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Bad Buildings

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Kudos to Lynn Becker for the insightful article "Stop the Blandness!" featured as the cover article from 17 January 2003. The article was well written and used excellent examples to support the argument. It puts to shame weak attempts by the leading local papers to be critical. Chicago stopped being a main competitor in the architectural world in 1970 with the Hancock Building. The Sofitel is the only interesting tall building since 1970. In the wake of leading 20th-century masters who did practice and teach in Chicago (Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe), the remaining older generation of architects in power (which Lynn identifies and could expand) lack ambition, vision, and talent. For a young architect, one dreams of other, more inspiring places to be mentored.

Large development corporations as patrons who are building inferior buildings only do so because the market allows them. The real, indirect patrons are the people who buy from them. The rules of supply and demand would eliminate (or at least temper) thoughtless buildings. Chicagoans need to educate themselves and stop the suburban/ western expansion model of "building poorly is all right because you can always go elsewhere." And what about a mayor whose visions are also banal? Positive historic models are readily available. One only needs to go to the Medici exhibition at the Art Institute to see what visionary patrons can accomplish. Yes, the political structure is different, but attracting the best and the brightest, fostering a sustainable human knowledge base, and demanding excellence remains the same. What about the planning structures in Paris as an alternative model?

To expand the article from bland towers to just bland projects, some thoughtful projects do exist that weren't identified in the article--the United terminal at O'Hare by Helmut Jahn, the One North Halsted condominium tower by Perkins & Will, the Palmolive Building renovation, the Contemporaine condominium building on Wells by CMK Realty and Perkins & Will, the IIT competition for the student union by Rem Koolhaas, and even Victor Skrebneski's renovation of the Water Tower park, the boulevards on Ashland, Irving Park, and other streets. The list goes on.

We need to continue to have such thoughtful articles to raise the level of awareness and to improve the quality of the built environment in Chicago. Please continue to include articles like this regularly.

Arthur Cantwell

Architect

Lakeview

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