Ken, your column, “Don’t maximize profit, maximize quality” [Ken Trainor, Viewpoints, July 26], is mostly right on the money. Even more so was a recent opinion piece by Anthony Wood, executive director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, who lives in Oak Park. He excoriated the village for approving truly pedestrian, tall building designs in a town filled with Prairie School and other masterpieces.
I thoroughly agree with Mr. Wood and, therefore, disagree a bit with you. Among Mr. Wood’s bad buildings is Vantage, of which you say that its designers “paid enough attention to architectural design to produce a slightly-better-than-bland building.” Sad to say, Vantage does not reach that level of approbation, either inside or outside. It is emphatically a suburban contemporary tower. It is analogous to the sort of wall art one would buy at an upscale furniture store.
Gensler, the Vantage architecture firm, has done much more interesting buildings in the city of Chicago, so one wonders, given the speed with which the developers are getting out of town, if those developers screwed things down tight with the architect, picked from a catalog of templates and wanted nothing to do with design uniqueness. A pity. Gensler designed the soon-to-be-built Columbia College Student Center, a stunning glass-facade building; the very fine Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago’s Gratz Center; and the now nearly complete Fulton West Building on Ogden in West Town, a somewhat less exciting but still eye-catching building that exceeds Vantage’s interest by a lot.
And now we have the nearly completed Emerson building, a most curious hodge-podge of unrelated architectural elements: a 5-story segment square to the Lake Street sidewalk (with a Target store) and a 20-story tower to its south, connected by an enclosed passageway. The tower, at least, has some interest with its variegated facade and an attractive sinewy cover on the side of its garage. But the massing and flow of the total project is just strange. And this is again a surprise from an architecture firm that has done some fine work in the city of Chicago. Fitzgerald Associates Architects is the designer of a new West Loop tower, 727 W. Madison, which is just starting construction and is a remarkable building, clearly one that developers wanted to be a “statement” structure. Niche 905, Arkadia Tower and other distinctive buildings adorn their portfolio. The Emerson has hints of such panache, but only hints.
You mentioned Frank Paris’ statement, “Oak Park doesn’t ask for enough.” Is the urge for development so frantic in the village that Oak Park is still willing to take whatever it’s given, and gives thanks to the nice developers for deigning to build there, whatever it is they want to build? It appears that Mr. Paris is still right. Or, alternatively, we can hope that the village will insist that the developers of Albion put up a building that breaks the current mold and does the architectural legacy of the village proud. Could happen.
Don’t be holding your breath.
Ed McDevitt is a River Forest%u200B resident and a volunteer docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.