The architectural 'Time and Life' of Harry Weese

May 19, 2011

We've been on a Harry Weese kick as of late. The late Chicago architect's work, including the Swissotel and the Metropolitan Correctional Center, have appeared here in the last two months alone. Allow me one more: The former Time-Life Building at 541 N. Fairbanks, completed in 1969. The 30-story building grabbed my attention earlier this week as I walked through the area.

At first glance the tall steel-and-glass building seems less Weese and more Mies. Then a closer look reveals Weese's unique touch. The structural columns that bring the building's great heft to the ground are--and I never noticed this before--trapezoidal, rather than square or rectangular. The building's CorTen steel exterior (just like that of the Daley Center and the accompanying Picasso statue) allow the building to rust to a maintenance-free russet color--matching the shade of structure's mirrored bronze-tinted windows.

The building hovers over its plaza, providing a coffered ceiling there and in the lobby that is not unlike the one seen Weese's famed Washington D.C. Metro system.

Weese designed a forceful, powerful. no-nonsense building. But there is an elegance to be found, particularly in the lobby and the building's massing. And I like the revolving doors which seem to be so much of their time, I almost expected a young Joe Namath to come walking through in a ribbed turtleneck and a stewardess on each arm, or something.

The building that is a testament to a collaborating long past. The Time-Life publishing company left the building years ago. Weese died in 1998 at age 83.