Best in architecture in 2019: Notre Dame saved, Wright honored, Chicago's Old Post Office revived

Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- It was a year of stark contrasts in architecture: The burning and near-destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral versus the revival of once-decrepit buildings like Chicago's Old Post Office. A group of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings finally achieved global recognition yet the world lost several noted design figures, among them I.M. Pei and Chicago's Stanley Tigerman.

Building boomed. Quality was hard to find.

Here are the projects and events that stood out in 2019. Plus some notable losses.

-- Wright buildings take their rightful place: In a step that was long overdue but still welcome, eight buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright were named to the United Nations' list of the world's most significant cultural and natural sites.

Located in six states and completed between 1909 and 1959, the buildings placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List include the bold concrete structure of Unity Temple in Oak Park and the Prairie style masterpiece of the Robie House in Chicago.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a Chicago-based nonprofit that seeks to preserve and protect Wright structures, spearheaded the nomination in cooperation with the U.S. Interior Department.


Separately, the Robie House reopened to the public for tours after a meticulous $11 million-plus restoration by Chicago's Harboe Architects. Credit for that transformation also goes to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, a Chicago-based nonprofit that conducts tours of the Robie House and other Wright sites.

-- Heroic firefighters save Notre Dame: One of the worst days of the year was April 15, when fire ravaged the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, toppling its delicate Gothic revival spire and destroying its wood-supported roof. But there was a bright spot: The courage of French firefighters, who saved the great medieval monument.

"Some, at the peril of their own lives, went inside the (cathedral's) northern tower to protect it from flames at a moment when it could have collapsed at any time," The New York Times reported. "The decisive moment saved the structure."

French President Emmanuel Macron gave the firefighters the medal of honor for their courage, a fitting reminder that buildings have many protectors.


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