Edward Dart's Chicago Theological Seminary Faculty Quadrangle
2022 marked the 100th anniversary of architect Edward “Ned” Dart’s birth. Earlier this year I wrote about some of Dart’s architectural projects like the now-demolished Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Chicago, the Florsheim House in Lake Forest, and the three places he called home around the Barrington area. Considering I’ve taken a lot of photos of Dart buildings, I was hoping to post monthly about his work. That didn’t happen. But I can at least highlight one more of his designs as 2022 comes to an end, specifically the Chicago Theological Seminary Faculty Quadrangle.
While Ned worked as an independent architect between 1949-65, he is best known for designing Water Tower Place while he was partner in the architectural firm of Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett and Dart. Even with bigger commercial work occupying his time and energy, Dart still found joy in creating custom-designed residential structures from multi-unit buildings to small suburban homes. The late architect Stanley Tigerman recalled: “(He) was a fine architect…everything he did that was small and on a human scale was good. It was honest.” Over the course of his career, Ned won 18 AIA awards as well as the 1951 National Home Builders Competition for the design of his own house. If these buildings have anything in common, it is their small scale, use of natural materials, play of space and form, and relationship to the site. He liked to emphasize height with soaring brick walls while the interior was open but also had proper separations (unlike today’s open concept dwellings).
In 1962 the Chicago Theological Seminary commissioned Dart to design rental faculty housing on an urban lot at the northwest corner of 58th and Dorchester in the Hyde Park neighborhood. For the eight building complex, Dart’s modernist design broke with tradition and norms of the time. Like any good architect Ned always thought of a building’s relationship with its site, whether he was designing a home next to a lake in the suburbs or a typical city block in Chicago. Knowing he studied directly under pioneering architects like Marcel Breuer and Louis Kahn while a student at the Yale School of Architecture, it’s no surprise that Dart would think outside the box.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1965, Dart said “You can’t bulldoze an area to put up a project and keep the continuity of the city. The greatest problem is to create an environment of the city. You have to look at it as a whole, not just a single project.” Instead of lining up the residential buildings for the Chicago Theological Seminary Faculty Housing directly on the street, Ned staggered the cluster of three- and four-bedroom units. By setting them on diagonals at the perimeter of the lot, it not only helped give privacy to the residents but in turn created walkways and open spaces throughout the complex. With angled roof lines and multiple elevations, the town homes offer natural light and open views to the residents. This village-like brick enclave recalls the work of Alvar Aalto, who also influenced another modern architect in Chicago (and Barrington) working at the time: Harry Weese. Ned won an AIA award for the innovative design, which was completed in 1963.
Restoration architect John Vinci was later brought in to repair the roof and “partly deteriorating brick” as there have been issues related to its construction, but Dart successfully broke new ground and helped create a village within a city. The faculty housing quadrangle stands in great contrast to the Victorian era architecture that surrounds it. It’s worth mentioning that the complex is remarkably similar to one of Ned’s earlier designs from 1955, a group of townhouses called Pickwick Place located in his hometown of Barrington. You can see how the architect was borrowing from himself and taking it a step further. Besides their simple yet angled brick facades, the homes in the development also have wide open spaces between them. Pickwick Place appears smaller than it actually does because Dart liked to create designs at human scale. There is also an interesting visual landscape similar to the one later found at Dart’s faculty housing for the Chicago Theological Seminary.