2011 Burnham Prize Competition: McCormick Place REDUX

By Jon Sedey

Located just minutes from downtown, McCormick Place is widely known as the leading convention center in all of North America. With over 2.7 million gross square feet, 173 meeting rooms, and a 4000+ seat theater, the facility attracts close to 3 million visitors annually and is considered to be the economic heartbeat of the convention and tradeshow industry. McCormick Place aims to be, the world’s premier host, creating a great experience for every person, every time.

McCormick Place was named after Colonel R. McCormick who served as an editor and publisher for the Chicago Tribune. Under his leadership, Illinois commissioned construction for a lasting convention center to host trade shows and exhibitions. When McCormick Place first opened in 1960, it only had 320,000 square feet. Shortly after its inauguration, the convention hall was destroyed by fire, but rebuilt four years later under the direction of architect Gene Summers of C.F. Murphy Associates. Summers’ original concept was rooted in modernism, a simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. He practiced this style while working at Mies van der Rohe’s side over the previous years. The new and improved facility now had 522,000 square feet of meeting space, 20 meeting rooms, and five restaurants.

Fast forward more than fifty years to today. McCormick Place now has four buildings, four ballrooms, three theaters, 600,000 square feet of meeting space and a LEED certification for the new construction of the West Building.

Of the four buildings, the original McCormick Place East is the only one that has not received major modifications or upgrades since it was rebuilt after the fire. According to owner/operator, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), the building needs $150 million in improvements and that the building is functionally obsolete—too small to remain viable as an exhibition hall. Despite the deteriorated appearance, the building is in good state and still useable. For these reasons, The Chicago Architectural Club recently announced the 2011 Burnham Prize Competition: “McCormick Place REDUX.” The competition is co-sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Landmarks Illinois.

The competition is an international event meant to explore possible scenarios for the third round of the building on a controversial site. The iconic East Building was built on parkland that was supposed to be “forever open, clear and free.” However, its location and dark façade make it an eyesore to certain open space advocates. Proponents of the project suggest that MPEA neglected the building and that nothing should have been constructed there in the first place.

The competition is open to students, designers, artists, planners, landscape architects, architects or anyone interested in making a difference in the appearance of this building and site. McCormick Place REDUX hopes to stir controversy and raise issues in the process. According to the competition’s proponents, the site was taken away from public use and used for conventions and exhibitions; McCormick Place East is caught in the middle off this fight.

So the question is: what can be done to the facility? What role might the building play in Chicago if it was no longer an exhibition hall? Or, how might the site be transformed if the building were to go away? The prospect of a million square feet of new open space suddenly added to the picturesque lakeshore is tantalizing.

McCormick Place East is no longer practical for its original use, is located along prime real estate on the lakeshore, and is very significant in architectural history. The competition is an invitation to those who think they have an idea to change the outlook of this building and its site. Registration is currently open through March 15, 2011. Contestants may be individual or on teams and finalists will receive cash prizes of $3,000 for first place, $1,500 for second, and $750 for third.

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2 Responses to “2011 Burnham Prize Competition: McCormick Place REDUX”
  1. dude says:

    anyone know who is on the jury for this competition?

  2. Matt Baker says:

    The Chicago Architectural Club hasn’t yet released the names of the jurors. As the winners will be announced in less than a month, I would assume the jurors will be disclosed soon.

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