Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Aging Lakeside Center: Keep the building. Change the use

I spent a bit of yesterday morning at McCormick Place's Lakeside Center, architect Gene Summers' modernist beauty at 23rd and Lake Shore Drive.

The building turns 45 next year. And it looks it. Carpet is worn. I saw duct tape sealing a window crack on the east facade. A 1990s interior redo has somehow made the building look even more dated than it otherwise would have.

Lakeside Center feels as if it's playing for time. And it probably is. With newer and bigger McCormick Place buildings across Lake Shore Drive to the west, the aging lakeside hall with the table-flat roof, squatting on acres of parkland, could be easy pickings to get rid of now. In fact, the Chicago Tribune's editorial board and the paper's architecture critic Blair Kamin have openly called for the wreckers.

But that's a wrong and wasteful move I hope the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority does not seriously consider. Especially in a city known across the world for its architectural modernism. Not to mention the city is good at saving buildings--when it wants to, that is.

So keep the building; change the use. A building so clear, bold and well-executed, must be preserved, restored and given over to better service to the public. What might that look like? Check out the Nationaal Militair Museum, built on a former airbase in Soesterberg, Netherlands, in 2014:

The museum is a near-twin of Lakeside Center. And like Lakeside Center, the Netherlands building is inspired by Mies van der Rohe's New National Gallery in Berlin. (Gene Summers led the Berlin project for Mies in 1968 before coming to architecture firm C.F. Murphy to design Lakeside Center ).

The Netherlands museum shows how a converted Lakeside Center would be a true civic and cultural asset. Those vast spaces and huge ceiling heights could be used to bring in some one-of-a-kind, large-scale things for the public to see.

Here's an interior view of the military museum along with an iPhone snapshot I took of a Lakeside Center interior during my visit:

Here's another view of the museum along with iPhone grab.

The calls to demolish Lakeside Center--and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's equally wrong suggestion to do away with the Thompson Center--began right as the Chicago Architecture Biennial got underway last month. Could the timing be any worse? A city trying to reposition itself as a global thought leader on 21st Century architecture and urban planning shouldn't begin that bid by swinging the wrecking ball at its iconic buildings.

(By the way, many thanks for Ellen Schindler for letting me know about the Netherlands project. Ellen is a partner and CEO at Kossmann.dejong, an architecture firm that worked on the museum. She sent posted a link to her firm's work on my Facebook page after seeing my post advocating for Lakeside Center's reuse.)


  1. Lucas Museum would be amazing here. It would be so cool to perforate the east brick wall, built before there were many people enjoying the lakefront from the ground there, and really engage the site from all sides and inside, while keeping the magnificent interior. And parking is there. And a large theater.

    1. Excellent plan -- but now that the Lucas has (thankfully) departed Chicago, why not make it into a permanent gallery and touring cultural exhibit space, arts shows, and community meetings, still connected to the convention center spaces across Lake Shore Drive, and keep Arie Crown Theater for lectures, experimental films, etc.?

  2. Thank you, Lee; and good idea, Barb!