First, the ugly Toyota sign pops up behind Wrigley Field’s left-field bleachers. Now, a silly oversized noodle sculpture, an ad for Kraft, shows up outside the ballpark. These are dark days for good design in and around Wrigley.
But there’s at least a glimmer of hope. The architects of the much-maligned plan for a hotel, apartment and retail development across the street from Wrigley have gone back to the drawing board and injected some zip (above) into its previously bland street-level facades.
The changes are another step in the right direction for the $100 million proposal, which has come a long way since 2008 when its developers floated the idea of two towers that would have loomed menacingly over Wrigley. The project deserves a crucial re-zoning Thursday from the Chicago Plan Commission, even though it retains serious design flaws.
If that sounds self-contradictory, let me explain: Zoning regulates land use, not architectural style. This project, known as Addison Park on Clark and designed by Chicago architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz for M&R Development in partnership with SAS Equities, is an appropriate land use. It’s no longer too tall and would put its apartments next to a CTA rapid-transit stop — an eminently sustainable move. Its fundamental flaws are more fine-grained.
The design calls for tearing down a variety of funky low-rise buildings designed by different architects in different styles at different times. It would replace them with one large structure designed in one style by one architect at the same time. That’s why the version that raised such a ruckus last month, with its flat and featureless walls of brick marching down Clark and Addison Streets (above), seemed mall-like even if it wasn’t really proposing to construct a mall.
What’s an architect to do? One option is to revert to Disneyesque nostalgia and tack Ye Olde Wrigleyville false fronts on the new building — clearly a non-starter.
Another course is to break up the project’s bigness with a variety of contemporary materials and expressions, a strategy that Chicago architect Joe Valerio successfully pursued in a comparably scaled, commercial and office project next to Wisconsin’s State Capitol. The three-year-old project (left) saves old buildings and carefully inserts new ones, such as a Walgreens with a torqued roof of stainless steel. Such an approach might well have produced a design that was edgy and varied enough to fit into Wrigleyville’s appealingly eclectic jumble.
Instead, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, best known for its sleek white Crate & Barrel store on North Michigan Avenue, has tried a third way: A cluster of related pieces that strive for personality – “one that has a Mohawk,” as the firm’s president, John Lahey, jokingly put it Wednesday.
In truth, the design remains more College Cut than Mohawk. But it does have some good strokes, such as the folded metal walls and roofs with which the architects sub-divide their Clark facade and break down its street-dulling sameness (left). Also appealing are the window bays the architects suggest along Clark, as well as the striped brickwork they propose along both Clark and Addison.
Features like these would endow Addison Park on Clark with the sort of syncopated rhythms that enliven the experience of pedestrians in Wrigleyville. The design’s mix of articulated brickwork and visible steel framing would forge a subtle link to Wrigley itself. From some vantage points, particularly along Clark looking north, the project is coming nicely into shape, its varied rooflines and materials striking the right balance between respecting the old and injecting the new.
Yet the architects have done nothing to revise the apartments and hotel that would sit atop the project’s retail base. So the overall picture remains imperfect.
The continued absence of a large setback along Addison means that the project’s apartments will loom above Wrigley’s lower roofline, threatening the ballpark’s visual preeminence. If the developers and architects won’t budge on that feature, they should consider stripping the apartments of their proposed brick cladding and sheathing them in the modernist materials of metal and glass. That would make the apartments appear less bulky and the project as a whole more heterogeneous.
And it would substitute a new, non-Disneyesque urban variety for the one this project is destined to destroy.