Sunday, March 1, 2015

Charles M. Harper Center
 University of Chicago Booth School of Business
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Charles M. Harper Center - University of Chicago Booth School of Business (2004) Rafael Viñoly Architects PC, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

What's in a name? Well when writing about a building, one usually uses the most commonly recognized and easily identified historical reference. Houses usually keep the name of the original owner, though sometimes a later resident who had an impact on the home's life, or in history, will result in a hyphenated appellation. With commercial or institutional buildings the task gets jumbled and a bit more difficult. Commercial real estate purchases can result in a small notebook listing of name changes, often resulting in a confusing set of historical identities. One generations' Sears Tower becomes anothers' Willis Tower. Corporate changes can result in an unpopular switch of nomenclature, like when the venerable Chicago retail institution Marshall Field & Co. became Macy's. In the case of architect Rafael Viñoly's building for the University of Chicago, name changes and modifications came in rather breathtakingly fast, sign-altering succession.

  [Charles M. Harper Center - University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 2000 the University held a competition for the design of a new building to house their Graduate School of Business. The School had been organized in 1898 six years after the University's founding, and was dubbed the College of Commerce and Politics. In 1916 Administration replaced Politics, and by 1932 the the business school was simply named the School of Business. And although the undergraduate portion of the program was dropped in 1942, the word Graduate wasn't added to School of Business until 1959. Then in 1994 a satellite business school campus was opened in downtown Chicago, so by the time the  project was awarded to Viñoly, the name, The Hyde Park Center of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business was long, but perfectly accurate.

  [Charles M. Harper Center - University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Hyde Park /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Viñoly came to New York in 1979 leaving behind a very successful and established architectural career in his native Argentina. He founded his own firm in Manhattan in 1983, and by the time he entered the U of C competition 17 years later, Viñoly had reestablished himself as one of the leaders of emerging 21st century design. The new building was going to replace a building designed by a famous modernist of another era, Eero Saarinen. In the 1950s Sarrinen had come-up with a master plan for the campus and one of the projects that was completed under his tenure was the 500-bed Woodward Court dormitory building. Never a favorite of his - he felt that because of constant budget cuts that the building as constructed had compromised his original design - by the close of the 20th century the dorms were old, outdated and ready for replacement.

  [Charles M. Harper Center - University of Chicago Booth School of Business /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

But it wasn't just any site. Bertram Goodhue's towering Gothic tribute to financial largess the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, was located across the street on one side, while Frank Lloyd Wright's low-slung modern masterpiece the Frederick C. Robie House was on the other. Viñoly's challenge was to integrate a very modern contemporary structure within the context of two very different and opposing stylistic forces. And if that wasn't enough of a challenge, the building had to serve as a study refuge for the students and faculty in one of the most prestigious MBA programs in the country, in an ever changing high-tech world. Viñoly's nod to Wright's horizontal cantilevered design and Goodhue's Gothic inspirations opened in 2004. The Hyde Park Center signage remained the same until a beneficent alumnus made a major contribution to the University in 2007 and the building was renamed the Charles M. Harper Center of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Then a year later alum David Booth gave U of C $300 million, and in honor of the gift the Center became the Charles M. Harper Center - University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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