Sunday, March 1, 2015

Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences (1969) I.W. Colburn & Associates, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

After Henry Hinds graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in geology at the beginning of the 20th century he worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, surveyed coal deposits in Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and parts in between, became a professor at the University of Virginia, and eventually worked in the oil industry for companies like Standard Oil hunting for underground fields of thick, bubbling black gold. In 1961 Henry's alma mater combined the geology and meteorology departments into one and began talks about housing the newly combined departments in a new building.And since the school's former geology student had made a nice chunk of change money in his fossil-fuel-filled life his estate was able to give $1.2 million to the University in 1967 to help defray the construction costs of a new geophysical building. The gift was substantial enough that the oil alum's name was placed at the front of the Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences building title.

  [Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences, 5734 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Seven years before the generous Hinds gift, two very important things happened in the life of Chicago architect Irving (Ike) Walker Colburn, he married Frances Haffner and he designed a home in suburban Lake Forest. That project garnered the young designer a first prize in the American Institute of Architect's Home for Better Living sponsored by Life Magazine and House & Home and much publicity. The McClellan House, located on Lake Road in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, had already elicited a lot of attention in the posh north shore community when it was built in 1958. It looked like nothing else around it, and raised red flags for some of the areas more visually conservative inhabitants. The house was modern, clean-lined and very stark especially compared to the multitude of classical revival styles of the surrounding mansions. It helped establish the young architect's reputation and may have helped him secure the position as the University of Chicago's supervising architect in 1964.

  [Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

For nearly 70 years the university had worked within a Gothic Revival framework that had been set in stone when the school built its first buildings in the 1890s. But by the mid-1950s the powers that be decided that perhaps a more modern, contemporary look might be in order and hired architect Eero Saarinen to come up with a plan. The first group of non-gargoyled structures were built south of a wide greenbelt known as the Midway, which was a major dividing line between the original Henry Ives Cobb designed campus campus buildings that had jumped across the Midway starting in the 1920s.

  [Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

A new geophys  building was just one piece of an ongoing, decades long expansion project, which was going to cost a tidy sum of money. In 1964 the trustees formed a committee to organize a $160 million fund raising campaign, one of many to come, and named Chicago printing tycoon Gaylord Donnelley as national chairman. Ike Colburn just happened to be married to Donnelley's cousin Frances Haffner Colburn. Frances' father, Charles Haffner, had once been the chairman of R.R. Donnelley & Sons. Haffner was the son-in-law of Thomas Donnelley, one of the sons of R.R., and took over the reigns of his father-in-law's business until another Donnelley took the helm. Perhaps it was the Colburn/Haffner/Donnelley connection that resulted in Colburn's appointment as the University's supervising architect, or it may have just been a coincidental confluence of events. However he got there, Colburn served as the school's architectural supervisor for the next 20 years, and got to design the new science building. He pulled-out all his modernist stops, which made the conservative trustees nervous. It was one thing to have these odd looking buildings south of the Midway, but bringing them into the comfortable familiar surroundings of their grey Gothic milieu was asking too much. Colburn was able to convince them that his use of grey stone slabs and red brick paid homage to Ives' stone buildings and their red tile roofs, and the trustees gave their okay. When the building was ready for occupancy in 1969, college campuses around the country were in turmoil. Colburn's modernist structure was one of U of C's revolutionary happening events.

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