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« Piazza di Spagna, Chicago? Piazza di Spagna, Chicago? »

Architecture Mon Apr 21 2008

Piazza di Spagna, Chicago?

Whenever a new urban space is proposed centered around an example from Rome, one tends to nod emphatically or roll your eyes disgustedly. Unfortunately, the later tends to occur more frequently. Rome is certainly a treasure trove of lessons in urban form and after 2000 years of allowing other cities to catch up, still possesses some of the most interesting public spaces, anywhere. However, when a Roman element is to be grafted on to another city’s body, care needs to be taken that the element’s recipient doesn’t reject the implant.

Top notch land use professionals from the Chicago Chapter of the Urban Land Institute joined with other city organizations such as, the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Department of Planning to propose solutions to enhance the portion of North Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Randolph Street.

Generally, the items suggested in the report are very appropriate and are well thought out solutions to some of the problems that area faces. For example, extending Lake Street so that it is continuous from Stetson Street to Columbus Drive would aim to open up access to the Lakeshore East development and integrate an area isolated from the city grid. Another highlighted item would be to create a “tunnel of light” that would delineate this strip as more than just a passage from the Magnificent Mile and Millennium Park. While all these items are significant, the idea that has generated the most discussion has been the proposal to demolish the building at 325 North Michigan Avenue for a “modern interpretation of the ‘Spanish Steps’”.

Below, the existing building at 325 North Michigan Avenue.
325 N Michigan

Below, the Spanish Steps.
The Spanish Steps

An artists rendering that was included as part of the report shows an urban staircase to the Illinois Center filled with people and trees. This may be more wishful thinking that an actual possibility. Using this spaces as a grand staircase has some significant flaws. Most glaringly is that this site is incredibly dark. The task force seemed to recognize this with their idea for the “tunnel of light” but does not taking it into consideration that the Spanish Steps in Rome is constantly baked in warm sunlight. On a typical day, tourists and Italians sun themselves while gazing up the famed shopping street of Via Condotti. The Chicago version would have no such axial relationship and, at best, has a sliver of light scurry across the site.

Take a look at the report at you’ll see quickly see the strong points and short-comings. Not to worry too much though; the report is very preliminary and ULI has a strong reputation of getting it right. You just have to wonder, again, after 2000 years have we yet to come up with any other ideas for public spaces?

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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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