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Friday, November 27, 2009

Chicago Still Destroying Gropius' Work

St. Louis has a long way to go to catch up to Chicago. While our Archdiocese senselessly demolished a motel by Charles Colbert this year, Chicago city government has been working to demolish the Michael Reese Hospital campus planned and co-designed by Walter Gropius. This week, the city's wreckers demolished the power plant shown above, which was completed in 1953 and designed by Gropius' The Architects Collaborative. Only five buildings associated with Gropius remain out of the eight that stood earlier this year, and the landscape is ruined.

The Michael Reese campus was Gropius' only work in Chicago. In Chicago during the twentieth century, American eyes gazed upon some of the finest modern architecture in the history of the world, from Louis Sullivan to Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe to Walter Gropius. As we know, the Windy City's regard for the work of Sullivan has been spotty at best. Gropius' work at least enjoys good company in its flagrant disregard.

While the city of Chicago is now bound by its contract with the demolition company, one wonders why the city even rushed to get into such an arrangement not knowing the outcome of its Olympics bid. Why did Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle deign to play architectural historian and dispute the well-documented role of Gropius? Why did Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the supposed "Green Mayor," rush to throw away irreplaceable, internationally significant modern architecture and already-built building stock? Don't ask. Irrational acts of destruction lack any rational explanation.


Jeff Geerling said...

imo, the only reason to let one of these abominations stand is to leave a warning to future generations of how unpleasant and appalling was the architecture of the mid-20th century. We could let one building from each of these architects remain, but that's about it.

samizdat said...

To Mr. Geerling: I never went to college, and even I know how important and often times beautiful the structures of the Bauhaus, the International Movement, etc. are, and how important they are to architecture and engineering today. My wife and I have over three, and possibly four dozen, design and architecture books in our possession--the majority of which I have read through, and all of which I've sampled visually--and I can say with great confidence that you have absolutely NO IDEA of what you speak. Not to mention, of course, the actual buildings which I've visited. You are an unlearned provocateur. I suggest additional schooling.

Doug Duckworth said...

Moderism has Don Draper sex appeal.

Anonymous said...

In response to samizdat, I must say I agree with Mr. Geerling on this particular building, and on much of the Bauhaus, International, Brutalist, etc, etc, portfolio. While I will grant that there is an occasional masterwork amongst the modern/postmodern architectural artifacts, most are bleak and abstract intellectual works that fail to excite or resonate with those who must see and interact with them. Worse yet, these architectural movements authorized and inspired some of the most insipid, profit centered, de-humanizing abominations the built environment has ever seen. While there may be an underlying philosophy and meaning to the International movement, the WalMart in my neighborhood, and the cheap office space down the road use the late 20th century palate to dismal effect. Humanity needs curlicues, crenelations, bevels, gargoyles, and complexity. Our visual system is adapted to the high fractal dimension of the natural world.

In short, I agree that examples of van der Rohe, Gropius, May, etc. should be preserved as object lessons, but the world would be well served to move past this black spot on our collective aesthetic conscience.