Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Chicago Places #3: Hilliard Towers Apartments

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 Wrig
ht was). But I'd be skiing beyond my tips on that one.
     When I was sniffin
g 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 countin
g 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.


  1. A round building gives you the most area, with the least material.
    They used to build round barns in the 18th & 19th Centuries. Sometimes they built 16 sided barns, which also does the same thing.

  2. Speaking of memorials, as Obama’s Presidential Center is still in abeyance, what sort of plans are there for Trump?
    Certainly not a library, but it may introduce a new style of architecture… shape shifting.

  3. One day, the people who believe that Hollywood liberals and the Washington elite are killing babies and drinking their blood will build a statue to Trump. Then we will have our monument to the 600,000 dead.

  4. Those are the same round high-rise apartments I mentioned five days ago, when I commented about working at 2211 S. State in 1971, and never even knowing about the White Castle on Cermak and Wabash. Hilliard Tower Apartments, at 54 W. Cermak, were CHA senior residences then. Are they still occupied? They look rather forlorn and abandoned, like so many other "project" buildings in Chicago's past and present. There are no curtains at many of the windows, and the tower on the right looks as though the top floor is roofless. I never realized, until now, that the window openings are oval, not rectangular.

    We have so many Civil War monuments. Are there, or have there ever been, any monumets to the 675,000 Americans who died of influenza from 1918 to 1920? I have never heard of any, or seen any. If there is any kind of a memorial for this Plague, it should have an orange hue, so nobody ever forgets who allowed it to get so terrible, and on whose watch so many died.


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