“Seven Chicago Architects”

Most of the designs by these Chicago architects are for fixed, intelligible, logically placed and constructed forms that shut out the physical world, in one way or another. Stanley Tigerman’s Little House in the Clouds is split into symmetrical halves, each a smooth, curvilinear silhouette that looks like a continuous roof. One half is the house; the other is cropped shrubbery, a mirror-image symbolizing man’s ordering of the natural world in his own guise. Stuart E. Cohen, too, shows man defining himself through his product. His Kindergarten Chats facade is an anonymous box-with-triangle-top that kids draw to mean “house”; the back is an interchangeable element which can be suited to the needs of individual owners. It’s hardly news that cultural expectation and private expectation are two separate things; but Cohen doesn’t seem to realize that his box-with-triangle is a simple, economical way to make a house, not just a cultural cliché. Of the two, Tigerman conceptualizes better: if a bit nostalgic for a simpler day, he nonetheless deftly illustrates man as maker, thinker, and orderer of nature, full of his own powers, with little thirst for a return to purity and warmth.

All this arty symbol-weaving removes the perpetrators from any humble, self-effacing continuity with us human beings; and such a time-bound, personal accomplishment can lead to problems. The Sun Dial House—twin “layer cakes“ on a horizontal plane, connected by a ramp, all elevated on thin, structural legs—shows James L. Nagle’s concern with “architecture for architecture’s sake.” It’s the kind of design that identifies the individual who buys it. This “tree-shaper” doesn’t want to blend with all-time values, and even though his structure may not require complete leveling of the land, all those formal harmonies can only represent the “wonderful” comprehensibility of things made by man.

Individualism also can go wild—treacherously—in James Inigo Freed’s House in Landscape, where everything is paved, anything individual is relegated to memory, and an opaque grid gives radical meaning to order;—or ridiculously—in Thomas Hall Beeby’s House of Virgil, Built in Anticipation of the Return of the Golden Age, where clichéd trappings of some incredible ideal sprout from an abandoned Midwestern farm. Should Freed’s house materialize, Beeby’s individualistically romantic uselessness would be the first to buckle, and without much fight.

False visions all of these, for architecture can reflect natural relativity. Ben Weese and Laurence Booth, for example, work to channel natural values through their plans. Weese is interesting: his house has three layered, sloping roofs, an eccentric, staggered-triangle profile, and an enclosing wall made of “former civilization’s ruins.” No glitter here and little hard geometry, only a straight-backed chair, a kitchen garden, and an animal shelter for self-sufficiency. Weese postulates a basically satisfiable man, knowing and using his own energies, who goes about doing “necessary” things. This design radiates a personality, but it has insurmountable philosophical problems. Though it posits a place in which people live in harmony with each other and with. nature, it has walls around it. It’s a design for just one house, but for it to “work,” all other houses must be that way too, making an imposition of the whole idea, a suggestion of the lower echelon of some hierarchy, a far cry from communalism.

Another no-glitter man, Booth restricts his commonalities of spiritual and biological self to family; his Family Tower has the nondominant form increasing in stories as the family inhabitants increase, a bit of individual response in reaction to corporations and a “technology without sentiment.”

The idea of this entire exhibition was to release the architect from program and budget, so he could design a house that he believed in, a model that would illustrate his own values, longings, philosophies, and goals. This may have something for the visual artist, who is often so proudly unaware of where his designs fit nature, what they show about him, and whether there ought to be a change. Freed’s House in Landscape model, for instance, closely resembles Will Insley’s floor drawings and sculpture, but Freed recognizes its totalitarian implications, while Insley removes the whole issue to imaginary projections of infinite space. Devoid of personal values, both artist and technician can be dully academic and go dangerously astray.

C.L. Morrison