What is It?

For more than a year, an new high school has been under construction at 75th & Jeffery on land it shares with the current South Shore high school. I saw its beginnings from a hole in the ground to what is now a finished, monochromatic series of boxes and vertical slits for windows. However, it did not occur to me until this past weekend that the building really did not look like a school. Three flags, representing the city, county and state flew on the site, signaling that this structure is related to some level of government. No name graces the front of the building yet, so an outsider could easily be clueless as to what kind of building it is that sits on the corner. The possibilities include a courthouse, library or police station to someone visiting Chicago for the first time. Even though I should have been concentrating on my driving, my mind wandered into the world of modern architecture. Our conventional image of a school, is a substantially-sized building, (made of brick if you’re from Chicago) and symmetrical in appearance, the front entry centered between equal numbers of windows on each side. So many new structures built over the last ten years in Chicago have had quite unceonventional designs. New police and fire stations and community facilities replaced structures well over 50 years old. We may alter our wardrobes once or twice a year to keep with the latest fads and trends, but obviously built structures cannot adhere to changes in architecture nearly as quickly as we change our wardrobes. So by the time a school built in the 1960’s is replaced, the current style of the new structure is drastically different from the style it is replacing; either the new building is well liked or met with disdain. Imagine a Victorian woman’s wardrobe in the year 1900; her dress would be made from lace and other sof, lightly-colored fabrics. Very little skin is showing due to high collars, long skirts and long sleeves, and even a thin woman would wear a corset, accentuating her body’s profile. What if she woke one morning, opened her armoire and saw a black, leather miniskirt, stopping well above her knees and a red, short-sleeved blouse with a plunging neckline hanging in front of her. This woman’s shock would be understandable; fashion did not change this drastically. I appreciate modern architecture and I look forward to the shock and awe of modern architecture.

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