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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I went looking for this editorial after perusing the other threads. It is a rather funny and interesting look into the skyline's transformation back in the early 1980s. It has a preview of the "State of Illinois Building" which has caused so much heartburn to Mayor Daley and (at least in my case) a sense of appreciation on the part of the Loop footsoldiers tromping to and from work on a daily basis.


Published: May 8, 1983

For the last 30 years, the crisp, austere forms of the International Style have been the hallmark of this city's skyline. So one's first reaction to the latest crop of Chicago skyscrapers is that they don't belong here - that there has been some mistake, that they must have been intended for some other city.

But that is not, of course, the case - the half-dozen or so new buildings that are so completely changing this city's skyline were very much meant to be here, and what they proved is that Chicago, like the rest of the country, has moved away from the rigid orthodoxies of the International Style. The change from blank boxes to more eccentric skyscraper forms has been slower to come to this city than to most others, but it has now arrived in earnest.

Even Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm that has been the commanding presence in Chicago's commercial architecture for more than a generation, has been forced to change its tune. Skidmore's latest large building, a still-unfinished condominium tower on the near North Side with the pretentious name of One Magnificent Mile, is sheathed in granite, not the metal of its earlier Sears Tower and John Hancock Center buildings. And One Magnificent Mile's overall form is a bundle of sections with angled sides and sliced-off tops that creates a jagged, uneven profile on the skyline.

It is, at this stage, an awkward and ungainly building. Skidmore here seems to be playing catch-up ball, forced by the popularity of other architects' work to design in a playful, less-rigorous style, and it seems distinctly ill at ease there. Whatever else can be said of the 95-story John Hancock Center, it is nothing if not selfassured - and all of that certainty has now gone out the window.

The rising presence in Chicago architecture right now - and the architect who seems to have assumed Skidmore's position as the one others follow - is Helmut Jahn, design partner of the firm of Murphy/Jahn. As C. F. Murphy Associates, that firm was Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's long-time competitor, and much of its work was in Skidmore's shadow. Though the new Jahn buildings are uneven in quality - and one of them, 1 South Wacker Drive, is particularly disappointing - it is they that have come to set the city's design tone, along with another new building by a New York firm, Kohn Pederson Fox.

Mr. Jahn is a designer who melds Chicago's traditional interest in technology and sleekness with what might be called New York's theatrical flamboyance. He seems impatient with the ordered, rationalist approach to skyscraper design that was the legacy of Chicago's philosopher-king of architecture, Mies van der Rohe; he dives back into history to pick up elements from the architectural past which he finds visually appealing, and then renders them in a kind of sleek, ''high-tech'' garb.

Mr. Jahn's work often overreaches, and it occasionally takes on a glittery tone that appeared cheap, particularly in contrast to the somber dignity of Chicago's more traditional modern architecture. But it is an architecture that is continually inventive and almost consistently entertaining, neither modernist nor avowedly historicist.

His best new building, surely, is the addition just finished for the Chicago Board of Trade. Designed in association with Shaw & Associates and Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, the addition's form echoes in glass the stepped-back mass of the original Board of Trade building, one of Chicago's few first-class Art Deco towers, complete with a peaked roof on which is set the Board of Trade's symbol, like a huge hood ornament.

There could not be a more direct illustration of Mr. Jahn's interest in rendering historical forms in modern materials, and the result comes off neither as blind homage nor as excessively original, but as a comfortable and civilized synthesis. The new building is not sheathed entirely in glass; on the sides, where it adjoins the original structure, there are screen walls of limestone which create a subtle transition from the older stone tower to the new one of glass. So the materials change gradually, from all stone on the original tower to a mixture where the two meet, and then to all glass on the new tower. And the consistent Art Deco silhouette holds it all together."

Read the rest at your leisure . . . . .
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