Park Place

The architect Paul Florian lives large in a small apartment on the Gold Coast

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A day bed from the forties that belonged to Florian’s maternal grandmother and a reproduction of a Florence Knoll sofa define a corner of the living room. The coffee table by George Nelson came from Modern Times.

 

“I’m a 57-year-old living in a student loft,” says Paul Florian, a principal of the Chicago firm Florian Architects. “I just like to perch-I don’t want to reach any resolution.” An optimistic realist, Florian knows exactly where he is bound, but he believes that now is not the right time to make that move. Five years ago, he bought a lot in Wicker Park and designed his own 2,500- square-foot glass, steel, and aluminum house; he keeps the model in his River North office. But at present, completing his firm’s commercial and residential projects seems more pressing than building his own place.

In the interim, he is living in a one-bedroom, 800-square-foot apartment on the Gold Coast, at the corner of Astor and Goethe streets-a destination that satisfies his needs for meaningfulness and style. The 28-story structure was completed in 1962 as a rock-star hotel by Bertrand Goldberg-the celebrated architect of Marina Towers. Downstairs, from the early sixties to the mid-eighties, Goldberg’s wife, Nancy, presided over Maxim’s, a restaurant and nightclub patterned after its soigné art deco predecessor in Paris. The club became a hip hangout for the city’s art-smart moneyed set. Today it is an event space managed by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the hotel rooms are condominiums.

The kitchen looks out on a building from the thirties.

“It was a real sixties phenomenon,” Florian says of the club. “And the hotel had a sense of privacy and mystery. It was a Darth Vader kind of building; it was the same color as the buildings adjacent to it, but all the windows were covered in black louvers. Then there were natural concrete columns that went all the way to the ground, and the plaza was black. You had one portico for the nightclub and one for the entry. The building was very dramatic for its day.”

That wasn’t Florian’s only source of nostalgia. His maternal grandmother was born nearby, at the northwest corner of Scott and Astor streets, in a Romanesque house built by her father, a fruit importer and real-estate developer. Florian’s parents-his mother was a fundraiser; his father, a business executive-moved from the city to Winnetka when he was five, but the family always spent holidays on Scott Street. And there was another Goldberg connection. Florian’s great-grandfather was the developer behind Bertrand Goldberg’s first public-use building-a media center on Rush Street, now an Urban Outfitters store.

The neighborhood met other criteria, as well. “I wanted to be able to walk to work and not be in good shape,” explains the ageless, always fit Florian, meaning that long distances and overexertion were not a goal. “I have this notion of an ideal benevolent urban environment, which comes from studying and working in London in the seventies.

“This area is the closest you can get to that when you come down to it,” he explains. “It’s too bad we have to ossify certain neighborhoods and then don’t have control over others.” In the past 20 years, Florian has abandoned both Lincoln Park and River North because of the relentless construction. “I love change,” he says, “but when everything is all ripped up, and what you see being built isn’t better, it’s disturbing.”

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