Sunday, December 07, 2014

Infinity, Chicago School Style

click images for larger view
Polemically, the second Chicago School of Architecture was based on steel, glass and the grid, a supply-chain cocktail of standardized units repeated and extruded to massive scale.  That key formula was central to Chicago's original subway, expressed in a continuous platform 3,500 feet long, at the time of its 1943 opening a world record.  That continuity was tempered by the supporting columns being painted in a different color for each of the three named stations, and physically sliced up for good when the Washington Station was closed for the construction of never-used connections to the never-opened Block 37 superstation.

Now, however, after a $10 million renovation that was completed this summer, Harrison, the next subway station to the south, has become a striking exercise in standardization, repetition, and extrusion.   In this CTA photograph of the station in its previous state, it's a functional if slightly grungy workaday vision, tan columns, and gray ceiling, mottled with age.
Harrison Street - before
In its freshly renovated state, however, the station, at least for the moment, has been transformed into a singular, Egyptian-scaled vision.  It all builds out of just a few basic elements - classic i-beam columns painted white, stretching, Avenue of Sphinxes-like, into infinity, down a seemingly endless platform, between identical white-metal light boxes, and supporting a great, rounded central vault bisected by a stream of rounded light fixtures and ringed with alternating stripes of light and shadow.

 It's worth a visit, before it starts getting beat up from use.  Go in an off-hour, and wait until almost all the people are gone.  This nearly surreal vision, bleached monochrome, abstracted of all details, is a haunting metaphor for our antiseptic mass-standardized, supply-chain world, beautiful and unsettling at the same time.


Anonymous said...

more of an exercise of economy, "here's a few cans of cheap white paint, paint everything"

Anonymous said...

This is proof, that paint can do wonders.