Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Somebody likes the GBL

At the next tour stop, the Gail Borden Public Library, several Chicago residents said the 2003 building was enough to tempt them into moving to Elgin.

"I think this is the most beautiful library — even more than the Harold Washington library" in downtown Chicago, said Hyde Park resident Rosalie Fruchter.

"It is a gracious, elegant building, with all the curves and places to plop down and read," she said. (source: Elgin Courier 4/25/06)

I'm glad somebody likes the building. I would have preferred a building that broke new ground, that put Elgin on the map. Something like the library Rem Koolhass designed for Seattle or the one David Chipperfield designed for Des Moines. If Elgin wants to be recognized as a cultural center, it has to take risks in new architecture, not go for the least-common-denominator building that offends nobody and inspires nobody.

Buildings like Calatrava's expansion in Milwaukee or the Guggenheim Bilbao were big risks, hated by some people, but ultimately huge successes that catalyzed urban renewal.

The Harold Washington Library was a terrible mistake. It's probably the worst public building built in Chicago in the past few decades, a great betrayal of Chicago's great architectural tradition. A building that succeeds neither as a modern building nor as pastiche.

But ignore the Harold Washington Library, because Chicago has amazing architecture. And if Elgin is to be truly Illinois's second city, then it must aggressively work towards assembling a collection of fine architecture. Columbus's example should be instructive.


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