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10.20.2010
Comment> Mayor Daley's Chicago Legacy
Eleven Chicago architects reflect on 21 years of Mayor Daley and look ahead to the next administration's challenges
The gardens of Millennium Park frame the Chicago skyline and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Peter Aaron / Esto

After 21 years as mayor, Richard M. Daley has left an indelible mark on Chicago’s built environment. The Architect’s Newspaper asked 11 Chicago architects to reflect on Daley’s impact on the city’s architecture, planning, and landscape, and to ponder the challenges facing the next mayor.

Brad Lynch
Brininstool, Kerwin + Lynch

The legacy: “Daley brought Chicago back, in terms of concentration on public projects and the city’s physical aspects. And he helped lose the Al Capone association.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “We need to keep up the momentum for better design, and continue the focus on infrastructure and getting better building projects.”

Carol Ross Barney
Ross Barney Architects

The legacy: “I think Daley loved the city, and though it wasn’t always clear what he wanted, it was usually the right thing. The jury is still out on housing and the airport.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “I’d like to see government opened up. Some of the discussions would be fun to have.”

Green roof on Chicago's City Hall.

New housing at the site of Cabrini Green.
A green roof atop Chicago's City Hall (top), and new housing at the site of Cabrini Green.
City Hall Photo Services Division
 
 

John Lahey
Solomon Cordwell Buenz

The legacy: “If I had to pick one thing that defines Daley’s legacy, it would be Millennium Park. It totally reoriented the city, and created something where there was nothing. Daley went out on a limb, took a risk, but it paid off.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “The real problem remains with the fiscal realities of today’s urban America. That’s what needs to be tackled.”

John Ronan
John Ronan Architects

The legacy: “Sustainability movements are common, but Chicago is different because of the top-down process. Instead of the usual grassroots beginning, Daley was the catalyst; it can be directly attributed to him.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Daley had a vision for grand projects, ‘big thinking’ in the Burnham sense of the term. Now the expectation is that the next mayor will have a vision for the city.”

Martin Felson
UrbanLab

The legacy: “Daley worked to try to connect architecture to the urban environment, through things like education agendas and natural systems.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “I’m interested in the reversal of the river as an issue of ecological security, linking the ecology with the economy. Resolving that issue will impact all of our qualities of life here in Chicago.”

Dirk Denison
Dirk Denison Architects

The legacy: “Mayor Daley’s greatest achievement for the City of Chicago was raising the consciousness of ‘green,’ both in terms of design strategies and the physical urban landscape.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Daley’s successor will have to change the current view of buildings to one that focuses on the long term, specifically, how they will exist and perform over time.”

Jackie Koo
Koo and Associates

The legacy: “Daley has made a phenomenal impact on the city, particularly the Loop. He revitalized the Loop with Millennium Park.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Where does his successor even begin? It’s just a terrible time, especially for people trying to find affordable housing.”

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The legacy: “Mayor Daley’s legacy in terms of the built environment is substantial and impressive. His attention to the importance of landscaping in the public realm has left Chicago a much more beautiful and livable city than it was before he took office.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “In addition to the need for carbon reduction, there is a continuous need for both city center and urban neighborhood renewal, including parks, schools, residential buildings, commercial centers, and transit system stations, which should be seen as the future of higher-density sub-zones within the neighborhood structure.”

Crown Fountain at Millenium Park.Millennium Park's Crown Fountain by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa draws a crowd.
Peter Aaron / Esto

Philip Enquist
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

The legacy: “Architects designing at the scale of a city are rare. Directing growth, investment, and energy at this scale is no small task. While most American cities have never had the benefit of one such individual, Chicago has been lucky to have had two: an architect and a mayor. We are fortunate to have been influenced and directed by the future-building efforts of Daniel Burnham a century ago, and by those of Richard M. Daley during the past 20 years. The mayor energized Chicago and brought it to its highest civic level.”

Jeanne Gang
Studio Gang

The legacy: “He’s been a true advocate for new, high-quality architecture and environmentally friendly public space within the city. He has made Chicago a role model for what quality of life in a major city should be. For those of us in the architecture community, I’d say his leaving is a major loss.”

Clare Lyster
CLUAA

The legacy: “Leaders who recognize the agency of design in municipal planning and policy produce great cities. In his 21 years as mayor, Richard M. Daley understood how to deploy design to negotiate all the stakeholders that develop the urban environment. For example, the Lakefront, Millennium Park, and Museum Campus stand out as noteworthy examples of how design could leverage public, private, and economic interests to transform the city’s civic spaces. His opportunism in implementing these projects and his sincere interest in cultivating strong links with the city’s architectural community will be his legacy.”
Next mayor’s challenge: “Like many cities, Chicago faces multiple urban challenges: maintaining and expanding infrastructure, addressing urban sprawl, and tackling ecological issues. The next administration can build on Daley’s legacy by foregrounding design as the principal means to engage these concerns. The city has multiple young design firms with great ideas for the future of Chicago. Local architecture schools are think tanks for both practical and visionary explorations. Both the academic and professional design communities are ready to engage the public and help transform the city. Are you listening, Rahm?”

Compiled by Robert E. Thomas and Alan G. Brake.