urban shortcuts redux

Addendum to an earlier list about underground passageways

Chicago Tribune | The list gets longer on shortcuts
Photo gallery here, possibly.
The Pittsfield Building (55 E. Washington St., 1927, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White) offers much more than a soaring neo-Gothic tower that briefly reigned as Chicago's tallest building. Inside is a convenient, L-shaped cut through between Washington and Wabash Avenue. It's highlighted by a lovely, though somewhat faded, rotunda that echoes the skyscraper's filigreed exterior.

The rotunda rises five stories, lined by balconies and shop windows. It's almost plaza-like, with tables from the Pittsfield Cafe spilling into it and diners chatting away. Here, in a wonderful inversion, the skyscraper forms a part of the city yet it contains a miniature version of the city.

I skipped Sears Tower (233 S. Wacker Drive, 1974, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) in the original story because I thought the metal detectors that made its lobby an inconvenient mess after 9/11 were still there. Not quite. Last fall, they were shifted from the entrances at Wacker and Franklin and repositioned to elevator entrances. The machines that inspect large packages and backpacks are unobtrusively placed on the flanks of each entrance.

Now, as e-mailer Philip Hummer of Chicago pointed out, pedestrians can pass with newfound ease between Wacker and Franklin, enjoying the high-ceilinged, structurally expressive interior spaces that hint at the tower's great height. Another eye-pleaser in the lobby: Alexander Calder's moving sculpture, “The Universe,” where the large, moving parts at once respect Sears Tower's gigantism and play off its boxy, black exterior with their curving, colorful shapes.

It's too bad that pedestrians can only get into Sears' ground-level restaurants and shops from inside the lobby, not from the sidewalk. But the lobby's new permeability, which allows pedestrians to slip through it like beads of water, is a welcome departure from the fortress mentality that shuts the public out.

Several e-mailers spoke up for the Bank of America Center (231 S. LaSalle St. and 230 S. Clark St., formerly the Continental Illinois building, 1924, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White). This prototypical banking temple provides an elegant cut-through between LaSalle and Clark, with a leg extending to Jackson Boulevard. The big payoff is the view: a glimpse through ceiling openings into the Roman splendor of the second-floor banking hall, with its monumental Ionic columns, majestic coffered ceiling and murals representing international trade.

After 9/11, B. of A. restricted access to the hall, once open to the public. Seeing it from below is the next best thing to being there.

Harry Hirsch of Evanston, a Chicago Architecture Foundation docent, recommended an obscure passageway across Washington Street from City Hall. This one-story covered corridor, which leads from Washington to Madison, squeezes into the open space between the Burnham Center (111 W. Washington, originally the Conway Building, 1913, D.H. Burnham & Co. and Graham, Burnham & Co.) and 33 N. LaSalle St. (1930, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White).

The corridor feels like the inside of a streamlined railroad car. It empties into an alley. Then the path resumes through 120 W. Madison, where it becomes drearily modern.

Two other passageways deserve mention: A modest but useful cut-through between State and Dearborn Streets in the Sears on State store (2 N. State St., 1905, 1917, originally the Boston Store, Holabird & Roche). And Three First National Plaza (West Madison Street at North Dearborn Street, 1981, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) has an airy, nine-story atrium that offers a pleasant cut-through between Madison and Clark.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on February 27, 2006 11:24 PM.

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