Gaze long enough and it may seem like a portal to another dimension hovering overhead.
It’s the feeling L riders might experience while taking in the just-unveiled artwork gracing the lobby of the Red Line Wilson Street station.
The surreal feeling would be appropriate when considering the unusual career trajectory that boomeranged Ryan Szanyi, the young architect who helped design it, back to Chicago.
Monday was the official opening for the main station house at that L stop, which is nearing the end of a $203 million makeover.
Szanyi, 31, who grew up in Munster, Indiana, and attended the Illinois Institute of Technology, has spent the last few years in London learning the strange world where architecture meets art from his boss, Cecil Balmond, an internationally renowned designer who builds on a grand scale.
Balmond designed the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London, a giant observation tower resembling a roller coaster that served as the centerpiece of the 2012 Summer Olympics. He collaborated on that project with Anish Kapoor, who is known to Chicagoans as the man behind Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate, more commonly known as “The Bean.”
As a college student, Szanyi rode the L all over Chicago and was able to offer his boss a bit of Midwestern perspective while brainstorming ideas for the project.
It’s Szanyi’s first major piece. And with an estimated $450,000 price tag, it’s one of the most expensive pieces of art commissioned by the CTA. Federal grant money covered the tab.
Besides the artwork, the new station, replacing one of the Red Lines most famously grimy stops, includes two elevators, two escalators, wider stairwells and additional turnstiles. For the first time, the Wilson stop will offer Purple Line Express service.
But there’s still work to be done, including completing the renovation of the historic Gerber Building across the street from the new station entrance. The entire project is expected to wrap up next year.
It was started in 2014, and Szanyi first chatted with the Sun-Times about the project that year; “I definitely feel that the pressure’s on to do my city proud,” he said then.
On Monday, he said he considered the project a success, but noted that L riders will have the final say.
“I hope it stops people in their tracks and gives them a moment out their day to reflect upon things,” he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave Szanyi a nod of approval at the unveiling of the artwork, which coincided with the official opening of the station after a $203 million facelift.
City officials hope the rehabbed station, which maintains the art deco aesthetic of the surrounding area, will be a boost to the Uptown neighborhood.
Szanyi’s parents, Mike and Carol Szanyi, both retired and living in Munster, were on hand at Monday’s station opening to congratulate their son.
“I was just stunned when I saw it,” Mike Szanyi said, comparing the moment to the first time he saw the Grand Canyon. “I was quite proud and delighted for him.”
Following the ceremony, Szanyi, who flew in Sunday night from London, planned to focus on acquiring and drinking craft beer, which he said is hard to come by overseas.