Great Expectations: Visionary Architecture for No One

When I was in high school, my friends and I always thought it would be fun to go downtown. I grew up living a 20 minute train ride from the center of Chicago, so it was pretty easy to get to without having the hassle of finding a parking spot. Our only free time was on the weekends and for us taking a trip to the city was a big deal so we wanted to make a day of it. Arriving at Ogilvie Transportation Center, we found ourselves in what would be called The West Loop. The first time we went, we were simply so excited to be in the city without supervision, we didn’t really notice much of our surroundings, we just wanted to get to Navy Pier just like any other tourist. The next time we went down was a bit different. Like it usually is, it was much colder downtown then it was back home. We were trying to seek refuge somewhere and eat some lunch. Block after block we walked growing colder by the

This is the “welcome” you get to the downtown area when exiting Ogilvie Transportation Center. The only public business for a few blocks is the AT&T store on the right. The upper floors are all private business companies.

minute. We would spot some chain restaurant off in the distance only to get closer and see that it was closed. Basically all places are only open during the week, 7am-7pm for the workers. I had never felt so cold and lost in a city which most associate with people everywhere and so many things to do and see in a small area. This part of the city made me feel like I was in Brasilia that Neimyer had designed. I wrote a quote from the movie, “On Sundays and at night, it becomes a ghost town,” one girl who was interviewed said. This is exactly how I felt.

It upsets me that all of these visionary architects had created what they felt were the ideal cities. They forgot one thing when they were designing them though, how does one live in the space. They seemed to understand the idea of creating a space for people to be and to protect them from the elements, but there is no quality of life. They are just simply out of proportion lifeless things to contain. For example, we saw Le Corbusier’s Unite de Habitation in the movie today. It was extremely cold feeling and lifeless. It was very out of proportion as well.

Recently, many of my friends who go to school downtown have moved into apartments in various neighborhoods. I spent some time in places like Rogers Park, Wrigleyville, and Lincoln Park. This completely changed my views on this city and made me fall in love with it again. The streets were narrow, and there was harmony created between residential, business, and commercial space. The buildings were no taller then five stories and everything felt at the human scale.

This is a view from Sheridan Rd. The building on the left is home to a bookstore, a cafe, a design firm, and a chinese restaurant. The top levels are all residential.

You feel comfortable walking through these streets, and there are businesses everywhere and restaurants,cafes, and community spaces all spread about, but still in close conjunction with each other. While this idea may not suit someone like Le Corbusier who wanted to create something to hold as many people as possible, smaller, more intimate, humanized, multi-family spaces are created while having all the amenities and activities to live an active life nearby.







Sources: Google Maps for the images

Great Expectations: A Journey through the History of Visionary Architecture


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