At 90,000 square feet, a solid, shimmering glass-and-steel cube on the Illinois landscape would seem hard to miss. But few have seen the Gunner's Mate School, designed by the famed firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, since it was built in 1954 on a military base.
Now, because of the federal government's pledge to purge military bases of 50 million unused square feet in the next five years, the mid-century-modern building may be demolished this year. The Department of Defense's edict has put pressure on many of the country's military bases—including the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor—to tear down rather than reuse their historic buildings like the Gunner's Mate School, also known as Building 521, located on Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, Ill.
Despite the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's pro bono study of reuses for Building 521, the Navy is proceeding with plans to demolish the building. A public meeting is scheduled for next week.
"The Navy feels like a wide range of options have been brought up, and none have been shown to be feasible reuses," says Bill Couch, spokesman for the Midwest's Naval Facilities Engineering Command. "None of those ideas are feasible for that building, mostly because of the building's size and because the building is deep inside the base; it's not accessible to the public."
Because the building, located outside of the base's historic district, is eligible for the National Register, the Navy was required to start the Section 106 process before rolling out the bulldozers.
Two years ago, when Landmarks Illinois, a partner in the Section 106 process, contacted Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), even the firm had forgotten about the project. "We had to check to see if we did it," says Jason Stanley, associate director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Chicago office. With a little research, Stanley found that "521" was the office's first "curtain wall" structure. It didn't take much research to confirm that the building was pivotal. "When you walk into that building, you know it's an SOM building."... Read More →