Friday, December 29, 2006

Louis Sullivan from Glass to Gingerbread.

With three of his Chicago buildings destroyed by fire, the 150th birthday year of architect Louis Sullivan has not not been an altogether happy own, but December has a been a bit kinder.

Our correspondant Justin Luety had a Christmas eve post on his Urbs in Horto blog with several photos of the windows just installed in the richly ornamented and recently renovated Louis Sullivan designed facade for the former Krause Music Store on north Lincoln, the architect's last commission. While not actual replicas of the originals, they fill out the facade, an official Chicago landmark, handsomely.

Not so lucky was K.A.M./Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville, another Adler & Sullivan masterwork that burned to the bare walls just one year ago. The indefatigable Joan Pomaranc tips us off to a unique, seasonal tribute to the lost building by Sullivan enthusiast Shannon Saar, who devoted 30 hours to creating a gingerbread version of Pilgrim Baptist. Read about it on the Chicagoist blog, and view a photoset of the project being made at Flickr.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Crawling into the Bunker

Via the Reed Construction EWire we came across a story by Tom Ramstack of the Washington Times on the new, 438,000-square-foot, $139,000,000 (up from 295,000 square feet and $104,000,000 just before 9/11) headquarters for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Now scheduled to open next February, Ramstack reports that it's the first structure to comply with all of the high security features recommended after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. The result is the kind of moated bunker that has become the standard response to the threat of terror. Read about it here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The 2006 top ten in Chicago architecture (illuminated)

What's with this sick compulsion to create year-end top ten lists? Can I resist? Obviously not. Read about the buildings, people and events that made the cut, and see all the pictures here.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Chicago Architecture at Christmas

Universally, Christmas is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness. Chicago just may have access to more bulbs than average. See all the photo's here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Calatrava Spire regains taper in "Version D"

No renderings appear to be had yet (and if you have them, please forward so I can post them), but Kevin Nance, architecture critic of the Sun-Times, and Blair Kamin, architecture critic at the Tribune have stories today on another round of changes to Santiago Calatrava's proposed 2,000-foot-high Chicago condo tower. The previous iteration, announced earlier this month, bulked up the building to 3,000,000 square feet, and eliminated its namesake spire. Kamin and Nance report that a new version, that restores a taper to the top of the project, is being run past the mayor, community groups, and the city's architectural in-crowd, apparently to a very positive response.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Pacific Overtures

Frank's Home, a new play at Chicago's Goodman Theatre by Richard Nelson starring Peter Weller and Harris Yulin captures Frank Lloyd Wright at the point between despair and resurrection. Read all about it here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More room to keep all our stuff

The new statistical abstract is out from the census folks, and its statistics on construction and housing confirms George Carlin's observation that we've got so much stuff, we have to get bigger and bigger places to keep it all. Specificially, the median home size is now 2,227 square feet, up from 2,057 in 2000 and 1,905 in 1990. While all other categories have dropped or kept even, the largest category of homes, those over 2,400 square feet, has jumped from 29 percent of total in 1995 to 42 percent in 2005, a whopping 45% increase in just a decade and a half.

The use of wood frames has undegone a free fall, from 39% in 1990, to just 7% in 2005. And while vinyl siding has all but disappeared, from 5% in 90 to 1% in 05, the "other" category, which I'm betting includes concrete block, is on a roll, going from 6% in 1995 to 16% in 2005. Bernie Stone, take heart.

Fewer new homes have basements, dropping from 38% in 1990, to 31% in 2005, while split-levels - 4% in 95 - have declined to less than half a percent in 2005. And while pre-fab housing is getting more and more attention and press coverage, it remains a non-starter in the real world, remaining constant at a 3 percent share since 1995, with site-built at 95%

Just thought you should know.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Not Bombed-Out Berlin - It's Our Legacy!

A photoessay on Chicago's latest and most spectacular facadectomy. Read it here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Picture of the Year? - The Coronation at Comer

If you haven't already, pick up a copy of this Sunday's Chicago Tribune and go to page 2 of the Perspective section to see one of the most spectacular photos you'll see all year. It shows half of the population of the city surrounding Mayor Richard M. Daley as he announced his bid for re-election at the Gary Comer Youth Center earlier this week.

And you have to pick up the paper to see it. On the Trib web site's version of the story, it's nowhere to be found, another demonstration of a general cluelessness about new media that has helped leave the venerable Tribune Company in the position of shopping around its own dismemberment to the highest bidder.

The thumbnail here can't begin to do justice to the richness of this photo. It's too big even for the full page width the Sunday Trib gives it; it really calls out for a double-page spread, which the editors were apparently too timid to attempt. Amazingly enough, there is no photographer's credit, although another similar shot of the event on the Trib website is credited to José Moré.

The river of humanity, in every possible variation of age, hue, and capability, overflowing that deep red background, invites comparison with Veronese, in another canvas that expands beyond portrait, to a sweeping narrative that invites us to decipher all of its myriad levels of meaning.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Massive Sideshow?

The brilliant graphics designer Bruce Mau says his exhibition Massive Change is "not about the world of design; it's about the design of the world." The world may have other plans.

Massive Change and it's accompanying exhibition, Sustainable Architecture in Chicago: Works in Progress, showcasing green projects from seven top Chicago architects, are in their final weeks at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Massive closes December 31st, Sustainable January 7th)

What's the disconnect between the wonders on display and their actual impact on our world? Is Mau's grandiose vision a roadmap to paradise or a triumph of public relations?

Read all about it - including Mau's commentary as he toured his exhibition - with lots of pictures and links, for both shows - here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Studio Blue does SAIC

The School of the Art Institute has just put brought on-line a new website, designed by Studio Blue, the firm currently featured in the Art Institute's current Young Chicago show, including a poster for the Ford Calumet Environmental Center Design Competition, in which a bird's nest morphs into its own construction drawing.

For the SAIC, Studio Blue creates, in the words of the firm's Cheryl Towler Weese, "a nested structure (imagine the kits, cats, sacks and wives all going to Saint Ives), creating site features that foster an online community, and collaborating with faculty to incorporate webcam imagery of the ever-changing sky on the home page."

The site design is very clean and compact. It takes a moment to grasp its basic idiom, but from there you'll find a wealth of interesting content, especially in a gallery that showcases the work of students. (Check out Yongjin Park's witty faux Public Service film for our times, Duct Tape and Cover.) Cruise the new SAIC website here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dragonflies at the Art Institute draw light to the career of Tiffany's Clara Driscoll

Chai Lee of the Art Institute has sent us this picture of one of the museum's most recent acquistions, created in the New York studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany - a circa 1906 Hanging Head Dragonfly Lamp on Mosaic and Turtleback-Tile Base. The fringe of the stained glass shade is a row of dragonflies with "intricate, web-like wings and luminescent eyes made of bulbous blue-green glass."

The lamp is the work of Tiffany designer Clara Driscoll, who "by 1904 had become one of the highest paid women in the United States", earning a $10,000 annual salary at a time when a shop foreman was making $21.00 a week. This photo of Driscoll working in her studio comes from an excellent profile of her remarkable career on the New York Historical Society website.

The Dragonfly was not exactly rare - it was a huge popular hit - but the Art Institute says of its own new acquistion that "Although these objects are readily found on the market, an example of this type and quality with a distinguished provenance is extremely rare."

The lamp is on display in the Museum's Gallery 171, at the back of the first level of the Rice Building.

Lucky 13 for Archeworks

Archeworks is again in the midst of their annual Archcircle fundraising campaign.

The alternative design school, founded by Eva Maddox and Stanley Tigerman in 1994, offers a curriculum that cuts across disciplines and offers a unique grounding in the ethics, and in serving people and communities which rarely have access to quality design.

Operating out of its distinctive, Tigerman-designed Kingsbury Street home with its orange door, Archework's 2006-07 projects include creating design solutions to communicating information in response to the disasters of our time: bioterrorism, natural disasters, pandemics, and perhaps eventually, boils. Others projects address the greening of the Museum of Science and Industry, and improving the design of products for stroke survivors.

Archework's faculty, historically a who's-who of Chicago's architecture and design community, currently includes former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic and Deputy Mayor Lee Bey, UrbanLab's Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen, David Woodhouse, Randall Kober of IIT, Little Village organizer César Nuñez, and strategic planning consultant Giles A. Jacknain.

Student tuition currently covers only 14% of Archeworks annual expenses, and the school subsidizes nearly 25% of each student's tuition. Contributions to Archeworks are tax-deductable "to the extent allowed by law", and options for giving include on-line via Through December 31st, you can also donate through American Express and get double rewards points, or you can also donate Membership Reward points.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Truth in Advertising from the Chicago Architectural Club

Tuesday, January 9th is the deadline for entries to the Chicago Architectural Club's 2007 Chicago Prize competition, Bridging the Drive, seeking ideas for a pedestrian crossing over (or under) Lake Shore Drive, linking Buckingham Fountain to the lakefront promenade. A surface crossing, controlled by traffic lights, was abruptly closed over the course of a single morning - without notice or hearings - earlier this year.

The $5,000 first, $2,500 second and $1,000 third prizes will be awarded January 25th by a star-studded jury that is scheduled to include Marion Weiss, Dan Wheeler, Doug Garofalo, Jeanne Gang, Andrew Metter, ARUP's Nancy Hamilton, landscape architect Thomas Oslund, the Art Institute's Joe Rosa, and CAC co-Presidents Michael Wilkinson and Richard Blender.

And lest anyone gets their hopes up that their work could actually become part of the city's urban fabric, the competition's Q&A section sets you straight:
Q: Will the winning entry be built? If so, will the winning competitor be given the opportunity to contract with the owner as design architect?

A: The Chicago Prize is an 'ideas' competition, and will therefore not be built.
This refreshing honesty - if the explosion of wonderful entries to CAC's 2005 Burnham Prize competition, Water Tanks, is any indication - will not retard the number or creativity of submissions of the 2007 contest, but it does raise a nagging question.

And, yes, I do recognize the importance of competitions to give exposure to newer architects and fresh ideas, but why do I get the feeling that competitions like these are becoming the city's way of throwing a sop to architects and hoping they won't notice the big "Help NOT Wanted" sign for their creativity and expertise when it comes to actually tackling Chicago's wide range of design challenges, for which projects will be built?

Andrés the Devil

Doug McCash, art critic of the Times-Picayune of New Orleans (whose Saints, as I write this, are demolishing the Dallas Cowboys), has written a wonderful portrait of new urbanist high priest Andrés Duany, and his often controversial role in the rebuilding the city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He catches Duany at the point where he learns of a "Reinventing the Crescent" plan that would include buildings by Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind, contempuously dismissed by Duany as "the genius architects . . . All these people are congenitally over budget."

"I am not one of the genius architects," McCash quotes Duany as proclaiming. "I write codes. The basic theme is this: Cities require fundamentals to be in place." Duany cringes at the effect the Crescent City project may have on the vista just in front of newly purchased Marigny home, but quips, "I can't wait to have a brilliant piece of architecture facing my house. It's going to do wonders for my property value." And if he had his choice of "genius architects", it would be Rem Koolhaas. "The others are not fun," McCash quotes Duany as saying "Rem has the irony, fatalism, complexity and bad taste that would work well in New Orleans."

"I'm not an ayatollah of traditional architecture," Duany protests to McCash. Read the fully story here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Calatrava's Latest Twist from Spire to Licorice Stick

Architect Santiago Calatrava's towering lady is packing on some pounds. Both Crain's Chicago Business and Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin have filed reports on this week's announcement of changes to The Chicago (formerly Fordham and AKA Calatrava) Spire, the megaproject taken over earlier this year by Dublin's Shelbourne Development Corporation. Read about all the changes and the challenges to getting the project built, and see the pictures here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City to be proposed for Landmark Designation

Tomorrow, Thursday December 7th, architect Lynette Stuhlmacher and Debbie Dodge of Docomomo Midwest and Lisa DiChiera from Landmarks Illinois will recommend that Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City complex be designated an official city landmark.

One of the most important complex of buildings in Chicago's history, Marina City, best known for the iconic, 578-feet-tall twin "corncob" towers that have become an icon of the city throughout the world. One of the first true mixed-use develoments, it included an office building that is now the 367 room House of Blues Hotel. The House of Blues, itself, occupies the complex's theater. Marina City was the starting point of the back to the city movement that has revitalized Chicago's North Loop. The original skating rink is now a Smith and Wollensky steakhouse, but the complex still includes shops, restaurants, a health club a bowling alley, and a marina on the Chicago River. In October, recreating a stunt from Steve McQueen's last film, The Hunter, a car was driven off the 17th floor and crashed into the river below for an upcoming commercial for Allstate Insurance.

This past February, all of Marina City except for the 40 floors of condos was acquired for $114,500,000 by LaSalle Hotel Properties of Bethesda, Maryland. The deal included 896 parking spaces over 17 lower floors, plus 115,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. The new owner has big plans for the complex, but its first step, has been an unfortunate repainting of the lower floors of the HOB Hotel in dark colors of the kind usually associated with back alley loading docks.

Marina City is one of a large number of essential Chicago buildings, including Bertrand Goldberg's cloverleaf-towered Prentice Hospital (which will close when a new hospital opens next year) that have no landmark protection. It clearly meets all seven of the criteria required for landmark designation:
1. Critical Part of City's Heritage - first mixed use complex, the keystone to revitalization of the city's North Loop.
2. Significant Historic Event - As if Steve McQueen driving a car off it weren't enough, it has also been home to WCFL, which battled WLS in the 1960's to define rock radio.
3. Significant Person - Marina City was the result of the teamwork of Richard J. Daley, union leader William McFetridge, and Lewis Hill to reinvigorate the city and keep good union jobs in existence.
4. Important Architecture - Marina City is one of the most iconic, instantly recognized buildings in the world.
5. Important Architect - Bertrand Goldberg
6. Distinctive Theme as a District - the original focus of the back to the city movement, and unique reinvention of Miesian principles with the freer forms of Le Corbusier, as expressed through Goldberg's own unique genius.
7. Unique Visual Feature - see picture accompanying this posting.
If Marina City isn't a landmark, no building is.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has three new members, and how they respond to this effort to begin to protect the city's modernist heritage will tell us a lot about the Commissions future direction and effectiveness. It will also be interesting to see what kind of stand will be taken by Alderman Burton Natarus, whose 42nd ward includes Marina City. In the past, he's been a vocal opponent of forcing landmark designation on reluctant owners, but whatever stand he takes will inevitably become an issue in his campaign for re-election early next year.

The 11:00 A.M. session on Thursday, December 7th is designed to received input for possible Chicago landmark designations. It will take place in Room 1600 at 33 N. LaSalle and is open to the public.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Antonio Gaudi - architecture's It's a Wonderful Life?

Okay, two years in a row don't a holiday traditional make, but again this December, the Gene Siskel Film Center is bringing back Antonio Gaudi, the 1985 film by Woman of the Dunes director Hiroshi Teshigahara. According to the Film Center, "Teshigahara's eye for texture, shape and sensual detail meets Gaudí's whimsy in the cinematic exploration of such masterpieces of visionary architecture as the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia." Also depicted are such Gaudi designs as the Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, and Guell Park. A newly struck 35mm print will be shown, and performances run from Friday, December 15th, through Thursday the 21st.

Also added to the December calendar is this Saturday's, December 9th, Chicago Sketchcrawl, which begins at the Auditorium Theater at 9:30 A.M. and requires only a sketchbook, pencils and a compulsion to draw, draw, draw!.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Little Yellow Copter that sells Chicago

The Real Estate section of this week's Crain's Chicago Business has a great series of profiles of offbeat but essential jobs in building and maintaining the city's architecture. There's Mark Segal and Jeff Jones, whose 5-foot long helicopter - when it's not attracting the attention of Homeland Security Agents - provides all those pictures that provides prospective buyer an idea of the view out their new condo window long before the tower is actually built. There's architectural model maker Martin Chadwick of Presentation Studios, Curtis Brown, construction superintendent at Trump Tower, and the project's construction elevator operator Mike Smith, and Klein and Hoffman's Mary Brush, inspecting the terra cotta at Holabird and Roche's Monroe Building, 168 feet above the pavement. It's a fun and informative read. and it all begins here. (Crain's Chicago Business photograph by Callie Lipkin)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Last Things

Der Spiegel, which, if the pickups on the Archnewsnow website are any indication, offers some of the best reporting on architecture in Europe, this week published Stefan Simon's recounting of the incredible story of the last project of Le Corbusier, the Eglise St. Pierre a Firminy, just outside the Loire Valley.

Conceived as part of a 1950's plan to reinvigorate the town of Firminy, it would be half a century before it was finally built. Le Corbusier died in 1965, the cornerstone for the church wasn't laid until 1970. It took another three years for construction to begin, and then, caught in the crossfire between politicians and abandoned by the Catholic church, it was abandoned to a fate of being a "walled-up hollow space made from rotting concrete," which didn't stop it from being declared an official landmark in 1996. Finally, in 2003, construction resumed when the church was designated "a prestigious regional project," skirting the ban of government support for church buildings by declaring LeCorbusier's design to be part of the nation's " "architectural legacy." (Could there be a lesson here for the reconstruction of Adler and Sullivan's K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist Church, gutted by fire last January?)

The church is finally complete and open to the public, although still unconsecrated. Here's how Simon describes it, "A cone of fair-faced concrete -- a kind of pointed tower with rounded edges. A cube and a cylinder jut, chimney-like, from the slanted roof. The building resembles the cooling tower of a nuclear reactor or the raised platform on a submarine."

As you can see from this photo (and the two others on the Der Spiegel webpage), it's a lot more beautiful than that description would suggest. "On the eastern side of the building," says Simon, "light falls through three dozen fist-sized openings. Massive perspex cylinders, built into the 22 centimeter (8.6 inch) concrete wall, form the constellation Orion." It's a striking antecedent to the porthole windows Rem Koolhaas punched through the concrete walls of his convention center in Lille, and to the constellation wall at Jeanne Gang's Starlight Theater in Rockford, Illinois. (There's also a practical side to this. Square holes and their corners create more stress; the round ones allow the surrounding concrete wall to be lighter.)

Simon quotes Le Corbu biographer Jean-Louis Cohen as describing St. Pierre as the architect's "concrete testament. . . Firminy now constitutes the most important work by Le Corbusier in Europe." Read Simon's story here.

Komm Du, Du Letzter . . .

On The New Republic's Open University blog, Chicago's Richard Stern [great interview with Stern here, but watch out for the incongruous forced soundtrack - scroll down to the "off" button on the left hand side] offers up his translation of the last poem of Rainer Maria Rilke, written just two weeks before his death from leukemia in 1926. Sterns writes in response to John Banville's review in the current New York Review Books of a new book of the correspondence between Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome, the Russian born writer who entranced both Rilke, Friedrich Nietzsche, and , later, Sigmund Freud, who is said to have portrayed her, romantic devil that he was, in his paper On Narcissism.

"He had never asked the name of his illness," Banville writes of Rilke, "and his doctor had not told him. . . . 'Help me to my death,' he said to Nanny Wunderly, 'I do not want the doctor's death, I want my freedom.'" Rilke refused morphine; his resolve was to remain concious and aware during his own extinction.

It's that experience that Rilke captures in Komm Du, Du Letzter. The translation by J.B. Leishman that accompanies Banville's review is dismissed by Stern as "anti-english", and the line he quotes is, while perhaps correct, also tone-deaf and graceless.
...the wood no longer can abjure
agreement with that flame which you're outthrowing
Stern translates it as:
the wood that long resisted
the flame you feed
Being only barely coherent even in English, I'm not the person to tell you how faithful Stern's translation is to Rilke. The original text is in The Review, so you can judge for yourself. I can say that Leishman's translation scans as if it were created by computer - DOS based, I would imagine - while in Stern's I hear that unmistakable voice of the author of the Duino Elegies, sharing his final moments with us, not with metaphysical evasions, but in quiet intimacy, clear-eyed and heart-piercingly human. Read Stern's full translation here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Squandered Heritage in The Big Easy

From our New Orleans correspondent Laureen Lentz, a former Chicago native, comes word of Squandered Heritage, a website she's created with Karen Gadbois to document threats to the city's architectural legacy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The site includes one prominent building, the striking and beautiful St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, a modernist design dedicated in 1963, shown here in photographs by David Gregor. It's become the focus of a last ditch battle to prevent its demolition by the archidiocese for a new school.

And while most of the other structures pictured on the website are much more modest, perhaps even mundane, they're reminder of how a rich architectural heritage is dependent not just on prominent monuments but on a consistent fabric of buildings of distinctive character, such as the house on Deslonde Street, pictured below, an elegant example of the New Orleans type of shotgun structure that the website reports has been saved and is now undergoing renovation.