Historic buildings, landscaping and artwork all casualties of U. of C.’s prep for Obama Presidential Center
To the Editor:
For decades, a series of low-rise buildings along 60th Street has shaped the southern boundary of the University of Chicago campus. Several of these structures are the work of noted modern architects, and all of them are distinguished by careful landscaping and artwork. Now, one by one, these buildings are going, casualties of what seems to be a university plan to completely change the character of the Midway Plaisance (and to take advantage of the proximity of the Obama Presidential Center).
One is already gone: the Charles Stewart Mott building, just east of Woodlawn. It was designed as an industrial relations center by Schmidt, Garden and Erickson, a much-respected Chicago architecture firm. Its place is to be taken by a much taller U. of C. conference center, the Rubenstein Forum, designed by the New York architecture firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Renderings show an off-beat steel and zinc structure.
Now the university has announced its plan to replace the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School at 60th and Dorchester with a 15-story glass and steel hotel to be built by a developer who is putting up similar hotels adjacent to universities in other cities. What will be lost is a colonial-style brick church built in 1919 and designed by Coolidge and Hodgdon, a successor firm to the renowned Boston architect, H.H. Richardson. A 1966 addition to the church was designed by I.W. Colburn, who was the architect of the Hines Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences and other University of Chicago buildings.
The school’s founder, Bruno Bettelheim, who believed in the value of art as a form of therapy, hired U. of C. art professor Harold Hayden to create a series of ceramic tile murals throughout the building. Those murals will be destroyed. (An exterior mural by Jordi Bonet has been moved to the school’s new building on 63rd Street.)
The hotel that will replace this unique ensemble is a standard-issue tower, part of a chain. The publicity package does not even give the architect’s name. Why not, instead, call for a distinctive design that reuses what is there now (and refers to the existing campus)? And why not make that the rule for future redevelopment along 60th Street and elsewhere? Finally, where is the detailed master plan for the university as a whole (including off-campus sites)?
Hyde Park Historical Society