Tuesday, November 16, 2010


South Michigan Avenue is an humbling experience for an Architect. Not so much for the presence of so much fine architecture, but more for Architecture's singular lack of individual effect when placed into the consistency of plane and height of the universally loved South Michigan Avenue "Wall." Peirce Anderson's decadent Roman Columns of People's Gas, Frederick Dinkelberg's brilliant terra cotta facade at the Railway Exchange, and Charles Beersman's Buffalo and Beehive on the peak of the Straus Bank all play "second fiddle" to the Wall that defines the West edge of Grant Park. Even Sullivan's Auditorium (like Krueck and Sexton's Spertus) becomes a part of the whole.

Not to say that architecture, style, diversity and ornament don't contribute to the richness of the urban composition as a whole. They do. But it is the coherence of place and plan that that forever identifies South Michigan Avenue's Architecture with Chicago. And marks the City with a clear hierarchical relationship of solid and void, a defining line of public and private, and a city-scaled geometry that is inherently a Chicago Landmark.

"Make no little plans......" Who doesn't know?

But we seem to have forgotten. Or to have become incapable. No contemporary urban space in Chicago approaches, in quality or scale or impact, the Grant Park/Michigan Avenue composition. And though I'd like to see some "Big Plans" on the drawing boards, we are, today, defined by the foresight and accomplishments of a hundred years past



But for now, that's a good thing .  A really good thing.   What would Chicago be,  after all, ......without the Park, the Lions, the Wall and the defining legacy of the last century's Beaux Arts Planners, Architects and Sculptors?



1 comment:

  1. It hit me a few years ago, walking around Downtown LA, past Moneao's cathedral, Gehry's Disney Hall, MOCA, etc., all buildings self-consciously built to be a work of art, each making a sweeping statement. It's very much like paintings hanging in a gallery. The Wall on Michigan Avenue is so very different. No one building is a great as the sum of the whole. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

    Great post.