Wednesday, June 28, 2017

2901-2909 W. Granville, 1958

This building contains five duplexes ranging in size from 1,080 to 1,250 square feet (2 and 3 bedrooms).  Construction is concrete block with brick and stone veneer.   At the back are small private outdoor areas.  There is no garage, but five deeded parking spaces are to the side.


In early Chicago attached housing often took the form of 2 or 3-story rowhouses with shared party walls.  There were really two main design solutions for these:  (1) Design the building to look like one large building with consistent materials, windows, cornices, etc. or (2) Differentiate the individual units by varying the cladding materials and massing to provide a unique architectural identity.
2901-2909 W. Granville, 1958
This design takes a consistent approach, unifying five homes of slightly varying sizes with a regular facade. This is the path taken by many mid-century buildings in the neighborhood.  I think of this configuration as "battleship" mid-century modern.

Note how the windows for different units on the first floor are connected visually with limestone frames and rectangular stone panels laid in an ashlar pattern.  On the second floor the decorative stone panels and continuous limestone sill create a solid band linking the units even more strongly.  A heavy canopy caps the building, with reduced-scale versions emphasizing the main entrances.

Only a few elements break the boxlike appearance, including two angled wing walls and a projecting rectangular stair enclosure.  As the stair enclosure moves forward the adjacent corner shifts back, creating a more generous landing and entrance for the largest unit. So there actually is a slight bit of variety to the treatment of individual units.

The stair enclosure provides an opportunity for some ornamentation in the former of projecting horizontal rows of bricks.  I have this urge to climb them like a ladder...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Backstage Spaces #4, Greenleaf Alley

I've been working periodically on some drawings of alleys and other service spaces in the neighborhood.  Sometimes it's a relief to go behind the geometry and ornament of a  facade to admire the more functional aspects of a building--  electrical connections, trash receptacles, parking, circulation... all of messy vitality that makes life in a dense city possible.  And then you see the real value of the alley.  It allows the illusion of order to step forward, no matter how much garbage might be stacked up in back.

Alley West of Clark between Greenleaf and Estes (2017)



Friday, June 2, 2017

Mid-Century Multi-Family Buildings in West Ridge- Part 1

There's been some interesting discussion in Chicago about how residents perceive their neighborhood and how that shapes their response to new development. For a great introduction read this piece by Daniel Kay Hertz, "How Bungalow-y is the Bungalow Belt?
3001-3330 W. Granville, 1956.
To summarize, if you live on a block of predominantly single family homes it's easy to overlook scattered multi-family buildings nearby, which easily outnumber single family homes in regard to unit counts.  So when new multi-family housing is proposed it's seen as uncharacteristic by a comparatively small proportion of neighborhood residents who are guided more by their intuitive understanding of the area rather than actual demographics.

2250 Single-Family Homes and 946 Multi-Family Homes (1945-1965)
Those who see new development as threatening to the character of their neighborhood may be successful in opposing and blocking these projects, particularly if they require a zoning change, which is subject to  review through the local alderman. These opponents often appropriate the language of planning to justify that opposition--  not enough parking, too much density, incompatible in scale... Although these may be valid concerns they often stem from a qualitative understanding of the neighborhood and don't acknowledge the complex interweaving of different types of land use.

So I thought it might be interesting to look at multi-family housing in the West Ridge neighborhood.  In particular I'm focusing on  mid-century development which is often overlooked by housing advocates and architectural historians. What exactly are the proportions of multi-family buildings to single family during this period?  How did development change over time?  To answer some of these questions I used the Building Footprints data provided by the City of Chicago.  This is the information the city uses in their Geographic Information System, and includes construction date, unit counts and number of floors.  Full disclosure--  I have no idea if this information is accurate.  I assume much of it was taken from the Cook County Tax Assessor.  But it was the best building-level information I could identify, so I'm going with it.

2250 Single Family Units and 4653 Multi Family Units
Between 1945 and 1965 there were 2550 single family homes constructed in West Ridge. Not surprising, since much of the neighborhood participated in the post-war building boom.   In the same time period there were 946 multi-family homes built.  In comparison the  total number of single family households remain at 2550 but the multi-family buildings contain 4653 households-- nearly twice as many.  (My crummy graphs are meant to represent this visually, although you'll have to click on them before they become legible.) So the real weight of opinion in the neighborhood should really be with the residents of the multi-family buildings.

6158 N. Richmond, 1959
In the next few weeks I'll be taking a closer look at some of these mid-century multi-family buildings.  I find this era to be a very creative period in housing history, and one that hasn't really received enough attention from a developmental or architectural standpoint.  The West Ridge neighborhood is practically an encyclopedia of mid-century design, and I hope to plot out a small part of it.





I also want to talk a bit about what's becoming known as the "missing middle" of the housing market- developments which are similar in scale to single family homes but create a denser neighborhood, permitting greater diversity, walkability and affordability.  I believe these mid-century buildings are good examples and can provide some lessons on adding density in established urban neighborhoods.