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Poetry Foundation

John Ronan Architects

If Chicago is the quintessential American city - the city that most clearly represents American values of democracy, hard work and optimism - Chicago has also been, at least until the arrival of Postmodernism now almost four decades ago, the crucible and showplace for some of America’s greatest architectural talents: Louis H. Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Between this no-nonsense yet open everyday reality and the ideal of Chicago as an incubator of radical architectural thinking, streams of expertise emerged, resources of knowledge to be applied to building big, building tall, building in extreme climatic conditions. At some point, such aspects of civilization, of the pragmatic and the rational, become cultural phenomena. They rise to some more abstract plane, infecting culture both in the sense of High Art and as social practice. In contemporary Chicago, Architecture with a capital “A” is not about yearning for somewhere else or copying some foreign master or dreaming about some hypothetical alternative reality. Architecture in Chicago is largely concerned about building well, about the limits of construction. Of the younger Chicago architects building today, John Ronan clearly combines these characteristic traits. His work fuses the practical and the poetic. Flying into Chicago O’Hare, you see the seemingly endless, orthogonal grid of Jeffersonian America spreading until it meets the shore of Lake Michigan, an oceanic body of grey-blue water extending north to Canada. As the wheat fields, railroads, and Interstate highways converge on Chicago, the grid densifies until you begin to recognize, close to the juncture of city and lake, some of the world’s tallest and most iconic skyscrapers. To the south of this vast matrix of streets and buildings, John Ronan has in recent years realized two adjacent projects bringing him to national attention. These are the Gary Comer Youth Center and the Gary Comer College...

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