Yuck at UIC

I admit it. Back in the day (early 1990s) the committee I staffed at Landmarks Illinois refused Walter Netsch’s request that we try to preserve his UIC campus design, replete with double-decked concrete walkways and a concrete forum/agora/ampitheaters in the center of the supposed commuter campus. The center was replaced with typical 90s Vanilla Town Center but the basic brutalist buildings remained. And I liked them and I went to school in them for much of the early 2000s and I liked them more as I spent time in and around them.
I even referenced the buildings in my speech there last May (see the blogroll from May) and they had a clear elegance in concert with their material, the lancet lattices of beveled brut framing windows in a delicious evocation of gothic aspiration that did not detract from the atomic optimism of the campus’ 1960s conception.
So I am teaching a class there this spring so I went back to campus for the first time in a couple of years and found this crap
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways….
1. Goodbye Lincoln Cathedral, Hello bicycle shed. The original buildings had layers, rhythms of solid and void, a sense of depth. Now they look like toasters, and I don’t mean an elegant Sunbeam from the 1930s. Flat and formless.
2. Aluminum cladding. This stuff makes siding look good. It is what everyone uses nowadays for storefronts, even on nice projects, but the detailing is godawful – the cuts are rough, the joints are artlessly placed, and the whole thing depends on caulk. And how do they weather?
What will it look like after a whole year?
3. They boast about having more natural light – this is true. They also probably have more space, because the exterior column system so reminiscent of Corbu’s Do-mi-no is now on the inside, and the concrete lancets are gone, along with any sense of romance. And purpose. Design? gone. Nuance? gone. Meaning? gone. More natural light? Check.
4. The sign says “eco-friendly design.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but has ANYONE seen ANY building project in the last two years that DOESN’T claim to be an “eco-friendly design?” The only challenge is trying to figure out their reasoning behind making THE SAME CLAIM AS EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. CF bulbs? Wait! It must be the natural light, because that is light from nature, which is pretty darn eco-friendly. Increased heat loads, but hey, they probably tinted the glass, solving the heck out of that problem, and they probably added a layer of glass, so it won’t cost more to heat the increased amount of interior space. As long as that caulk holds.
Okay, I looked it up, and they got a big grant to go geothermal, which is a good thing. I can say nothing negative about this except that I have seen other buildings go geothermal without going UGLY.
5. Walter Netsch died this year. This is a hell of a way to commemorate him, but then again we celebrated Louis Sullivan’s 150th by torching three of his buildings.
6. Contemporary architecture is designed from the inside out. The only difference between this approach and that of classical modernism, is that Frank Lloyd Wright and friends continued to design when they got outside. This may be a lovely learning environment inside with lots of light and perfect climate control. It certainly will encourage students to stay inside and learn more because once they get outside, they have to contend with a whole lot of ugly.
Bottom line? This is an aesthetic call. This renovation looks cheap and boxy and really, really makes the Netsch buildings look fantastic in comparison.


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