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Harry Weese's Chicago River Cottages
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© Christine Till
From the west, they look a bit forbidding, the cottages architect Harry Weese designed in 1988 along the west bank of the Chicago river, at 357-365 N. Canal Street just south of the Kinzie Bridge. A long, monolithic concrete wall gives off an almost bunker-like vibe. When you get to the river, however, you're on a different planet, where the funkiness subverts a tight, organizing geometry to create one of the more engaging structures in the city. From the river the cottages look as though they're delicate and floating, but from the street they seem heavily grounded and indestructible.
Chicago architect Harry Weese said he got the idea for his River Cottages when he was traveling through Budapest, Hungary, in the late 1950s. As Weese crossed the Danube River on a ferry, he noticed an unusual riverside development where the Communist government apparently had allowed local architects to do whatever they wanted. More than 30 years later, Weese has created his own unique residential project on the banks of the Chicago River.
With a rakish, swept-back design, the River Cottages actually are four futuristic upscale townhouses in two attached buildings, one four stories high and the other, five. The peaked roofs, cross-bracing and decorative portholes were meant to recall the sailing schooners that once docked at this spot across from historic Wolf Point.
Tucked away in a less traveled industrial part of town on the north branch of the Chicago River, city grime and deferred maintenance has left the cottages looking a bit less modernistic than when they were new, but they still are buildings Chicagoans have grown to love.
January 28th, 2013
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