#929: The Fire is on Roof

May 18th, 2018

It was seamlessly ugly, each line and fissure unified in hideousness.

There were no pretty bits, no elegant lines that would be jarring in contrast to the overarching fuggo. It was impressively socialist in its design. There were no free riders here, no collective action problem. The pieces all came together as one to create a truly unified, democratic and nasty whole.

But it was also on fire, and the rooftop was very cold.

Physically, the object was an outdoor heater, with a V of gas jets spewing the least-efficient form of warmth to the hotel bar revelers at the opening night party. You could tell the planners had expected better weather — the menu included snow cones — but when the temperatures unexpectedly dipped, they quite impressively stuck to their guns, having the open-air rooftop party along Michigan Avenue as planned.

As waiters served cool, summery floral cocktails to shivering men without coats and goosebumped women in flimsy sundresses, the hideous heater gathered a following for the gas jets if not the design.

The heater was about four feet tall and maybe six across. The V of jets was surrounded by a thicket of metal rods crudely soldered together to create the effect of fire around the fire. The rods were arranged in a massive vertical triangle — starting from ground level on the sides then coming up to a massive point in the middle, an attempt to evoke thoughts of campfires.

They didn’t pull it off. It looked like an Erector Set skyscraper had collapsed two seconds before. It looked like the back of the Game of Thrones sword-chair. And the designer hadn’t considered the practical matters of putting metal around gas jets. The rods near the flames were blackened with soot like a wet pan on a stovetop.

The rooftop party was in part for media, and a Chicago Tribune arts critic and I spent way too long talking about the space heater.

Or sculpture.

We couldn’t decide.

Was it a designer adding art to function or an artist adding function to design? And how did it fail both to impress visually and to keep people beyond a small radius warm?

The arts critic and I were surrounded by beauty on the Michigan Avenue hotel rooftop. We had the sweep and sway of the street below, peers and peeks of the lake. We were eye level with the Allerton Hotel sign, could see the blue tip of the old Playboy building. We could see Trib Tower, rooftop grass above the Burberry — buildings I never expected to see in the same vista but there we were amid Chicago’s gorgeous finery, entranced by the unbelievably ugly and forgettable.

In fairness to us and the dwindling crowd, it was pretty cold on the roof.

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