University of Chicago

Today’s adventure took me to the South Side of Chicago to explore the campus of the University to Chicago. One of the principals of the firm and her husband extolled on how beautiful the campus was, and they were right, and it is an interesting juxtaposition how the firm is building an afforable housing project to replace some of the older CHA projects just a few blocks south of the university. It is a great mix of historic and modern, with the classic Chicago Gothic meeting Brutalism meeting Modern Tech meeting the humanistic Modern and so on. Plus the history of the area, and of the Midway Plaisance (which was the Midway of the 1893 Columbian Exhibition complete with a new invention now known as the Ferris Wheel) is absolutely amazing. I wanted to check out Jackson and Washington Parks, but unfortunately rain decided to pop up. I will head back down there in the Spring when everything is in bloom. Here are some highlights:

The Logan Center for the Arts – Tod Williams/Billie Tsien
Billie Tsien lectured at Tulane last fall and showed a bit of this project. It doesn’t disappoint. The attention to detail, and how everything connects/joinery is amazing. I really loved how the brick becomes pavers of the same proportion in the courtyard. I can’t wait to sneak into this building at some point. There is a balcony about 2/3 of the way up the tower that was in use very enthusiastically by the students.

Near the Logan Center is the School of Social Services Administration by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Not as expressive as Crown Hall, but still worthy in its own right with shades of warmth inside with wood. It feels grounded in ways some of his other buildings aren’t, perhaps as an expression of the schools mission in helping others.

Very close to the SSA lies the Law School Complex by Eero Saarinen. One of his lesser known works, and lacking some of the expression and experimentation of the facade as his other works of his later years (such as the John Deere Headquarters in Moline). Some of the detailing of the slab was really well done, and I liked the solid building used as a play off of the glass library.

One of the highlights along with the Logan is the Mansueto Library by Helmet Jahn. His technology driven Modernism is a great foil to the Brutalist library designed by Walter Netsch. The highlights that Jahn’s glass dome reflect onto the facade of Netsch’s work are very fascinating. It allows Netsch’s work to maintain its facade towards S. Ellis, while giving Jahn’s work its own dues as well. It reminds me of how Norman Foster inserted a similar in shape and material library into the mat building of the Free University in Berlin.

I stumbled upon this and really loved the juxtaposition of ivy and Chicago Gothic.

Last but not least is the Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright. Impressive in its own right, but I much prefer his own home and studio. Its a bit jarring to see it in its context, especially with the large Booth School of Business directly across the street. I passed on the tour today, but may take it when I head back this way in the spring.

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Josh Mings

Architect and painter. Columbus, IN born, New Orleans educated, Chicago living and trying to leave the world better than I found it.