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The 2006 top ten in Chicago architecture (illuminated)





What's with this sick compulsion to create year-end top ten lists? Can I resist? Obviously not. (Originally published, in somewhat different and far better edited form, as one of the Critics' Picks 2006 in the December 22 edition of the Chicago Reader.)

 -by Lynn Becker








Mies van der Rohe’s IBM Building goes condo UIC SkyspaceSoldier Field stripped of landmark statusChicago Freedom Museum • 2006 TOP TENSlummy paint job at Marina City Ned Cramer departs CAFVerdant mini-forest at One South DearbornABC7’s glitzy street-level studio (wave to the camera)Wrigley Field’s new bleachersHarboe returns Louis Sullivan’s cornice to Carson Pirie ScottUrbanLab wins Chicago City of the Future City competition30 West OakFour Points Sheraton demonstrates there'll never be a shortage of horrid buildingsIN CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE • Lee Bey leaves SOMChicago to ban concrete block?Helmut Jahn designs SROThe amazing disappearing, reappearing Calatrava SpireRobocop turned scholar inhabits Frank's Home at Goodman Madgalena Abakanowicz's AgoraMegamansions Go Wild! Richard Nickel's Chicago Duck!

Architecture is about more than buildings - it's also about people, events, and ambitions. You could assemble any number of 2006 top ten lists just from the things I left out, a sampling of which is listed above (all hot-linked). For better or worse - and believe me, worse is always crashing the party- here are my picks for the year now drawing to a close.

Comer Youth Center
Gary Comer Youth Center
The first major Chicago project from one of the best of the city's new generation of architects, John Ronan, the Gary Comer Youth Center uses bright color and graceful massing to create an instant landmark for the Grand Crossing neighborhood.

Hyde Park Arts Center
Hyde Parks Arts Center by architect Douglas Garofalo
Architect Douglas Garofalo transformed an old army PX into a new 32,000-square-foot home for the Hyde Park Arts Center that combines gritty industrialism with bright-hued elegance.






Construction on Block 37
Block 37 in Chicago
The 1989 bulldozing of the entire city block across from Marshall Field's turned into one of Chicago's longest-enduring fiascoes, resisting a succession of developers, architects, and beautiful visions to remain little more than a dirt pile for a decade and a half. With construction finally under way on an office building, condos, and a big shopping mall, a happy ending finally may be in sight.

Learning From North Lawndale
Learning from North Lawndale
A Chicago Architectural Club competition and an accompanying exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation brought one of the city's most historic neighborhoods-home to the first movie palace and the original Sears Tower and to Golda Meir and Martin Luther King Jr.-back into focus and, along with the UIC City Design Center's Greystone Initiative, explored ways to revive the community without displacing current residents.

Louis Sullivan at 150
Louis Sullivan at 150
There couldn't have been a more bittersweet celebration than this monthlong series of events, involving arts organizations across the city, that observed the sesquicentennial of our most treasured architect's birth, in a year when three of his surviving 24 Chicago buildings-the K.A.M. Synagogue/Pilgrim Baptist Church, Wirt Dexter Building, and George Harvey House - were destroyed by fire.

Massive Change and Sustainable Architecture in Chicago

Left, Bruce Mau at Massive Change; Right, UrbanLab proposal for Aurora riverfront
Massive Change and Sustainable Architecture in Chicago at the MCA

Massive Change, Bruce Mau's exhibition-as-futurist-manifesto at the Museum of Contemporary Art (through December 31) may be a triumph of public relations over reality, but it's also an astounding array of innovative design, from plastics made from potatoes to featherless chickens; an accompanying exhibit, Sustainable Architecture in Chicago, showcases sustainable design from seven of Chicago's best architects (through January 7).

New Faces

From left: Sarah Herda, Joseph Rosa, Zoe Ryan
Sarah Herda, Joseph Rosa, Zoe Ryan

Sarah Herda came from New York to become the new director of the Graham Foundation. Joseph Rosa parachuted in from San Francisco's MOMA to become curator of architecture and design at the Art Institute, where the emphasis on design was underscored by the October appointment of another New Yorker, Zoe Ryan, to the new position of curator of design. Will Rosa's love affair with theory make the cut in Chicago, the city of "Don't talk-build"?

Whither SOM? Zero Energy Tower

The battles are over, the dust settled. In is a younger generation led by east-coast import Ross Wimer-a protege of David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's New York office, the consummate power player who outmaneuvered Daniel Libeskind in the designing of the Freedom Tower. Out is a group of architects centered on 60ish Adrian Smith, known for megaprojects such as Trump Tower. Smith's new firm is staking its future on sustainable architecture, like a new "zero energy" skyscraper in China that produces as much energy as it consumes.



Chicago Olympic Logo2016 Olympics

What Mayor Daley wants, Mayor Daley gets. His current plan to drop a "temporary" 95,000-seat stadium in Frederick Olmsted's historic Washington Park could be the first attempt to make the city's bid for 2016 Olympics the justification for every public-works sugarplum he craves over his next three terms.



Aqua Tower by architect Jeanne Gang
At half a billion dollars, Aqua, the curvy, mesalike skyscraper designed by Jeanne Gang is the largest commission ever landed by a woman architect; it could also mark the moment when - in the best tradition of Sullivan, Root, Burnham, and Mies - Chicago's most ambitious buildings were put back into the hands of its most talented architects.


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© Copyright 2006 images and text Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

Richard Nickel's Chicago

Santiago Calatrava Chicago Spire

Sketches of Frank Gehry

James Turrell's Skyspace at UIC

Massive Change

Planning and Its Disconnects in the city of Chicago