|click images for larger view|
Even as Burnham was writing his Plan, however, a new city hall was already under construction at the site of its predecessor, over a mile away. In 1932, the vista west down Congress was terminated, not with a classically styled civic building, but by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White's humongous Main Post Office, fitted out in stripped-down Art Deco style. In the 1950's, the site where Burnham envisioned his great domed structure became, instead, the ‘Spaghetti Bowl’, a sprawling, anti-urban interchange of ramps linking the three great expressways - north, south, and west - that quickly began sucking the middle class out of the center city.
|Image courtesy The Chuckman Collection|
More recently, Congress Parkway east from State has evolved in street-life friendly ways, with the addition of the Harold L. Washington Library in 1991, the street-level shops of University Center in 2004 and Library Tower in 2006. To the west, Congress Parkway stubbornly remains more of a service road than a real street, with blank-faced buildings exemplified by the bunkered AT&T facility at 55 West and the Western Union building across the street. There's also the Loop's last surviving gas station. Seven lanes of traffic rushes by, motorists gunning it at speeds sometimes approaching 60 miles an hour.
|Renderings: Chicago Department of Transportation|
|Rendering: Chicago Department of Transportation|
I'm generally a sucker for colored lights (and balls of string), but my reaction to the new Congress Parkway installation is pretty much the same as when I encountered Lightscape on State. It's numbingly generic and devoid of any personality.
note: ants were sharing a warm spring night with me just off of Congress Parkway
This was a problem that would really have benefited from a competition drawing on the creativity of Chicago's best architects and lighting designers. Will we ever get the City of Chicago and those who run the competitions into a beneficial relationship? (How the city responds - or doesn't - to the Chicago Architectural Club's 2013 Burnham Prize Competition, Next Stop: Designing Chicago BRT Stations may give us a better idea of whether we're making any progress.)
I don't want to be harsh. The new design looks better at night, and better still in photographs, as opposed to in actual experience. I wish I liked it more, and it's possible it will grow on me. I know mine is a minority view. No doubt somewhere the awards certificates are already being printed. I applaud the shear guts of taking on this challenging task. I just wish CDOT had challenged themselves a bit more. The very real problem of Congress Parkway has been addressed less by solving it than by kicking it down the road.
Restoring Burnham Vision's for a Grand Gateway to the Lake