Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 16

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Architecture Sat Apr 05 2008

Renaissance on the South Side, Literally

Somewhere in the French Riviera, famed Modern architect Le Corbusier is turning in his grave. As the Chicago Housing Authority is undergoing its Plan for Transformation, the Dearborn Homes are being used as one of their “relocation resources." To make the experience more palpable for displaced Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor residents, renovations are currently taking place to the 68 year old buildings at 2960 South Federal.

Designed by an architect who assuredly worshiped Le Corbusier, public housing administrators were convinced that elegant towers in parks of green grass would renew (or at least contain) the urban poor. Along with most other CHA projects from that era, the development suffered terrible crime, runaway poverty, and blight. As a result, the CHA has long abandoned Le Corbusier and other early 20th century thinkers for...

...early 17th century thinkers.

If one were to look up the term “poetic justice”, directly underneath it would be this picture:

Image1 - Resized.jpg
(Image: Left, the Dearborn Homes as originally built. Right, post-renovations.)

Coupled with interior renovations, the exterior facades of the Dearborn Homes are receiving a thorough brick cleaning, a new stone pediment, and (what else?) quoining. They are also putting in new windows which have Prairie-esque mullions in the top window pane to complete the ensemble. The Modernist “machine for living” is being put out of commission for a decorated urban estate.

The decision to renovate the Dearborn Homes to a more historical style will certainly be an interesting experiment in the power of architectural form. However, the long term future for Dearborn Homes (and the nearby Ickes Homes) is unclear. While its new look may give the outward perception of tradition, class and dignity, the low-rise apartments may ultimately remain a failure. The isolation of the impoverished still creates a dangerous pocket between the gentrifying South Loop and the quickly improving IIT campus.

Regardless, if you're trying to avoid the Dan Ryan Expressway on your way to or from a White Sox game, take State Street and witness the architectural equivalent of a costume change.

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David SchalliolAuthor Profile Page / April 6, 2008 4:31 PM

Right on point. I've been watching the "progress" of the transformation and wondered if anyone else had noticed. The Miesian campus to the south is looking all the more alone.

Max / May 21, 2009 8:22 PM

Great, now they'll never aspire to anything more.

Alice / May 22, 2009 5:01 PM

I know the purpose of this blog is to give skeptics a forum to be snarky, but I like the changes coming to the South Side and hope the Plan for Transformation works. Just because you're poor doesn't mean you have to live in squalor or isolation.

And as a longtime Chicagoan, I appreciate having buildings in my community that don't look like slums. Rehabs at Dearborn and the new mixed-income developments point to the rebirth of the near south side. I think everyone should take a look and have a little faith.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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