Thursday, February 19, 2015

University of Illinois at Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [University of Illinois at Chicago (1965) Walter A. Netsch, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Once upon a time in the city called Chicago, there was a mayor named Daley and a   powerful university with the name of Illinois looking to build a college campus. The university's home was a couple hundred miles south of the city, but the school had a satellite campus located at Chicago's Navy Pier. After the Second World War, and lots of federal dollars coming Chicago's way in the early 1960s, the school told the Mayor they'd like to expand and create a real campus for students in the greater metro area, and the Mayor was ready to oblige. There were several sites considered, (one would have taken over Garfield Park on the city's west side) but Hizzoner favored a large, and likely to be abandoned railyard just south of the Loop business district. The Mayor could see the handwriting on the wall in 1961 and knew that once the railroads left the urban core, there would be a lot of derelict property just south of the business center, which was not a good thing for his city. But the railroads weren't very cooperative, so another site was selected in a densely populated neighborhood that had recently been designated a slum area with a large scale redevelopment plan in the works. And much to the chagrin of the residents of that community, a lawsuit and a court decision siding with the city, the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was hired and demolition began.

 [University of Illinois at Chicago, Halsted & Harrsion Streets, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

SOM was a major architectural firm with lots of clout and lots of projects going on all over the world. Walter Netsch, a firm partner and the design team leader, was not an adherent of the Mies van der Rohe school of design, which was very popular at the time. Netsch blazed his own path, much more interested in exploring the geometry of the square and angle and all the possibilities therein. He achieved a certain level of fame in 1962 with his Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs with its soaring triangular angulations. At U of I, he not only used similar formations in an interesting curtain wall of glass, but given the fact that the University was on a tight budget, used concrete as the primary building material. The surface of the cement was roughed-up so that the pebble aggregate would rise to the surface, making it more texturally interesting and make it much harder to paste non-sanctioned flyers and posters on its stony surface.

  [University of Illinois at Chicago, Hull House, 800 S. Halsted Street /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1889, Jane Addams got some of her rich society friends together and raised enough money to open the city's first settlement house in one of the city's poorest, tightly packed and ethnically diverse neighborhoods where she rented Charles Hull's old, house, which had been standing on Halsted Street since 1856. By 1962, Hull House was a series of interconnected buildings located on a multi-block piece of property at what was going to become the eastern edge of the new, Chicago campus. The complex was demolished along with the rest of the neighborhood, and remnants of the original mansion were dug out from under the layers of additions and extensions that had grown to engulf Mr. Hull's home over the ensuing years. Then the University reconstructed a romantically recreated version of the house dating back to the 1850s, and in a nod to Ms. Addams and all her good works, the interior was restored and returned back to its 1880s appearance when Ms. Addams and her partner Ellen Starr first moved in. The destruction of the neighborhood and the settlement house was considered somewhat brutal, which is what many people came to call Netsch's campus experiment - brutal. 

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