A writer who is both a practicing architect and an educator cannot simply be a neutral reporter. Those roles require a strong critical judgment that he cannot avoid bringing to bear on his writing. Sharing that point of view may shed some light on positions this writer has taken over the years.
Of the battles that were lost, the worst was that over the townhouses on the northeast corner of Chicago Avenue and South Boulevard. The Zoning Ordinance permitted an eight-story, high-rise apartment building that would not only have acted as a gateway to Evanston, but would also have liberated enough of the property for townhouses as well as landscaping. The neighborhood, unschooled in planning, immediately and strongly objected when the term “high-rise” was put forth and insisted that nothing taller than three stories be built. The alderman agreed, encouraged by the shrewd developer. The latter was experienced only in low-cost townhome construction (high rises necessitate concrete or steel frames, elevators and a high degree of fire protection), and we all live with the results.
The other lost battle took place at the Design Evanston meeting at which a group of architects opposed the townhouses proposed for the north side of Church Street between Ashland and Darrow Avenues. This soulless, monotonous row of buildings went ahead, and no amount of landscaping – and there is none – could camouflage them.
This reporter testified against the first structure for the Sienna between Ridge and Oak avenues that proposed six towers. The developer eventually reduced the number to four. Two were completed when disaster struck: A basement slab in the garage collapsed, and the real estate market followed. The good news is that finally someone has taken over the project; it will be completed by a very competent architect, Larry Booth.
No objection would have helped oppose the high-rise-plus-garage-plus-commercial-space downtown on Sherman Avenue north of Davis Street. This monster of a project, with its penthouse apartments that look like a spaceship that has just landed, mixes elements stylistically alien to each other. The weakest is the façade of the multi-story garage. At the time it was built, this writer compared the building to the children’s game of drawing a segment of a person – say the torso – on a thrice-folded piece of paper and passing it to the next person, who, unable to see the folded-over torso, draws disparate legs, and so on.
Also successfully opposed was the first scheme proposed mid-block on Oak Avenue between Davis and Grove Streets, an apartment building that was hideous at best. The developer recognized the complete lack of support, and the building that took its place – the slightly curved, white-painted building by a second architect – is a handsome, bold addition to Evanston. Unfortunately economic conditions changed the condo market drastically, and the building is significantly empty, as is another curved building on the southwest corner of Ridge and Emerson.
This writer strongly supported those who advocated tearing down the old Georgian. Fortunately they won, and the second tower of the Mather, a handsome building that serves the elderly well, replaced the hard-to-use old structure.
Looking back, winning or losing, supporting or rejecting, this writer has no regrets.