Friday, August 09, 2013

Sour Disposition Friday: Vue53 and The 606

OK, I apologize in advance, but I just have to get it out of my system . . .

Valerio Dewalt Train does good work.  I've recently posted on their Earl Shapiro Hall, at the U of C Lab Schools, and I'm quite fond of EnV, across Wells from the Merchandise Mart.
click images for larger view
However, with apologies to the Infinite Monkey Theorem, I'm thinking that if you combined a roomful of architects with a roomful of community activists and let them loose on 3D rendering software for an infinite amount of time, the result would look something like this . . .
rendering:  Valerio Dewalt Train
This is Vue53, the end product of a lot of iterations and consultations with the Hyde Park community.  It replaces a Mobil gas station and car wash at 53rd, between Kenwood and Kimbark.  As you can see in this presentation, Vue53 meets all kinds of desirable metrics on affordable housing, minority participation, transit-oriented development and the avoidance of TIF funding.  Everyone appears to agree it's a wonderful thing.

Am I the only who finds this design, especially compared to the new construction in and around Harper Court, numbingly banal?  It looks like the alley end of a big-box store, spit up into the sky. 
rendering: Valerio Dewalt Train
My bet is this is the kind of building that, only a few decades from now, will keep a new generation of community activists very busy trying to figure out a way to get it torn down.


Meanwhile, on the near northwest side, another hardy group of community activists is about to see their decade-long dream realized.  Work has begun on The Bloomingdale Trail, the conversion of an abandoned 2.7 stretch of rail line into a raised public park modeled after the wildly successful High Line that's revitalized New York City's meatpacking district.  A design team led by ARUP and including Ross Barney Architects, ARUP and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, has created a striking vision . . .
It will be a great thing.  Even the name - roll it around on your tongue: Bloooooooomingdale.  Just that long vowel sound carries the promise of something wonderful.  The very word - Blooming - evokes images of all the wonderful landscaping, “Dale” the way it flows through the neighborhoods like a valley on a viaduct, and “Trail” the spirit of adventure that invites you to explore it.
Well, we can't have that, can we?

Members of the project's advisory board emitted the bureaucrat's native cry, “Bring on the consultants!” and a consultant appeared, charged with creating a new name for the project,  encompassing both the reconstructed viaduct and the five parks to be aligned with it.

And what was the  product of all their labors?  (Wait for it):
No, I'm not making this up.  It was unveiled this past June, and far more interesting than the name itself is the enterprise with which various participants began spinning, spinning, spinning the Emperor's New Clothes to convince themselves this wasn't a nakedly bone-headed idea.

“When it was first presented, we all sort of went, ‘huh?’ one participant told The Huffington Post. “And then when it’s explained to you, it makes an enormous amount of sense.” New Rule: If you need a personal briefing to even begin to figure out what a name means, it's probably not a good name.

The consultants said people didn't understand what the Bloomingdale Trail referred to.  And when we say “people”, we mean out-of-town donors.  Apparently it was felt it will be easier to raise money for “The 606”.  (Which, in case you haven't guessed, refers to the three-digit prefix of the zip codes used, not just in the vicinity of the Bloomingdale Trail, but across every last one of Chicago's 234 square miles.)

The new name is the work of the usually highly capable Branding Agency Landor Associates, which somehow didn't seem to notice the tenuous relationship between “The 606” and the firm's own Eight Principles of Naming.

1.  Make it memorable.
“The 606” is about as memorable as the serial number on the ticket you get from the dispenser at the deli counter.
2.  Fill it with meaning.  
“The 606” - Is it a highway designation? An area code?  A sign of demonic possession that lost its nerve?
3.  Say it out loud.
Watch people stare and wait for the men with the big nets to take you away.
4.  Don't wait to fall in love.
Fast forward right to the loathing
5.  Listen to your fear.
“I wrote a big fat check for this?’
6.  Stand out in a crowd
Right next to The 202, The 64, The 8 1/2 x ll, and The “You are number six . . .”

7.  Too much is never enough.

And “The 606” is the day you went home early because you didn't want to miss Jersey Shore.
8.  Expect its story to evolve.
Some day, Timmy, you could become The 606-A!

“The 606”,  devoid of meaning and belligerently generic, will stand with “We are Beatrice,” in the Pantheon of stupid naming tricks.


OK.  That's done.  I'm going to go lie down now.


Anonymous said...

Great Rant.

Keep up the good work!

urbanpln said...

That building does not compliment it's surroundings and looks out of place. This is an example of why people in many neighborhoods throughout the city do not like contemporary architecture.

@ChasonDailey said...

Quick edit - it replaces the McMobil Station, gas station, and MAC Property Management parking lot on 53rd essentially between Kenwood and Kimbark, not Cornell.

Lynn Becker said...

Only six blocks off! Thanks for catching this Chason; correction made.

Anonymous said...

EnV looks cheap and dated already. Not really sure how you think this is so much worse. All you are doing is giving ammo to NIMBYs. What this is, like EnV, is a very architecturally functional well thought out urban addition. "...figure out a way to get it torn down?" Ha, you need to get a grip. This area is like a third world narco state, it needs more of these not less.

Lynn Becker said...

Scary announcer voice: "In a world . . . where 'cheap and dated' equals 'architecturally functional well thought out'. . . " Yes, yes - more please!

Anonymous said...

Apparently Lynn Becker takes offense to his opinions being picked apart by a thoughtfully put together poster. Geez, Lynn, take some Pepto, we all get served once in awhile.

Lynn Becker said...

We welcome all comments. I was merely trying to helpful, pointing out something really can't be "cheap and dated" and "architecturally functional well thought out" at the same time. Unless "well thought out" is presumed to have a millisecond shelf life between "completed" and "dated."

And if we're talking about opinions, can someone explain to me how Hyde Park equals a "third world narco state"?

Anonymous said...

If it has no function then it is just art, or a monument. Architecture serves a purpose or a function in addition to being visually appealing. One example from this building are the various setbacks and cutouts that allow this building to bring dense urban living right up to the sidewalk while also being interesting to look at. This building is a perfect "10" on the new urbanism scale and it is an interesting design.

Yes, this area is a 3rd world narco state. There have been over 160 murders since 2007 in a 2 mile radius of this building. Most of these murders are execution style and a good portion have been innocent children. This isnt even taking into account the many other violent crimes.

So lets get this built and not let NIMBYs like you or others in Hyde Park block progress. You need more than "I dont like how this looks and it should be torn down after it is built" to really criticize something.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if "The 606" didn't arise from the mind of some idiot ad agency exec sitting in a room in LA who has never come closer than 30,000 feet from Chicago (whilst flying in a jet on his way to NYC). "The 606" is clearly trying to evoke the notion of an expressway or freeway. However, what this clearly non-Chicagoan consultant didn't realize is that no one in Chicago refers to freeways by their number, let alone adding "the" as a prefix to it.

It's not "the 90/94" it is "The Kennedy". If the number must come up, it is "I'm going to take I-90 to O'Hare" not "The 90 to O'Hare". So what we've got here is a crappy name that is so foreign to this city that I can't reasonably assume it was generated by a person who has so much as stepped foot in Chicago.

We desperately need to ditch "the 606" bullshit and use "Bloomingdale Trail" which makes all too much sense considering it is a trail that runs along Bloomingdale. Maybe they'll let us keep "Bloomingdale Trail" if we change it to "Bloomingdale Ave Trail" since everyone who is not from Chicago also seems horribly confused by the fact that no one in Chicago ever uses the suffix of street names unless they are referring to a Boulevard. If they asked us to add "ave" to it, you'd know they are from NYC since it's mainly New Yorkers who are utterly mindboggled by the fact that "St" and "Ave" have nothing to do with what direct the road travels in Chicago.

Lynn Becker said...

new Anonymous: great point on "The 606" sounding like an out-of-towners idea of a route number. Landor Associates has a Chicago office, but it's an international firm. The new name has the kind of homogenized generic quality that often gets confused with "universal". If I had to bet, I'd say "The 606" will be like the "Willis Tower". As official as it may be, it won't supersede the original name among locals.

Lynn Becker said...

recurring Anonymous:

To say Vue53 is a perfect 10 on the New Urbanism scale is to damn New Urbanism more thoroughly than it's most aggressive critics.

This building looks like a cardboard model made in the groggy, early morning hours of an all-nighter. As rendered, all the windows - even those of the residences - read like the kind of blind windows you find in bad parking garages.

The cut-ins are shallow and pointless. The massing is arbitrary and oppressive. Even with all the cheap-looking windows, this building is heavy, heavy heavy. It squats. It looks like an homage to the Chinese wall of the Metra viaduct. It's a back-alley structure blown up to monumental scale.

With all the great architecture in Hyde Park and Kenwood, to praise this design as some kind of paragon is an act of willful blindness.