Union Station modernization is chugging forward. There’s a striking new suspension bridge over Lake Shore Drive. We look back at these projects and Chicago’s top architecture stories of 2016.
Union Station is on track to modernize the 91-year-old railroad hub. The Great Room has passengers waiting for trains once again. And the marble stairs, made famous in the 1987 movie “The Untouchables,” have been restored for both safety and esthetic reasons.
The former Women’s Lounge is one of the most striking examples of the renovation efforts. It’s now known as the Burlington Room. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Blair Kamin, the Women’s Lounge was originally built to protect women at the station from men.
“It was a room conceived in the Edwardian era to protect ‘dainty ladies’ from rough males when they were traveling from one city to another,” Kamin said. “When the room was done in the 1920s, women were in flappers dresses and weren’t exactly fragile creatures anymore. The Women’s Lounge was outdated from the moment it opened.”
There’s a new pedestrian bridge over South Lake Shore Drive at 35th Street. Kamin praised the suspension bridge’s handsome design and S-shaped curves.
“It’s a suspension bridge which beautifully spans Lake Shore Drive and the train tracks,” said Kamin. It’s now wide, well-lit and completely accessible for residents to get to the lakefront. “It’ll have a big impact on the Oakland, North Kenwood and Bronzeville neighborhoods.”
One of the biggest architectural stories of the year was the David and Goliath battle over the Lucas Museum being built on the lakefront. It never got off the ground but it generated plenty of headlines.
“It’s an important story because you had two very powerful people – a billionaire, George Lucas, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- trying to push the museum on the lakefront,” said Kamin. “The rebel band fought against the evil empire in an epic battle, worthy of Star Wars. And it was the right conclusion for the rag tag band,” concluded Kamin.
The Chicago River is now a destination for millennials. Not just for kayaking and sightseeing water taxis. The city’s newest public space is the award-winning Chicago Riverwalk. According to Kamin, it’s a gem of a public space after undergoing a huge transformation.
“It’s a beautiful promenade. It’s close to thousands of office works and residents, and it’s easier to get to than the lakefront,” said Kamin. “It’s a transformative amenity.”
Finally, Navy Pier celebrated its centennial with an enormous redesign and Kamin is encouraged. “It’s more sophisticated,” he noted. “It’s not as much a glorified shopping mall.”
The designer, James Corner, also did the widely praised High Line project in New York. Kamin thinks the changes Corner did – by both subtraction and addition – are steps in the right direction, but the critic says “Navy Pier still has a long way to go.”
Dec. 9: Chicago’s rapid growth in the late 19th century meant opportunities for the throngs of young, unmarried women who came to make their way in the big city. How one woman’s practical move impacted thousands for more than 100 years.
Oct. 12: Masterworks of Chicago architecture from the early days through the 21st century: A new book from a longtime curator at the Art Institute looks at “Building Chicago.”
Sept. 12: Architect Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang unveil their new Commons building and courtyard at the University of Chicago. We speak with the architect and get a tour.