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Critics' Picks 2006

Architecture

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Architecture is about more than buildings--it's also about people, events, and ambitions. Here's my list of the ten most important things that happened in Chicago architecture this year.

Comer Youth Center The first major Chicago project from one of the best of the city's new generation of architects, John Ronan, uses bright color and graceful massing to create an instant landmark for the Grand Crossing neighborhood.

Hyde Park Arts Center Architect Douglas Garofalo transformed an old army PX into a 32,000-square-foot center that combines gritty industrialism with bright-hued elegance.

Construction on Block 37 The 1989 bulldozing of the entire city block across from Marshall Field's turned into one of Chicago's longest-enduring fiascoes, resisting a succession of developers, architects, and beautiful visions to remain little more than a dirt pile for a decade and a half. With construction finally under way on an office building, condos, and a big shopping mall, a happy ending finally may be in sight.

"Learning From North Lawndale" A Chicago Architectural Club competition and an accompanying exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation brought one of the city's most historic neighborhoods--home to the first movie palace and the original Sears Tower and to Golda Meir and Martin Luther King Jr.--back into focus and, along with the UIC City Design Center's Greystone Initiative, explored ways to revive the community without displacing current residents.

Louis Sullivan at 150 There couldn't have been a more bittersweet celebration than this monthlong series of events, involving arts organizations across the city, that observed the sesquicentennial of our most treasured architect's birth, in a year when 3 of his surviving 24 Chicago buildings--the K.A.M. Synagogue/ Pilgrim Baptist Church, Wirt Dexter Building, and George Harvey House--were destroyed by fire.

"Massive Change" and "Sustainable Architecture in Chicago" Bruce Mau's exhibition-as-futurist-manifesto at the Museum of Contemporary Art (through December 31) may be a triumph of public relations over reality, but it's also an astounding array of innovative design, from plastics made from potatoes to featherless chickens; an accompanying exhibit showcases sustainable design from seven of Chicago's best architects (through January 7).

New Faces Sarah Herda came from New York to become the new director of the Graham Foundation. Joseph Rosa parachuted in from San Francisco's MOMA to become curator of architecture and design at the Art Institute, where the emphasis on design was underscored by the October appointment of another New Yorker, Zoe Ryan, to the new position of curator of design. Will Rosa's love affair with theory make the cut in Chicago, the city of "Don't talk--build"?

Whither SOM? The battles are over, the dust settled. In is a younger generation led by east-coast import Ross Wimer--a protege of David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's New York office, the consummate power player who outmaneuvered Daniel Libeskind in the designing of the Freedom Tower. Out is a group of architects centered on 60ish Adrian Smith, known for megaprojects such as Trump Tower. Smith's new firm is staking its future on sustainable architecture, like a new "zero energy" skyscraper in China that produces as much energy as it consumes.

2016 Olympics What Mayor Daley wants, Mayor Daley gets. His current plan to drop a "temporary" 95,000-seat stadium in Frederick Olmsted's historic Washington Park could be the first attempt to make the 2016 Olympics the justification for every public-works sugarplum he craves over his next three terms.

Aqua At half a billion dollars, the curvy, mesalike skyscraper designed by Jeanne Gang is the largest commission ever landed by a woman architect; it could also mark the moment when--in the best tradition of Sullivan, Root, Burnham, and Mies--Chicago's most ambitious buildings were put back into the hands of its most talented architects.

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