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Designing Men

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Dear Reader:

I know enough about journalism to realize that writers and editors try to eliminate anything that distracts from the focus of their story. But sometimes the result is that readers end up with false impressions, and people who should receive credit don't. That's why we have these letters columns, right?

Case in point: the August 25 cover story about architects Loebl Schlossman & Hackl. In it one of their major works, Water Tower Place, is cited as a great and groundbreaking success, superior even to recent imitators like 900 North Michigan because of its interior design. Credit is given specifically to the "dazzling atrium" with its planting, cascades, and anti-perspective escalators, which lures customers past its ground-floor-hogging anchor tenants up into the mall itself. "The circulatory system," says LS&H president Donald Hackl, "is designed to push people past every one of the shops."

I completely agree with everything that was said about Water Tower Place. The part that got left out of the article was the fact that the architects responsible for these effects were Warren Platner Associates in New Haven, Connecticut. As a recent graduate I was one of several designers on the project. We were hired as consultants to design the Michigan Avenue entrance and all the public spaces of the shopping mall. Warren Platner and his right-hand designer, Robert Brauer, formulated the principal architectural problem--the need to have something extremely attractive in itself to give the remote mall a strong presence on the Boulevard. It was Warren's love for Italian Renaissance architecture that suggested to him as a solution a terraced entrance landscape, with rich, architecturally ordered planting; an eloquent descending sequence of water; and steps, planters, fountains, railings and seats alike generously carved out of stone. Warren had been a Rome Prize Fellow and was intimately familiar with hillside gardens such as the Villa Lante and Villa d'Este. He understood their powerful attraction as well as the subtleties of their design.

Warren and Robert developed the unusual shape of the interior atrium, in which Loebl Schlossman Bennett and Dart had asked for one of those Hyatt Regency patented feature elevators, with Jules Vernesque glass cabs zipping up and down. We persuaded them to build a glass shaft for the elevators, to provide a powerful sculptural element. The stepped and bracket-decorated edges we designed for the openings between floors scandalized the orthodox local architects but helped relate the scale of the place to its human inhabitants. It also added a richness of detail of the sort that abounded in the Rome of Ligorio but had been banished from the Chicago of Mies van der Rohe.

Nicholas Pyle

Los Angeles

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