Thursday, January 08, 2015

For a Deep-Freeze Day, a Journey to the Rainbow

click images for larger view (Recommended)
That whole winter thing - the cold, the wind, the snow, the slush - OK,  I get it already.  Ça suffit!
What better time to take a quick trip to one of Chicago's architectural jewels, the award-winning David Woodhouse designed beach house at Rainbow Beach, project architect David Poorman, Nayyar and Navvay International, structural engineers.  The same team was also responsible for the larger field house just next door.
Begin with an incredible location,  at 75th Street, cupped into the lakefront at a point where the city and its shoreline has moved several miles east of their downtown boundary, creating a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline in the far distance.  Add the poetic use of the low-cost materials mandated by a constricted budget.  Plexiglas wafers aglow with light, a cross between rippled Pringles and the fronds of an abstracted palm tree, provides the shade.  The steel superstructure, painted a bright silver that glistens in the sun, forms trunks, colonnades, terraces and trellises.  The flourishes soften and extend the aggressive boxiness of the concrete block buildings to which they're attached.
These often commonplace elements are brought together through proportion and placement into an unusually satisfying whole.  That's good architecture.
Just looking at these pictures, I feel the warmth of the sand on my feet and the sun on my face.  I gaze out at the beautiful lake that has cast off its Ice Queen indifference, to refresh the heat of day with its cool, moist breezes.  I can see myself now getting through these next few brutal weeks because, at Rainbow Beach, in a great city at its summer best, life is sweet.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

For the New Year, Trump Tower gives the gift of Opaque

click images for larger view
For a building with pretensions of class, Trump Tower certainly has a weakness for slumming itself up.  First, less than a year afters its opening, the striking, award-winning original native-plant landscaping  by Hoerr Schaudt was torn out in favor of a generic, gravel striped design that would be more at home in a run-of-the-mill suburban apartment complex. Then, last year, there was the affair of the glowing 20-foot-high letters plastering the name Trump on the building's riverside facade.  While there were those who tried to raise a stink about the sign, I have it from a reliable source (he must be reliable - he has spun hair) that it has already become universally beloved by all of Chicago.
A third desecration, however, has been much less remarked upon.  One of the glories of Trump Tower is the upper walkway that connects the structure's Riverwalk to Wabash Avenue.  It's set between the great stainless steel columns , which frame views of the river and its iconic skyline, and a continuous curving wall of glass.  Though the glass itself was clear, a covering kept what was behind it from view.
That was, until  last year, when I noticed in March that you could suddenly see in all the windows.  It wasn't pretty.
One of the most luxurious buildings in Chicago had decided to put on public display a perfect view of an extended service corridor - raw, unfinished concrete walls, exposed conduit, a storage vault for various ladders, floor mats, furniture, discarded hairpieces.  It was like Trump had taken his reputation for elegance and thrown it into the trash, making the walkway's long window wall a museum of the things respectable buildings kept concealed behind closed doors.  It was kind of shocking to realize that what you had imagined to be prime space behind the handsome windows of a well-traveled walkway was actually a narrow, ungainly strip of leftover square footage.
Simply put, it was an embarrassment and an eyesore.  Was it a deliberate provocation by the Trump, another way of poking his critics in the eye?  Or was it just something that slipped through the cracks, beneath his interest?

And yet, month after month it endured - until just recently.  This weekend I noticed there's finally a new cover-up on the glass.
 Pedestrians can enjoy the walkway without being confronted with what is, architecturally speaking, Trump Tower's underwear.

Happy New Year!


Trumped: An Oasis of Urban Magic Vanishes 

 OD'ed on Outrage: The Donald's Sign is Very Bad. The Circus of Distraction is Worse.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

With Pictures: Our Most Popular Stories of 2014

Well, it's that time again..  The long year is at a close, and, as always, it brings with it a contagion of end-of-the-year wrap-ups, to which we now add our review of Architecture in Chicago over the past twelve months.  But rather than make our own selection, we leave it to you, dear readers.  Counting up, here are the fifteen stories you read most often in 2014:
click images for larger view

15: 20 Feet High? How about 23 stories? The forgotten sign that Trumped Trump

14:  Heartbreak Hotel   The Short, Troubled History of the Elysian/Waldorf Chicago

13: OD'ed on Outrage: The Donald's Sign is Very Bad. The Circus of Distraction is Worse.

12: Side Lot Windfall The latest twist in the epic Wrigley Building Chronicles

11:  Mecca Flat Blues: Tim Samuelson's Triumphant Exhibition is a Time Machine to a Vanquished Architecture

10:  Scraping Off the Wrigley: Is This the Beginning of the End for the Chicago's Historic Central Manufacturing District?

9: Tarot to Tacos - Upscaling of State north of Viagra starts small, with velvet

8: Bertrand Goldberg's Walton Gardens: The history of Rush Street through the Eyes of A Single Building

7: Along Chicago's New Skyscraper Row: One Rises, One Descends, and One Just Spreads it Around

Urban Spectacle in Clout City: The Harriet Rees House's $8 million Move.

And for an alternative take on how Landmarks and the city bureaucracy make life a living hell for people without clout, read the harrowing story of David and Saana McClain, here.

5: Pour le Concret: Chicago's new Riverwalk Emerges

4: Say Goodbye to the 1896 George H. Phillips house

3: 111 West Wacker: Abandoned Building To Luxury Tower.

Sometimes with good timing and a bit of luck, a big risk pays off in a major way.  Just last week, only months after the building's opening, Related sold 111 West for a 300% profit.

2: Lump of Coal in Chicago Architecture's Holiday Stocking: Verizon lands with a Thud on the Mag Mile

. . . and now, our most read post (probably because it remained featured on our home page since it was published) . . .

1: Chicago: City of Light? Mayor Rahm Sees Luminous Future for his Town's Architecture

. . . and so it goes.  As we begin 2015, there's a heap of interesting things going on, and we're working to get around to writing on at least some of them.   Thank you for following us.  See you back in January, and have a great New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve, Chicago, River North, 2014: Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's the Holidays: Time for Gaudi! Sagrada x 2 at the Gene Siskel Film Center

click images for larger view
Holiday traditions?  Sure, the Music Box's always kicks of the season with it's Sound of Music Sing-a-Long.  (And not to be outdone,  U of C's Doc Films has now launched their own Sing-a-Long-Alban-Berg's-Wozzeck.) But how many Christmas traditions revolve around architecture?  Not just in, but about it?

I know of at least one.  The Gene Siskel Film Center has made it it's own holiday tradition to show  Hiroshi Teshigahara's mesmerizing 1985 "cult" documentary, Antonio Gaudi from Saturday, December 20th through Tuesday, the 30th.
And this year, the Siskel is upping the ante with the local debut of Stefan Haupt's new (2012) documentary, Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation, which opens with 6:00 p.m. showing this Friday the 12th, with showings through Monday, December 29th.
Both films foncus on the ongoing construction of architect Antonio Gaudi's masterwork, Barcelona's Sagrida Famila.  While work began all the way back in 1882, it remains unfinished, and while a report several years ago speculated on a completion date of 2026 (the centennial of Gaudi being killed by a streetcar in 1926) or 2028, it remains unconfirmed.  Still, much has been done since Teshigahara's film came out nearly 30 years ago, as can be seen in the difference in the images of the structure between the two films.  A roof was finally over put in place in 2000 with the completion of vaulting over the nave.  Pope Benedict consecrated the church in 2010, but an arson-set fire in April of the next year set back the construction schedule even more.
As the work has progressed, controversy has mounted.  Back in 2008, a group of Catalan architects argued for a halt in the construction to preserve Gaudi's original vision, which many claim has been corrupted, moving further and further from Gaudi's original vision the closer it gets to completion.  It's become a cross between a holy site and a theme park, with 3 million tourists paying over €30 million to take the tour each year, a crush that will inevitably increase when Sagrida Famila's 550-foot-tall sixth tower, complete with elevator to wisk tourists to the top, is finished sometime in the future.
Haupt's film has been getting mixed reviews, but for any architecture buff it remains a must-see, telling many fascinating stories of both the building and the people working on it.  If nothing, seeing the images of the building in both films is the best way, other than in person, to experience Gaudi's grand, crazy work at something closer to the scale at which it can be fully appreciated.

The Gene Siskel Film Center is offering a discount for those buying tickets for both films.  Check out all the details and showtimes on the Siskel's website, Antonio Gaudi here, and Mystery of Creation here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Boom Town: Chicago Under Construction

Hilton Garden Inn on Wacker (click images for larger view)
Leavitt Street Bridge, 606 Bloomingdale Trail
Northwest Tower
Loyola Quinlan School of Business

200 North Michigan

Block 37 Residential Tower
150 North Riverside
former Mulligan school, after slight fire
River Point
Ability Institute of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
Chicago Motor Club hotel
Wolf Point West
Chicago Riverwalk