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Why Architecture Matters

Lessons from Chicago

For more than a decade, Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin has been writing fiery, intelligent essays on the state of contemporary architecture. His subjects range from high-rises to highways, parks to public housing, Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry. Why Architecture Matters collects the best of Kamin’s acclaimed columns, offering both a look at America’s foremost architectural city and a taste of Kamin’s penetrating, witty style of critique.

408 pages | 70 halftones, 8 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Architecture: Architecture--Criticism

Chicago and Illinois

Geography: Urban Geography

Table of Contents

Introduction
Part One - The Evolving Metropolis
The Mediocre Mile
The Mayor’s Maypole: Boul Mich Pylon Plan Reason to Hoist Warning Flags
Twice Cursed: Rehabbed Marriott Is Miles and Miles from Magnificent
Faking History: Disney’s Make-Believe Architecture Is Just What Michigan Avenue Doesn’t Need

That Comeback Street
Stately Street: Retro Renovation Puts a Once-Great Shopping Mecca on the Road to Economic and Aesthetic Recovery
An Elevating Station: Avoiding the Tunnel Vision of the Past, the Airy Renovation of the State/Roosevelt Subway Stop Sets a Zesty Standard
Building a Better Block 37: Good Intentions Simply Aren’t Enough for High Stakes State Street Project
Public Works and the Public Realm
Updating the Dark Ages: Daley’s Walled-Neighborhoods Plan Would Do Much to Hurt the City and Little to Stop Crime
The Bridges of Cook County: Design Enhances Engineering in Citywide Project
Triumphal Arches: Damen Avenue Bridge Is a Modern-Day Beauty
 
Making the Past a Part of the Future
Tumbling Legacy: Shortsighted Moves by the City Have the Potential to Send Architectural Gems Toppling Like Dominoes
Vertical Triumph: Reliance Building Restoration Is a Vote for Old Glory
Crumbling Icons: Some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greatest Buildings Are Falling Apart, but the Bigger Question Is—What Can We Do to Save Them?

Suburbanizing the City
City-Escape: A New, Schlocky Brand of Architecture Promotes a Chicago that Never Was
Populist Playground: Navy Pier Has Shaped Up, but Aesthetics Have Been Shipped Out
The Sky Above, the Dud Below: Developer John Buck Is Skating on Thin Ice When He Compares His North Bridge Project to New York’s Rockefeller Center

Urbanizing the Suburbs
Shopping for an Identity: Renovated Old Orchard Too Much at Once
Losing Yardage: City and Suburbs Worse Off When Homeowners Gobble Up Their Green Space
Suburban Skyline: Arlington Heights Fights Sprawl with Urban Innovations

Part Two - The Art of Architecture
Sizing Up the Skyscraper
Still Standing Tall: Plain and Simple, Hancock Rules
Reaching for the Sky: After Two Decades, Sears Comes Up Short
Bigger, but Better? New World’s Tallest Design for 7 South Dearborn Leaves Room for Improvement
Inner Beauty: Stunning Atrium Offsets New Skyscraper’s Public Face
Green Giant: Germany’s Commerzbank Is a Breath of Fresh Air for Stale Skyscrapers

Unsung Heroes
The Man with the Plan: Revisiting Daniel H. Burnham, the Architect Who Bent Entire Cities to His Will
Masters of Understatement: Miesian Architects May Get No Respect, but Their Boldly Simply Style Suits Chicago to a T
Weese’s Legacy: Historical Society’s Exhibit Salutes a Consummate Man of the City

Opportunities Lost (and Found) in Chicago
Doing the Wrong Thing Flawlessly: The Arts Club of Chicago Holds on to the Past Instead of Exploring the Future
A Fumbled Chance at Greatness: The Museum of Contemporary Art Tries but Fails to Extend Chicago’s History of Design Triumphs
Structural Damage: Chicago Has Forfeited Its Title as the Nation’s Architectural Capital
A Star Is Reborn: Underappreciated Adler Planetarium Rockets into the Future with Daring New Addition

Architecture with a Capital "A": Look Elsewhere
Monument to Memory: The Holocaust Museum Is a Searing Space of Pain and Healing
Star Attraction: The Hayden Sphere Has Landed and It’s Friendly to Earthlings
Welcome to the Future: Frank Gehry’s Stunning New Guggenheim Museum in Spain Is the First Great Building of the Next Century
Berlin’s Leading Edge: Helmut Jahn’s New Sony Center Helps Turn a Wasteland into a Thriving Urban Center that Draws Together East and West

Importing "Starchitects"
Koolhaas’s IIT Campus Center: Success Will Be in the Details
Gehry’s Chicago Band Shell: Outsider Art Is Catalyst for Creativity
Eisenman’s Aronoff Center in Cincinnati: For a Design to Stand the Test of Time, the Building Must Do the Same

Part Three - Architecture as a Social Art
Places and Catalysts for Gathering
Town Square I: Face Lift Improves Daley Plaza and Maintains Its Special Character
Town Square II: Folk Music School’s New Home Strikes the Right Note
Moo-ving Tale: Cows Broke Down the Fences that Kept Us Apart

Raising and Razing Temples of Sport
Comiskey Park: New Neighbor Not Necessarily New Friend
The Stadium: The End Is Near for Chicago’s Shrine
The United Center: Don’t Take Me Out to the Mall Game

Building a Better Life
A Leap of Creativity: Old St. Pat’s Is New Again
Where Learning’s Fun by Design: Back of the Yards School Is Neighborhood Beacon
Day-Care Package: Tigerman Leads the Way toward a Bootstrap Architecture that Gives Low-Income Kids a Leg Up

Private Housing: Building Boom, Architecture Bust
Strange Neighbors: Bright New Condos Add Vitality to the City—but Something about Them Is Just Not Right
Tall Building Comes Up Short: New Apartment Tower Is a Drag on the Skyline

Public Housing: Sheltered by Design
Housing that Works: Politicians and Bureaucrats Have Been the Real Architects of Public Housing, but It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way
Urban Mosaic’s Lost Piece: Creative Planners Have Discarded the "Tower-in-the-Park" Model that Disconnected Public Housing from Its Surroundings
Building a Sense of Security: Fences, Individual Front Doors, and Porches Create Safe Spaces that Can Free Residents from Being Virtual Prisoners of Drug Dealers and Prostitutes
Myth Must Be Exploded: Stereotyping Ignores Factors that Make High-Rises Livable Buildings or Monumental Eyesores

Part Four - The Lakefront: Democratic Vistas
Putting the Car in Its Place
Gem in the Making: The New Museum Campus Is Chicago’s Latest Lakefront Jewel, but It Still Needs a Little Polishing
Park Above, Parking Below: A Subterranean Garage Adds Excitement to a Museum and Green Space to the Lakefront
Beauty and the Beach: Three New Castles in the Sand Suit the Lakefront Perfectly

Reinventing the Lakefront
A Flawed Jewel: The Lakefront Needs Help, and the City of Chicago Has a Rare Chance to Remold It for the Twenty-first Century—but Where’s the Vision?
The Great Divide: Carved by Racism, the Chasm between North and South Side Amenities Can Be Bridged, but It Will Take More than a Few Flowers
Grant Park’s Double Life: Jammed and Raucous during Summer Festivals, Empty and Sleepy the Rest of the Year, Our Central Park Needs a Single, Vibrant Personality
A Landmark of Labor: As a Celebration of Industry, the Idled South Works Steel Plant Could Forge a New Link in the Chain of Waterfront Parks and Museums
Striking a Balance: Lincoln Park Is about to Add the Nature Museum to Its Already Full Plate, While the South Lakefront Hungers for Improvements
Big Canvas, Little Plans: Mayer Daley Could Be an Architect for the Shoreline, Not Just a Groundkeeper—and Now Is the Time to Act
 
Acknowledgments
Illustration Credits
Index

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