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home : columns : columns September 15, 2014

12/19/2012 3:22:00 PM
End-of-Year Gift Bag
By John Macsai


The holiday season is upon us, and this writer finds it appropriate to hand out gifts to the “authors” of his favorite buildings.  Since new projects this year have been few, this time the candidates include all projects since this column started more than 10 years ago. This however, has made the choices harder, not easier.

Two of the highrises downtown alone would justify an award to their designer, architect David Hovey of Optima: the one with the orange balconies at the southwest corner of Sherman Avenue facing Davis Street and the tower across from the cinema on Maple Avenue. However, the award is not for these buildings but for his earlier townhouses at Main Street and Michigan Avenue, with green-painted, metal siding under the windows. Mr. Hovey was not only the architect for these, but also contractor and owner. This was the only way, he claims, he could assure the quality he sought.

My next award recognition goes to 817 Hinman, a beautiful, well-constructed apartment building designed by architect James Torvik, who was – with a partner – also the general contractor.  Mr. Torvik’s background experience includes the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and Lohan Associates as well as the office of Harry Weese, in this writer’s opinion the best of all Chicago designers.  The immaculately detailed exterior of this eight-story structure is a combination of glass, metal cladding and dark-colored brick.

The modern houses of Evanston pioneer Ed Noonan should be recognized.  One of his houses stands out – if it can be made out from the dense greenery surrounding it in the woods on the north side of Burnham Place just east of Forest Avenue. Also, the small, red-brick-and-glass apartment building at 1414 Hinman is one of this writer’s all-time favorites, the creation of Jack Naughton working in the Noonan office. 

 Another award, also in housing, goes to young architects Bill Massey and Dave Hoffman for their immaculately detailed remodeling/addition of a two-story residence on Eastwood Street in north Evanston.  The floor plan functions flawlessly, as does the ubiquitous contrast between pure white surfaces and opposing black ones.  It is hard to believe that the building is the result of remodeling.  The transformation into a modern gem is complete.

 In the non-residential category is the Unitarian Church on the west side of Ridge Avenue north of Dempster Street, with its powerful, white-painted concrete frame, by the firm of Schweiker and Elting.  In addition to its powerful presence, its clear glass end allows worshipers to face nature, an elevating experience seldom achieved except in another religious structure, the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue. This building, at the northeast corner of Dodge and Mulford was designed by architect Carol Ross Barney, who shares the “award” with architect Winston Elting.

And last, the building that is on the top of the list of this writer’s gift bag is the Daniel and Ada Rice Child and Family Center, at the northeast corner of Ridge Avenue and Washington Street. It is a remarkable building, what architects call contextual, in this case fitting into the adjacent low-rise brick environment.  It is a three-story, red-brick building with sloping roof, a mostly glass modernist design.  The red brick is enlivened with horizontal bands of white brick and panels of green-glazed brick.  The occasional 8-inch-by-8-inch black square enriches it further.  The recipient of the “award” is Joe Gonzales, a former partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.  Congratulations and Happy New Year, Joe. 

Needless to say, the gifts this writer is handing out are wrapped in best wishes not only to all readers of the Evanston RoundTable, but also to the editors, the staff and colleagues at the paper. 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, all enriched by many new, good buildings.







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