[June 25, 2009] - David Woodhouse Architects tames congestion and clutter at DuSable Harbor with a graceful unmatched set.
"It's one of those standard things that a lot of times when we build buildings in the park, there really shouldn’t be buildings in the park, so you try to build a building that’s tactful and doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself”
That was architect David Woodhouse of David Woodhouse Architects speaking at a Grant Park Advisory Council forum back in August of 2007. The building he was talking about, the service building at Chicago's DuSable Harbor, is now completed. It's a handsome addition to a lakefront often rudely treated, although, truth be told, it's a bit two-faced.
From the east, it looks like this:
From the west, it looks like this:
Replacing a series of makeshift trailers that provided toilet facilities for boaters, the 4,000 square foot structure also includes washrooms for the public, as well as a shop and offices.
Corrugated/perforated metal gratings painted the color of captured sunshine not only enliven the concrete facade, but also slide closed to provide protection during off hours and the winter lockdown. A continuous clerestory strip of glass, tinted lake-blue, project light into the interior, shaded by a parallel continuous strip of metal frame yellow awnings that swing down at lock-down time.
The building almost looks like a ready-built facadectomy, a pasted-on wrapper, beneath a green roof that reads like a seamless continuation of parkland to the north. "You can see that the building is tucked under [there]," explained Woodhouse, " but from a green point of view you can’t see it at all. From the city side, when you look out here, there’s just nothing to see. It has no face. But from the water side, it does. It needs to provide a focal point for the harbor."
The green-roof park, accented with tectonic stone remnants, provides a prime viewing point over the densely packed harbor. A footpath leads to an angled stair down to a perpendicular walkway that takes pedestrians to the Stygian underworld beneath Lake Shore Drive.
Previous to Woodhouse's design, all this traffic - walkers, runners and speeding bicyclists - were all mashed together in a daredevil free-for-all. Now that traffic is gracefully separated: pedestrians on the footpath, bikers and joggers across a handsome, gently arching Cor-ten steel bridge, vaulting that pathway to the parking under LSD.
Also missing: the usual ugly bridge viaduct. "We sloped it down like this," said Woodhouse, "so that when you walk past here you don’t feel like you’re walking in a kind of a channel, a kind of unpleasant ditch, surrounded by a 10 foot wall." To the north, the wall slopes downward. By the time it gets to the bridge it's little more than four feet high. To the south, there is no approach wall. It's completely open.
Woodhouse's website claims that the project's silver designation (green roof, permeable pavers, fly ash concrete, dual flush toilets, recycling of the bones of deceased pets, etc., etc., etc.) is the Park's District first LEED certification.
What's most distinctive at DuSable, however, is how the discrete visual elements - the facade, the gratings, the angled stair, the smokestack, the bridge - resolve into an incredibly balanced composition, creating, between the dense clutter of the harbor and the looming Chinese wall of the LSD, a mediating zone of urban grace.