Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Apple Founds Foster Home on Pioneer Court

Source: Chicago Department of Planning and Development,
via the Chicago Tribune (click images for larger view)

Late Thursday evening, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin released five renderings presented to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development for the long-rumored new Apple Store in Chicago's Pioneer Court along the north bank of the Chicago River just east of Michigan Avenue.
Source: Chicago Department of Planning and Development,
via the Chicago Tribune
Apart from a bravura free-standing glass staircase, the original Chicago store, opened in 2003 at the start of Apple's retail juggernaut several blocks to the north,  placed more emphasis on sustainability than spectacle.   The proposed new 20,000 square foot store, in contrast, would be more in line with the company's current vogue for epic architectural expressions.  According to Kamin's report, it was designed by the world-renowned firm of Foster + Partners.  It  would have a 6,500 square foot footprint, and redefine the relationship of the plaza to the river.
Currently, that link consists solely of a elegantly curved but constricted winding staircase.  In Foster's design, it's replaced by wide Spanish steps more in the line with the larger staircases found along the newer portions of the riverwalk to the east.  The huge roof over the glass-walled structure would cantilever in all directions but, perhaps most importantly, would stretch beyond the edge of the plaza to shelter the river walkway below.  In the renderings it has the appearance of wood, but would actually be reinforced with carbon fibre.
Pioneer Court's current rather anonymous riveredge would be replaced by a calling card 32-foot curtain wall, horizontally segmented between a 14-foot section above plaza level, and an 18 foot section beneath.  From the riverside view, it reads as a cutaway section of a one-story structure and its capacious basement.
Source: Chicago Department of Planning and Development,
via the Chicago Tribune
Strangely enough, the new store would be something of a return journey for Pioneer Court, constructed in the 1960's.  The site is said to have once held the residence of early settler Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable in the 1770's, and later the larger riverfront factory of the Jap Soap Company, which stretched north also to the doors of Tribune Tower and turned out 50,000 tons of soap each year.
image courtesy The Chuckman Collection
After an interim period as a surface parking lot, Pioneer Court was constructed in 1965 to link Skidmore Owings and Merrill's new Equitable Building to Michigan Avenue.   A cleaner version of the Apple proposal, a large Miesian entrance pavilion was part of the original design, bringing people down into the retail arcade beneath the plaza.
Chicago Tribune archive photo
Pioneer Court was redesigned in 1992, removing both the entrance pavilion and the fountain, inscribed with the names of 25 Chicago Pioneers that gave the plaza its name.

By being placed along the southern edge rather than centered on the plaza, the Apple Store, even as it strengthens the relationship to the river, unbalances the geometry of the plaza.  The plus side is that there would still be a large open area to the north of the store, which could continue to be home to such spectacular, if controversial installations as J Seward's Johnson God Bless America, a supersized version of Grant Wood's American Gothic . . .
. . . his even more infamous Forever Marilyn . . .
. . . and to events like 2013's edition of Diner en Blanc . . .
It would be good to get a better idea of what the inside of Foster's design will look like - there are no interior views among the five renderings accompanying Kamin's story - but from what we can see now, the Apple Store at Pioneer Court looks to be a pretty good deal both for the plaza and for creating a stronger, more generous civic linkage to the river at the beginning point of the Mag Mile.
Source: Chicago Department of Planning and Development,
via the Chicago Tribune
Photo Courtesy The Chuckman Collection

A Short History of Pioneer Court, its Shortfalls and Potential

Monday, November 09, 2015

Flip City: Dead Meat at the Fulton Market

click images for larger view
Just months ago, the Fulton Street Market district was declared an official Chicago architectural landmark, protecting contributing structures spread out on over two dozen city blocks.  Above is the front of one of the newly protected buildings.
And this is what's behind.  Could there be any more accurate symbol of the current transitioning of one of Chicago's most historic districts?
This was one of what could be argued to be the two most important buildings in the district, each facing the other down a 252-foot length of the 800 block of west Fulton Street.  In some ways, they were the real beginning of the district.  They were constructed in 1887 by the Fulton Street Wholesale Market Company, a co-operative of 22 small meatpacking firms.
Architect William Strippelman designed them in the Romanesque Revival style he had studied at the University of Marburg, before he emigrated from Germany to the United States to serve as a draftsman in the Union army.  In 1868, he settled in Chicago, where he would spend the balance of his life and career. 
As recounted in the Landmark Commission's indispensable history of the district in the official Landmark Designation Report, Strippelman added a third story to both buildings in 1903.  By then, they housed not just the independents, but the branches offices of of "Philip Armour, Gustavus Swift, and Nelson Morris, the nation's 'big three' packer and global brand names in the early twentieth century,"
A mid-1960's fire consumed a large chunk of the twin on the north side of the street, with the damaged section replaced by a featureless two-story structure listed as "non-contributing" in the designation ordinance.
Fulton Market continued to be a going concern for over a century and a quarter, even as the centrifugal force of the Loop dissolved under the dual crushing forces of white flight and suburban sprawl, with neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the west and south spending the 60's and 70's becoming "problematic."  In the 21st century however, the central city is again compacting.  While troubled outlying neighborhoods like Englewood continue to depopulate, a massive gentrification continues in and around the Loop.  The near west and near south sides are headlong into the process of being re-secured as safe, upper middle-class territory.
With nearby west Randolph Street transforming into an avenue of upscale restaurants, Fulton Market's comparably cheap land and rents made it a magnet for galleries, shops and still more restaurants.  Initially, the new imports and the meatpackers and poultry, fish, eggs and butter merchants lived in an uneasy equilibrium.
1K Fulton (Former Fulton Market Cold Storage)
Then the dam broke.  The owners of the massive, 12-story tall Fulton Market Cold Storage building, the district's visual marker since the 1920's, sold out to developer Sterling Bay, which begin stripping the structure's facade to create a massive new office building where Google is consolidating over 500 Chicago workers currently dispersed among multiple locations.  Fulton Market is now a hotbed of development activity.  Hotels and club and residential developments join the mix of newcomers.
When many Fulton Market businesses fought the creation of the landmark district, they cited the added costs of complying with its provisions when they needed to modify their buildings, but left largely unsaid was the elephant on the forklift:  everyone could see big money was coming into Fulton Market.  Not unreasonably, they wanted their fare share when it came time to move on.
That time is now.  It was a shock to come upon the 1887 North Fulton Street building this past Sunday and see it demolished down to a taxidermy remnant.  A shock, but not a surprise.  Although actual meatpackers may be a vanishing presence, developers, in the words of the late deal-maker/shoebox collector Paul Powell, can "smell the meat a'cookin."  Money is the river that levels all obstacles in its path.
Behind that forlorn Fulton Street facadectomy is both a $20 million, 60,000-square-foot project and the story of the origins of money and power in the early 21st century.  The project is the Chicago outpost of Brooklyn Bowl, which began in 2009 inside a former 1880's ironworks foundry in the borough's Williamsburg neighborhood.  Claiming to be a the world's first LEED-certified bowling alley, the complex also includes a bar and a music venue that attracts such top acts as The Roots and Elvis Costello.  After branching out first to London and Las Vegas, Chicago is the next link in their chain.

The story of money and power is that of local powerhouse Don Wilson, who began as a eurodollar options trader at the Chicago Mercantile exchange, and within seven years built up his own firm, DRW Holdings LLC, into a company with 500 employees.  Becoming fabulously wealth, he  branched off into real estate, with impressive results.  In January of this year he sold for $14.1 million a building at 1003 North Rush that he had bought for $12.4 two years before.  In February, DRW sold the former 1938 Esquire Theater, which it had gutted and transformed into a high-end retail building, for $176 million.  DRW had bought the property in 2010 from the Anglo Irish Bank, which had acquired it by foreclosing on a $33.2 million loan. 
Originally the Fulton Market project had included a 17-story, 200 room hotel, but now Brooklyn Bowl is the primary tenant, fitting its 24 lanes and 600-person concert stage into a three-story structure designed by local firm OKW Architects that will also feature 18,000 square feet of retail.

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bowl kept what seems to have been a fairly unremarkable foundry building and gutted it for their build-out, drawing heavily on recycled materials.  In Chicago, DRW has traded off demolishing a newly designated landmark building by agreeing to keep its facade.  Undoubtedly, that process is not inexpensive, but it's pretty clear it's looked on as little more than a sop to landmarks in order to get the desired tabula rasa on the remainder of the site.  In the only rendering for the new building I've been able to find, the historic facade is basically an afterthought, shunted off to the side in favor of an emphasis on the cheerful mediocrity of the new building's faux industrial facades.
rendering: OKW Architects
Within two years, I would expect that nearly all of the businesses that gave Fulton Market District life for over a century and a quarter will have relocated.  Corfu Foods is now in Bensenville, Fulton Market Cold Storage relocated as Hasak Cold Storage in Lyons.  Barring an economic crash halting development in its tracks, the neighborhood will become one of the most vibrant in the city, but the "market" in Fulton Market will be long departed, gone the way of Cap Streeter's steamboat, a visceral reality reduced to the abstraction of a branding device.  The lovely restaurants will remain and multiple, the sourcing of the food they serve now another abstraction, the physical reality of the process banished safely out of sight.

Like a blue-legged centipede, the supports of the salvaged facade put Fulton Street's last survivors on notice: the tentacles of a very hungry progress will soon be reaching their way.

Flip City: Stories of Fulton Market:

Strippers Attack, Heat up Fulton Market

Googleplex comes to Fulton Market

Instant Landmark: Carol Ross Barney's Morgan Street Station at Fulton Market

The Brick Stackers 

From Guns to Steel Skeletons, Blanc to Mies: Interchangeable Parts and the Beauty of Design

As we've mentioned before, our current conditions, including architecture, derive from being at the culmination of the Age of the Supply Chain, whose defining impulse is bringing the widest range of goods to the broadest number of people over the farthest geographic range using the minimum of human labor.

One of the key components of this process is the standardized, interchangeable part.  It's expressed clearly in the modern architecture of the grid and skeleton frame.  A modern skyscraper is, at its essence, a collection of standardized, interchangeable parts, assembled into modules that in themselves are repeated to the compose the pre-defined extent of the building.

While Eli Whitney, with his cotton gin, may have been the first person to make interchangeable, standardized parts an integral part of design, he was not the initiator.  That honor most often goes to French gunsmith HonorĂ© Blanc, who developed the basic idea but was met with an uniform lack of interest from his countrymen in making it reality.  No less than Thomas Jefferson invited Blanc to migrate to the United States to be able to carry out his innovation, but to no avail.  And so it's Eli Whitney in the textbooks.

There is no underestimating the role of war in furthering technology, and so it should not be surprising that it was in the context of creating reliable firearms that the idea of interchangeable parts first found fruition.
An assemblage of interchangeable parts at
Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 10th, curator Ashley Hlebinsky of Wyoming's Cody Firearms Museum will lecture on From Protector to Perpetrator: Demystifying Firearms, the last of a series of Taboo Subject lectures organized by School of the Art Institute Professor Ben Nicholson.
The design and manufacture of firearms stands as one of the great achievements of the Industrial Age. The process pioneered the "American System" of manufacture that standardized mechanical reproduction on a massive scale. Gun and ammunition design has its own logic and, when demystified, can inform other disciplines. Ashley Hlebinsky will discuss the ways in which firearms are stigmatized in culture and how those perceptions can lead to obfuscation of the distinction between firearms and firearms violence in history.
Yeah, I know.  My first reaction was a kind of dumbfounded "WFT?" as well.  Yet if the Defense Department gave us the Internet (sorry, Vice President Gore), as well as numerous other core technologies we all depend on, a look at guns from a design standpoint might be a fairly essential perspective in understanding how we got where we are today.

The lecture will be given in the SAIC ballroom, 112 South Michigan, from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, November 10.   It is free and open to the public.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Flip City: Smiles of an Autumn Night at New City

click images for larger view (recommended)
There are many nasty things to be said about New City, the massive 370,000 square-feet retail/residential center now coming on-line just south of the booming Halsted/Clybourn/North retail corridor.

Most of all, that the seemingly endless exterior elevations  are not just bad, but horrifically, what-were-they-thinking, soul crushing bad.  Actually it's easy to imagine what they were thinking.  Those fortress-like walls, especially the one stretching down Clybourn, are prophylactics against the current state of the adjacent neighborhood, with the CHA's Thomas Flannery senior citizen public housing towers to the east, and the still resolutely empty expanses of land to the south left behind by the demolition of the infamous "projects" of Cabrini-Green.  The irony, of course, is that if New City succeeds in gentrifying its environs, those same walls will become an ugly, impermeable repellent to attractive urbanism.  Don't get me started.

But, as the barrister told the policeman in the classic Monty Python sketch, there will plenty of time for that later.

For now, I want to give you a picture of the optimism of New City, designed by OKW Architects, as found in its soft, chewy center, a privatized piazza around which the shops, restaurants and attractions of the shopping complex revolve.  (Except for the 83,000-square-foot, multi-story Mariano's - the chain's largest - which has its own grand entrance at New City's Southeast corner).  There's a green-boulder fountain . . .

. . . some interesting benches . . .
. . . a 16-lane Kings Pins bowling alley . . .

. . . and a 199-unit apartment tower.

Clearly, it could have been a lot worse.  Instead of a strip mall awash in an ocean of surface parking, we have a 1,000 car garage, and a very real- if privatized -  public square.

There are still empty storefronts, but the center is filling up with such retailers as a large Z Gallerie, and a colorful It'Sugar offering over 200 varieties of bulk candy.  Dick's Sporting Goods second Chicago location is, at 50,000 square feet, the complex's major retail anchor.  Its placement follows the stacked model where smaller shops are on the ground level and destination stores placed above, journey's end via a long escalator ride.  (It was worth visiting the big central plaza just to hear a father say offhandedly to his wife and kid, "There's a big Dick's right over there.")

The other major anchor is the Chicago outlet of the Arclight Cinemas, perhaps best known for its Hollywood multiplex that includes the 1963 Cinerama Dome.   Earlier this year, Arclight took over the former Glen 10 theater in Glenview, but the New City facility was built specifically for the company and showcases its attention to top-quality projection and sound, as well as offering a bar, no ads other than trailers, (three max), no dinging arcade games, reserved seating and the top ticket prices in town.
Arclight is situated on the third floor, above the Mariano's, so it's two long escalator rides to the top, although there's elevators and what appears to be direct access to the garage level adjacent to the theaters.

New City is a little bit of suburban lifestyle mall tucked within the protective armor of its long blank street walls.  The brick facades around the piazza may be totally undistinguished, and it's a puzzle why one end of the space is butted up against the bare-bones parking garage . . .
. . . but there's no denying that on an evening far more pleasant than we had any right to expect for the 4th of November, with the banality of the interior facades softened by the night and the young trees ablaze with the light, the New City piazza was a fairly pleasant place to be.  Patrons were taking advantage of the el fresco dining at one of New City's several restaurants, kids were running along the side of the fountain, and gracious young women in crisp white shirts and black skirts were gently bearing down on people in the piazza to offer them quite tasty samples of meatballs and shrimp roll from Earl's Kitchen + Bar.

As the Chicago Housing Authority seems finally poised to bring its vacant lands to the south under development, New City looks to be a major transitional pivot in taking the neighborhood from poor to privileged.   Just don't look at it from the outside.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Temp Construction Theater: White Sheik Retail Pop-up Pitches Really Big Tent in Pioneer Court

click images for larger view
No, Apple didn't decide to go pre-fab for the new store it's announced for Pioneer Court, the public plaza fronting Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River.  For that project, neither a design or a ground-breaking date have yet to be revealed.

Instead, the swooping, curved structure at Pioneer Court is another example of the virtual world suffering an outbreak of the material.  Retailers whose entire existence is on-line are finding themselves going on benders of physical presence.

Even Amazon, after taking out Borders and other mainstay booksellers with its aggressive and omnipresent website, is now rubbing it in by opening its own "bricks and mortar" bookstore in its own hometown of Seattle.

To be sure, Pop-up stores are not uncommon, and Pioneer Court has been a prime location for them. Just last week, smartphone case-maker Otter had its own Pioneer Court pop-up just south of Tribune Tower.

The white whale now beached on the south end of the plaza is entirely different story. Zaha Hadid's Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion it's not, but it's still the most ambitious pop-up construction Chicago has seen to date.  It's the creation of an outfit called withme, a retail logistics company that began in China in 2011 and is now headquartered in Las Vegas, where it created a 20,000 square-foot pop-up shop in the Las Vegas Western hotel for on-line retailers Zappos.

The Pioneer Court construction is the debut of the company's ShopWithMe retail stores, which their website modestly describes as "the first portable, all-in-one pop-up store solution for brands and retailers to showroom and sell their products in a futuristic environment, anywhere in the world." Future appearances are listed for five cities, from New York to San Francisco, with "Info Coming Soon."

For Chicago, the pavilion features the products of "eco-friendly" women's jewelry and apparel retailer Raven + Lilly, based in Austin, Texas, where it has a retail store, and TOMS eyewear, footware and accessories. which also has five bricks-and-mortar stores across the country, including one in Chicago's Wicker Park.
The white perforated panel facade of the Pioneer Court installed sets off well against the cream-colored terra cotta of the Wrigley Building just across the street.
For a temporary structure, it was an ambitious and intricate construction process, as pre-fab components were unloaded, unboxed and assembled into place like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
It looks a bit like a covered bridge suspended between the two end pavilions, one of which with a fold-back ramp attached to get people up into the store.
It's only scheduled to be open until this Friday, November 6th, so check it out while you can.  And watch for the dismantling process after that, which should be pretty interesting in itself.

It's like Show Boat, but with tractor trailers instead of the boat.  Is this the future of on-line retailing?