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Imagining a Chicago With No Fire; California's Singles Housing

Welcome to Curbed's weekly roundup of architecture, real estate, and urban planning-related feature stories. Please be in touch if you have a story to recommend.

1. What if Chicago's 1871 Great Fire had never happened? Curious City breaks this what-if down into a fascinating exploration of how the city's neighborhoods, architectural styles, and reputation might be different without the famed fire that destroyed 18,000 buildings.

"The Loop would not have become a series of skyscraper canyons," Lowe says. "There may have been more green spaces in downtown Chicago. … The square in which the courthouse sat had trees, and the old houses had gardens and lawns with shrubbery and trees. Indeed, in some ways, we might have had a more humane metropolis. … How nice it would have been to have green oases in the heart of the Loop." 2. Gary Barnett is the man behind One57, the glassy tower that will become the tallest residential structure in the Western Hemisphere. But he's not your typical New York City developer, as Bloomberg Businessweek explains:

Typically, New York real estate developers aspire to emulate their wealthy clients. They buy homes on Park Avenue. They summer in the Hamptons. Barnett lives in a two-story house in middle-class Richmond Hill, Queens, with his second wife, Ayala, who together have 10 children. (His first wife, Evelyn Muller, died of cancer in 1998.) He vacations in the Poconos, a place that advertises its charms on local television. "My kids like it," Barnett says. "It's nice and quiet." People who have worked closely with Barnett say he's more attracted to the cerebral side of his profession. They say he loves assembling land and development rights, often in secret, and using them to construct unexpectedly large and lucrative projects such as One57. Barnett's often working on many of them at the same time. "He's a chess player," says Leonard Steinberg, president of Urban Compass, a real estate brokerage in the city. "He doesn't make one move at a time. He makes multiple moves." 3. In the 1960s and 1970s, as baby boomers reached adulthood, the country's available real estate stock needed to change to make room for this new demographic. Places explores the rise of the singles apartment complex in California during that era:

It was the effort to attract female tenants that spurred one landlord after another to introduce innovations in the garden-style apartment. Some of these innovations involved interior planning. By the mid-1950s, most U.S. builders were configuring apartments as either studios or compact one-bedrooms. These suited professional men, but were usually beyond the means of young working women, who could only afford to live with roommates; in addition, women often preferred shared living for reasons of safety and propriety…As the Los Angeles Times put it in a story in the late '50s on the new complexes, shared arrangements allayed "the fears of parents who have seen their 'baby' leave the fold." To better accommodate women, landlords began to feature apartments with "dressing rooms" (a.k.a., walk-in closets) and extra half-bathrooms. 4. New Yorkers have no shortage of complaints about Midtown transit hub Penn Station, but one architect and professor takes an Awl writer on a tour to explain how Penn Station became the mess that it is—and some of the ways in which its design actually does work:

Today, Lewis continued, "in a bizarre conflation of nostalgia and futurism, we want our stations to harken back to the golden age of public transportation on fiscal budgets that don't necessarily allow it." The thing about these huge central atriums that Penn had and Grand Central has, though, is that while they are grand, they are also awkward, as in not efficient. "I would argue that Penn Station works extraordinarily well," Lewis said. Better, in many ways, than Grand Central, where the main concourse is clogged with tourists taking pictures, interrupting the flow. · Recommended Reading archive [Curbed]