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Architecture Mon Jun 16 2008

No Little Plans, Part 2: Lake Meadows, Redevelopment

For my next few posts, I thought I would post some of the large scale urban development plans that are in their early stages. Previously, I looked at the Gateway project at Central Station. Next post, I'll look at the preliminary ideas for the South Chicago, South Works site.

A quick Googling of "Lake Meadows, Chicago" will not lead to much information regarding a new urban development project. Most of what comes up looks very much like a fully occupied, long completed apartment complex. That is because it is. Property managers and developers, Draper and Kramer, is seeking to raze the entire complex roughly located at 35th & Cottage Grove. As one might expect, the residents are not thrilled.

Below, conceptual rendering of the proposed redevelopment.

Below, aerial of Lake Meadows as originally built.

Lake Meadows was borne upon the Modernist philosophy of "towers in the park" that, in this instance, emerged from the studio of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, specifically, Architect Ambrose Madison Richardson. Unfortunately, time has been as cruel to the buildings as it has been to that sense of urban design. Taking its place would be a new appendage to the Chicago grid system packaged with a brand new neighborhood to exploit its lakeside location. Diagrammatic renderings (above) display a series of towers facing the lake and mixed use mid-rises inland. In keeping with the theme of the day, the development would also reclaim some unused land around the railroad tracks and build parks of the air rights.

It is odd to have such mixed feelings about a development, even in its infantile stages. This project presents a great deal of merit. It would repair the wounds Modernism left on the city plan and restate the grid system, thus joining this isolated piece of land to the rest of Bronzeville. The density of the area would also likely increase meaning a boon to local business and retailers. Adding to the parks systems is always desirable and anything to make the lakefront more accessible is definitely needed. Lastly, the buildings are just plain ugly.

However, the list of potential issues is numerous. Immediately noticeable is the forced relocation of hundreds of lower-income renters that has the slight remnants of the urban renewal that spurred the creation of Lake Meadows in the 1940's. One has to suppose that the prime lakefront views and proximately to Lake Shore Drive will not be priced to current apartment rents. Although most any replacement building would be much welcome aesthetic improvement, the time, energy, and material that would be dedicated to this project seems excessive an already occupied piece of land. While the current complex may not be the proverbial "highest and best" use of the land, the buildings are old and cheap and, to draw upon Jane Jacobs, eminently useful. The first lady of urbanism observed that old buildings are the builders of diversity, the enablers of neighborhood longevity, and the counterweight in the sensitive balance of society. To their credit Draper and Kramer seems to recognize this, as explained by David Roeder of the Sun-Times. If the developers are able to put their money where their mouth is, the redevelopment could be a precise transplant of heavy-handed, systematic isolation for an enabling composition of urban form.

Plans for this project still appear to be years away, giving plenty of time to weigh the worthwhile pro's of street-grid integration and improved aesthetics against the con's of unnecessary demolition and the social cost of neighborhood improvement.

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Naseem Rakha / January 13, 2010 2:46 PM

I grew up in Lake Meadows. I loved it. I would hate to see it go.

max / January 19, 2014 5:28 PM

how tall are the towers likely to be?

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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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