The Chicago Architectural Club is pleased to announce the 2011 Burnham Prize Competition: “McCormick Place REDUX”. This year’s competition is co-sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Landmarks Illinois and is intended to examine the controversial origins and questionable future of the McCormick Place East Building, the 1971 modernist convention hall designed by Gene Summers of C.F. Murphy Associates and sited along the lakefront in Burnham Park.
Built on parkland meant to be “forever open, clear, and free”, considered an eyesore by open space advocates, and suffering from benign neglect at the hand of its owners, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, Gene Summer’s design for McCormick Place East is nevertheless a powerfully elegant exploration of some of modernism’s deepest concerns. The current building’s predecessor generated withering criticism from civic groups so when it burned in 1967 its critics mobilized. The raw economic power of the convention business served to hasten rebuilding atop the ruins. But while Shaw’s previous building lacked any architectural merit, Gene Summers brought to the new project his years of experience at Mies van der Rohe’s side. The resulting building is a tour de force that succinctly caps the modernist dream of vast heroic column-free interior spaces.
The competition charge
The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority claims the building needs $150 million in improvements and that the building is functionally obsolete, too small to remain viable as an exhibition hall. While the facility appears frayed, the building is in fundamentally sound condition. Connected to the larger McCormick Place exhibition complex by a covered bridge over Lake Shore Drive, the stronger connections are to the lakefront, the museum campus and nearby Soldier Field. Surrounded by an over-abundance of parking, served by CTA buses, and bordering the immensely popular lakefront walking/running/biking path, the possibilities for the building and the site would seem boundless. But so far, the only visions for its future to be expressed publicly been total erasure or reuse as a casino.
The “McCormick Place REDUX” competition seeks to launch a debate about the future of this significant piece of architecture, this lakefront site that was effectively removed from the public realm, and the powerful pull of a collective and public claim on the lakefront. This iconic building is caught in the crossfire of a strong, principled, and stirring debate. So the question posed by the competition is quite simple: what would you do with this massive facility? What alternate role might the building play in Chicago should it be decommissioned as a convention hall? And if the building were to go away, how might the site be utilized? What might you do with a million square feet of space on Chicago’s lakefront (along with 4,200 seat Arie Crown theatre)?
Clearly outmoded for its original use, sited on a spectacular stretch of lake-front, and undoubtedly of very significant architectural quality - what visions are there for a resolution?
Link to competition website is here