by Whet Moser
Lynn Becker finds Lucien Lagrange's weird Elysian getting even weirder with a printed fabric facade to cover rehab work. Great line: "The way the hangings droop and crinkle, it's like the courtyard facades are melting under the heat of their own strained artifice. Christo couldn't have done it any better."
I do want to take some issue with one thing, though: "he has to fit in all those ugly balconies that buyers seem to require."
I went to school at the University of Chicago, where a lot of great architects have worked—sometimes with great success, sometimes with arguable results, and sometimes with bottomless failure. I wanted to live in the old, ornate Snell-Hitchcock dorm, and instead got sent to Stony Island, perhaps the building on campus with the least architectural merit. And I don't mean a lack of architectural merit in a compelling-failure sort of way: just no attempt at beauty, dignity, or fun whatsoever. To paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, it looks like a filing cabinet for grad students, and is outfitted in a we-don't-really-care shade of thin beige carpet.
But it has balconies—brick with metal rods painted in we-really-don't-care brown and undeniably uninspired. Overlooking the Museum of Science and Industry and a strip of the lake. And I loved them.
Obviously balconies don't have to be ugly, as Jeanne Gang and Bertrand Goldberg have demonstrated with Aqua, Marina City, and the Raymond Hilliard Homes. But this fits in with an ongoing beef I have with architectural criticism. Generally it tends to focus on what buildings look like—in other words, how the 99.9% of the world that doesn't live or work in specific buildings interacts with them. Which is fair, since (I think) the skyline and the aesthetics of a city are important to the life of the city.
But buildings are built to sell to people to live or work in. And balconies are a desirable feature and unarguably positive for residents. It's a tricky question: what are we writing about when we write about buildings?