What to do with Lakeside Center?

November 2, 2010

Lakeside Center sits there, overlooking the shore as it has for 40 years. One wonders for how much longer.

For more than a decade after its 1971 completion, when you said "McCormick Place," the big, dark, glassy pavilion was it. Then came a quarter century of McCormick Place additions--a westward expansion that, thankfully, saved the lakefront, but left a landmark-quality modernist gem looking rather marooned on the east side of Lake Shore Drive. Separated from the pack and underutilized, the original McCormick Place seems a bit vulnerable now.

Will it come down? Mayor Daley has threatened a decade ago when he called it the Berlin Wall of the lakefront--he's right--and said it was too costly to maintain. And last year, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns McCormick Place, figured it would cost $100 million just to update the building; and a multi-million updating of the facility in the late 1990s is barely more than a decade old...

What would you do with the building? Keep it? Demolish it? A demo would be a blow to the city's fledgling efforts to protect modern architecture. Would we want to lose a building by Gene R. Summers--a protege of Mies van der Rohe-- and a young Helmut Jahn, who worked with Summers at C.F. Murphy Associates (the firm later became Murphy/Jahn).

Keeping it is no small feat either. It would have to be repurposed as something other than a convention center, and although small as a convention center, the building's "tale of the tape" is staggering. It has 580,000 square feet inside--the gross square feet of 15 blocks' worth of Chicago bungalows. Hall E alone is 283,000 square feet, making it bigger than the 264,000 square foot Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

So what would you do with it? Comment below...