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Chicago needs an architecture museum: letter to the editor

Crain’s recent article about the demolition of another pre-fire apartment building strengthens my belief that Chicago desperately needs a museum of architecture (“Say goodbye to this 1860s West Loop home,” Dec 07).

The overwhelming success of the two exhibitions now on display at Wrightwood 659 Gallery proves that audiences are interested in Chicago’s architectural heritage. The success of “Reconstructing the Garrick” is thanks in no small part to the creative ingenuity of Chris Ware, Tim Samuelson (with his ability to reproduce historical material in an appealing way) and Eric Nordstrom (who provided material from the Richard Nickel archives) in the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago).

Exhibitions like this rely on resources that still have no permanent home. Collections of artifacts such as terracotta blocks, building fragments and ephemera require a secure facility in which they can be viewed, maintained, cataloged and made accessible. In addition to Samuelson’s collection of hundreds of objects, many of which are enormous, there is David Phillips’ collection of historical photo negatives that urgently need to be archived and preserved. Important collections of architectural fragments owned by Nordstrom range from early wooden house carpentry to extraordinary sculptural building fragments. Its collection also includes archival material from Chicago’s pioneering architects such as William LeBaron Jenney.

While their material acknowledges past accomplishments, an architecture museum is required for newer material that may not have a home. Methods of architectural presentation change rapidly, such as the creation of architectural models and renderings. Today much of this material is discarded.

Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, and the Museum of Science & Industry are stewards of the architectural material, but they are also multidisciplinary and have not made architecture a major concern of theirs.

An architecture museum can also focus on education: courses on global warming, housing and construction techniques, energy efficiency, and perhaps building craft classes.

A building about 50,000 square feet or more would serve this purpose. In addition to exhibition space, there would be elevator access, secure storage, preparation rooms for the assembly of exhibitions, classrooms and offices. Parking spaces are also essential.

The place can be anywhere in the city as I believe people have multiple options to participate in it. Such a facility would become a destination for schools, organizations, and planned groups.

I hope to initiate such a project. The City of Chicago can be at the forefront of identifying such a need and should be positive about such a project.

Fellow of the American Institute of Architects

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