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Years ago when I was a practicing architect I advised my client, The Mather, that neither of their buildings on the corner of Hinman and Davis could be remodeled into quality facilities for the elderly. Though we improved several apartments in The Georgian, the building configuration and the locations of the small bathroom windows prohibited the creation of desirable units.
Years went by and I had retired from practice when I witnessed the objections of the neighbors to the tearing down of The Georgian. I offered my help as a pro-bono expert and twice testified on behalf of The Mather, an outstanding provider for the elderly and a magnet for the community.
I visualized a unique opportunity of urban design: the creation of a pair, a gateway to downtown Evanston when coming west from Sheridan Road. Pairs are a rarity in the Chicago area: The gable-ended buildings at the corner of Michigan and Monroe, or the two buildings matching in “language” at the corner of Michigan and Congress, are the rare and very good examples.
In each of these cases the second architect responded to the design of the first with respect. The case in Evanston would have been unique: a pair of buildings constructed for the same function, at the same time, for the same client, by the same architect. Regrettably the architect, SCB, dropped the ball and the ends will not be identical.
A worse problem is the architectural language chosen for the exterior. Instead of the present architectural “smorgasbord,” it would have been better to refer to a recognizable style, such as Prairie School, red-brick Georgian, graystone neo-classical or Art Deco.
Further, things should be done right. The Mansard roof is a failure with minimal distance between windows; that the windows are flush with the building instead of being set back shows a lack of understanding how the Mansard roof and window originated. There are good Mansards in Evanston, at the corner of Chicago and Grove, for instance, to emulate.
If it is acceptable to revive history, it should be done “right.” One must consider whether it is right to build stone consoles that do not actually support the balconies, but merely decorate, or whether it is right to combine the windows on the two top floors to suggest a tall space that simply does not exist. And so on and on.
Fortunately for the architect most of the public is less sensitive to the ill-conceived use of historical details on the exterior. As an architect I find the building a reminder of what could have been instead of what is. Nevertheless, I do not regret that I testified on behalf of The Mather, an exceptional provider for the elderly. What I do regret is that SCB created such a prosaic set-design instead of real architecture that would have been at the same superior level as The Mather’s excellent care.