There’s more to Chicago’s architectural legacy than its gleaming downtown skyline. All throughout the city, there are buildings that inspire — you just have to know where to look. The good news is: Chicago’s got a guy for that.
In his special “Building/Blocks: The Architecture of Chicago’s South Side” airing on WTTW on Monday, Lee Bey tours some of the South Side treasures he said you have to know if you want to know Chicago.
Bey visited 60 South Side sites for his 2019 book “Southern Exposure,” but for this half-hour special, he only had enough time to feature nine of those sites — so he said he had to choose carefully.
“We wanted to show a variety of places,” Bey said. “So there’s churches, homes, public buildings like schools, just to show that there’s a wide variety of places that are architecturally worthy in Chicago and that they’re throughout the South Side.”
Among the sites Bey highlights in the special are two public high schools: his alma mater, Chicago Vocational School, and Bowen High School.
“Chicago’s South Side, like much of the city, experienced this great population growth in the last century between the wars,” Bey said. “So to be able to build facilities that can educate these new arrivals, whether they be immigrants from overseas or migrants from the South, and rather than to warehouse people in boxes, they really went to the trouble, the school system, to provide these architecturally significant buildings which puts a bit of nobility, if you will, to the act of public education.”
Bey said the special, like his book, is more than boosterism for his native South Side. The special aims to expand the idea of what the South Side is in the public imagination and understanding.
“I want people who perhaps are not familiar with the South Side to see it, to experience it, to see that some of the things you read and hear about the South Side — I’m not saying it isn’t true but there’s a there’s a scale to it. There’s a perspective to it,” Bey said. “For people who live on the South Side, my countrymen, if you will, … it’s an affirmation that there is worth on your side of the city. It beautiful, and it’s time for it to be talked about and brought into the discussion of architecture, serious discussion of architecture in Chicago.”