Come on, Oak Park, demand great architecture

Opinion: Columns

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By Barbara Gordon

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As a nearly 20-year resident of Oak Park and executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, I was relieved to learn that Golub & Company canceled its plans to build a 299-foot tower two doors east of Unity Temple. 

With the current zoning in the area topped out at 45 feet, this new residential development would have drastically changed the scale of the block, in addition to casting shadows on Unity Temple's sanctuary and Unity House during key morning hours of church services. The building also would have put significant shadows on the main library and over Scoville Park. 

Not only did we have serious concerns of how light, shadows and context would affect the integrity of the building and the experience within the space, but there was high probability that this, or any development above the current underlying zoning, would change the scale of Oak Park from that of a pedestrian-friendly main street to an urbanized canyon. 

This particular crisis has been averted for now, but there will be other developers, as there should be in such a prime location. Our consortium of preservation partners, including Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, Landmarks Illinois, and the Unity Temple Unitarian/Universalist congregation, took a thoughtful, professional approach to the situation by having a number of conversations with Golub's team. But the reality is that before another developer approaches the block, the village of Oak Park needs to come to terms with what would be the best building for that site. 

With our tradition of great architecture in our stately homes and grand churches, we oftentimes rest on our laurels when what we should be doing is demanding the best in urban planning and design to fit within the village's architectural fabric. There are developers out there who can respect the context of this block and embrace great design to give Oak Park a new building. It may not house 250 units, but it will give Unity Temple, an internationally admired work nominated to the World Heritage List, the respect it deserves — and maybe even bring great architecture back to Oak Park.

Barbara Gordon is executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

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HRutledge Carmichael from Oak Park  

Posted: April 17th, 2019 11:13 AM

Eric Davis said it best - instead of giving the developer a garage why not hire an architect for them ? Not just - or mainly the towers, stuff like the townhomes (?) on Madison, or the mega-bland thing on South blvd/Harelm.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 10th, 2019 4:38 PM

Where is the line of developers who wants to hear demands and pay IZ fees? Game over.

Helen Vogel  

Posted: April 10th, 2019 2:42 PM

I completely agree, but as mentioned in other articles, I don't think everything needs to be Wright inspired. The best architect can blend the old with the new.

Heidi Ruehle-May  

Posted: April 10th, 2019 11:11 AM

Well said Barb! We need to learn how to be forward thinking and encourage development while preserving the very architecture that make this village so great! Architectural preservation and development can live in harmony if we try.

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