#874: Unidentified Failing Object

January 10th, 2018

Every so often, when the wind blows oblique angles and I decide I should actually spend a night in rather than tracking down the last artisanal radish farmer in Schorsch Village, I run draft sections of a book I’m working on (and still looking for a publisher for… hint hint). 

The book will be a companion piece to the Chicago Corruption Walking Tour, my delightful summertime side hustle that NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report called “one new walking tour that some local politicians wish would just go away.”

I’ve run sections on the treatment of the Potawatomi and what the Justice Department corruption stats actually say about Illinois, but with this little blurb, I channel my inner Blair Kamin and get into some architecture. Enjoy! (And tell your friends in publishing that this hot word-typing is available.)

Directions: Walk north, cross Randolph, then cross LaSalle. Continue east to Clark and LaSalle
Address: 100 W. Randolph St.
GPS coordinates: 41.884650, -87.631180

Stop 11: Horses, Shoeboxes, and Seven Broken Kings

You should be standing in front of a 29-foot, 10-ton milky-white blob with thick black edging. There might be some children running around it, or through it. That’s cool. That’s what “Monument With Standing Beast” is for. The abstract fiberglass scribble is and is meant to be a living doodle in black-and-white for people to interact with, whether it’s to explore it with childish glee or hoist past it with a briefcase grumbling “God, that thing’s ugly.”

“I want to give monumental dimensions to these unrestricted graphics, these graphics that escape from the paper’s surface which usually serves as a support,” sculptor Jean Dubuffet said of his “Monumental” series of public sculptures in cities around the globe.

“I call it ‘Snoopy in a Blender,’” my friend Bill said of the two-tone amorph.

As divisive as the sculpture is — for the record, I’m a fan — it has nothing on the hate/love Chicago has given the building it flops in front of, the James R. Thompson Center, a giant glass UFO that descended on the city in 1985. The State of Illinois’ postmodern Chicago offices are 17 stories of tilted, curved glass, a crossbreed of alien intelligence and Trivial Pursuit wedge, crammed on the northwest corner of Clark and Randolph. Former Chicago Tribune architecture critic Paul Gapp called the glimmerglass pie slice “easily the most spectacular building ever constructed in the Loop” and, in a less generous mood, “the fat girl at the senior prom.”

“What he did with his design is to create a new grandeur for people to be inspired,” said Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald.

“I think it’s a piece of shit,” said famed Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman.

“It’s a celebration of space,” said James R. Thompson, who hand-picked the design.

“It looks like a scrap heap,” said James R. Thompson, who watched as successive governors ignored it to the point of metal fatigue on the poles and weeds growing in cracks on the ledges.

I love this building, but it is a disaster. Architect Helmut Jahn wanted to clad the arced section of the building in double-paned curved glass, which is very expensive. The state wanted to use double-paned flat glass, which would be cheaper, but ugly as hell on a curved building. So they made the worst possible compromise: single-paned curved glass. This is essentially an uninsulated building. It scorches you in the summer, freezes you in the winter, it leaks, and that glorious 17-story open-air atrium is a monster on heating and air conditioning costs. Add to that decades of neglect of all but essential maintenance due to Illinois’ rapid-fire, back-to-back budget crises, you’re looking at a gorgeous disaster, a thing of beauty undercut by shoddy decision-making, neglect, mismanagement, and the unending quibble and kibbitz between administrations.

It’s an on-the-nose metaphor for the State of Illinois offices, but I like it.

The state wants to unload the building, but as of this writing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel won’t change its zoning to be easier to sell unless Gov. Bruce Rauner signs a bill he previously vetoed that would let the city restructure pension contributions for its workers. So the building lingers a block north of City Hall and kitty-corner from the Daley Center, an oddball of glass, either a hostage or bargaining chip, depending on your politics.

Go inside, if you like. Underneath 17 stories of glass, you’ll find a fast food court and the city’s second-busiest ‘L’ station. Sit and relax among disgusting corporate meatstuff and let’s step away from Chicago. In the State of Illinois building, we’re going to talk about the state of Illinois, focusing on one corruption-laden office in particular, that of the governor.

We’ve had to have judges inform the governors of Illinois they’re not kings. We’ve had cash handouts in the middle of courtrooms, mid-trial. We’ve had reality shows and kangaroo courts, prison reunions, canal scams, and bribes listed as income tax deductions. Seven Illinois governors faced the law — four went to prison, three beat the rap. We’ll get to those stories, but first…

Thanks for reading this sample blurb. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to show you the rest. In the meantime, read more about the location.

A protest on the same site

1800s political shenanigans on the spot too

A little girl stumbling through fire half a block south

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