|One South Wacker|
|Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)|
Fazlur Rahman Khan, Bruce Graham, SOM
|One Magnificent Mile|
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
The architectural styles here vary from block to block and even house to house. Among the few mansions and small apartment complexes you will find hundreds of well-preserved craftmans, Spanish colonials, English Tudors and a few mid-century houses. Some blocks look like a preserved sampler of 20th century life and most homeowners have done thoughtful restorations.
Lately however, I have watched as several charming bungalows were knocked down for the construction of bland and bigger homes in their place. With a depressing regularity, too many houses are falling victim to the American appetite for all things large and new.
The last injustice will be a coat of stucco in the requisite pastel pink or beige, looking more like a new commercial space than someone’s house. It seems incredibly shortsighted to underestimate and squander the very things that make this neighborhood great.
This is not just endemic to Eagle Rock. I see it everywhere and its been going on for a long time. I really don’t begrudge anyone building his or her dream home but often, these new houses destroy the character of a community. The scale is out of proportion to not only the property but to the surrounding homes. The designs lack any unique features or personality. The underlying motive for these thoughtless renovations are to squeeze the most real estate onto a small lot as cheaply as possible.
Why? It is not impossible to build a larger house without destroying the character of the neighborhood. I think we have a responsibility to keep the integrity of the street and "Enough, already!" with the bigness. I’ve seen examples of thoughtful renovations whereby the homeowners improve their property and the neighborhood at the same time. But not every homeowner is interested in architecture or design. Many people just want a big house. I don’t object to large houses or any particularly style or mix of styles. Even high-density housing is appropriate in places. I only wish that we could restrict the size of new homes to an appropriate, livable scale in relationship to the size of their property and in context to the neighboring houses and street. After all, it affects our quality of life.
Architecture is just one factor that contributes to the appearance and livability of our neighborhoods but it is a large part of what we think of when we compare one community to the next. I have tremendous respect for those architects who create elegant, functional structures and have the tenacity to work with clients, budgets and building commissions. I think of the great responsibility architects have towards the public as well as to their clients. My creative ambitions are very small by comparison. I prefer to work in my studio rather than in public. I like the privacy of my solitude without external forces coming to bear on my decisions and I certainly don’t want to ask for permission to execute my ideas. My independence allows me to remain focused internally on the process of exploration and expression but it has its limitations too. Working alone can be, well, lonely, and it is an effort to find an audience, let alone create a dialogue.
There are many artists these days whose creative practice is more akin to the process of architecture than to traditional studio arts. These artists use objects and crafts as a means to affect social change rather than as a means unto themselves. Programs that encourage activism are proliferating not just in art schools, but at universities and across many disciplines as well. I find it intriguing because it is completely antithetical to the way I think. For me, I find that writing is a more preferable method of engaging with the world for change; writing has become my social practice. So when I ask myself why I find the building in my neighborhood so disturbing, my impulse is to write about it.
We all exist within communities. Some of the communities are of our own making and some are based on our culture or neighborhood. Some are real and others are virtual. In each community we have responsibilities and sometimes that means limiting the size of our house and respecting the environment, natural or man made. I have noticed some of the same concerns from Chicago friends about the “tear-down” phenomenon. How do you feel about the changes in your neighborhood?* Where would you draw the line between responsibility and freedom?
*Your response and photo submissions are welcome! If you send me a photo, with your permission, I will post it to my new Instagram account, #bad_architecture. My intent is not to shame any homeowner. “Bad” is meant primarily in the context of appropriateness and the values of our communities rather than personal taste. I look forward to your comments too. You can post below. Thanks!
photo credits: Willis Tower/SOM, One Magnificent Mile/skyscrapercenter.com, One South Wacker Drive/ Wikimedia.org All other photos by Lorraine Heitzman