” recalled former dean Douglas Baird, now a professor at the school, “and people would say, ‘Are you crazy?’”

As someone who likes architecture, I can appreciate user-unfriendly buildings; as a Web editor who has drunk from the Jakob Nielsen school of usability, I also think it's insane. It's the Soldier Field dilemma--from all reports (I haven't been in it) it's an outstanding place to watch a game, which by some measures is the point, but the consensus is that it's butt-ugly from the outside, which is what the vast majority sees. Is seeing this thing that's part of your city's landscape "use"? I don't have an answer for you, honestly, but it's an interesting question.

Just e.g.: I did three years at the U. of C. and spent all three in Stony Island, which had been built as faculty housing and was adopted for undergrad use. So I didn't live in Saarinen's (botched) Woodward Court, or the lovely Gothic buildings of Burton-Judson or Snell-Hitchcock, or the bonkers new Max Palevsky. I lived in the most boring dorm on an architecturally sophisticated campus--a red-brick bunker with white walls, thin gray carpet, and that's it. Check it out, it's really ugly.

And it had full bathrooms, studio-size kitchens, large living rooms, central heat, and, perhaps most importantly, large balconies overlooking the Museum of Science and Industry. Overall it was much more pleasant than living in one of the more storied dorms. I'm just saying; something to keep in mind when architect-types rag on the (admittedly ugly) plague of beige towers that dominate Streeterville and the South Loop.

Also: Blair Kamin is kind of a local treasure. If you don't, read his blog and articles. 

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