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Listen to the Man Who Built the Purple Hotel

One of the Internet’s best podcasts talks with the architect of Chicagoland’s most (in)famous buildings.

The Purple Hotel in winter, January 2012   Photo: William DeShazer/Chicago Tribune

Recently I’ve been on a podcast kick, the combination of a lot of time spent in the car and a lot of time cleaning. Insofar as there’s any benefit to either of those activities, it’s getting to binge-listen to podcasts—I knocked off six episodes of 99% Invisible and one of In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg in the course of one otherwise excruciating bout of cleanliness.

I’ve become something of an addict of the former—a short, beautifully composed show taking on something about design, very broadly defined. It’s like one act of This American Life, but about the life of the built world, what we make rather than who we are.

So I was pleasantly surprised to hear the voice of architect John Macsai talking about his most famous (for better or worse) building: the Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, once the vanguard of swanky suburban suitcase living, the Pritzkers’ first Chicagoland Hyatt with a color chosen by A.N. Pritzker himself, and one of my favorite local buildings.

Now that it’s gone, Macsai may be properly remembered for his actually more significant works, like his beloved Harbor House. As he told 99% Invisible, Macsai would prefer you get over the damned purple color already: “The beauty of the building is the exposed concrete frame, how the columns are pulled out of the structure…it’s like a human being whose skeleton is on the exterior. That would be weird, right? Well that’s how the building is. The columns are pulled out, the slabs are pulled out. It’s a building which reveals its structure and that is, architecturally, the interesting thing about it. The purple is totally irrelevant. It could be green, ok? It would be the same good or bad building.”

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