Logan Center a must-see in Hyde Park, Oak Park

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Garret Eakin

The University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts officially opened in October as a striking new complex to study modern art. The $114 million complex was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Holabird & Root as associate architects. In an architectural era where context is rarely considered, this project not only respects Chicago and the campus architecture but celebrates our prairie landscape. For architects working in Oak Park, the Logan Center demonstrates how modern architecture can be sympathetic to our traditional buildings and human scale.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Robbie House stands arguably as the most important piece of architecture on the South Side. Logan Center pays homage to the master's work, while drawing from various sources a fresh new language of materials and form.

The 184,000-square-foot building program sought to integrate all of the arts: performance, music, sculpture, drawing and painting. The goal of encouraging interdisciplinary work is at the heart of what the institution is about. The building asserts itself on the South Side with an 11-story music tower, a two-story fine arts building and a large performance structure to the south. These components define a human scaled courtyard with a restaurant spilling onto the elegant plaza. Between the tower and the two-story studios, a dramatic glass and steel reading room cantilevers over the sidewalk marking the entrance and providing shelter.

The asymmetrical tower is a dynamic composition of mass and void crowned by a three-story glassy recital room with spectacular views to the campus and lake. The high-rise is clad in natural stone similar to the limestone throughout the campus. A 4x4x4 long rectangular module recalls the Roman brick at the Robbie House with an exaggerated modern spin. The high-rise echoes the Gothic towers on campus without symmetry, and each elevation uniquely responds to the views. Unexpected shifts in scale are delightful, peeking one's interest to explore the interior.

This is a building elevated to architecture by respecting the context, challenging the status quo and composing an intriguing sequence of spaces. The architects began their practice designing interiors — and I am happy to report that they continue to complete their building interiors with invention and intelligence. We explored the endless variety of volumes starting at the top of the tower and descending through the Music school.

The unorthodox vertical school is linked by two stairs that encourage students to walk between floors and collaborate in these hansom niches. The ever changing stairs, composed of architectural quality concrete, steel and glass, frame spectacular views well worthy of the climb. At grade, a sleek restaurant is placed with moving glass walls flowing to a landscaped courtyard that is defined by the brick and stone landmark Midway Studios.

This is a complex of architecture offering pertinent lessons on how to create modern buildings while respecting the scale, texture and language of context. Oak Park has such a context, and the Logan Center is a must see for all those designing and building in our small scale village.

Oak Parker Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.


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