Friday, December 09, 2022

A Letter to the GSA Opposing the Proposed Demolition of the Century and Consumers Buildings

I am writing to strongly oppose the proposal to demolish two classic skyscrapers in downtown Chicago.  This proposal is unacceptable on several levels.

1.  The Consumers and Century buildings are indispensable landmark-quality structures that typify Chicago architecture. The Consumers is from the distinguished Chicago firm of Mundie and Jensen, and is an elegant terra-cotta clad tower that typifies the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan 's definition of a skyscraper as "a proud and soaring thing".  The Century Building is from another historic firm, Holabird & Roche, and marks the transition from the original Chicago School or architecture, to Art Deco. It's Neo-Manueline terra cotta ornament is unique.  It holds down its corner with power and grace.

2.  The Security justifications for demolition of these buildings are, to be frank, specious.  While one never wants to minimize the concerns of members of our Judiciary, those concerns cannot be allowed to govern policy solely on the grounds, not of reality, but of power.

The Consumers and Century are claimed to be an existential threat to Federal employees, yet only yards from the Dirksen building stands the Berghoff restaurant building, whose roof would provide a dangerous staging area for those looking to inflict harm.  More to the point, directly across the street is the Citadel Center, a glass-clad tower whose south facade opens vistas directly into the windows of the Dirksen Building.  As Citadel is winding down its Chicago operations, the possibility of unoccupied floors grows.

Even more importantly, the range of a common hunting rifle extends up to 400 yards, a long-range rifle double that distance, which means the same threat claimed to be presented by the Consumers and Century is also presented from a large number of tall buildings, privately-controlled, on the periphery of the Dirksen Building, including the glass-facaded former Home Federal Building on State (which ironically would have a clear view of the Dirksen Courthouse should the Consumers and Century be demolished), the Bankers Building (many floors of which are dedicated to transient hotel rooms), the Edison, Marquette and former Continental Bank buildings.  This, of course, would also apply to a terrorist seeking to launch an incendiary device.

The Consumers and Century Buildings have lived in peaceful co-existence for over half a century, ever since the Dirksen building opened in 1964.  There has never been, at least in Chicago, a single federal judge or employee killed or injured from a sniper shooting from outside their building.  The sad reality is that in the one case where the family members of a judge were tragically murdered, it was not at a work site, but at their residence.  In the case of incendiary devices, it should be remembered that Timothy McVeigh did not drive into the Alfred P. Murrah building to destroy it, but simply parked next to it on the street.

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that a nation willing to trade away liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither Liberty nor Safety.  To apply this to the present case, what is being proposed is trading two essential pieces of Chicago's urban fabric for a "security" that is both illusionary and dangerous.

3. Both structures are essential contributors to the State Street Streetwall.  Although the promise is to replace them with a park, their demolition would be the equivalent to the wholesale damage done to the center cities of the United States by destroying historic structures for parking lots, like pulling front teeth and replacing them only with painted gums.  More to the point, the proposal to change the Dirksen Building entrance to one off of that State Street park would destroy the entire concept another famed architect, Mies van der Rohe, developed for the Federal Center, in which all three buildings - the Dirksen Kluczynski and Post Office - revolve around the great plaza on Dearborn Street to create a sustaining civic space.

4.  The GSA was already at the point of approving a developer's plan to restore the Consumers and Century buildings as residential structures, when, inexplicably, the rug was pulled out from under them at the last minute.  Despite the GSA's long, often indefensible, laundry list of provisos in its request for comments, I still believe that was a viable plan, with security requiring approval - or even control - by the GSA.

However, local preservationists have presented proposals that meet all of those provisos, turning the buildings into document archives and other back-office operations, with the GSA in full control of security including removal of windows and other modifications where required that do not vandalize basic design integrity.  The GSA should accept these proposals.  The $52 million already earmarked for their destruction should more than cover the cost.

5. Conclusion.

Even a quick glance at the GSA's massive portfolio of properties demonstrates its proud history of enhancing America's cities with superior buildings, including both Mies's Federal Center, and, more recently the award-winning replacement for the Murrah Building designed by another great architect, Carol Ross Barney.  The destruction of the Consumers and Century would stand in stark opposition to everything the GSA's historic legacy stands for.  

We can do better.  We must do better.  Save, repurpose and  restore the Consumers and Century buildings.


Lynn Becker

Illustration #1: distance between Dirksen and Berghoff buildings

Illustration #2: distance between Citadel Center and Dirksen Building (Century Building in far distance right)

Friday, January 28, 2022

It's Delicious! It's Colorful! It's Fun! It's Plastic! Only through Sunday, The Plastic Bag Store comes to the Wrigley Building.

You have only through Sunday to see weird, wacky, very fun, but far from frivolous The Plastic Bag Store at the Wrigley Building. The "anchor attraction" of this year's Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival,    The store is stocked entirely with very real looking fruit, vegetables, fish and pastries, and packaged goods for parody brands - all made of washed and repurposed plastic bags and trash.

The creation of a team headed by Brooklyn-based designer, puppeteer and filmmaker Robin Frohardt, the installation also includes showing of puppet films - unfortunately sold out - in which an anthropologist far in future works to reconstruct the lost culture of the civilization of "the ancient customers", guided by a note placed in a bottle by Helen, a Met Museum custodian living today, and by the "millions of found artifacts" that are predominantly plastic, which, because plastic doesn't biodegrade, are the most common remnants of our culture to survive.

The Plastic Bag Store that you can visit at the Wrigley is, in concept, that future anthropologists reconstruction of what our society was like.

There's also magazines, and a "time machine" that allows you to put in a plastic bottle today and see what it will evolve into in a thousand years.  (Spoiler alert:  it's the same plastic bottle.)

The level of creativity is amazing.  The vegetables look just like vegetables, flowers, flowers, cakes and cupcakes, real pastries.  There's even a deli counter . . .

... and a prodigious selection of packaged goods (be sure to look at the backs)  that is truly impressive and inventive . .

It took me back to my childhood, and to the Wacky Packs that were a really big deal among 7-10 year-olds of my generation.  

They were inserts trading cards - later stickers - that came with nickel packs of Topps bubble gum that offered up parodies of popular brands and their packaging.  For my demographic, they were snarky-fun high-culture.

Originally exhibited in Times Square, it took a year to create the over 10,000 objects in the installation. "I collected bags from friends and family members," says Frohardt in her Youtube video.  "I had people save things, I rescued bags the street, I pulled bags from the trash, I pulled them from recycling bins. And then we designed all the packaging.  We had to wash every bottle, and label them."

"My aim, "she says, "isn't to make people feel bad. My aim is holding up the mirror and highlighting the absurdity of all this, and fueling the fire of public outage over all this."

Indeed, you won't find any any numbers or charts at The Plastic Bag Store.  "I didn't want to overwhelm with statistics," says Frohardt, "but more just wanted to create a kind of familiar, visually tactile experience that [people] could relate to or understand in a more visceral way than just a bunch of numbers."

Still, the facts are staggering:

The world produces 5 trillion plastic bags a year.  No more than 3% are recycled. Plastic doesn't biodegrade.  It breaks down into ever smaller pieces of itself, with an increasing toxic effect on living things.  Parts of north Pacific are estimated to hold six times more plastic than plankton.  Ingested as food, often increasingly scarce, it can kill from blocking the digestive system or poking holes in organs.  UNESCO estimates 100,000 marine mammals die each year from plastic pollution.  Of 61 dead whales found in the Phillipines, 45 of the deaths were traceable to plastic ingestion.  One young whale was found to have 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating landfill, twice the size of Texas, is mostly made up of plastic.

There are alternatives.  I have my own collection of David Lee Csisko reusable bags, "made from 100% post-consumer recycled content . . . the equivalent of three plastic bottles" to cut down on plastic bag use, but sometimes I forget to bring one with me, and I'm back to sin.  New York City passed a controversial ban on plastic bags in 2020.  In Chicago, we have 7 cent "plastic bag indulgences".

Will we ever get our act in order?  Doubtful.  Remember that decades ago we had a perfect recycling system for pop - glass Coke, Pepsi, etc. bottles that you paid a deposit on, and returned to the store for a refund, but we were too cheap and lazy to lug the bottles back and forth once we could get our beverages in eternally polluting plastic.  "Efficiency," they said.  "More hygenic," they said.  And we said, ".... yeah, why not!"  

So, in summary, we're killing our fellow animals, the environment, the planet, and, eventually, ourselves. But what a way to go!

Again, you have only through this Sunday, January 30th, to see the spectacular The Plastic Bag Store at the Wrigley Building.  Frohardt and team will show you a really good time, and you won't even have to think about the sobering implications of her non-guilting, deliciously colorful fun-ride.  But plastic leaves an aftertaste, and odds are, sometimes afterwards, you will.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Nine Lives of St. Boniface - Historic Church Architecture at the Crossroads


(Note: to just flip through the pictures in large view, simply click on any one of them.)

aturday, June 12th, developer Zev Salomon gave the Noble Square neighborhood a last chance to view the ruined interior of St. Boniface before it's gutted to create The Boniface, 18 condo units within the church's structure.

Founded by German immigrants, St. Boniface started with a small wooden church in 1864, graduating to the grand new building designed by prominent church architect Henry J. Schlacks.  It offered its first Mass on Christmas Day, 1903,  with construction completed the next year.

Image courtesy Alex Fries, Pipe Organ Database,

In 1990, St. Boniface was among the 28 parishes closed by the Archdiocese of Chicago.  The windows were boarded up, the 1908 Hann-Wangerin-Weickhardt organ removed.

Image courtesy Alex Fries, Pipe Organ Database,

The history of the next 30+ years was a roller-coaster leading nowhere, extensively documented on the Saint Boniface Info website here.  The building was under the jurisdiction of two successive aldermen.  It was listed as a "Most Endangered" structure by both Landmarks Illinois (1999) and Preservation Chicago (2003 and 2009), who teamed up with community groups in ongoing efforts to save the building.  

In 1999, the Archdiocese announced plans to demolish the church.  250 people showed up in the rain at a "Stop the Demolition" rally, organized by The Coalition to Save Saint Boniface.   A hold was put on demolition.  An ordinance for the city to buy St. Boniface goes nowhere.  In 2002, the Archdiocese announces its attention to sell the property.  They demolished the parish school and put the facade into storage.  

In 2003, The Archdiocese holds a design competition with submissions from such prominent Chicago firms as Booth Hansen, A. Epstein, Brininstool+Lynch, and Studio/Gang, whose concept coupled new residential towers on the side of the now demolished school with saving the actual church space as a meetings and event space.

At a 2005 reunion mass and dance, an Archdiocese representative declared none of the competition's entries were viable, no money would be spent on St. Boniface, and community organizers could have it if they'd just cut a check for $3,000,000.

Later in 2005, Smithfield Properties unveils a plan that would involve building a high-rise on the school site.  Representatives of the Coptic Church reveal interest in the property.  They are allowed to tour St. Boniface, but two years later in 2007, after being unsuccessful in communicating with the Archdiocese, a letter is sent to Cardinal George asking for action on the Coptic Orthodox Church's proposal.  It is responded to with a pre-printed form.  

A year later, in December of 2008, the Archdiocese rejects the Coptic Orthodox Church's proposal,  and applies for a permit to demolish the church.  As St. Boniface is listed "Orange" in the city's Historic Resources Survey of potential landmark buildings, a 90-day hold is put on the demolition request. At the end of that period, a demolition permit is issued, but the city continues to negotiate.

In 2010, a deal is reached where Institutional Project Management will build senior housing within the facades of the church. Storage of elements of the demolished school's facade are now warehoused by IPM, but will not be used

Four years later, in 2014, after developers are unable to obtain tax credits from the state and city, the senior living proposal is declared dead.  The following year, Carefree Development announces a plan to build 56 one and two bedroom rentals within St. Boniface's facades.  Another request for a demolition permit is made, and put on automatic 90-day hold, which is extended by the city.

In 2016, the developer announces a 10 story tower to be built on the site of St. Boniface.  In April, the hold on the demolition permit is continued as the Chicago Academy of Music presents a plan to use St. Boniface as a music school and performance center.  In October, the Academy enters a deal with Stas Development to purchase St. Boniface. It includes landmarking the church and converting it to 15 condominiums.  The proposal is approved by The Chicago Plan Commission in April of 2018.

For the balance of 2018, and 2019, and 2020, mostly the sound of crickets.

Last April, it was announced that Zev Salomon's ZSD Development had bought St. Boniface.  On June 12th, they opened the church to let neighborhood residents in to get a last look at the interior, cleaned up of the debris and much of the graffiti that had accumulated down through the decades. (There was also free ice cream, very welcome on a very hot day.)  Representatives were on hand and renderings and floorplans on display for potential buyers of the condos of The Boniface, which will range from $750k to $1.5 million.  The open tops of the bell towers will become private terraces for the pricier units. Reps said 3 units had already been sold.

Construction starts this week

It's no small miracle that St. Boniface survived these three, troubled and contentious decades to finally be saved, if not as a community and spiritual resource, then at least as an outstanding architectural marker of its time and place.

Corpus Christi Church, 4900 South King Drive, Joseph W. McCarthy, architect, 1916

As church attendance and the number of priests continue to decline, consolidations, abandonment and demolitions continue. In January, the Archdiocese announced a new round of closures, including St. Alselm, St. Ambrose and the spectacular Corpus Christi (shown above), whose last mass will be later this month.  Whether Chicago will ever find a viable solution or continue to allow our architectural heritage of historic churches to simply vanish remains an unanswered question, but that's a story for another time.

For now, here's some links, and more last images of St. Boniface's interior before it disappears.

August 29, 2003:  Sins of Demolition, The St. Boniface Architectural Competition

September 14, 2008: Archdiocese puts St. Boniface Out for Bid

January 21, 2009:  Archdiocese to St. Boniface: Die! Die! Die!

April 11, 2010:  St. Boniface: Saved?

January 7, 2013:  Heavens to Purgatory: Imploding Churches Flatten Chicago

St. Boniface, Our Lady of urban photography explorers, photographs of Brian Bobek

Behind the Scenes of St. Boniface Church Photoshoot,  Matt Wilhelm

Saint Boniface Church, Eric Holubow: urban exploration photographer

Photograph courtesy Brian Bobek,

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bobbing for Mies - Robert Venturi at IIT

In the fall of 2005, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Robert Venturi came to modernist shrine Crown Hall to out Mies van der Rohe as a closet symbolist and attempt to define the architecture of our time. (Originally published in abbreviated and far better edited form under the title, Live by the I Beam, Die by the I Beam in the December 16th Chicago Reader.) 
“There will be nothing new in what I say, but maybe it will have a new twist”  Robert Venturi, speaking at Crown Hall
Robert Venturi, the architect who launched the post-modernisn assault on Miesian glass-box

modernism by countering Mies van der Rohe's famous dictum, “Less is More” with his own “Less is a Bore,” was at IIT's restored Mies masterpiece Crown Hall last month to talk about “Mies is More: Learning from Mies,” part of the 2005 Chicago Humanities Festival. 

Lest anyone think the 80-year-old enfant-terrible was growing soft, however, Venturi's major thesis was to unmask Mies, known for minimalist structures free of the type of applied ornament that Louis Sullivan loved, as a bit of a hypocrite, not above choosing symbolism over substance when it came to creating an architecture that expressed the industrial age of his time. “Ultimate irony,” observed Venturi, “Mies, like other modernists, enjoyed abstraction as an aesthetic, yet also employed symbolism as an aesthetic.” 

For Mies, that meant keeping structure visible and exposed, but Chicago's strict building code requires that the steel frame of multi-storied buildings be fireproofed within a concrete casing. When you look at a classic Mies skyscraper like the IBM Building at Wabash and the River, the exterior may appear to be structure, but the structural steel is actually buried in concrete fireproofing, and what you're actually seeing are the anodized aluminum plates covering that concrete. 
IBM Building, now 330 North Wabash
To call Mies's bluff on another affection - the vertical steel I-beams that he loved to use as mullions between the continuous strips of windows on his buildings - Venturi quoted Tom Wolfe's diatribe against modern architecture, From Bauhaus to Our House. “Sticking things on the outside of walls,” Wolfe wrote, “wasn't that exactly what was known in another era as applied decoration?” 
Crown Hall, IIT
Ironically, the building in which Venturi made these observations is the one place where Mies was able to express his aesthetic without subterfuge. Crown Hall, because it's a one story building, didn't have to be fireproofed. The steel you see is not what Venturi calls an “appliqué”, but the actual structure. It was sandblasted down to the bare steel during this summer's restoration, and painted a revelatory deep and glossy black that observers who were there for the 1956 opening say replicates the building's original appearance. 

Venturi put up a slide with his comparison of “Mies” and “Bob”.

Mies Midcentury
Bob Post Mid-Century
Symbolic (industrial)Symbolic (iconographic)
Not acknowledgedAcknowledged
MinimalismComplexity and Contradiction
Not aesthetically expressedAesthetically expressed
Aesthetic cover-upAesthetic celebration
not manneristmannerist
Less is moreless is a bore

To Venturi, simplicity is an iron maiden; mannerism a sign of life. The fact he finds Mies a closet symbolist is, to Venturi, a good thing, but the fact that Mies wouldn't acknowledge it himself disqualifies him form the mannerist pantheon. 

“I think that the job of the architect is to create shelter,” said Venturi, “and to give a space a

kind of symbol.” He spoke of some of themes of Venturi and Scott Brown's latest book, Architecture as Signs and Systems : For a Mannerist Time. “All architecture of the past,” he observed, “had symbolism and signage except for this 20th century past. The hieroglyphics all over the architecture of ancient Egypt . . . the buildings were signs as well. You read the hieroglyphics. The architecture in the pediments of Greek and Roman temples had statue figures in them . . . essentially explaining to you about the Gods that who were being honored and worshipped. The early Christian architecture . . . the basilicas, and the same with the Byzantine architecture had all the mosaics - all of that was signage explaining what it was.” 

“There's been a book [The Place of Narrative: Mural Decoration in Italian Churches] out recently by a great art historian - Marilyn Lavin . The thesis is that we look at Italian Renaissance and the Baroque era murals , we look upon them as art. They are only incidentally art, according to her thesis. They were essentially there for the message given. The content was important. They taught you about Christianity and they did it in such an artful way that they are art. But they were incidentally art. They were essentially done as signs.” 

“The idea of using symbolism and signage is a constant one in the history of architecture. The Gothic church, the façade at Amiens or Rouen, it is a three-dimensional billboard. The Sphinx in ancient Egypt had a great meaning independent of art. At the time, most of people couldn't read.” 
Franklin Court ghost structure, Robert Venturi, William Rauch and Denise Scott Brown
National Parks Service photo

Venturi essentially sees mid 20th-century modernism as an aberration in architecture's long history. “We're no longer in the industrial age,” he says. “We're in the information age. We're also in the electronic age, . . . and to make architecture look like industrial buildings and to make architecture be abstract is no longer appropriate. The architecture that's being built today is this awful historical revival, the neo-modern modern revival. They're being just as historical in their revival as they would be if they were reviving Renaissance architecture or Gothic architecture.” 

Venturi looks to the restoration of symbolism for today's electronic age. ““How about,” he suggests, “electronic pixels as applied ornament rather than the industrial rivets as applied

ornament that are fashionable today?” At least some of the architects he would seem to fall place his modernist revival category, however, appear to be way ahead of him. For his elegant new Deutsche Post tower in Bonn, Helmut Jahn collaborated with lighting artist Yann Kersale to create a changing color sequence of red blue and yellow that plays across over 55,000 square meters from dusk to sunrise and accentuates its dual-skin design. It doesn't really seem all that far from a project for a pair of skyscrapers in Shanghai, designed by Venturi in collaboration with his life and work partner Denise Scott Brown, which look rather Miesian except for the strips of red LED's forming a grid overlaying much of the façade. 

What Venturi describes as the information age that I've written about as exemplified by Frank Gehry in a possible new era that could be called the Techno-Baroque, where content is king. In the 1920's, the great German critic Walter Benjamin wrote of German literature that, “'Baroque' is the only fitting way to describe the heaped-up crassness of its subject matter . . . the predominance of content.” Content over form. 

The age of content raises as many challenges for architects as it does for a Newscorp or Viacom struggling to fill an almost countless array of cable, internet and new media channels. Venturi's Shanghai towers, which appeared in the renderings he presented at the lecture to transmit nothing more than light, may already be retro. Perhaps the best expression of the content aesthetic can be found in an updated perennial, New York's Time Square, where high-tech signage is an integral part of the architecture, in the form of ever-larger “reader boards” that include everything from a massive electronic stock ticker on the Morgan Stanley Building, and nine bands of electronic color above ABC's street-level studios carrying both text and video. 

For an architect, the issue of obsolescent content has the potential to age a building far

faster than any physical decay. How long until visitors to Millennium Park's Crown Fountain began to get bored with the same 1,000 faces projected digitally on the fountain's two towers? In the future, will a building be viable only so long as it has access to fresh content for its digital displays? Taken to its logical extreme, facades of traditional glass, steel or stone may become obsolete - all materials will come to incorporate light-emitting elements. “Modernizing” a building will no longer mean changing its physical structure. By simply changing the feed to the digital boards, a building's appearance will be completely transformed. The fact that this will be no easy feat is reflected by Venturi/Scott Brown's own website. It's an engaging- and award-winning -construct of distinctive typography, whimsical symbols and day-glo colors, but its projects timeline doesn't appear to have been updated since the year 2000. 

Venturi and Scott Brown have created some the past century's most essential texts in understanding the architecture of their time. His IIT lecture indicates that he's a point where he's gotten out the revelation business, and more into an autumnal refinement of his basic concepts. 

Venturi, of course, is the guy who championed the idea of buildings as “decorated sheds,” and in response to a question he fielded after his lecture, he said he saw Frank Gehry's Pritzker bandshell in Millennium Park as carrying on “the idea of the great American loft tradition. His buildings . . . are essentially a loft with applied ornament, which are these potato chips,” Venturi said, referring to the billowing metallic forms that mane the stage. “So I feel at home when you acknowledge that his architecture is not only the potato chips, but the potato chips applied to a loft, and Frank was more than happy when I said that. “ J

 © Copyright 2005 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Six Bad Arguments for the Exploding Costs of CTA Stations

CTA Damen Green Line Station, Perkins and Will
The blowback – largely on Twitter – to my post about the $60 million cost of the new Damen and Lake station on the CTA green line is a dispiriting demonstration on how politicians play us like a violin.  The discussion revolves around a few basic arguments:

"Even if the stations could be built more economically, it doesn’t matter because infrastructure is expensive." Tell that to those on the short end of the giant TIF con, in which phony-baloney TIF's carved out of affluent areas generate – and retain - billions of dollars to make them even denser concentrations of wealth, while TIF’s in capital-starved neighborhood generate crumbs far insufficient to their needs. Well-managed cities have capital plans. Irredeemably corrupt ones have TIF's.

“Added cost = good design”  Really? Reasonable (and often unreasonable) constraints are the mother’s milk of creative architecture.

"It’s still cheaper than New York City’s new subway stations. Yes, but then so is just about everything short of the Burj Kalifa.

“We deserve it.” A perfect expression of the kind of civic balkanization the TIF system encourages.

"Other things - Jane Byrne interchange, O'Hare expansion, etc. - cost so much more!" So if we can't come to our senses, let's repeat the mistake as often as possible at slightly smaller scale.

"We need this - the CTA tends to be so shabby." Shabby indeed, but . . .

a. A station on a tighter budget does NOT have to be shabby.  That's the talent good architects bring to the equation.
State and Lake, Loop L

b. If we overspent less on the pork barrel stations, we’d have more for basic maintenance. While Red Line-Wilson got over $200 million, the Sheridan station – which boards slightly more passengers – has been allowed to be a decrepit mess for decades, just as for decades State and Lake has been a civic disgrace of peeling paint, creaking floorboards, curated pigeon droppings and general slummery even as $75,000,000 was found to build a new Washington and Wabash station to support about the same number of boardings.  The fact that rehabs for those stations only now have been announced doesn't make up for decades of willful neglect.

We think of ourselves as rational, progressive people, but at heart, we’re kittens distracted by a piece of string, the latest pretty bauble that bewitches and clouds our intellects. It's big! It's shiny! It’s expensive! Ergo, it must be good; it must be swallowed without a second thought.  Except, there is no good architecture without fitness to purpose.  
Cermak, Green Line

The new Cermak Green Line station is visually spectacular, and the poster child for construction overkill. Costing $50,000,000, it was to be the new gateway to McCormick Place and an emerging Motor Row, but so far it remains lightly used, generating less than a half million boardings a year. Multiply that by 50, for a projected 50 years until the next necessary major rehab, and it still comes out to $2.10 – more than the CTA’s basic fare – each time a passenger enters.
Original Fullerton Red/Brown Line station
I never thought I’d write anything nice about Charles Yerkes and the other traction crooks, but they understood budgets. The stations they built were cheap and aggressively efficient, but often not only simply but graciously designed.  They were not mini-Grand Centrals, but they had newsstands, a washroom – often even shops. And in most cases, they supported equal or even larger passenger loads than the CTA handles today. Many of these original stations have been preserved as important pieces of architecture, standing in constrained, silent contempt of the bloated counterparts that took their place.

To be sure, those original stations had drawbacks - not the least of which access for the physically challenged - that newer stations - all newer stations - must and should address.  Elevators, wide platforms, longer platforms to accommodate longer trains, are among functional improvements that are a welcome addition to all new and rehab construction.  Unwarranted, relentless monumentality, perhaps not.

We need a forensic breakdown on the costs of these mega-stations.  How much for the basics - structural support, platforms, stairways and elevators - and how much for all the bling?

If we're going to spend money on gateways, structures that define and help develop their communities, why would we be putting the big bucks into those that people spend only seconds rushing in and out of, and most of their time on the platform immersed in their smartphones waiting for the train to arrive?  Wouldn't it be better to spend more of that money on signature public spaces where people are actually encouraged to linger, enjoy and interact with the neighborhood around them?
Morgan Street, Green Line

As a lover of architecture, I delight in the design of Morgan, Cermak and Washington (Wilson, not so much). They're among the few bright spots in a city where the mediocrity of more and more new construction threatens to make a cruel joke of our reputation as a city where architecture matters. As a citizen of Chicago, however, I can’t walk by without smelling the reek of pork - fat contracts for the connected, even as greater needs are left to starve.
We've gone from $38,000,000 for Morgan Street, to $50,000,000 for Cermak to $60,000,000 for Damen, a 58% inflation in just 8 years.
Wilson Station, Red Line

We’re in thrall to a binary system. Dazzling displays of spending to give the beaming politicians ribbons to cut, or chronic neglect of facilities used by millions more but lacking in press opportunities. Shabby and/or derelict, or blingful and extravagant.  There has to be a middle way.

Less is more. Ever hear of it?