Friday, April 28, 2006

Just like the Matrix - but for Cars!

Courtesy of Design Evanston's David Galloway and all the fine folks at skyscraperpage, here's a few photos on the striking Hochregal-Lager autopark structure designed by HENN Architekten for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, Germany. It's part of the Autostadt, which is described by one posting from Nexus6 as a "technology theme park". The all glass facade makes the automated process of storing and discharging cars a bit of street theater. As Autostadt's website describes it, "Collecting your new car is an event in itself. The best idea is to begin that special day with a relaxing trip to Autostadt followed by a tour until the big moment arrives: In a fully automated procedure, your new car is brought down to you from one of the 20-story Car Towers. Large signboards in the Customer Center show you when your turn has come. Then, you're handed the keys, your picture is taken, the glass doors open and your brand-new car appears. You're all set to go." According to Emporis, " Everytime a new car enters the tower, another car leaves it via the automatic underground transport system to the customer center. That happens every 40 seconds."

Maybe beleagured GM should give it a look. It would certainly be a step up from the massive, ugly concrete garages that have blighted so many downtown Chicago streets.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Chicago Symphony - The Dream of Gerontologist

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra needs a new music director - Daniel Barenboim conducts his last CSO concerts later this spring, and he's not coming back, not even as a guest - but it's in no hurry to name one. Names - Riccardo Muti, Leonard Slatkin, David Robertson - have floated briefly to the surface, only to float away again like clouds dispersed to the wind.

At the moment, for better or worse or, quite possibility, out of sheer necessity, CSO management has a commitment phobia. To buy itself more time, today it announced the appointment of the venerable Bernard Haitink to the post of "Principal Conductor", with long-time Principal Guest conductor Pierre Boulez as "Conductor Emeritus." For the 2006-07 season, Haitink has added a second concert to the previously scheduled performance of the Mahler 3rd, and is scheduled to lead four to six weeks of concerts in subsequent seasons. Boulez is slated for three to four weeks a season. Both men will lead concerts on tour.

Boulez is a treasured friend of orchestra. Those lucky enough to have attended Haitink's concerts with the CSO this past March heard music-making of the highest level, and his new appointment is a great coup. Haitink had been away from the CSO for a very long time, and if this season's Beethoven 7th is any indication, he'll be an effective collaborator with the orchestra's musicians, and it should be bracing and refreshing to hear their take on the standard classics. As for Boulez, with the possible exception of next season's Ligeti Piano Concerto, he is spending his time with the CSO revisiting scores he's already conducted here. (Which doesn't mean that every Boulez concert doesn't still hold out the possibility of revelation: his Cleveland Orchestra recording of the Mahler 7th, which he will conduct again next season, was just such a performance, bringing out the glories of that difficult work while steering clear of the rocks of its incipient bombast.)

While both men still have so much energy it can be exhausting just watching them, Haitink is 77, Boulez 81. Both will participate in the management of the orchestra, but running a symphony in this digital age takes the strength of a body builder coupled to the endurance of a marathon runner. It could be argued that no orchestra has currently found the secret that doesn't have the added advantage of an iconic concert hall designed by Frank Gehry. The structure unveiled by the CSO today needs a third leg to be able to stand, and perhaps a fourth to actually run. For over a decade the CSO had just that. It was called the "Gang of Four" - music director Georg Solti, plus guests Claudio Abbado, Erich Leinsdorf, and Leonard Slatkin, all of whom had particular strengths that added up to more than the sum of the parts.

I still have doubts about the much-vaunted David Robertson, current Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony. A performance of the Brahms 3rd a few years ago reminded me of Leinsdorf - everything in the right place, the playing absolutely beautiful, but something missing in the way of emotion or a sense of overall line. Now, however, with Brahms, Beethoven and Schumann most likely safely in Haitink's capable hands, Robertson should be brought back for more concerts like the memorable March, 2005 evening that included Stravinsky's Piano Concerto, a solo performance of the Boulez 1st Piano Sonata, both by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, as well as Boulez's Ritual: In Memoriam Bruno Maderna, Messiaen's Sept Haikai, plus a performance of the traditional music that helped inspire it, by the Japanese Imperial Court Musicians. With Haitink holding down the classical rear and Boulez the contemporary middle, Robertson's kind of programming and music-making could be just the right counterpoint, one that moves symphonic music towards a much-needed revival.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

An Irishman Asks, "Can a Building be Jewish?", plus Lois Weisberg to be Honored at Archeworks Commencement

Two late listings of Chicago architectural events:

The first four Tuesdays in May, the Spertus Institute will be sponsoring a mini-course, Funny, It Doesn’t Look Jewish An Exploration of Architecture Of, For and Particularly By Jews. a series of noonday lectures, each including a Kosher lunch, by IIT Professor of Architectural History Kevin Harrington, that will explore the questions of "How can the structure of a building be analyzed in terms of its Jewishness? Can the symbolic or aesthetic appearance of a building be considered Jewish?" The price is $100.00 for members, $125.00 for non-members, advanced registration required via phone (312.332/1743) or email. More info on the Spertus website.

This Sunday, April 30th at 12:00 noon, Archeworks will hold its 2006 commencement, and present the Archeworks Honorary Diploma to Lois Weisberg, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner. She will be honored by Archeworks Co-founders Stanley Tigerman and Eva Maddox. Archeworks will also hold its final critique of projects presented by its students tonight, Wednesday, April 26th, from 5:30 to 8:15 P.M. Archeworks is located at 625 North Kingsbury Street. Get information and/or RSVP online or at 312/867.7254.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Soldier Field Landmark Status Stripped - Beyond the Spin

On Friday, the National Park Service de-designated Chicago's Soldier Field from its list of national historic landmarks. The 2003, $660,000,000 project , which saw a completely new stadium built within the original 1924 arcades, has spawned both heated debate over its architectural merits and a surfeit of nonsense over its landmark status.

In a Saturday story in the Chicago Tribune, reporter Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah quotes Ben Wood, whose firm Wood+Zapata collaborated on the new design with Lohan Associates as having "blamed the media, especially Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, saying a barrage of unfavorable commentary influenced the federal decision." Kamin had made the new Soldier Field his own Baby Richard, filling up column after column of derisive critiques even after all doubt that the project would be built had been removed, and lauded the idea of stripping landmark designation as validating his campaign. In the opposing camp, the Trib says the city is claiming that designation was never about architecture - only about all the historic events that took place in the stadium.

A lot of spin avoiding the real issue. It's not that Soldier Field is a bad building, but that it is a new building. Keeping the colonnades doesn't make it the 1920's Soldier Field any more than placing 1989's 37-story Chase Plaza at 10 S. LaSalle between the Holabird & Roche's first and second floor facades makes the resulting structure that firm's 1912 Otis Building. No building, no matter how worthy, is designated a landmark the moment it opens - it usually takes fifty years or more. Soldier Field is dead, long live Soldier Field. Come back in a few decades, and we'll see if it's still considered an embarrassment, or if our successors will be fighting, in their turn, to keep it from the wrecker's ball.

Friday, April 21, 2006

re:Fab tonight, Grant Park Earth Day on Saturday and some final thoughts on the AfH newStand competition

Tonight, Friday, at 7:30 P.M., Civic Blueprint will be sponsoring a benefit at Salvage One for Architecture for Humanity. And on Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to noon, you can join volunteers from Exelon Corporation and the Grant Park Advisory Council and Conservancy as they celebrate Earth Day by helping clean up one of Chicago's great civic treasures. (Watch out for the goose droppings.)

The Civic Blueprint event is scheduled to include the display of winning entries from Architecture for Humanity/Chicago's newStand competition. Back in March, I criticized the way the group announced the winners on AfH/Chicago website with no other mention of how the entries could be seen than a reference to the $75.00 a ticket Civic Blueprint benefit. A week later pictures of the entries were posted on the website. There have been a series of responses to my two posts on the topic, eloquent and impassioned, and for convenience I've compiled them all in the comments section of this post, along with my own (final?) thoughts on the responsibilities of running a competition.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake - the Burnham and Root connection

Tuesday was the 100th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Circled in red in the photograph accompanying this post is Burnham & Roots 1892 Mills Building, which for several years was the tallest in the city. It was built for Bank of California founder Darius Ogden Mills who bypassed the opportunity to build a hotel in Chicago in favor of an office building in San Francisco. According to John Wellborn Root chronicler Donald Hoffman, Root designed a structural system of "a steel frame anchored to masonry piers," which proved a strong enough buttress to survive the earthquake, although the building, including a sinuously winding, richly ornamented cast iron stair, was largely gutted by the ensuing fire. In 1908, it was rebuilt and expanded under the guidance of the successor firm of D.H. Burnham & Co., and remains a San Francisco landmark to this day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Freedom's Just Another Word For . . . Another New Museum

New York couldn't get its Freedom Museum off the ground. Chicago's McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum is already open. From red-baiting Colonel McCormick, to wardrobe malfunctions, to Mae West and Charlie McCarthy, read all about the exhibits and new design by VOA & Associates and Gallagher & Associates - and see the pictures - here

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

AIA Chicago sponsoring Genesis competition to design its new digs

AIA Chicago needs to redesign its own offices at a location TBD. What better way than to have the Young Architects Forum sponsor a competition - Genesis: AIA Chicago. Registration began last Friday and will close May 1 at 5:00 P.M. At noon this Friday, April 21, there will be a tour of AIA's existing offices at 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1049.

In the competitions' first stage, "entrants will be asked to provide conceptual design proposals that meet the stated mission and requirements of AIA Chicago. These submissions will be judged and 5 finalists will be awarded. In Stage 2, finalists will meet with AIA officials to discuss the requirements and expectations of stage 2, and will then be judged based on them and their teams' professional qualifications to execute the proposed design. A winner will be selected and will be presented with the opportunity to negotiate a contract with AIA Chicago and to execute their design."

The competition is open to "students and/or professional architects" who have been registered for less than 10 years. AIA membership is not required. Registration is $35.00, or $50.00 after May 1.

There's more information on the website, including guidelines and requirements, and on-line registration.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Great Piece of Urban Theater Returns for the Season

One of the great pieces of urban theater returned to Chicago this past Saturday with the first of this year's boatlifts, opening up the Chicago river's sequence of bascule bridges to allow tall-masted sailboats to travel to and from Lake Michigan. Chicago has more of these moveable bridges than any other city in the world. Until not that long ago, maritime rules required the bridges to be opened for any boat, at any time, but in our more efficiency-driven age a deal was struck with the feds to limit the lifts to one a day on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. spring to fall.

The efficiency has minimized traffic jams but stolen away still another bit of the romance of the city. You used to be able to look down the river and see the upended, split roadboads of several bridges soaring up in salute to the riverfront skyline. If this Saturday was any indication, the Chicago Department of Transportation now allows only one bridge to be opened at a time. For boaters, the experience must be something between a leisurely sail down the Chicago River's rich waterfront to an stop and start ordeal that begins at 8:00 A.M. but doesn't hit the Loop until 11:00.

On Saturday, the wait at Dearborn was even longer, as the tender strained to get the bridge to move, ultimately only getting only the south span to rise. The small parade of boats included a pair of Canadian geese, swimming along, bringing up the end.

If you're want to learn more, as part of its Live & Learn program, the Latin School is sponsoring a course beginning at 10:00 A.M., Saturday, May 13th called Chicago's Moveable Bridges: An Inside Look. Tom Powers, chief bridge engineer and deputy commissioner, Chicago Department of Transportation will take participants inside the Lake Street Bascule Bridge during an actual bridge lift. Check out their website for details and for a pdf registration form, or call 312/582.6035

Monday, April 10, 2006

With a lot of Loopla, ABC 7 opens new street level studio

We'll give you more pictures and description later, but for now, here's a couple shots from this mornings ribbon-cutting ceremonies for ABC7 Chicago's new street-level studio built in what was originally the lobby of the State-Lake Theater. Mayor Daley, the Jesse White tumblers, and a bevy of Channel 7 news anchors were all in attendance.

The Trib acknowledges death of newspaper

In this morning's Chicago Tribune, a small Editor's note appears in the lower corner of the front page of what would usually be the business section. "Today's report on first-quarter mutual fund and stock performance takes the place of the Monday Business Section. Regular Monday news and features, including Ask Jim Why and the rest of the weekly Technology offerings, will return next week."

Translation: we think we can pinch a few pennies by forgetting about doing any reporting for a day and substituting a canned section, and we're betting you won't even notice and still actually think we're a daily newspaper. Hell, if you really wanted news, you'd be on the internet!

Lagrange outstretches palms on Prairie

Reporter Laura Putre and the neighborhood newspaper Chicago Journal scored a scoop last week in publishing early renderings of a proposed development to be designed by Lucien Lagrange south of the Loop. The project, dubbed 1712 S. Prairie by its developer Keith Giles, would consist of two towers, one 33 stories tall, the other 45, offset above a shared podium.

Lagrange has made his mark as Chicago's architect to the affluent, creating a series of backward-looking projects like 65 E. Goethe and the truly execrable Elysian Hotel & Residences, a sixty-story mishmash where "The style incorporates both Second Empire and Art Deco motifs . . . ," including a carriage courtyard so retrograde in design it will let the projects monied residents imagine they've just crushed the Commune. Such projects reinvite Ruskin's judgement of "an architecture in which intellect is idle, invention impossible, but in which all luxury is gratified, and all insolence fortified."

Every so often, however, Lagrange is hired by a developer who sees architecture as something more than a masked ball, and his office comes up with something like the now stalled concrete and glass tower that was to built behind Michigan Avenue's Fourth Presbyterian Church, or a true masterwork of recent Chicago architecture, Erie on the Park, done for developer William Smith's Smithfield Properties.

1712 S. Prairie is in the same mold, although perhaps not in the same league. Next to the innovative and visually striking molded terraces of Jeanne Gang's new Aqua tower, the way Lagrange expands or contracts his terraces to have the profile of his buildings appear to "tilt" outward like outstretched palms seems a little too linear and foursquare. Still, I'll take it over the Pinnacle any day.

The Chicago Journal article also includes a good overview of the battle that may be shaping up as to whether the project is appropriate for its historic Prairie Avenue district. One group, Prairie District Townhomes, is opposed, while proponents include both the Great South Loop Association, and the Glessner House Museum, which, coincidentally or not, has just received a commitment from the developer for a $600,000 gift.

Friday, April 07, 2006

David Chipperfield lecture among additions to April calendar

An April 26th panel on Careers Paths in Planning and Architecture, co-sponsored by Women in Planning and Development, and Chicago Women in Architecture, is among the late additions to the April calendar of architectural events. The same night, IIT has added a lecture at Crown Hall by British architect David Chipperfield, whose new Des Moines Public Library opens tomorrow. (Chipperfield's website is one of those with the annoying presumption of expanding your browser window to fill ever square inch of your screen, no matter how big your monitor is, despite the fact that the actual image area never expands beyond a small set square in the middle.) It's also the same night that Archeworks will hold its Spring Final Critique.

Also at IIT, a scheduled April 11th lecture by S. Faisal Hassan on John Cage has been replaced by one by architectural and art photographer Todd Eberle.

Finally, on Friday, April 21st, Civic Blueprint will introduce itself to Chicago with ReFab, a benefit for Architecture for Humanity at remnant reseller Salvage One.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rem Koolhaas: Faster Architect! Build! Build!

Courtesy of the indispensable ArchNewsNow newsletter, here's a link to a great in-depth interview of Rem Koolhaas by Der Spiegel's Matthias Matussek and Joachim Kronsbein. It covers a lot of ground, with the expert interviewers getting Koolhaas to talk of his stint as a scriptwriter for Russ Meyer, maker of porn films Koolhaas labels "the last form of humanism"; to defend both his work for Prada and CCTV, and ugliness in the service of appropriateness; to name The Pantheon as his possible nominee for world's most beautiful building; and even to admit, after testily trying to dismiss a question about architects not having to live in the buildings they create ("Oh, come on, now, that's really trivial") that "I live in a Victorian apartment building in London." It offers up an essential insight into Koolhaas, his thoughts and contradictions, and an exemplary example of the interviewers' art.

A Dying Wallflower Reveals a Buried Sun

In the 19th century, the U.S. government got railroads built by awarding the owners wide swathes of land on either side of the tracks. Today, the Chicago Transit Authority is reversing the process.

The agency has undertaken a half-billion-dollar-plus project to increase the length of station platforms along its Ravenswood Brown Line to accommodate longer, six car trains. But instead of a surgically precise approach that respects the surrounding urban fabric, the CTA, as is its nature, is responding with a bludgeon, a massive land grab that is leveling huge tracts of land adjacent to the "El". At the Fullerton station, it's meant the demolition of the historic 1929 Hayes-Healy Center on the Depaul University campus. At Belmont, an entire half block north of the station has been laid waste, and a couple of weeks ago, the CTA's bell tolled for a homely three story building that for decades had served as a surplus store, its stolid brick walls sheltering commuters from icy lake winds even as often frayed displays in station-level windows hawked the store's wares.

The two new stations are being designed by Ross Barney + Jankowski. The original designs offered translucent canopies and glass platform planks to return light to the streetscapes that the heavy "EL" structure has traditionally darkened, however, there have already been cutbacks due to the CTA's inability to manage budgets, which it inevitably deals with by punishing its passengers, first by cavalierly going back on its promise to keep all stations open during rehab, and now at the Fullerton, by cutting back the protective canopy from the length of ten cars, down to four.

A corruption of values has tarred the entire project. The Gothic grandeur of Hayes-Healy is thrown away with scarcely a second thought, while community groups expend massive amounts of energy preserving original station houses which offer up less a rich window on the past than a numbingly barren mediocrity.

We like to flatter ourselves that we're a big, brave city when it comes to creating civic architecture, but the sorry way the Brown Line project has played out says otherwise. Anything as bold as Busby Associates Brentwood Skytrain Station in Vancouver seems completely beyond us.

Back at Belmont, the old surplus store did not go gently. As the long brick wall along the tracks was dismantled, the interior support structure was revealed for the first, last and only time, wood columns and beams almost Miesian in their spareness and simplicity, leaning and bent with age, but bearing up bravely, standing in wait for their final obliteration with a humble eloquence. And along the top floor, a yoke seeping through its newly cracked shell, a wall painted a surprisingly intense, yellow blazed beneath the crisp blue sky of an early spring day, a last defiant mirror of the sun's eternal fire.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dr. Fischer enters the 4th Dimension

Joseph Burns of engineering firm Thorton-Tomasetti has called Martin Fischer the "rock star of the 4th Dimension." The Swiss-born Stanford University Professor was at UIC Monday night to talk about the effects and potential of 4D modeling in the field of construction. 3D modeling has been around for a long time. The swirling forms of Frank Gehry buildings like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park would be impossible without the CATIA software, originally developed from CAD programs for aerospace, that insure that the wide range of irregular parts, each with its own discrete shape, don't offer up any nasty surprises by not fitting together when assembly takes place on-site

The 4th dimension is, of course, time, and in Fischer's world, this means modeling that not only provides visual simulations to aid in evaluating and marketing specific designs and the 3D construction models that bring all the elements - structural and mechanical - of a building together to insure, to cite one example, that a large pipe and an impenetrable beam are not inadvertantly sharing the exact same location, but that also plots out those modelings over the full construction cycle. To illustrate, Fischer played a 4D simulation that revealed that a huge cooling unit was planned to be added to a building after the construction of the structure left no opening wide enough to actually bring it in. The 4D simulation prevented this rude surprise from actually happening by prompting the structure to be modified to allow an ingress large enough for the cooling unit to be slid in at the appropriate point in the schedule.

Fisher heads up the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, which defines its mission as being " the world's premier academic research center for Virtual Design and Construction of Architecture - Engineering - Construction (AEC) industry projects." The website is enlivened by streaming video of actress Cameron Diaz's participation in a class of sustainability this past October. Stanford also hosts a 4D CAD Research website with a host of project simulations posted, although they seemed to have stopped after 2002.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Over 50 Hot Dates on April Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events

April finds over 50 architectural events in Chicago - including nearly 20 this week alone, with scheduling trainwrecks at 6:00 both on Wednesday (Robert Irwin at Crown Hall, David Brown at Archeworks and Steven Ehrlich at the Graham Foundation), and Thursday (the Design Evanston 2005 Design Awards,a lecture on Mie's Landhaus Wolf at Crown Hall, and a symposium on open space with Alexander Garvin,Charles Renfro and Ed Uhlir at CAF) Plus lectures by Martin Fischer and Brigitte Shim.Archesworks Spring final critique, The Modern Ball at Millennium Park benefiting the Architecture and Design Society of the Art Institute. We could go on and on, but check it all out for yourself here.