The Navy Vs. Modern Architecture In North Chicago

10/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Blair Kamin Chicago Tribune

The Navy tried to portray Tuesday's announcement that it will demolish a landmark of mid-century modernism co-designed by Bruce Graham, the architect of Sears Tower, as a balanced decision, one that takes into account a federal mandate to cut excess infrastructure and "our commitment to honor our century of naval heritage" at Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago.

It's nothing of the sort.

The Navy is ignoring the recommendation of the chairman of the federal committee on historic preservation who earlier this year urged the mothballing of the former's Gunner's Mate School, also known as Building 521. During the Cold War, within the building's stark walls of glass, sailors-to-be trained on life-size facsimiles of naval ship guns. Designed by Graham, along with his colleagues at the Chicago firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the 54-year-old structure contains the DNA of the steel-and-glass architecture that reshaped the face of Chicago and much of the world. And now, with the building vacant because weapons training has shifted to computers in classrooms? Kaput!

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