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Jagged Icebergs and Open Pit - the Brutalist Design the Chicago Children's Museums seeks to force into Grant Park.

 

     

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 -by Lynn Becker

[April 11, 2008] - Renderings the Chicago Children's Museum doesn't want you to see reveal the scarring intrusiveness of the structures it wants to build in Grant Park.

 

The Magic of America, by Marion Mahony Griffin

 

You can hardly see it's there, can you?

Sunken atrium, Chicago Children's Museum proposal,, Krueck and Sexton, architects

The two views presented here, screenshots from Fox News Chicago's Wednesday report by Tera Williams on the introduction of the Chicago Children's Museum proposal to build itself a new museum in Grant Park into the City Council, make it all too obvious why the CCM works overtime to keep them hidden from the general public. (None of these drawings, apparently, were presented to the Chicago Park District before they rubber-stamped the museum's land grab of park property earlier this week. )

Unlike the bird's eye views and abstracted cut-away elevations that have been the only views the CCM has released of their project, these renderings give a very clear idea of how intrusive the museum buildings would be in Grant Park.

See those drawings of people? See how the museum skylights tower what looks to be five or six times higher than the average human being? These are no inconspicuous smatterings of glass, but massive intrusions of bulky structure.

Museum advocates, of course, argue that these structures don't take much more of the footprint than the current fieldhouse. What they don't tell you is that the entire roof of current fieldhouse is landscaped.

Daley Bicentennial Plaza, Chicago, Randolph Street terrace
The tallest structure is a deliberately very low entrance to the parking garage.

Garage entrance, Daley Bicentennial Plaza, Chicago, Randolph Street terrace

Contrast this to the CCM proposal.

proposed Chicago Children's Museum, Grant Park, Krueck and Sexton, architects

Here, much of the former terrace becomes bare concrete, and a twenty foot high entrance pavilion is added above Randolph. (You don't see it in these renderings, but the deep shadow in which the people stand in this drawing? That's the shadow the entrance pavilion casts on the terrace.)

Then you move to park level, and here all doubts about the intrusiveness of the CCM's structure evaporate. What is there now? A fieldhouse placed within a landscaped berm, with landscaped slopes down to the park level.

What's there in the CCM's plan? A series of skylights/pavilions that dwarf the pedestrians walking next to them. Abutting these to the north is a huge central pit. On the museum's deceptive bird's eye views, it's colored the same neutral gray as the walkways around it, but as you can see, it's at a completely different level from the park, dropping another sixteen feet down, to a skylight lined courtyard that, according to Blair Kamin, will be accessible to museum visitors only. (You can see floorplans of all levels on Kamin's blog here.)

All this glittering debris is essential to the CCM's plan in order to compensate for the design's central, debilitating flaw, that its burrows the children three levels and up to 48 feet beneath Randolph Street. The only way to bring natural light into this grotto is through the towering structures we see here, the soaring iceberg-like skylights that makes the people walking between look like mere specks.

You have to give architects Krueck and Sexton credit for working feverishly to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear, but their design for the CCM comes off almost as a parody of their great new building for the Spertus Institute. Whereas the Spertus is serene and inviting, the CCM is desperately busy and unsettling. The various elements don't so much hang together as look like they were thrown together, as indeed they were through the countless re-iterations the design has gone through to try to make it marketable to the general public. Whereas today we have a homely fieldhouse structure hidden, except for its entrance facade, within a landscaped berm, in CCM's design we have a Babel of jagged forms, gauntlet walkways, and an open pit.

Brutalism was an architectural form whose vogue peaked in the 1960's. It created a number of great buildings before it died but, as the name implies, it drew its power from rawness rather than elegant finish, by poking you in the eye with the naked strength of its spare jagged forms. Krueck and Sexton's design for the CCM is a kind of new brutalism for our times, built, not of concrete, but steel and glass. Those spiky skylights are like eruptions on the skin hinting at the sickness beneath the surface: if you really loved children, why would you treat them like Morlocks, burying them alive in the bowels of a parking garage, 48 feet below grade?

In the densely built city, on Block 37, to name one example, or the site of the current Fort Dearborn Post Office at Clark and Grand, Krueck and Sexton's design might be an interesting failure, an exploration of the idea of a hyperdense city. As an intrusion into a park that is one of the last places of repose and contemplation in the North Loop, in a place that for most of two centuries has been mandated Forever Open, Clear and Free, it is an outrage.

proposed Chicago Children's Museum, Grant Park, Chicago, Krueck and Sexton, architects

 

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lynnbecker@lynnbecker.com

© 2008 photos and text Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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