Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Chicago: Architectural Note – The Midwest Has Winters

One of the downsides of the Midwest’s harsh seasons is that we can’t take advantage of all the cool materials and building techniques people in, say, California can. So many things just don’t stand up to the elements here. Unfortunately, some people don’t get the message. Or even bother to look at neighboring buildings on the same street to see what can result when you dare mess with Mother Nature. Here today I present an example of three structures, all on the 1600 block of Belmont, all utilizing some type of stained wood exterior, all badly damaged by the elements.

First up is Belly’s, a sports bar on Lincoln. The main entrance is on that street, but the kitchen has frontage on Belmont.

In addition to the weather beaten wood, the papered over windows are a nice touch. Oh, and don’t forget the door.


Just down the street is a swankier place, the slick martini lounge Bungalow. No different results here.

This is less noticeable in one respect because it is only the one section along the base. On the other hand, that sticks out in contrast to the rest of the well-preserved facade. The black wooden slats are painted – always a good idea in the Midwest I say.

Lastly, just this fall a new bar opened a couple doors down from Bungalow called The Pony. They decided to take this to a whole new level. Same results.

This doesn’t actually look so horrible – yet. Just wait till another season takes its toll. You can get a glimpse of how this facade looked just a short time ago by looking at the recessed entryway which is partially protected from the elements.

Lastly, a close up seeing the process of destruction in action.

Why do you think this material was used? Ignorance? Was it intentional? (Going for the rustic look or something? Homage to barnyard?) Am I missing something here?

Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: Chicago

8 Responses to “Chicago: Architectural Note – The Midwest Has Winters”

  1. Boofer says:

    There’s an interesting example of this same kind of thing at University High School in Carmel. The exterior of their two main buildings have a wood-plank motif that when built looked kind of like a vertical basketball floor. But the wood on the older of the two buildings now looks very weathered and worn, and the newer building will surely look like that very soon. It’s the “looks good on paper” syndrome exemplified.

  2. thundermutt says:

    Possible explanations:

    1. Style over substance. An architect or building/business owner wants a certain “vibe” or to make a certain statement. What s/he ends up saying is “I’m a dunce” if the look lasts only for a (figurative) minute.

    2. Lack of research. There are alternate materials and/or appropriate coatings to make a “fresh wood” look work.

    3. Specific design intent. Remember cor-tenn steel in the 70’s? To non-aesthetically aware people, it just looked like rusty steel. Perhaps these designers really want these trendy places to look like old Midwestern barns. (Those of us who grew up with old barns around might laugh at the thought, but our numbers are declining and it might be a “new” look to a designer.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s the product of a small contractor using whatever materials that are available to him at Menard’s or Home Depot. I think you’re looking for the building owner to call in a professional architect and that would cost a lot.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Those are all ugly.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The problem here isnt’ that wood as a material isn’t a good material. Thundermutt said it best…

    2. Lack of research. There are alternate materials and/or appropriate coatings to make a “fresh wood” look work.

    The real problem in addition to most architects not having the appropriate design intellegence and research (outside brick facade and stone section research) The blame has to put on neglagant owners who don’t understand that maintenance is part of ownership.

    People enjoy the beauty that buildings offer our society, but don’t realize they look this way because of excellent staff and ownership who care for their buildings daily aesthetic.

    Building mainenance is being ignored as budgets tighten and items often don’t get replaced per specifications as they fair or warrenties expire.

    I’m not sure of the estimated percentage of a buildings overall cost will be for building maintenance…but its a large cost. Owners realize this and often ask for something less aesthetic or visually inspirational in lieu of a material that is bunker proof, hard, or inappropriate for the area.

    Bottom line is that architects need to become more knowledgable about material science…perhaps more making in addition to our computer work. We’ve certainl lost touch with asking the brick what it wants to be.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Does Huberman even have any experience in education?

  7. The Urbanophile says:

    Alon, I think you posted that question in the wrong thread, but I can tell you that Huberman does not have educational experience. He started in the Police Department, became Daley’s chief of staff, then moved to the CTA.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    Oh well.

    As for weather and architecture, I grew up in Tel Aviv. In the 1920s and 30s, when it grew by a factor of 80, it had an influx of European architects, who put their ideas of how a city ought to look into action. But because Tel Aviv is about 10 degrees Celsius warmer than Central Europe, they modified the buildings to suit the climate. They built all of them in white, to reflect sunlight; they built them on columns and had the first floor set back from the facade, in order to resist sandstorms; they had plastic white blinds covering every window. The result has been a complete eyesore. If Hamas starts leveling buildings it’ll be an aesthetic improvement.

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