This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Live blogging from a corporate lobby on Madison Street

Posted on 01/03/09 at 09:57 PM

Twenty minutes ago I arrived at the platform for the 7:35 Metra train just in time to see the train pulling away from the platform. I like to see moments like these as opportunities rather then focusing on the frustration. I wasn’t in a particular rush to get home so I decided to take my time and walk down Madison St. to catch the El home.

If you’re not familiar with Madison Street, it runs right down the center of the Chicago loop, the skyscraper district. So as I walked, I took the opportunity to notice the latest in corporate lobby decor. On Saturday nights, they are vast monolithic spaces each featuring one lonely security guard sitting in three stories of empty heated air. Consistent with the vast aesthetic, one hundred white poinsettias sit clumped around the base of a pillars in what apparently passed for holiday decorations. I noticed there were no benches. I deduce that these lobbies are spaces built for passing through. To tarry is to loiter, to transgress.

This proposition led me to an experiment. In the next lobby I passed I noticed benches, albeit very square and granite. What would happened if I went in and sat down and started writing? I paused for a minute and looked in. This lobby featured a gargantuan black steel sculpture, suitably vague in curves and planes to avoid offense. In the corners of the lobby were slender bamboo whose slender leafy trunks sweep straight up 30 feet into the air (quite elegant I must admit). The plate glass walls swept up on two sides supported by three-story support columns.

As I looked at the revolving door, I noticed the strong inhibitions in myself to even dare to enter. These lobbies are not welcoming spaces. They are meant to intimidate and underscore the elite status of all who enter. Surely I was not worthy. But hey, what’s the worst that could happen? The woman behind the desk could ask me to leave and I’d go. It’s good practice for challenging authority when it really matters.

And so now I’m blogging from the white granite bench in the corner of 200 West Madison St. I open Google street view to take a look at the tower I’m sitting under and discover that this lobby is so new it was under construction when the Google street view car drove by. If you look closely you can see the black steel sculpture sitting there waiting to be caged in by the glass, marble and bamboo:

View Larger Map

I guess my friendly “hi” to the lobby guards was enough to convince them I wasn’t a threat. Every few minutes they wander over to make sure I’m not up to anything and then head back to their I imagine the laptop I pulled out didn’t hurt. I wonder what my reception would have been if I were homeless? Well, perhaps in sitting here blogging for an hour I’ve taken some small step to humanize this space:

P.S. Just as I was publishing this post, I was told that visiting hours are over at 9 pm. Who knew lobbies had visiting hours?

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