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Chicago Tribune: The Architecture of Real Life
Ron Grossman | November 23, 2017

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In defense of the patched-up, added-on, built up architecture of real life

From Issue No. 264 | December 17, 2017


The architecture career choice wasn’t mine. The only family member regularly employed during the Depression was an uncle who was a civil engineer, from which my parents concluded that doing something with a T-square and triangle brought financial security.

That is how I found myself at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the lair of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the great master of modern architecture. “Less is more,” was his mantra. Accordingly, we drew plans for minimalist structures: glass walls framed by I-beams that lesser architects hid from view.

Perfection was the holy grail of Mies’ drafting studio. There was hell to pay if a vertical line on your drawing crossed a horizontal line by an infinitesimal fraction of a millimeter.

That violated my aesthetic sense. Yet I couldn’t say why, until I took that long walk, putting off having to tell my parents their son was a dropout.

Trying to purge that dreaded scene from my imagination, I played a favorite guessing game. What was life like in the frame cottages and three-flats I was passing?

An enclosed staircase tacked on to what had been built as a two-story single-family residence. Did that mean that its hard-pressed owners needed a rental income? Dormers pushed out of an attic, seemingly one at a time. Did they mark children successively reaching adolescence and wanting their own bedroom? Or was it their parents’ way of sparing older ears a younger generation’s raucous music?

Editors Notes: This rang true for me, somehow captures the magic of places like Kensington Market
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