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Local angles in architecture
By Kathleen Ostrander

Forget power lunches and power suits. Nothing really says power like steel, glass and concrete uniquely fashioned into a building designed to stand for the ages.

Corporations use their buildings to stamp monolithic monograms on the urban landscape. Nothing says "we're here and we aren't going anywhere" like an unabashed chunk of stone, pillars and glass hunkered down on the corner of a downtown street.

Anthony Rubano, project director for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is an expert in urban architecture, and his walking tours of downtown help visitors and residents see life and art in the cityscape.

"There are great examples of post-modern architecture right under people's noses, and they ignore them," Rubano said. He used his own agency as an example. In the 1960s, the Old State Capitol was reconstructed at the center of the city, but the area underneath was dug out to house a parking garage as well as the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

The lobby is meant to be a grand approach. The curved walls sweep a visitor in and the front has a ceremonial glass entrance. The pylons appear to be holding the glassed-in area where historical materials are carefully kept under the stewardship of the agency. The architecture conveys feeling, motion and watchfulness, Rubano said.

Across from the Old State Capitol is Marine Bank, designed by Wally Henderson of Ferry & Henderson.

"How you define modernism and post modernism can be a challenge," Rubano concedes, "but some buildings just fit a definition."

Marine Bank is a bold building that fits the profile. "It says solid, secure and unchanging," Rubano said. "It retains somewhat of a colonial feel with the columns, but it still radiates the idea of a bank and the idea that deposits and monies here are going to be here and no amount of outside turmoil will change that."

Rubano said banks were structures throughout the ages that were built to seem impervious to outside forces. At Old State Capitol Plaza North is National City Bank.

The granite and glass structure portrays power through the use of what appears to be a flat plane of windows and building material.

"At the time, this was a very revolutionary design," Rubano said. "It took a lot of time and expense to set the windows on the same plane on a wide structural grid. There is an arcade set up at the bottom to make the ground plane more pleasing and welcoming."

The building next to INB, the former Robert Bros. store, is an interesting juxtaposition of architecture. It has a traditional commercial façade, including patinaed copper awnings and bay windows.

One of Springfield's most significant examples of urban renewal is also one of Rubano's favorite buildings; the Horace Mann Educators Insurance Co. Rubano calls it an "oasis in an urban jungle," which is also how it was described and planned by Minoru Yamasaki of Minoru Yamasaki & Associates.

Built on a slight pedestal it is surrounded by stunning landscaping with walkways and cool clusters of shrubs and greenery. The outside was designed by landscape architect Hideo Sasaki.

Shafts of bronze solar glass are repeated around the building with travertine in between set up on a grid. The overhanging roof shades the top offices and also crowns the top of the building.

"The lobby is set up to bring the outside in, which gives it a wonderful feel of being one of the greatest rooms in the city. It is constructed of beautiful materials and the use of columns makes it seem like a modern Acropolis set on a hill," he said.

The urban renewal aspects of the building are also worth noting, he said. "The very idea of urban renewal was to take a blighted area and transform it into something useful. Here is this beautiful building with this wonderful landscaping that is set up so it can be enjoyed by the public," Rubano said.

The pedestal area becomes a sort of public room in the summertime, with passersby enjoying the shade and building residents enjoying a nature break. It is what modern buildings are supposed to be - a sort of functional urban park, he added.

 

Story published Friday, March 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 2 )

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