Zeca Bettax, 31 May 2011

2011/05/31

Unlike most of the other Bettax posts I’ve written lately, this one will have a single theme: one of the two universities I attended, the University of Illinois at Chicago, usually known by its acronym, UIC. This is where I earned my Master of Architecture degree, though I’m not sure the damn thing is worth the paper it’s printed on…but that’s another matter. The original campus master plan and most of the buildings were completed between 1965 and 1967, and were designed by Walter Netsch, then of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM). The campus is, well…I’ll let you take a look at the photos before I comment on that.

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-ClassroomBldg01B

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-LectureCenter01B

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-SchoolOfArchitecture01B

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-StudentCenter01B

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-StudentCenter02B

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-UniversityHall01B

ZecaBettax CHI Acros100 UIC-UniversityHall02B

Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Near West Side
Camera: Zeca Bettax
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach 105mm f/4.5 Radionar
Film: Fuji Neopan Acros 100 (120)

Campus Locations:
Photo 1: Classroom Building
Photo 2: Lecture Center w/ the Science & Engineering Labs in the background
Photo 3: Architecture & Art Lab Building
Photo 4: North tower at the Student Center
Photo 5: Student Center w/ Lecture Center on the right & the Science & Engineering Labs in the background
Photo 6: University Hall (faculty & administration building)
Photo 7: Detail of University Hall facade

To say this campus is ugly is an exercise in redundancy – it is quite obvious that this is not a pretty location. This, of course, has no bearing on the academic merits of the University, which were generally good, based on my experience there. But the location? Yeah…not very inspiring for an aspiring architect. While it’s clear that Netsch had some fairly rigorous guiding principles for his designs, I must confess that I can’t quite figure out what he was trying to achieve with the aesthetics of the various buildings. The whole campus is a visual exercise in cast concrete and glass, but where the use of column & slab construction should allow for wide open glass walls (as you can see at the Lecture Center), as may be seen in the details for the Classroom Buildings and University Hall, the windows are broken up into slits and wedges that are cast into concrete panels – not sure why this is the case, but it is. In the case of the Classroom Buildings, the University is currently in the process of removing these slit windows and replacing them with glazed curtainwalls, which gives the buildings quite a different – and more open – look.

Originally, there was an elevated level of walkways to access second-floor locations, but this elevated system was never particularly successful, and was demolished long before I attended classes there; a small fragment remains attached to the Architecture & Art building, but otherwise, there are no traces of this system left on the campus (though I suspect no one really misses them, anyways). For the most part, the various buildings are of fairly conventional interior design – functional, if a bit drab. There are three notable exceptions to this, of which I am most familiar with the Architecture & Art building (having studied architecture, after all); these buildings were based on what Netsch called “Field Theory”, which has something to do with rotated, superimposed squares as the basis of the spatial organization of the buildings. In plan, these organizing principles are quite evident; unfortunately, when experienced in three dimensions, this arrangement generated a building that has no overt sense of spatial logic. Perhaps the best way of describing the interior is “labyrinthine”; I spent two years in that building, and I still have no idea how to describe navigating through the building – you can’t really tell someone how to get from one part to another…you just have to find someone who knows where you need to get to, follow them, then commit the navigational sequence to memory. If the campus as a whole is rather uninspiring for an architecture student, this building is an exercise in masochism.

I thought such irrational spatial organizational principles went out of fashion long ago…then I tried navigating through Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Seems irrationality has a way of manifesting itself in every generation.

Anyways, apart from the commentary on the aesthetics of the campus, I actually had little incentive to explore much of the campus beyond the buildings shown in this post. Apart from the classes I had in the lecture halls and classroom buildings, I spent most of my time in the Architecture building – since I lived off-campus, and the Blue Line stop is fairly close to the Architecture building, I didn’t venture far from the Architecture building unless I had to go to one of the lecture halls, and most of the time, I would go directly from the Blue Line to the Architecture building and back again when I was going home. I suspect that this was common practice for most students who lived off-campus.

Enjoy.

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