|Hilliard Tower Apartments, 54 W. Cermak, are a CHA senior residence.|
Am I the first guy to point out that Chicago had one architect who specialized in round buildings, Bertrand Goldberg? (Marina City, River City, Hilliard Towers Apartments, above). And another obsessed with triangles, Harry Weese (The Metropolitan Correctional Center, the Swissotel).
What's that about?
I'm sure dissertations have been based on flimsier observations, and while it would be possible to spin some BS about breaking the plane and the flat spatial prairie dynamic demanding non-rectangular shapes, my guess is that it's just coincidence. Chicago is a big place, and these two guys happened to be born and, after being boomeranged out into the world, Goldberg to Germany to work with Mies van der Rohe at the Bauhaus in Berlin, Weese to Boston and MIT, then return, as people do, to settle here. It doesn't have to mean anything.
Oh, that's a cop-out, isn't it? I suppose I'm safe guessing that both were pushing against the brutalist rectangular boxes of Mies, the big cheese on the Chicago scene at the time they were coming up. (Goldberg, having been in Germany, knew German, unsurprisingly enough, and served as translator when Mies came to Chicago and made his pilgrimage to Taliesin to pay his respects to Frank Lloyd Wright, a task that had to require considerable tact, considering what a jerk Wright was). But I'd be skiing beyond my tips on that one.
When I was sniffing around for something to say about either man, I bumped into a fact I didn't know about Weese. Here's how Ian Baldwin put it in "The Architecture of Harry Weese" in Places Journal a decade ago:
The Vietnam Memorial as we know it today would never have been built without him. After Maya Lin’s entry board to the 1981 competition had been rejected, Weese, always uneasy with final decisions or consensus, dragged it out from the rear of the airplane hangar where it had been consigned. He swayed the rest of the jury and later championed Lin in the face of intense criticism.
How cool is that? Of course, the Vietnam Memorial is sort of a pair of obtuse triangles, set at an angle to each other and incised into the earth. I hope that isn't the only reason Weese went to bat for it. But heck, stranger things have happened. And wouldn't it be ironic if such a moving monument that changed how war is commemorated was saved from oblivion because a judge was in love with scalene triangles?
Speaking of monuments to national tragedies, do you think we'll ever commemorate the 600,000 and counting Americans felled by COVID? The Vietnam Memorial, on the Mall in Washington, D.C., remembers 57,000 Americans felled by political folly. Given the 10x difference in scale, we should do something even more dramatic—paint the Capitol black perhaps. But we probably won't.