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Another Miniature Modernist Gems Bites the Dust
The loss of the Episcopal Church Center helps speed the Manhattanization of Chicago's off-Michigan Avenue.

Expanded ArchitectureChicago Plus posting from January 23, 2005


Statue at Episcoal Center of ChicagoNot that long along, there was a 60's era mid-rise office building just off Michigan Avenue, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that, although largely unheralded, was one that firm's more graceful creations. It's lithe frame was not of steel, but of a rusticated poured concrete, and on the lobby floor there was a broad wall of handsome onyx set in bronze frames, so bright and rich that it looked almost eccentric, seeming to pop out from the austere visual framework of the building like an effect in a 3-D movie. The structure was demolished, without protest, for the 2004's 56 story 55 East Erie Condo tower.

Now, just a block north, another graceful piece of modernism, Peter Roesch and James Wright Hammond's 1969's Episcopal Church Center, behind the historic St. James Cathedral, is about to meet a similar fate. Like the SOM structure, The Episcopal Center is quintessential modernist box - a four-floor steel framed rectangle cantilevered over aEpiscopal Center of Chicago recessed entry set on a raised podium. Like the SOM building, it includes a generous public plaza that affords the streetscape a bit of much-needed breathing room, now even more desperately needed as the surrounding area, rebranded by developers as "The Cathedral District," transforms into a Manhattan-like canyon of soaring high-rises.

One can't blame the Episcopal Church for wanting to cash in while the real estate boom rages, and 71 West Huron, the sleek and shapely 730 foot tower designed by DeStefano + Partners that is slated to rise on the site, is a world removed from the kind of condo dreck that has overrun Dearborn Street. Still, the loss of the current building, however homely, and its plaza, however featureless, remains a violent tear in the modulation of scale that gave the area its balance and urbanity. To add insult to injury, even as the graceful Episcopal Church Center is sacrified, the concrete clunker across the street, originally a headquarters for the PTA and now the Thai consulate, endures in all its street-deadening splendor.

Postscript: the 2009 financial collapse sent the 730 foot tower proposal into the dumpster. The Episcopal Center is safe, at least for now.







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© Copyright 2006 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.




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