Last month, former Reader
staffer Whet Moser wrote about the architectural firm of Hausner & Macsai for Chicago magazine’s 312 blog
. Having spent most of my life on the north side of Chicago, it was revelatory to discover how many buildings that had long fascinated me could be attributed to two architects. Specifically, the Harbor House
at 3200 N. Lake Shore Drive—which anyone who has ever disembarked from Lake Shore Drive at Belmont will recognize instantly—and 1150 N. Lake Shore Drive
are two buildings of which I’m particularly fond; while they share some similarities, the sensibilities of the two buildings are disparate. 1150 N. Lake Shore Drive is an elegantly curved high-rise that resembles a free-standing, sideways arch, while Harbor House is a blobby, grotesque fun house, a three-tiered apartment complex with curved squares jutting out of the front.
Whet’s absorbing piece was a response to a blog post on the Hausner & Macsai-designed Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, a gloriously hideous mauve box that’s been unshakably impressed in the minds of longtime Chicago residents. The post’s author is Robert Powers, who runs a blog called A Chicago Sojourn, which has quickly become one of my—if not my absolute—favorite blogs on the Internet. There are too many great posts to mention, but I was bowled over by two in particular: one on various styles of Chicago high-rises, and one on the stretch of high-rises between Hollywood Avenue and Loyola University’s campus on Sheridan Road. That lane of buildings is something of a minor obsession for me, and Powers even finds a name for it that’s better than anything I could ever come up with: “The Cubic Zirconium Coast.”
The name is so apt because it hilariously and consummately describes the very nature of these buildings. The (mostly true) presumption about high-rises on Lake Shore Drive is that an apartment in one of these buildings is an automatic confirmation of authentic luxury. But these buildings, while indeed on the lakefront, are so far removed from downtown or much of the rest of the city that they become an inconvenience. And while there is a beauty to these midcentury designs—I think they’re terrific—most people I point them out to politely describe them as tacky eyesores, sparing no love for the prospect of its demolition by bulldozers, wrecking balls, or dynamite.
In Chicago, your view of the city can change according to neighborhood—each section of the city has such a distinct character, almost always departing radically from the neighborhood that adjoins it—therefore spending any considerable amount of time here reveals how many different pockets the city has. The way many of my out-of-town friends view Chicago is through the lens of either bookish Frank Lloyd Wright designs, minimalist Mies van der Rohe monoliths, or gargantuan steel skyscrapers. But that’s only part of the Chicago that’s embedded in my mind. Another equally significant reference point is this stretch of silly putty skyscrapers, this “Cubic Zirconium Coast” where it’s not about the price tag. It’s the thought that counts.
Read more from Architecture Week:
Deanna Isaacs's cover story, "Sinking Mies"
"On first looking out onto Toronto's skyline," by Michael Miner
"Tigerman, extracted," by Deanna Isaacs