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After his proposal to block Trump Tower with pig balloons, this architect received ‘brutally abusive’ calls

"We were told to shove the pigs any number of ways," says Jeffrey Roberts of Chicago firm New World Design Ltd.

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Jeffrey Roberts - DANIELLE A. SCRUGGS
  • Danielle A. Scruggs
  • Jeffrey Roberts

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Jeffrey Roberts, 53, principal architect, New World Design Ltd.

I like the Trump building. I think it's actually one of the nicer Trump projects. It offers a different presence from different vantage points in the city because of its curved and flat faces. I'm not going to say it's one of the world's finest buildings, but it's certainly a competent high-rise.

"We [at New World Design] watched the building go up, and having some familiarity with Mr. Trump, we couldn't believe it didn't have some kind of distasteful sign plastered onto it. Then, in 2014, it happened. He stuck a billboard on the side of the building that exceeded anything anyone has done in the city. It wouldn't have mattered what name it was, Trump or Smith; it's just an inappropriate gesture. I think it has a degenerative quality. It's a blaring element that doesn't belong, a moniker of bad taste.

COURTESY NEW WORLD DESIGN LTD.
  • Courtesy New World Design Ltd.

"Immediately after the election, my office was just disillusioned. Everybody was spiritually shot. I was walking around the city, thinking about the sign. I thought, 'You know what, maybe we could create something that would block the view of that sign so it wouldn't annoy us.' So I go back to the office, and everybody thought it was a great idea. We kept working and working and working on it until we came up with something that was fully rational, in direct contrast to the chaos and unpredictability of the last few months.

"The project consists of four helium-filled balloon pigs that float just in front of and to the south of the Trump sign, so that you don't see it as clearly. The pigs relate to Pink Floyd's Animals album, which is based on the novel Animal Farm, and there are four of them, one for each year that we believe we're going to have to endure the Trump presidency. The pigs are gold because about six months ago, we in the office read an article in an architecture magazine in which Trump described a gold-crusted interior as 'comfortable Modernism.' We were howling.

"If it's possible, we're going to actually create this thing. We think we can do it in a format that would be a one- or two-day arts display. The pragmatics of the situation are that the Chicago River is a wind tunnel, and these helium balloons would be about 40 feet long by 20 feet high. It's one thing if you're doing this for the Macy's parade and you're only hoisting them 30 feet off the ground, but these would be 120 feet in the air, and we don't want anything banging against the building.

COURTESY NEW WORLD DESIGN LTD.
  • Courtesy New World Design Ltd.

"Most of my clients don't have a problem with this. I work very closely with them, and they know that I'm not a radical; I'm essentially just calling somebody out for being foolish. We've received a great deal of positive response. We're also getting some really harsh feedback from detractors. We had to pull our phone number and address off our website a couple weeks ago, because the people calling were just brutally abusive. We were told to shove the pigs any number of ways. But that's just part of putting an idea like this out there.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we heard from Trump. And if he sues us, we'll figure it out."   v

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