UIC architect’s Cultural Center windows reflect city styles

Chicago Cultural Center windows by Thomas Kelley

Chicago Cultural Center windows reflect Chicago architecture styles in a project by UIC faculty member Thomas Kelley for the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Carrie Norman, his partner in a studio called Norman Kelley, for the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Photo: Spencer McNeil, copyright Norman Kelley/Chicago Architecture Biennial.


If you’ve attended any Chicago Architecture Biennial activities at the Chicago Cultural Center, you’ve probably seen a bit of the city through the eyes of Thomas Kelley — at least if you looked through (or at) the 65 windows facing Michigan Avenue.

Kelley, clinical assistant professor of architecture, and Carrie Norman, his partner in a studio called Norman Kelley, covered the windows in white vinyl cutouts that mimic window styles seen throughout Chicago.

The result is a survey of iconic windows, familiar local styles like Prairie and Chicago School, and generic treatments like Venetian blinds and pleated curtains. There’s even a window with an air conditioner.

On the top floor, the references begin on the south with Stanley Tigerman’s Anti-Cruelty animal shelter and end with the Civic Opera House. In between, there’s everything from an “Arts & Crafts, Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff” to a sliver-window from Harry Weese’s Metropolitan Corrections Center.

A key indicating the inspiration for each window is drawn on a first-floor gallery wall next to a 20-foot drawing of the Cultural Center’s facade.

The installation, “Chicago, How Do You See?,” will be on view through Jan. 3.

Kelley says it hints at the many ways in which Chicagoans look at their city, but serves a slightly subversive purpose as well.

“We hope that the drawings reveal a democratic way of perceiving drawing,” Kelley said. “We hope that when looking at the drawings, you can say to yourself, ‘I could have drawn that.’”

The architects had help from Spencer McNeil, a first-year UIC graduate student who worked with their studio over the summer and was the sole draftsman on many of the final drawings, Kelley said.

Kelley’s work, along with Paul Preissner’s “Summer Vault,” is highly visible in the biennial, but 11 UIC architects are among the 99 participants worldwide invited to participate, with their design firms, in biennial activities.

Reservations and details on their exhibitions, talks and workshops are available online.

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