Monday, March 07, 2005

Hidden Gem: Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist

Enjoying yesterday's mild winter weather, I walked near the Chicago River with my camera. Heading towards the Loop I happened upon Harry Weese's Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue. A small but eminently noticeable building due to its round and windowless form, I was struck by the subterranean area wrapping the corner, a space I either have never seen or don't remember. I can't see how it's the latter, though, because the space is quite unique within its surroundings.

Missing image - weese.jpg

In an interview with Weese shortly before his death, the designer explains, "that sunken garden was for the benefit of the Sunday School, which didn't have any windows. It was underground on Lower Wacker. So it was all functional structurally and in every other way." A vestibule behind and to the left provides access to the building's interior at grade, in effect a bridge over this sunken area. This space is reminiscent of Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum design, while also related to Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City across the River in their overt shaping of space.

While the below-grade space is not for public use, it sits like a Japanese garden: a visual oasis of calm. Where most buildings now reach to the property line and the sidewalk, or think that outdoor public space is merely an arcade, I hope that the creative shaping of exterior, urban space - like this - is not a thing of the past.