Studio Project
The City in the Sea

Spring 2017, Studio 2, Visiting Artist Ang Li.
Software Rhino, Grasshopper, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign


        At what point does a building become a ruin?  How do we accommodate obsolescence?  Chicago, a city famous for its collection of modernist towers and site plans, must constantly make way for the needs and demands of contemporary society, or it faces its own demise.  The Lakeside Building at the McCormick Convention Center is one of the city’s poster children of this crisis of capitalism.  The behemoth sits at 800,000 sqft.  Though large by many standards, this is quite small by contemporary convention center standards.  Too big to die, too small to be thrive.

        Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The City in the Sea, this project unfurled in two ways.  The first strategy was to reconsider a program that would suit the urban scale of the site.  This was achieved by relocating Chicago’s financially-burdened City Hall to the McCormick center, freeing the valuable Loop offices for income.  The second was to consider the apocryphal promises of The City in the Sea.  Cities, like buildings, fall to ruin.  Their seemingly permanent ornamentation, their robust concrete columns, their endless grids, will become obsolete rubble.  The landscape below city hall is comprised of a new ruin garden.  Each pillar is a compressed building that has been demolished.  The rubble is a reminder to the bureaucratic inhabitants that endings are a constant.

The City in the Sea
Edgar Allan Poe, 1831.

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently-
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
Up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
Up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol's diamond eye-
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass-
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea-
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide-
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
The hours are breathing faint and low-
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.