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CAC’s Jen Masengarb partnered with WBEZ’s Curious City to research this story in response to a question submitted by a curious citizen.

Tom Koehl grew up in the Chicago suburbs, but during his years in New York, he began to notice its telephone exchange buildings, also known as “switch hotels.” When he moved back to Chicago, he couldn’t help but spot windowless buildings everywhere in the Loop. It was the EnWave building at State & Adams that inspired his question for Curious City.

Such buildings, it turns out, are known as infrastructure buildings. Their mysterious exteriors house one kind of utility or another: electricity, heat, phone services...even air conditioning. But whether their facades feature simple grooved concrete or dynamic Art Deco imagery, infrastructure buildings are fascinating.

“Think about the dilemma architects wrestle with when designing infrastructure buildings. They're dealing with gritty machinery, pipes, wires…stuff that some people find ugly. But this infrastructure needs to sit right near retail, hotels, offices…places that are supposed to be beautiful.”

– Jen Masengarb, CAC’s Director of Interpretation and Research


Read the full article in which Curious City explores architectural firm Holabird & Root’s strategies for designing both the ComEd substation at Block 37 and AT&T’s switching station at 10 South Canal. You’ll also discover which downtown building was built to withstand a nuclear attack and which one drops hints about when it’s making ice.