This week in history: Architect Adrian Lozano goes underground

The architect, who died this week in 2004 and may be best known for designing Little Village’s arch, believed Chicago should build down, not up.

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The Little Village arch, 3100 W. 26th St., was approved as an official landmark Wednesday.

Architect Adrian Lozano’s best known work in Chicago is the Little Village arch, shown here. He died this week in history in 2004.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Daily News:

In early 2022, the Chicago City Council designated the arch of Little Village, 3100 W. 26th St., a city landmark. Designed by architect Adrian Lozano in 1990, the arch welcomes all to the city’s second-most prosperous shopping district (trailing only the Magnificent Mile) and remains the only landmark designed by a Mexican-born architect in the city.

Lozano, who died this week on March 29, 2004, also contributed to the National Museum of Mexican Art and Benito Juarez Community Academy. Like many of his profession, he sought to push the boundaries of where and how people lived. No other article better displays his creativity or his ability to think outside the box than an interview he gave to Chicago Daily News reporter Robert Billings in 1970.

What if, he and fellow architect Fred Bernheim at the firm Bernheim, Kahn and Associates proposed, everyone lived underground?

Lozano saw beauty in a controlled environment, or an “air-conditioned paradise,” Billings said, that would be free of cars, smokestacks, landfills or junkyards. Day and night would cease to exist. Whenever a person didn’t want light, they’d simply turn it off.

“[The architects] think that the only way for man to escape from his overcrowded, polluted, traffic-clogged, poverty-pocked, crime-ridden, tax-burdened cities is to build a new world beneath the surface of the earth,” Billings wrote. The two called their vision Inurbia.

In this new world, moving sidewalks and escalators would help move people from level to level, and everyone would “learn to walk again,” the architects said. Streets could be carpeted and paths cobblestoned.

“Homes, shops, churches, schools, libraries and theaters would be virtually unwalled and roofless,” the reporter described. “Sliding panels would open out on landscaped streets. Curtains of air would provide a barrier to noise. There would be no need for seasonal wardrobes, since living underground you make your own weather.”

Meanwhile back on the surface, the earth could revert back to its natural beauty, Billings explained. With everyone living underground, the earth could become “one vast natural parkland for the cellar-dwellers of the future to romp about.”

“There are so many advantages to living underground,” Lozano told Billings. “It’s inevitable. Why live anyplace else?”

The whole idea of living underground came when the firm was consulted on developing the air rights after the railroad tracks east of Michigan Avenue, Bernheim explained. Instead of sealing off the decaying parts of the city, the two thought about going down instead.

The idea likely left many people shaking their heads, but people already moved between air-conditioned, controlled environments from their offices to the trains to their homes, the two architects said. Plans to build underground shopping malls were in talks (and still exist today).

“Everyone thinks we’re crazy,” Lozano said. “That’s how we know we’re right.”

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