Insulting to call Comcast facade 'ugly'

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Robert Bell

I read a quote from my friend Perry Vietti, about the Comcast building project, I think in an Oak Leaves story. Our firm, Robert A. Bell Architects, was the architect for the remodeling of the Ford dealership to accommodate Cablevision in 1982. The project included creating a second-floor TV studio, as well as other major changes. We suggested that Cablevision restore the original exterior design, which was done in about 1929 by the Detroit architectural firm, Albert Kahn, for the Cadillac Motor Co. But Cablevision wanted a more "up-to-date," clean look and that lead to the new Exterior Insulation Finish System known as "Drivit," which has lasted quite well since it was installed in 1982 (28 years ago).

Drivit is a material that looks so much like stucco, one of F. L. Wright's favorite materials, that it is hard to tell the difference. Perry Vietti described it as a "nasty" material, which I think is quite unfair and misleading. When the remodeling was done, the building was viewed as attractive, even though personally I would have preferred the restoration of the original design.

I just read a Wednesday Journal article by talented Oak Park architect Garret Eakin, describing the proposed redesign of the building by Vietti's firm, praising the addition of two additional floors designed to "match" the original Albert Kahn design [The housing of Cadillac may go green,, Jan. 12]. Eakins described the existing Drivit as "ghastly," if I remember correctly. If these comments were coming from "the public," they might be understandable, but when the project developer and an architect member of the historic preservation commission characterize Drivit in such a derogatory way, it seems suspect. What are their motives? It is also insulting to all who had a hand in the Cablevision project.

I do support the reuse of the building for affordable housing. Our firm was involved in remodeling the building at Madison and Elgin in Forest Park, a few blocks from the Comcast building, upgrading the existing modest studio apartments on the two upper floors as affordable housing. Another building in the neighborhood recently renovated is the affordable Bon Villa Apartments on Wisconsin in Oak Park. Also nearby are the single rooms available to rent at the Oak Park YMCA, which have provided affordable housing since the 1950s. Like the proposed Comcast project, none of these buildings provide significant numbers of parking spaces. The idea that the neighborhood will be negatively affected by the affordable housing proposed at the Comcast building seems to be refuted by the longtime presence of nearby affordable housing.

Robert Bell is an Oak Park resident and president of Robert A. Bell Architects.

Reader Comments

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Chris Koertge  

Posted: February 14th, 2011 10:00 AM

@Skylar: I'm guessing that the building's energy use is close to zero now...

Skylar Bowker  

Posted: February 13th, 2011 10:17 PM

The historic people need to be less concerned about "traditional building materials" and more concerned about reducing a building's energy use. The world is changing, and whether they like it or not they need to as well. The building can be visually modified using coated foam shapes designed for EIFS. A few window trims and sills, a cornice along the time, pilasters on the first floor and it will look gorgeous.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: February 11th, 2011 12:43 PM

Might have been wrong about calling the Comcast Building ugly. From now on I will just say: The architectural appearance of the Comcast Building, now or four story version, is not as ugly as me in skinny jeans.

J.G. Morales  

Posted: February 2nd, 2011 8:05 PM

Insulting? Can't people have opinions anymore? Sure, it might be mean to tell Grandma that the sweater she bought you for Christmas was ugly, but maybe if you do she won't buy you another one! =-) While I hadn't commented on the beauty of the building, I do agree that it's not very attractive. I feel the same way about guys in skinny jeans. Sue me. =-/

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: February 2nd, 2011 6:00 PM

The Interfaith architectural team input is useless. It is typical of Interfaith's activities to day. All bluster, few facts. As far as the Comcast Building architecture. It might have originally been designed by Kahn but it sure is not his best. As far as the update to the buildings in 1980's. The architects managed to take a old good looking building and made it look like a Public Storage building. Put two floors on it and it will look like a cereal box.


Posted: February 2nd, 2011 8:42 AM

Exactly, you made my point we already have low-income buildings close by. WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER ONE!

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