The best (and worst) in Chicago architecture 2011

December 19, 2011

It's been a relatively active year in Chicago architecture, all things considered. Let's take a look at the good and the bad.

For my money, the good begins with the photo above: The UNO Soccer Academy that was completed this year at 51st and Homan. The metallic, almost serpentine-like charter school was designed by Chicago architect Juan Moreno and Ghafari Associates, uplifts the working class Gage Park neighborhood in which it sits. The school has generated some buzz in design circles, but not nearly as much as it deserves. Which is fine, in the end. The students and residents know what they've got. Read more about the school.

Also good? The magical, mechanical Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago Designed by Helmut Jahn. The structure features a breathtaking and expansive glass-domed reading room. And beneath the room sits a five-story deep storage area with an automated shelving system that--within minutes of a computer command from the reference desk--can fetch any one of the library's 3.5 million books, periodicals, etc., and bring it topside. Read more about the library.

And one more highlight of 2011: The city's Landmarks Commission and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency voted to recommend he U.S. Park Service grant a National Register of Historic Places listing for the city's connecting ring of historic parks and boulevards. The listing would not only give an additional honor to big parks like Douglas, Washington, Gage, Humboldt and Sherman, it would make property owners of pre-1942 buildings on the miles and miles of boulevards leading to the parks--streets like Logan Boulevard, Drexel and Garfield--eligible for money-saving tax credits and other rehab incentives. Read more here.

And now some of the worst...

The demolition of the old Michael Reese Hospital main building at 29th and Ellis--despite assurances from City Hall under now former Mayor Richard M. Daley that it would be preserved. Read more here.

That awful fiberglass Marilyn Monroe in granny panties outside the 401 N. Michigan Avenue building. I opined about it here, but architecture journalist and critic Edward Lifson summed it up best, calling the statue "The Seven Year Kitsch."

And now it's your turn. What were the best and worst things that happened on the Chicago architecture front in 2011? Email them to me at lbey@wbez.org and I'll blog your responses between now and next week.

And one more thing: If you're on Michigan Avenue tomorrow around 12:15pm, drop by the City Gallery inside the old Historic Water Tower, 806 N. Michigan. I'll be giving a lively--and final--gallery talk on my photo exhibit there, Chicago Then and Now: A Story by Lee Bey. The show, which has been in the gallery since January, pairs 100 year old images of Chicago locales--taken from postcards and stereoscope cards--with my contemporary photography of the same sites. See the image and come check me out.