Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vinoly, Herreros, Kalach, Gang, Rosa, Harboe, the 2016 Olympics and Courtyards of Weishan and much, much more on March Calendar of Architectural Event

Spring is warming up the architectural scene in Chicago, with almost 40 items on the March calendar of architecture-related events. Rafael Vinoly will talk about his sets for the Chicago Opera Theater production of Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses, at a March 28th CAF lunchtime lecture, Jan Herreros discusses his work at IIT, and Alberto Kalach his at UIC. At another CAF lunchtime lecture, Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn talk about their winning entry in the History Channel's City of the Future Competition. Jeanne Gang talks about Aqua for the Friends of Downtown, and bird collisions at the Chicago Center for Green Technology. Then there's the Art Institute's Joe Rosa at Archeworks, and preservation architect Gunny Harboe at APA. Patrick Ryan and SOM's Thomas Kerwin discuss Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics at CAF, while Vince Michael lectures on the Courtyard Houses of Weishan, China for Landmarks Illinois at the Cultural Center.

Believe it or not, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a ton of other great events, and I feel guilty not to mention them all here, but you can check it all out here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Endgame: Is the Fix in for the Farwell?

In January, to general astonishment, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks flashed a bit of backbone and voted down a Planning Department proposal to demolish the landmarked Farwell Building on north Michigan Avenue.

Well, we can't have that, can we?

A special session has been set for 9:00 A.M. on Thursday, March 8th to reverse the January vote. Read all about how power works in this city, including the developers and architects who are cutting the big checks to the local alderman promoting the Farwell's demolition here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Farwell Saga - Episode Four

Scaffolding has gone up around Michigan Avenue's Farwell Building, saved last month when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted down a proposal that would have stripped the Farwell's facades, demolished the building, and remounted the facades on a completely new building, all under the name of landmark protection.

Is the scaffolding a ploy in a PR campaign to reverse that vote by persuading the public the building is so unsafe that demolition is the only solution?

Read about what's at stake, and how its shaking down - including project architect Lucien Lagrange's candid discussion about the real reasons behind the developer's push to demolish the Farwell - in ten easy points, here.

Young? Chicago?

What does it mean to be a Chicago architect or designer? Are there affinities and synergies that they share, or could they just as well be working in anywhere U.S.A.? A new exhibition at Chicago's Art Institute puts the work of a sweet sixteen of architects, industrial, fashion and graphics designers on display, and the museum's new curator of Architecture and Design, Joseph Rosa, tries to make sense of the mix. Read all about it, and see the pictures, here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ouroussoff Takes On the Freedom Tower

After a number of diversionary excursions into places like Dubai, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff is finally engaging his new home city with a simple, brave declaration: Freedom Tower is anything but.

Year after year, the enormous optimism of the competition that arose out of public disgust with the original proposals for the World Trade Center site has been beaten down and eviscerated by the ugly realities of developer Larry Silverstein's greed, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's David Childs' raw political maneuvering, and the fecklessness of Governor George Pataki. By the time Childs' last cowering, capitulating design was revealed, the overall response was one of fatalistic resignation.

Now Ouroussoff has come forth to state what should have obvious to anyone with two eyes.

"The Freedom Tower, with its tapered bulk and chamfered corners, evokes a gargantuan glass obelisk. Its clumsy bloated form, remade by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, vaguely recalls the worst of postmodernist historicism . . . the Freedom Tower is conceived as a barricaded fortress . . . It speaks less of resilience and tolerance than of paranoia." Read the full article here.

Although construction has already begun on foundations, Ouroussoff says its not too late to rethink the design. We can only hope.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


To mark its 150th anniversary, the American Institute of Architects has proclaimed 150 structures as America's Favorite Architecture. Laughter and ridicule ensue. Feel free to join the fun. I do my part here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Joy of Sax?

Just when you think it can't get any kitschier . . .

Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that the House of Blues Hotel, set up in what was the office building of Bertrand Goldberg's classic, groundbreaking Marina City complex, will soon be no more. This coming May, Gemstone Hotels and Resorts will reopen the facility as the Hotel Sax. Apparently regressing to vintage New Orleans is no longer enough. The New York design firm of McCartan will be creating, in the words of the press release, a concept that "mixes the essence of a 17th century French Salon executed with a 21st century twist. An eclectic array of furnishings from India and Europe are also used in exotic colors and finishes." Louis XIV, bowling alley attached. Lucien Lagrange, eat your heart out.

Gemstone has already vandalized what should be a landmark building with large expanses of battleship gray paint that subverts the lightness of Goldberg's original design, making it look gloomy and, yes, cheap. Buckets of money and a complete innocence of taste - what new wonders will they now bring?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Weekend Reading: Kamin on What Lies Beneath, plus End of Winter: Myth or Possibility?

In the press this weekend:

Chicago's Two Track Building Boom - Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin explores how a monopolization of attention by high profile projects like Santiago Calatrava's Chicago Spire is overshadowing the far larger number of clunky new buildings that are littering the city. For every elegant solution, from Laurence Booth's 30 West Oak (pictured), or Miller/Hull's 156 West Superior, there's at least as many skyline-scarring clunkers like DeStefano + Partners Left Bank at Kinzie Station , which evokes less the sidewalks of Paris than a kind of architectural K-ration. It's possible that over the decades we'll come to accept, if not actually love, these kind of lazy build, flip, and repeat developments at which Fifield is a master, but it's more likely that the only thing they're accomplishing is lowering the standard of mediocrity. Ultimately, they're parasitic - bringing people back to city and its neighborhoods at the same time as they eat away at the character that makes them attractive places to live in the first place. Read it here.

Winter - It Will Actually End? - With subzero cold leaving the Chicago River covered in ice in the first time in years, and our East coast compatriots buried in up to ten feet of snow, it's enough to make you momentarily doubt global warming, or even wonder if Spring will ever come. A hopeful answer came this week, not from a groundhog, but from the Sunday New York Times, which is carrying a full page ad announcing this summer's schedule for the Tanglewood Festival, for which tickets go on sale today. Ravinia's former long-time Music Director James Levine will lead performances of The Damnation of Faust, Bluebeard's Castle, and the full, four-act version of Don Carlos with Patricia Racette, Johan Botha and Samuel Ramey, as well as a sequence of fully-staged performances of Cosi Fan Tutte. It tends to be a little pricey, though - top tickets going for just a buck less than $100.00, versus a typical $50.00 top at last year at Ravinia, although Tanglewood wins out for the lowest priced seats - $18.00 versus Ravinia's $20.00. See the full schedule here.

CSO Still Top Ten - Meanwhile, Financial Times Music Critic Andrew Clark writes how, despite an increasing roster of quality orchestras worldwide, the list of the best of the best is pretty much the same as it was fifty - or even a hundred - years ago. According to Clark, while an exceptionally inspiring conductor like Mariss Jansons or Simon Rattle can make an ensemble like the Oslo Philharmonic or City of Birmingham Symphony appear world class, the quality of play seldom endures after their departure, and we're left with the usual suspects, which in America means the inevitable "Top Five" - New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Boston. In Clark's own current global top ten, James Levine's Met Orchestra replaces Maazel's New York Philharmonic, Eschenbach's troubled Philadelphia doesn't make the cut, and the Chicago Symphony is grudgingly included, despite its "over-dominant brass" making it the embodiment of "pure American beefcake," which is pretty funny, when you consider that it's largely the product of two Hungarians named Reiner and Solti. Read it here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Urbanlab Wins City of the Future

The History Channel announced this morning that the Chicago firm Urbanlab has won the $10,000 first prize in the The City of the Future Competition for their vision of Chicago in 2106. The firm had already won $10,000 for winning the Chicago leg of competition, and now wins an additional $10,000 for beating out entries from similar competitions in New York and Los Angeles. The winner was selected by the public via the City of the Future website.

The award was announced by architect Daniel Libeskind, who served as "national competition juror." "UrbanLab is thrilled to have been named the National Winner of the City of the Future competition," said the firm's Martin Felsen, "especially considering the high caliber of ideas and proposals generated by the competition participants. We’d like to thank The History Channel for providing such an important forum, at a pivotal time, for an open discussion of future design directions of our cities.”

Read my take on the competition, and see the pictures here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bruce Mau Heads South - Chicago's New Burnham?

Via Archnewsnow - and as tipped by Edward Lifson last November - the Toronto Star's Martin Knelman is reporting that graphics designer and futurist Bruce Mau will be opening a Chicago office by the end of June. And while a spokesperson for Bruce Mau Design says a personal move is not finalized, Knelman says Mau has told friends he's been shopping for a Chicago house and checking out schools for his three children.

Why Chicago? An increasing amount of Mau's business is in the United States, and Knelman reports a number of those clients don't like having to cross the border to meet with him in Toronto, an annoyance that will only increase now that the U.S. State Department is requiring passports even for trips to and from Canada.

The other major reason stated is that Chicago, from the mayor on down, "embraced" Mau's manifesto exhibition, Massive Change, when it ran at the Museum of Contemporary Art last fall, while, according to Knelman, the response to show in Mau's home town was more reserved. If Mau is expecting the type of fawning he received here to continue in perpetuity, he'll be in for rude awakening. Chicago, ultimately, is a tough town, with an allergy for puffery no matter how well intentioned. Massive Change was Mau's Chicago romantic courtship. Moving here will be the marriage, when you find, usually through a painful period of adjustment, that your spouse is not just a reflection of yourself, but a separate person with his or her own obstinate and not always subservient traits, habits and opinions.

Still, Chicago was built by people who grew tired of where they came from and fell in love with the city, in all its contradictions. Think Sullivan, Mies, Daniel Burnham. If Mau can disenthrall himself from the flatterers - sycophancy is one of Chicago's baser failings - and really engage the city, warts and all, he could be the next name in that line.

Last Three Days to Vote for your City of The Future

This Saturday, February 3rd, is the last day to vote in the History Channel's The City of the Future Competition, which asked participants to imagine the city of 2106, a century hence. If you follow the link, you can see info on all three finalists, and well as the path to casting your own vote for who should get the $10,000 first prize.

The more I look at this, the more I think the entry of Chicago's UrbanLab is truly the best of the bunch. And while I may be accused of local boosterism (Go Bears!), I'm thinking that after you examine all three, you'll come to the same conclusion. Read all about it, and see the pictures here.