Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wither SOM? and American Architectural Education Looks the Other Way - Two Great Reads

Wither SOM?

In A New Order, appearing in the February issue of Chicago Magazine, Jay Pridmore creates a compelling portrait of megafirm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill at a point in its history when new blood like David Childs' protege Ross Wimer is being brought in from New York even as long-time mainstay Adrian Smith leads a group of architects out the door to form his own new firm, Adrian Smith+Gordin Gill Architecture.

Was this the right way to treat a guy who brought SOM back from dead in the 1980's? Are the recent changes a matter of Childs colonizing the Chicago office? Which Ross Wimer are we getting - the architect of the twistfest that is the soaring Infinity Tower in Dubai, or the designer of the - at least in its earliest stages - insipid proposal for a huge Olympic Village along Chicago's lakefront? Pridmore addresses all these questions - and more, in a lot more balanced way than my own leading questions.

His concise yet evocative overview of the firm's 70-year history reminds us that conflict among partners is in SOM's bones, from the original antipathy between Skidmore and Owings, to the legendary battles between Bruce Graham and Walter Netsch, and beyond, and it doesn't seem to have hurt the work, but often strengthened it. Read it here.

American Architectural Education Looks the Other Way

In the middle of the 20th century, architects fleeing Hitler came to America and changed the focus of American education from the Beaux Arts to the Bauhaus, first with Gropius at Harvard, and then with Mies van der Rohe, recharting the course of U.S. architecture from his perch as head of the school of architecture at IIT in Chicago.

It was a process portrayed as a descent of vampires in Tom Wolfe's 80's screed, From Bauhaus to Our House, but now it's the influence of Europe that is being threatened with being pitched into the dumpster, and not in a way from which Manhattan's greatest surviving dandy will necessarily draw comfort.

Don Lee of the Los Angeles Times has a great article on the USC School of Architecture's new dean, Chinese architect Qingyun Ma, whose own firm, MADA s.p.a.m., headquartered in Shanghai, is making waves both on the mainland and internationally, with work that touches on both the great cities and distant farming villages. And Ma is not alone - Japan's Hitoshi Abe will become head of UCLA's department of architecture beginning this spring.

"American education has cultivated strengths in your own reasoning process." Lee quotes Ma as saying, "If you come up with a hypothetical and you develop your own operation rationale, and the end product can fulfill that line of reasoning, then it's judged to be good. In China, the judgment is oftentimes poetic, literature and all those intuitive things rather than rational processes." Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry: secretly Chinese? Read it here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Catch a Thief - Do You Know This Man?

Is there anything lower - and more pathetic - than a dour young man who lifts what he thinks is a valuable newel post from one of Chicago's greatest landmark buildings and walks away with it stuffed into his backpack? Below is pictured just such a man:

Do you know who he is? And if do, could you let us know? On the afternoon of January 12th, this guy was caught on surveillance cameras walking into the 1890's Monadnock Building and nonchalantly stealing the newel post from the staircase. See all of the surveillance pictures and read the rest of the story here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Moses is Risen?

Robin Pogrebin, the always reliable New York Times architectural writer, has a fine article this week, Rehabilitating Robert Moses on three upcoming exhibitions - at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art, and Columbia Unversity - that seek to provide a fresh look at the work of Robert Moses, the master builder of New York whose increasingly unchecked reign ran for almost four decades. (The article is accompanied by a good short video, produced by Erik Olsen.) As described by Pogrebin, the exhibitions seek to reverse the ultimately harsh judgement of writers such as Jane Jacobs, and, most decisively, Robert Caro, whose massive 1974 biography of Moses, The Power Broker, remains one of the great books of the 20th Century. The organizers of the new exhibitions apparently seek to expunge Caro's shadow on Moses's reputation, to the point of making the author a nonperson. According to Pogrebin, Caro was not invited to even one of the symposiums organized in connection with the shows.

We seem to have now reached the point where Moses has been dead long enough for people to lust after his ability to get things done, without being inconvenienced by any personal memories of the often dire results.

While Moses's life is an epic, and his personality complex and often contradictory, the trajectory of his career is simplicity himself. Moses was in his prime when he worked for master politicians like Al Smith and Fiorello Laguardia, who were the clout behind his great achievements like the the stunning neighborhood swimming pools, the hundreds of playgrounds, and Jones Beach. When Moses came up with a bonehead idea like a Brooklyn Battery Bridge that would have turned much of lower Manhattan into an the underside of an overpass, they - along with FDR - had the power to stop him. It was only afterwards, when Moses had cunningly gathered up more power than any mayor or governor, and insulated himself from all accountability, that he became essentially a rogue agent, working largely for himself. The meglomania that had previously made him so effective now turned against the city, with the mass destruction of neighborhoods for highways and megaprojects that sickened rather than healed.

It's a story straight out of Lord Acton. We still can't resist looking for the man on horseback, who will rescue us from our myriad weaknesses. But for such a man to attain full force, the rest of us must become helpless and dependent. Inevitably, he will come to despise us for it, and then, because he now believes he, himself, creates reality, he will follow his whims heedless to their consequence.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

2007 Chicago Prize, Seattle Olympic Sculpture Garden's Marion Weiss at Art Institute Tonight

A reminder that this evening, Thursday, January 25th brings the announcement of the winner of the Chicago Architectural Club's 2007 Chicago Prize competition, Crossing the Drive, for the proposal to span Lake Shore Drive at Queen's Crossing, just east of Buckingham Fountain, which the city arbitrarily shut down without notice a little more than a year ago.

Beginning at 5:30 P.M. over 80 entries will be on display in the Louis Sullivan Trading Room on the Columbus Drive side of the Art Institute. If the results are anything like the CAC's previous competition on the re-use of the city's water tanks, we're probably in for a rich range of proposals from firms all across the world.

The jury is to be chaired by Marion Weiss of Weiss/Manfredi Architects, whose spectacular, just-opened Olympic Sculpture Garden has created its own crossing over railroad tracks and a highway to bridge downtown Seattle to the Puget Sound waterfront. The Seattle Art Museum project has drawn international raves. Billionaire Bill Gates was among the throng of opening day visitors, with the Post Intelligencer reporting he proclaimed the park's vista "impressive." Immediately afterwards, an agitated Steve Ballmer was seen repeatedly jumping up and down - causing the Calder Eagle to momentarily teeter on its moorings - while shouting above the roar of traffic that future vistas would never take anywhere near as much time to complete.

Around 6:30 P.M. in the Rubloff Auditorium, Weiss will present the CAC competitions two runners-up and finally the first prize winner, who will receive $5,000. Weiss will then deliver the evening's keynote lecture.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Chicago Olympics - A Rude Question

On Tuesday, the City of Chicago unveiled more details of its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, releasing a number of architectural renderings, including this rather handsome one of a temporary 80,000 seat stadium proposed for Washington Park, whose estimated cost, despite a reduction in seating from 95,000, is already up $60,000,000 - 20% - from an earlier estimate just a couple of months ago.

Exciting stuff, but I still have to wonder: In a city with limited capital and huge infrastructure needs - estimated at nearly $6 billion for the CTA alone - isn't there something obscene about spending $300,000,000 on a stadium that will be demolished just weeks after its opening?

AECOM Going Public

AECOM Technology, the engineering/consulting powerhouse whose massive expansion since its 1990 founding included a 1996 merger with Chicago firm McClier and who now employs nearly 30,000 people worldwide, Wednesday announced that it will be going public with an initial stock offering later this year.

Doing a 460 on the Mag Mile

The Terra Museum on Chicago's North Michigan may be long gone and its building headed for the scrap heap, with a new 40-story mini-tower by Lucien Lagrange for Ritz-Carlton on the way, but not before a few last spasms of showcase. Last October, the space turned crimson as a "pop-up" store selling the Motorola Red Slvr cellphones that kicked back a portion of each sale to "Project Red", Bono's inititive to combat AIDS in the third world, becoming the site of a media frenzy as the Irish rocker joined Oprah in a photo op trek to the store.

Now, beginning February 1st for a two week period, the space is again being transformed, this time as a Lexus 460 Degrees Gallery, promoting the car of the same name. The centerpiece will be an architectural installation by the Belgium designer Arne Quinze, whose Frame hard-foam furniture has a prominent place in Rem Koolhaas's new Seattle Public Library. (The illustration here is from Quinze's October install in Los Angeles). The installation will also include video art from Pascual Sisto and photography by Miranda Lichtenstein. After an invitation-only opening reception on February 1st, the "Light and Speed Exhibition" will be open to the public 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. February 2 through 15th, with test drives on the 2nd through 6th, and 8th and 9th. And Garrett's, Chicago's best pop, cheese and karmelcorn, right next door. Wipe your hands before you touch the car.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Great Moments in Marketing

From the Sunday New York Times Magazine.

You or me, we get a unit that's renovated, but if you're really special (and really rich) you get one that's remastered. And you're not just buying the unit, you're engaging in The Exchange of Power. Which is a lot tonier way of saying here's a 1902 lux office building that's going through the mill now for a second time, having been converted to apartments in 1997 and renamed The Exchange, and where in 2006 - I guess this is the exchange of power part - the residents found that none of their leases we're being renewed so the building could be recycled again, this time as high-end condo's in the renamed 25 Broad Street. (669 square-foot 1 bedroom just $797,000) Could this be where Donald Trump learned to convert friends and associates who were early purchasors of units in his new Chicago tower, jump-starting pre-sales, into patsies from whom he invoked an obscure clause in their contracts to yank back the units and keep all the profits for himself?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kamin uncovers latest design for Calatrava's Chicago Spire

Less than a week after it was withheld from a packed public meeting, Santiago Calatrava's latest design for the 2,000-foot-high Chicago Spire is unveiled by Chicago Tribune Architecture critic Blair Kamin. Read all about it - and see the pictures - here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Essential Reading: Greg Hinz on the CTA's meltdown

When the Chicago Transit Authority announced its latest and greatest outrage - slowdowns on the Red, Brown and Purple lines that will double the commute times of homebound riders for a two and a half year period - the general reaction was that of Chicago Magazine business correspondent David Greising on a week ago Chicago Week in Review on WTTW: shrug your shoulders and predict the response of CTA riders will be to do nothing, because "What choice do they have?"

Now, a brilliant analysis by the indispensable Greg Hinz in Crain's Chicago Business lays out in compelling detail how the current meltdown in CTA service is a matter not just of aging infrastructure and chronic underfunding, but of a willful incompetence on the part of President Frank Kreusi and CTA management that consistently neglected basic maintenance in favor of splashy, expensive and often questionable mega-projects like a $130,000,000 station under Block 37 for an express service to the city's airports that does not exist.

In Kreusi's typically cynical fashion, the service cutbacks that will decimate the number of trains and make the P.M. commute for hundreds of thousands of riders a living hell have been put off until April. Kreusi is no doubt remembering how, after a massive 1979 snowstorm, the breakdown of the CTA and decision to run trains express, bypassing blacks waiting on the platforms of inner city stations, ended with the stunning and unprecedented defeat of machine Democratic mayor Michael Bilandic. 2007 is also an election year, and Kreusi's scheduling protects this year's incumbents - mayoral and alderman - from being held accountable when the full force of his failed management hits the fan.

Greg Hinz's intensive research and cogent analysis means it won't be quite so easy to sweep it all under the rug. Read it here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

We're Number 13!

I'm sure it's a fine accomplishment and that it seemed a good idea at the time, but I think we'll all be excused if we're left short of hyperventilating over the School of Architecture at IIT's announcement that it's been ranked as the "13th best program in the nation" by DesignIntelligence, the newsletter of the Design Futures Council, in their 2007 America's Best Architecture and Design Schools survey.

IIT has certainly come a long way from when, little more than a decade ago, it was down to 3,000 students and another survey named it America's "least beautiful" campus. Under the direction of IIT President Lew Collins and Dean of Architecture Donna Robertson, the student population has exploded (collectively rather than individually), and the physical campus reinvigorated with stunning new buildings by Rem Koolhaas and Helmut Jahn, and a glorious restoration of Mies van der Rohe's iconic Crown Hall. And the best all this gets you is 13th?

If you're ready to fork over $29.95, you can download the entire list on-line (Number 5: Clemson!!!!), or, for $39.95, order the print version of "more than 100 perfect-bound color pages of charts, graphs, data, and analysis of design programs across the nation that no student, prospective student, school counselor, or hiring manager should be without." Belonging to none of these categories, I think I can safely take a pass. Unless there's recipes. Congratulations all the same.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Preservation Chicago unveils Chicago 7 2007

Preservation Chicago today announced its 2007 list of "Chicago's Seven Most Endangered Buildings" at a noon-time press conference at City Hall. The grass roots group cited The Farwell Building, which earlier this month received a momentary reprieve when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted down a proposal to strip its facade, demolish the building, and remount the facade on another building.

Also on the list are the Rosenwald Apartments on South Michigan, the Archer Avenue District in Bridgeport, the Wicker Park Commercial District along Milwaukee Avenue, the Julia C. Lathrop Homes at Clybourn and Diversey, the North Avenue footbridge over Lake Shore Drive, and Pilgrim Baptist Church, the Adler & Sullivan designed landmark that burned to the bare walls in January of 2006. At a press conference earlier this week, Mayor Daley announced he has agreed to chair the fund-raising effort to reconstruct the church, and the Chicago firm of Johnson and Lee Architects, in conjunction with Quinn Evans Architects, were named architects of record.

Preservation Chicago's 2007 Most Endangered List can be viewed here, with links to PDF's, including photos, on each of the listings.

Dr. King and Liberty Baptist

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Calatrava Spire Shrouded in Irish Fog

Donald Trump step aside. Garrett Kelleher may be the most confident developer on the face of the earth. Monday night - January 15th - the man behind the proposed Chicago Spire, the twisting 2,000-foot-high tower from superstar architect Santiago Calatrava - flew in from Ireland to present his project to a meeting sponsored by the Grant Park Advisory Council. But in patiently – mostly - taking on questions from an overwhelmingly enthusiastic crowd that braved snow, ice and cold to pack Daley Bicentennial Plaza fieldhouse just east of Millennium Park, he raised as many questions as he answered. Read all about it - and see the pictures - here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Unearthly Caryatids Materialize at Marina City

Chicago has always had its share of caryatids holding up buildings, like the stately females at the Museum of Science and Industry, or the burly males at William LeBaron Jenney's Morton Building on south Dearborn.

Now, however, a quartet of weird new caryatids lay splayed across the floor of a glass-enclosed, unused space at the base of the West tower of Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City.
They are very unlike their earlier counterparts, an almost unnerving hybrid of the Erechtheion and the Outer Limits, looking very much like one of those grainy photos of something on a dissecting table at Roswell.
What are they? Who made them? Where did they come from? Where are they going?
Whatever the answers to these questions, they're unlikely to be anywhere near as good as the story you're currently making up in your own head.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Extreme Makeover, North Lawndale style - tonight on ABC

Extreme Makeover goes back to the city. A house on Washtenaw in Chicago's North Lawndale community is the subject of tonight's installment of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which airs at 7 P.M. CST, tonight, January 14th. Read all about it - and see the pictures - here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bey Talks to Lifson, Lifson Talks up rehab of Mies 860-880

Lee Bey, former Sun-Times architecture critic, former deputy to Mayor Richard M. Daley and, now, former director of media and governmental affairs at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, will appear on this Sunday's Hello, Beautiful, with Edward Lifson, beginning at 10 A.M. on WBEZ, 91.5 FM. Maybe now that he's at least momentarily free of affiliations, he'll tell us what he really thinks about what's been going on in Chicago architecture since he left the Sun-Times in 2001. And I hope he'll also have more time to add to the wonderful photoessays - everything from the Schaumburg Space Needle to Pride Cleaners on 79th and St. Lawrence - on his The Urban Observer blog/website, from which I've stolen this 1973 rendering of a "revived" State Street that appears to replace all the street's great historic facades with a seemingly endless strip of uniformally banal concrete and glass frontage - apparently, we got off easy with late, unlamented State Street mall.

Back over at Edward Lifson's own blog, The New Modernist, there's an extended report on the restoration of the granddaddy of all Mies van der Rohe steel and glass highrises, the pathbreaking 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive Apartments. Last summer, Lifson says, investigations into the cause of two of the south windows cracking unveiled a leaking plaza, corroding steel, rust and oxidation. (Mies's love of travertine as a paving material carries a cost in freeze-and-thaw Chicago.)

A $7,000,000 million restoration is now being contemplated for the nearly 60 year old building (and for those snickering anti-modernists among you, I wonder what you'd look like at 60 if you never kept in shape). As Lifson describes the project, the goal would be to get back to Mies's original design, including replacing current laminated glass with Mies's preferred sandblasted variety.

This is similar to what was done by Gunny Harboe and Krueck & Sexton in the recent restoration of Mies's Crown Hall on the IIT campus. One would hope that the 860-800 rehab will also include a repainting with same kind of Tnemec paint used at Crown Hall. "It was just black as night and Mies was very proud of it," said IIT's Peter Beltemacchi at the reopening, adding that Mies also enjoyed the look of the paint as it aged and faded. The older I become myself, however, the more I suspect that this is a bit of a scam, a graceful way of accepting the seemingly inevitable.

I think no small measure of the calumny that has rained down on Mies's steel and glass boxes stems from the way, over time, that strong, glossy black fades to a washed-out gray that gives Mies's wonderfully crisp buildings a dulling and tired patina. Given the reflection of the sun off the adjacent lake, bringing 860-880 back to classic Mies black could prove absolutely breathtaking.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Latest Design for Calatrava Spire to be unveiled? Plus 2007 Chicago Prize, James Carpenter - late additions to January Calendar

Five additions to the January calendar of architectural events:

The Grant Park Advisory Council has sent an email saying Garrett Kelleher of Shelbourne Development will coming in from Ireland this coming Monday, January 15th to present to the group "the latest design for the "Spire" designed by architect Santiago Calatrava." The design, reportedly a response to criticism to the less tapered design for the proposed 2,000-foot-high tower released last December, has been shopped around to community groups but has not been publicly released. Also to be unveiled is Solomon Cordwell Buenz's design for a new residential tower to be built across from Millennium Park on a corner site currently occupied by the La Strada restaurant. The session takes place at 6:30 P.M. at the Daley Bicentennial Fieldhouse.

On Thursday, January 25th, Marion Weiss will chair the jury for the Chicago Architectural Club's 2007 Chicago Prize competition, considering solutions for bridging Lake Shore Drive to the Chicago lakefront at Queen's Crossing east of Buckingham Fountain. An exhibition of the entries will be on display in the Louis Sullivan Trading Room off of Columbus Drive at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by the announcement of the winners and keynote by Marion Weiss.

On Monday, January 22nd, the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago will host a lecture by James Carpenter of James Carpenter Design Associates, described as "a collaborative environment encouraging an interchange of ideas between architects, materials, structural engineers and fabricators. The studio has developed unique structural designs employing glass, steel and aluminum for a variety of projects, including curtain walls, floors, roofing systems, bridges, fountains and sculptures."

Also added, this Saturday, January 13th, Phillip Allsopp will lecture at Frank Lloyd Wright's relevance in the 21st century at the architect's Unity Temple in Oak Park, and on Friday, January 26th, at a fundraiser (tickets $25.00) for Glessner House Museum, Bill Tyre will give a presentation on the calendar presented to Frances Glesser on the occasion of her 58th birthday in 1906, which included contributions from Margaret and Daniel Burnham, Frederick Stock and hundreds of other prominent Chicagoans.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chairman of Chicago City Council Committee on Landmarks Arrested on Bribery Charge

20th Ward Alderman Arenda Troutman, Chairperson of the Chicago City Council Committee on Historical Landmark Preservation, was arrested Monday morning on charges of accepting a $5,000 bribe from an undercover federal informant in exchange for a promise to support zoning changes for a shopping mall development in her ward. "Well the thing is," Troutman is reported to have told the informant according to a federal affidavit, "most alderman, most politicans are hos." Later, she's quoted as bragging to the informant how she was, “...saving him money on zoning. Saving money on all this shit. I talked to the zoning commissioner her fucking self and the planning commissioner...”

At another point, Troutman told another undercover witness that they would have to get the developer to buy 10 $1,500 tickets to a fundraiser for her 2007 re-election campaign. The affidavit quotes Troutman:
"I need you to...commit to doin’ ten Black Satins, now how you do that...” CW2 (Co-operating witness2) said, “Huh, okay.” TROUTMAN continued, “How do you do that...you go to your guy, and this ain’t in the fifteen [$15,000, unrelated to the bribe money being provided to her]. ” CW2 said, “This is just business.” TROUTMAN responded, “This is...he know fifteen muthafuckers that he go to, his builder, his plumber...”

Troutman was instrumental in the succesful 2003 battle to save St. Gelasius Church in her Woodlawn community, threatening to lie down in front of bulldozers to stop demolition.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Valerio's Kresge Foundation Called Detroit's 2006 Best New Building

Although they never seem to let him call himself that (currently he's bylined as the paper's "Development Writer") John Gallagher is the Detroit Free Press's architecture critic, and in his year end wrap-up, he singles out The Kresge Foundation's new headquarters in Big Beaver, Michigan, designed by Valerio Dewalt Train, as the metro area's "best new building of 2006 . . . an environmentally sensitive, beautifully detailed example . . . of a thoughtful modernism enlivening its landscape. No longer is the Detroit landscape bound to the brick-and-stone historical styles that produced winners in the distant past but seem out of step with vibrant new design ideas."

Gallagher was upbeat about current trends in the Motor City's architecture, also praising Teng & Associates Mexicantown International Welcome Center and Mercado, which ditches kitschy faux Baroque for a modern design that still carries the spirit of traditional Mexican architecture. Both of these projects were also winners of AIA Chicago 2006 Design Awards.

Friday, January 05, 2007

One More Farwell Update

For the moment, at least, it's official. The proposal to demolish the landmark Farwell Building was defeated at a Commission on Chicago Landmarks meeting today. The votes of the individual commissionser were as follow:
Yes - David Mosena (Chairman)
Yes - Lori T Healy (Chicago Commissioner of Planning and Development)
Yes - Ben Weese
Yes - Christopher R. Reed
No - Phyllis Ellin
No - Edward I Torrez
No - Lisa Willis
Abstain - Ernest C. Wong
The ninth member of the Commission, real estate legend John Baird, did not attend today's session.
We'll publish more details of the meeting, including the comments of individual commissioners explaining the reasons for their votes, and some suggestions as to where to go from here, sometime over the next week.

For now, here's link to the Chicago Tribune, which was quick to post the news of the vote on its website (including - it's a miracle! - an actual rendering of the proposed project), both a straight report by Johnathon E. Briggs, and an analysis by Trib architecture critic Blair Kamin, who captured the surprise and shock that accompanied the vote in his lead:
Pigs flew. When Chicago's landmarks commission stiffened its spine Thursday and throttled a plan for a spectacularly ill-conceived act of architectural taxidermy, the vote was a stunner.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gregory K. Dreicer named curator at Chicago Architecture Foundation

The Chicago Architecture Foundation announced yesterday that Gregory K. Dreicer has been appointed Vice President of Exhibitions and Programs, a new position "created to expand the scope of exhibitions and programming and broaden the audience base."

Dreicer comes to CAF from Chicken&Egg Public Projects, Inc., founded in New York by Dreicer in 2000, "a leading exhibition planning, development, and design firm specializing in social, political, and technological issues." The firm created a revitalization master plan for the Museum of the City of New York. Prior to that, he served as a curator at Washington, D.C.'s National Building Museum, where his work included exhibitions such as Barn Again! in 1994, and Between Fences in 1996/7. Also in 1996, Dreicer coordinated the presentation of the exhibition Chairmania with Joseph Rosa, recently appointed Curator or Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Dreicer succeeds former CAF curator Ned Cramer, who left the foundation last May to eventually begin editor of the new magazine, Architect.

Proposal to Demolish Farwell Fails

In a major upset, at this afternoon's session of the Chicago Landmarks Commission, a proposal to strip the landmark Farwell building of its facade, demolish the building, and reinstall the facade on another structure appears to have failed. Chairman David Mosena announced the final vote as 4 in favor of the proposal, 3 against, and 1 abstention. He announced that the motion failed, and called on a representative from the city's Corporate Counsel office, who reaffirmed that the majority of all commissioners was required. Including the abstaining commissioner, eight were present. There was no majority, and so the motion failed. We will keep you on top of how this plays out.

Future of Chicago Landmarking to be Decided Today?

Pop Quiz: Is this the picture of?

A. A Building
B. A Pair of Facades

A. A Protected Treasure
B. An Overrated Mistake

A. In Need of a Touch-up
B. About to Disintegrate

A. An Unusual Case Not Worth the Fuss
B. A Precedent that Will Gut Historic Preservation Nationwide

There are the key arguments that will come to fore when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks meets tomorrow, Thursday, January 4th, to decide the fate of the elegant 1920's Farwell Building on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, an official city landmark and the subject of a proposal to strip its facades, demolish the building, and reassemble the facades on a new structure.

I've discussed what's involved here, and the grave peril I believe it presents to architectural preservation in Chicago, here. That article provoked a great deal of intelligent discussion, and you can see the posts here.

As a postscript, I'll add the following information. The developer wants to demolish the building in order to have a launch site from which to construct a new condo tower next door. They're counting on a pair of engineering studies reporting that, while the building is structurally sound, the facades are in worse shape than originally thought, and will require too much of an effort to restore and repair. So they're asking the commission to approve the demolition of the building so they can build a parking garage for their new tower in its place.

If this proposal passes, the effects will be devastating. Other developers will demand the same consideration, and on the basis of this precedent, they will get it. Landmark after landmark will be razed as one of the world's most recognized collections of great architecture will increasingly survive only as re-assembled fragments pasted over mediocre new buildings.

The meeting is set to begin at 12:45 P.M., today, January 4th, in the Cook County Commission Board Room on the 5th floor at 118 North Clark. It is open to the public.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Chicago Landmark Commission Poised to Eviscerate Key Protection for City's Architecture

Is landmarks preservation in Chicago going the way of the dinosaur? We may only be starting to get a handle on 2007, but already the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is scheduled to take a Thursday vote that stands to reverse the results of decades of struggle, and leave all but a handful of Chicago's finest buildings open to demolition.

Do I exaggerate? I wish that I were. Please read on.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Aqua, MOMO, Price, Burnham, Dongtan and More on January Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events

Jeanne Gang talks about Aqua, Charles Stetson of Booth Hansen talks about MOMO. Daniel Burnham gets a double dip - Charles Smith discusses his new book on the Burnham Plan at a Preservation Snapshots lecture at the Cultural Center while Judith McBrien heads to Archeworks to discuss Archimedia's upcoming documentary series on the legendary Chicago architect and planner. The Gene Siskel Film Centre offers up movies on Santiago Calatrava's pre-Chicago twist in Malmo, Sweden, Norman Foster's London Gherkin, and Teshigahara's mesmerizing look at the work of Antonio Gaudi. Zola Zola discusses her zoning plan for 21st Century Chicago at AIA Chicago. Anthony Alofsin lectures at the opening of a new CAF exhibition on Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower. Gary Lawrence of ARUP discusses Dongtan, a new "eco-city" outside of Shanghai, China at both AIA and at a CAF lunchtime lecture.
That and much, much more (Looptopia!) on the January Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events - check it all out here.

Weekend Reads: Nance on City of the Future, Kamin on Valerio, Iovine on the Tribulations of Holl

Three Great Weekend Reads:

City of the Future Voting Begins January 3rd
Chicago Sun-Times Art & Architecture critic gives front page treatment to the History Channel's The City of the Future Competition in Chicago, which saw UrbanLab winning the $10,000 first prize for it's proposal, Growing Water in Chicago, which draws on the fact that the great lakes account for 20% of the world's - and 95% of the United States - fresh water. Chicagoans use a billion gallons every day, only 1% of which is returned. UrbanLab envisions creating a "living system of eco-boulevards", including everything from wetlands, marshes, recreation space, even Chicago's historic interlocking system of boulevards. "As a Living System, Chicago will treat 100% of its wastewater + stormwater naturally . . . Treated water will be harvestedand/or returned to the Great Lakes Basin." The flow of the Chicago River would be "re-reversed" to again flow into the Lake, and the extensive system of huge, deep tunnels, created to hold stormwater, would be converted to transit tunnels.

Nance takes us inside the judging process, where a blue-ribbon panel that included the Art Institute's Joe Rosa and Chicago Commissioner of Planning and Development Lori Healy sift through - and comment on - entries that include everything from an elevator to space, to a city without automobiles, to a 64 lane highway.

UrbanLab now goes on to the final competition, facing off against winners of competitions in New York City (won by Architecture Research Office, envisioning a Manhattan where global warming has put most of the streets under water) and Los Angeles, (won by Eric Owen Moss Architects for a plan revitalize the east side of downtown by converting the "concrete-trapped Los Angeles River into a center for tourists and parkland.)

Check back after January 3rd for details on voting.

Kamin on Valerio
Over at the Tribune, architecture critic Blair Kamin profiles Joe Valerio, of Valerio, Dewalt Train, an architect who manages to be both mainstream and quirky at the same time. "The most useless term in architecture is `timeless building,'" he tells Kamin, "which I translate into `meaningless." Valerio is coming off two major successes this year. First, a complex of office buildings on the Kresge Foundation's Troy, Michigan farmstead that the Milwaukee Courier Journal's architecture critic Whitney Gould cites as seamlessly marrying " preservation, modernism and sustainability", and which was also a 2006 award winner from AIA Chicago. Then this fall, the debut of another prime Valerio design, a new 5,000 square foot showcase for Garmin International on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, that sets off high-tech glass and aluminum with a two story wall of sculpted wood.

Valerio emphasis on cutting-edge technology (David Rasche, the firm's IT head, has just been made a partner) was also in evidence in his entry for City of the Future, where he collaborated with the engineering mega-firm Arup to create a proposal for using 75% less energy by 2107 - none of it carbon-based - through a combination of the type of soaring, solar towers/ wind turbines he first proposed for a Chicago Architecture Foundation's Invisible City exhibition several years ago, and zero energy "houses using bioengineered trees grown in place." According to Nance, Valerio's entry was hotly debated before being edged out by UrbanLab's, but no can say that he lost because he played it safe.

Only one of the images from Nance's newspaper article makes it to the Sun-Times web site. In the hopelessly clueless Trib, not a single image from Kamin's print piece makes the cut - how can it hope to ever become an effective presence on the web when it refuses to take advantage of the internet's unique ability to post images at next to no cost compared to print, and insists on treating its web readers as freeloaders undeserving of a quality product? (Also be warned if you visit the Valerio website, it's one of those with the annoying feature of expanding your browser window to the full size of your screen, no matter how big, and then stranding the actual content in the middle amidst an empty sea of white space.)

Steven Holl looks to salvage a bad year.
New York Times writer Julie V. Iovine has an intriguing portrait of architect Steven Holl, who has undergone a number of setbacks that include an increasing rap of creating buildings that go massively over budget, and being separated in October from a project for a major new Denver courthouse. Iovine doesn't settle the question as to whether he quit or was fired, but she both interviews the architect and covers (photos included!) his recent light-box addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.