International Competitions in Architecture
A NEW WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY – CHICAGO
Chicago is a city mad about architecture. Unfortunately architecture is not always mad about Chicago… Certainly not recently… Yet, there is probably no architect alive who didn’t dream at one point or another about Chicago… the city that justifiably claims to have contributed so importantly to the very founding of modern architecture. To a fossilized Europe and to a silent rest of the world Chicago “spoke,” at the end of the XIXth century, with a raw vigor than meant, simply put, REBIRTH.
Unfortunately, the same Chicago indulged, with equal fervor, in lamentable nostalgias, like those promoted by the Columbian exhibition.
And one hundred years later, by that other “castellated monstrosity” (to quote Oscar Wilde in his words about the Water Tower in the same city) that the Washington Public Library is…! Anyone looking up to Chicago to show the way, in the field of modern architecture, cannot comprehend how the same city built this regressed, retrograde building. And it is the building that through its position and its function could be interpreted as representing, in many ways, the very heart of the city. Unfortunately, as it was built, it is a dead heart, a frozen heart, a heart unable to generate or sustain life, neither in the city, nor in ourselves…!
We could almost say that modernity itself was fatally wounded through the erection of this very sad building! Since it was built at the very core of Chicago, the birthplace of what modern architecture is…!
But, we could start anew!
Let’s imagine that we could infuse some life into this pretentious, dead building!
Let’s imagine we could re-design it!
Let’s rethink it!
Nay, even better, let’s re-feel it!!!
We invite you to submit proposals for the rejuvenation of Chicago (and ourselves) through a modified, improved, altered, destroyed, or totally re-envisioned Washington Public Library. It is difficult to imagine that anyone who loves architecture and books can remain indifferent to the terrible injustice done to both by this building! We could even say, perhaps, and perhaps not too adventurously, that the same retrograde spirit that made this building possible made, fifteen years later, the tragic war in Iraq possible! Yes, perhaps we can explain this: the same patriarchal, grandiloquent mentality that erected this monstrosity contributes, now, on a daily basis, to the ruin of mosque after mosque, not to speak about life after life, in Iraq. And perhaps it is not an accident that one of the “architects” of this war, now dethroned, Donald Rumsfeld, was born in Chicago… The same very regrettable, fossilized spirit that made the inflated and grotesque mausoleum of books that The Washington Public Library is possible, is the one that, across the Ocean, provokes day by day, incalculable disasters… The same over confident “Western man,” convinced that his knowledge is best, his Beaux-Arts melodrama supreme, and his righteousness implacable…!?!
Let’s destroy, or at least question, the lamentable certitudes of this “righteousness…!”
Let’s bring back life, true, fresh life, into the cultural blood of the world by re-envisioning a library that says Yes to Life, Yes to Architecture, Yes to Books…!
And maybe, then, the war itself will end…!
We understand that to see parallels between this retrograde building and the war in Iraq entails some risks… but if one contemplates the mentality that generated both, maybe the connection between the two might not appear so forced, or extravagant… In essence, what we invite you to do is to infuse fresh blood in the veins of modernity, and oppose as much as possible the very sad manifestations of a patriarchal spirit that is simply, and dangerously, outmoded.
Say Yes to life by saying No to sclerosis, in whatever form it might manifest itself!
And maybe then the books will mean something again and the rifles of the world will lower their ends, ashamed of themselves.
Let’s re-design, alter, destroy or improve, The Harold Washington Public Library!
And thus return, to the great city of Chicago, its lost soul…!