Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chicago Streetscene - Hanson Lives!

Being woefully ignorant about pop culture, when I hear the name Hanson, I remember a band of three teen brothers that became a phenomenon upon bursting onto the rock scene in 1997 and imagine that, their 15 minutes of fame presumably expended, they've long since disappeared into a Bonaduce-in-the-making obscurity.

The adoring masses of teen girls descending on Marina City's House of Blues today proclaimed otherwise.

Even as the brothers wrestle with the issues of geriatrics as they begin the steep descent into their mid-to-late twenties, they have apparently captured an entirely new generation of female followers, a thousand of so of whom followed the Hansons on a one-mile walk through River North, both touting their latest album, The Walk and, according to a Pollstar article to "help raise awareness of poverty and AIDS in Africa."

"The trio has partnered with TOMS Shoes with the goal of delivering 50,000 pairs of shoes to needy children in Africa. For every pair of shoes purchased at each stop on Hanson's tour, TOMS will donate an equal pair.

"We want to inspire others to look for simple, tangible and fun ways to make a difference," Taylor Hanson said. "It is easy to be halted by the great hurdles of poverty and AIDS, but making an impact can begin as simply as giving someone a pair of shoes or buying a song."

Yeah, that kind of celebrity do-gooding, combined with album promotion, leaves the Hansons easy fodder for jokes, but cut them some slack. On a beautiful fall day, with teens, just at the point of getting a handle on what life might be, marching with their idols in solidarity of fan worship and social awareness, that's not a bad trade-off.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicago's Children Museum "fundamentally misconceived" - Blair Kamin

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin this morning condemns the proposed move of the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park, and provides an cogent analysis of what makes it so bad.

Apparently, there's still another revision which, according to Kamin, reduces the size of the skylights to a maximum height of 16 feet, and in process slashes the amount of natural light coming in to the museum but a third. In contrast to the current museum, which offers generous views of the park outside Navy Pier, the new museum is devolving into what is being called the "cave" compromise, essentially an underground bunker, in an increasingly desperate attempt to circumvent the A. Montgomery Ward court decisions that protect Grant Park. If Kamin's article is any indication, the museum continues to withhold all renderings of the project except wide-angle drawings that minimize its impact and conceal the real experience of the structure as placed into the park.

Like almost all other observers (Mary Mitchell excepted), Kamin has come to realize that this battle is not about "the children." It's about power politics.

" . . . it becomes apparent," Kamin writes, "that the chosen site will benefit neither Grant Park nor the children who are the museum's reason for being."

"The lakefront and the children deserve better than a political compromise that is principally designed not to produce inspiring architecture, but to let the powerful mayor save face." Read it all here.

Clean Shaven Palmer House Debuts

Our roving correspondent and photographer, engineer Bob Johnson, gives us these new photos of Holabird and Roche's 1925 Palmer House, now completely debearded of the trio of external fire escapes and grills that have subdivided the State Street facade for decades. What's remarkable about the change is how strongly it re-establishes the grand horizontal sweep of the building's five story-base, reestablishing a much more lucid and elegant visual foundation for the three tall red-brick wings that rise about it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Landmark Event - Art Institute of Chicago Puts Marion Mahony Griffin's Magic of America on-line

Nearing the end of her long life, living in a house at 1946 West Estes in Chicago, Marion Mahony (1871-1961) finished her magnum opus The Magic of America as a loving tribute to the life and work of her late husband, architect Walter Burley Griffin. What emerges from its pages, however, is nothing less than a vivid portrait of an era, spread across two continents, America and Australia, a highly personal account of the birth both of modern American architecture and urban planning, and - by reflection and inference as much as directly - of Mahony Griffin herself, one of the most remarkable and enigmatic figures in American architecture.

Read all about it - and see the pictures - here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Engineers on Block 37; the Credit Crisis and Commercial Real Estate

Since we never seem to get around to doing the next month's calender of architectural events until about 11:00 P.M. the previous night, we thought we'd pass along an early warning on two events early in October:

Engineers Discuss Block 37: The October dinner meeting of the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois will feature a presentation by Thorton Tomasetti, structural engineer of record for the project, including the deep basement excavation that will ultimately let the CTA's blue and red line trains cross tracks underground. The event will be held next Tuesday, October 12th, at the Cliff Dwellers, cash bar at 5:15 P.M., dinner at 6, program at 7:00, $45.00 for members, $55.00 for non-members. Make reservations by today, September 27th, by calling Donna Childs at 312/649.4600 x200. More info here.

The Credit Crisis: How Turmoil in the Debt Markets is Affecting Commercial Real Estate - thats the cheery topic for a Thursday, October 4th breakfast seminar sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Chicago. Speakers include Mark Bratt, Executive Director, Morgan Stanley; David Maki, Director, Head of North American Capital Markets, RREEF; and Casey R. Wold, Senior Managing Director, Tishman Speyer. Keith Largay, Director, Debt & Equity Finance, Cushman & Wakefield moderates. $40.00 for ULI members, $50.00 for non-members, $10.00 for students, including continental breakfast, which begins, along with registration at 7:45 A.M., with the program at 8:15, at the Mid-Day Club in Chase Tower. More info and registration on-line, where the registration deadline is 10/2, 10/1 via other means.

Calatrava's Chicago Spire Seeks Persons of Interest

Look, but you can't buy - at least not yet, but you can see the ad on a finer bus shelter near you. Santiago Calatrava's design for the Chicago Spire continues to evolve. Read all about it and see the pictures here.

Plus - a bonus pop quiz. What do Marina City and the Chicago Spire have in common? (Hint: think giant phallus hats) The answer revealed here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Really bad photos of the renderings the Chicago Children's Museum doesn't want you to see.

At a September 10th meeting at Daley Bicentennial Plaza, Chicago Children's Museum architect Mark Sexton presented a full set of renderings of Krueck and Sexton's proposed design for a new 100,000-square-foot museum in Grant Park. Unfortunately, as part of its slippery and cynically deceptive media campaign, CCM has withheld all renderings from the media except extremely wide-angled views that deliberately de-emphasize the building's impact on the park.

Krueck and Sexton Architects also does not include the renderings on their web site, but they have signed on to Mayor Richard M. Daley's "all opponents to the museum are racists"campaign by posting links to four articles regurgitating Daley's spurious, gutter-politics rants. The links include news reports from the Trib and Sun-Times on those very calculated mayoral tantrums, but, of course, no links to those same papers' strong condemnation of the mayor's tactics and fervent opposition to the museum's move to Grant Park.

These two admittedly pathetic photos are the best I could get from my vantage point in an outside hallway which I shared with local residents who had been banished from their own community meeting when it was hijacked by CCM supporters. They more accurately depict how a human being - as opposed to a high-flying bird or low-flying airplane - would actually experience the park with the CCM's building inserted into it.

The first rendering is of the large central courtyard; the second of the soaring, stalagmite-like skylights required to bring light into the museum's subterranean halls. Note how those skylights, up to 51 feet in height, rise many times higher and overwhelm the human figures inserted into the rendering. Even with all their oblique bluriness, the photos of these renderings demonstrate that, contrary to the claims of the museum, the structure would create a fatally intrusive presence in the park. If the museum doesn't agree, they should release ALL the renderings, which I will be glad to post on my web site. Let the public decide.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Portrait of Mayor Daley's "Nowhere"

Here's a photo of "Nowhere":

That's what Mayor Richard M. Daley derisively calls Grant Park at Daley Bicentennial Plaza, at the east end of the Frank Gehry designed BP Bridge, in still another ploy in his increasingly desperate campaign to muscle a 100,000-square-foot building for the Chicago Children's Museum into that same park. See a photo-essay on the park Daley seeks to destroy here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chicago Architecture Club Fall Kickoff, Alfred Caldwell's Crown Hall Landscaping added to this week's calendar

Two late additions to this week's calendar of architectural events:

Chicago Architecture Club: 2007/8 Season "Architectural (Pro) activism"

On Wednesday, the 26th the CAC will hold its first event of the season. CAC is (slightly) reconfiguring the structure of the club, "reestablishing a more club-like club" and will share plans for the new year with members. The evening will begin with a new members Q & A, and then go on to event pitches, with 15 presenters competing for 5 events, concluding with comments and voting. 6:30 P.M. at I-space, 230 West Superior, Second floor. More info here.

Revisiting Caldwell

Also on Wednesday, at Crown Hall at IIT, Architect Sarah Dunn (principal, UrbanLab) and landscape architect Chandra Goldsmith Gray (Mies Society board member and IIT faculty member) and will lead Mies Society members in a tour of their recently executed landscape plan for S. R. Crown Hall. The evening will include a 7 p.m. reception and screening of the film Passionate Nature: Chicago Parks of Alfred Caldwell. Free for Mies Society members, with a $10.00 suggested donation for guests. Reservations required. More info here

And a reminder:

Preservation Chicago 2007 Benefit at Opera Lofts, the former studio and storage warehouse for Chicago's Lyric Opera, Friday, September 28th, from 6:30 to 9:30 P.M. Tickets $50.00 in advance (through 5 P.M., September 25th), $65.00 at the door, with the proceeds going to support Chicago's premiere grass-roots architectural preservation organization. Information, and on-line purchase of tickets here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

From Luciano - to Fabio?

With the passing of Luciano Pavarotti, Opera Chic considers the supposed current dearth of true Italian tenors, and places a bet on "Fabio Armiliato, heir to the greatest lineage of Italian opera tenors." Via YouTube, here's a clip of Nessun Dorma, so you can form your own opinion.

And speaking of something very different that packs an emotional wallop, here's another YouTube clip of 80 year old Giacomo Lauri Volpi taking on the same aria.

But wait, here's a 1933 clip of Lauri Volpi singing an aria from Les Huguenots. Oh, and here's Natalia Dessay singing Glitter and Gay, and here's, no, no, I must stop, I must stop - YouTube is the crack cocaine for music buffs.

The World Class Chicago's Children's Museum: We're Number 31!

Among the frenzied charges of child-hating and racism that Richard M. Daley and supporters of the Chicago Children's Museum have been hurling in a desperate attempt to discredit opponents of the museum's campaign to move to Grant Park, the mayor and Bob (if-we-don't-give-Grant-Park-to-the-CCM-it will-be-the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it) O'Neill have gotten a free pass as they repeatedly extol the virtues of the "world-class institution" they seek to insert into Daley Bicentennial Plaza.

It seems we may have been more than a little gullible in accepting the museum's claim at face value. A post to my blog from yellow dog democrat directed me to an article in Friday's Chicago Sun-Times in which writer Delia O'Hara deconstructs the CCM's inflated sense of self-importance as
"some cultural temple our city's children must experience to claim a complete childhood."

"It isn't."

"The Chicago area has three major children's museums. The DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville and the Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview leave the Chicago museum in the dust."

O'Hara notes that the CCM has higher admission fees than either of those institutions, but "books one unimaginative commercial traveling exhibit after another, often with licensed characters children are expected to recognize from television."

O'Hara concludes that as "9 percent of Chicago's land is held in parks, less than half that in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco or Boston," it isn't a bunkered, parkland-grabbing CCM that children need. "They need safe, well-maintained, accessible spaces for play they direct themselves. These spaces don't have to be Disneyland. A nice park will do. Let's make a commitment now not to give away any more parkland." Read the full article here.

And if that isn't enough of a blow to CCM's pretensions, another voice is saying the real world-class children's museum in Illinois isn't in the Chicago area at all, but in Rockford.

The child-haters at Parents Magazine rank the CCM in 31st place in a list of America's top 50 children's museums, miles behind the Discovery Center in Rockford, which comes in 5th, the Exploration Station, Bourbonnais, at 15th, and the Children's Museum of Illinois in Decatur, at 23. Indianapolis's Children's Museum tops the list. Read the full Parents Magazine story here.

The Indianapolis museum, the largest in the survey, has 365,000 square feet of exhibits. The proposed CCM building will have 100,000. Which raises still another troubling question: how long will it before the aggressively expansionist CCM returns to the well, with demands to gobble up more and more parkland as it continues to grow?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gigi Pritzker crawls into Richard M. Daley's gutter

The Pritzker family has been the bedrock of Chicago philanthropy. To mention just two of their countless contributions, they established the Pritzker Prize, which has become architecture's Nobel, honoring one great artist each year. If if weren't for Cindy Pritzker, Millennium Park would be the amiable mediocrity Mayor Richard M. Daley was willing to settle for. Instead, by recruiting Frank Gehry to design the spectacular Pritzker Pavilion bandshell, Pritzker set the park on the path to becoming a world-class sensation.

The Pritzkers are used to being the good guys. They're also accustomed to getting whatever they want. We are now seeing what happens when they don't. Chicago Children's Museum Board President Gigi Pritzker has signed on to the ugly, race-baiting campaign, engineered by Mayor Daley (is that Frank Kruesi in the shadows?) to demonize opponents of the museum's move to Grant Park. The Sun-Times headline says it all: Board chief: Museum opposition is racial.

"The thing that's sad," she told the Sun-Times, "is the loudest voices - it doesn't mean the whole community - seem to have the component to them." The tears that Pritzker is shedding are, of course, crocodile tears. Race-baiting is what the museum, whose campaign was falling flat when confined to the actual merits of its proposal, now sees as its ticket to victory.

And the Sun-Times is only too happy to help. How ironic that it's the Chicago Tribune, the voice of reaction, that's fighting for Grant Park's survival, while the scrappier Sun-Times, which just recently declared independence from the dark legacy of Conrad Black and a return to its original progressive roots, has not only been completely silent on Mayor Richard M. Daley's gutter-politic rants, but has been channeling the most sensational charges, without question or analysis, straight to its front page as a ploy for goosing flagging circulation. (The Sun-Times' own readers, however, aren't buying it. A poll of over 3,000 of them had 74% taking the opinion that opposition to the museum was not a racial issue.)

[POSTSCRIPT: on Friday, September 21st, the Sun-Times finally came out swinging, first with a strongly reasoned editorial opposing the museum, and contributions from Mark Brown, Neil Steinberg, Delia O'Hara and Mark Konkol that pretty much demolish every vicious charge and and specious claim put forth by the mayor and the museum. More on this later]

On a Thursday appearance on WTTW's Chicago Tonight, host Phil Ponce pressed Gigi Pritzker to substantiate her claims of the museums opponents' racism.

What did she have? The same useful dolt that St. Sabina's Father Matthew Pfleger has been trotting out repeatedly to support his own claims of racism. Oh, and she pointed to the very vocal anger of museum opponents at a September 10th meeting at Daley Bicentennial Fieldhouse.

Remember? That's the one where the museum hijacked a community meeting called by 42nd ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, cutting in line to fill up the auditorium and forcing the invited neighborhood residents into side hallways where they couldn't see or or be seen in the proceedings. And yes, they allowed themselves to get a bit rowdy at first, before quieting down as they strained to hear the speakers, with periodic bursts of spirited, mostly good-natured heckling.

So, stack the hall, throw neighborhood residents out of their own meeting - Pritzker has no problem with that. But when they don't take it laying down, raise your nose high in the air, point your finger, and declaim, "Shame, shame." It's the classic gutter politics maneuver - you get to maul, but your opponents must react as pacifists.

Here's something that is sad, perhaps even tragic: a great Chicago family that has become so obsessed with winning that its willing to trash a deep reservoir of good will, earned over decades, for a specious campaign cynically conceived to inflame racial tensions as a tactic to divert attention from discussion of the real issue: a private institution seeking to replace open, free public space with 100,000 square feet of new construction with an $8.00 admission charge.

Memo to Gigi Pritzker: if you really, as you keep saying, want to refocus the debate over the museum to the real issues and not make it all about race, stop talking nonstop about race.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Grace, Found in a Peat Bog, Turns her Back on Dirty Sexy Money

Last month, in Heritage Green Park, at Adams and Des Plaines just east of Old St. Pat's Church, there was a dedication of a new sculpture, Grainne, presented to Chicago by its sister city of Galway, Ireland. Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley joined with his Galway counterpart, Tom Costello, for the August 21st ceremony.

Irish sculptor Maurice Harron won a competition to create Grainne ("grace" in Gaelic), who symbolizes, in the words of the city's press release, "the traditional Gaelic society before it dramatically changed in the 1600’s and is inspired by an archeological finding of a young girl preserved in a peat bog. Pre-historic European sculptures of women were depicted with the left hand raised while those of men used the right hand, thought to be a gesture of blessing. The base of the sculpture is derived from the famous Turoe Stone, a Celtic pagan monument from County Galway, dating from the time of Christ. "

Heritage Green, reclaimed from a surface parking lot, was envisioned by the 2003 Chicago Central Area Plan as a major park for the new West Side, with tall trees and crisscrossed walkways.
Currently, it's a simple sea of grass, a welcome emerald patch of respite amidst the overbuilt high-rise bog rising all around it. Grainne currently stands in the shadow of a huge elevated billboard advertising a news ABC series celebrating "the absurdly wealthy and powerful." Clearly, she's found the right place to shed her grace.

Postscript: And speaking of peat bogs, the National Geographic has this article, with a number of photos, on the work of Robert Clark in photographing the eerily preserved 2,000-year-old bodies (Mel Brooks not among them) found in European peat bogs. See it here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why is the Chicago Children's Museum Withholding Renderings of its New Building?

On WTTW tonight, there was another discussion on the proposed move of CCM to Grant Park, and once again the only visuals were bird's eye aerial views or wide-angle sections. Yet at the community meeting on Monday, September 10th, architect Mark Sexton included in his presentation a number of closer-in views of the large central courtyard and soaring skylights.

None of these renderings were made available to the Chicago Reader for my article published last week. None of them have appeared in the major Chicago dailies. It's just the same wide-angle drawings, recycled again and again.

What are you hiding, Mr. Law? Are you refusing to release these renderings because you know they will undercut your arguments on the minimal impact of the building on the park? Are you afraid they might turn opinion against you?

Stop hiding your building, Mr. Law. Release ALL the renderings that were displayed in Mark Sexton's presentation. Let the public decide.

Daley the Demagogue

From Merriam-Webster - Demagogue: a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.
In his Tuesday rants against 42nd alderman Brendan Reilly's opposition to the Chicago Children's Museum building a 100,000-square-foot facility in Grant Park, Mayor Richard M. Daley raged at Reilly's characterization of Grant Park as "not a kid's park." It became almost a mantra, "Not a kid's park?, "Not a kid's park?!" he repeated, again and again, incredulous anger rising each time.

Except, as Greg Hinz reports in Crain's Chicago Business, "The mayor’s press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, conceded afterward that the latter remark may have been based on bad information."

In other words, it's a lie. A lie that the mayor just goes on repeating, because he thinks it has legs. Just like the lie about all the opponents to the museum having racist motives. He knows it's a lie, but it doesn't matter. It's always worked in the past.

Stop hiding behind generalities, Mr. Mayor. Exactly who are you calling a racist? Name names. Do you think I'm a racist? Blair Kamin? The Chicago Tribune's editorial board? Is New Eastside Association of Neighbors' Richard F. Ward a racist, Mr. Mayor? Name names and let the public decide whether they agree with your characterizations.

And now, the Mayor calls on all the leaders of Chicago - businessmen, community leaders, the ministers - to rise up with him in revolt against Brendan Reilly's war against children and minorities. The unstated, underlying message in Daley's bullying is clear: get behind me on this, or suffer the consequences.

As quoted in the Sun-Times, the Mayor now talks about the battle over the museum as if were a civic Armageddon . . . "a fight for the future of this city . . . If you lose this one, you lose the strength of our city . . " How poor and weak a thing is this Chicago that Daley has given us, that a single mayoral defeat can send it collapsing into an impotent gelatinous goo.

FUD - Mayor Richard M. Daley is a master.

Let's be clear. This is not about "the children." It is not a fight for racial justice. It's about raw political power, and the Mayor's insatiable hunger to maintain a monopoly of it within the city he governs. To Greg Hinz, a sharp observer who knows city politics inside and out, the real issue behind Daley's blustering smokescreen is no mystery "At stake is Mr. Daley’s ability to steamroll any local opposition to venues for the proposed 2016 Olympics."

Postscript: The Sun-Time's Fran Spielman, with Greg Hinz among the city's most indispensable journalists, has a compelling story indicating that Mayor's plan to override Reilly's aldermanic prerogative in vetoing the museum could run into stiff resistance in the City Council. Aldermen as diverse as the 50th ward's Bernie Stone, the 2nd's newly elected Bob Fioretti, and even the 21'st Howard Brookins, who saw his own aldermanic prerogative overridden when he pushed for a Wal-Mart in his ward three ago, expressed grave reservations about upending a tradition that has been a major source of their effectiveness. Savvy politicians all, they realize it would set a precedent that would open the door to the Mayor usurping and eroding the powers aldermen depend on in running their wards.

Alderman Brendan Reilly's statement on the Chicago's Children Museum

Reilly: Grant Park Should Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free

Allowing Children's Museum to Build in Grant Park
Would Set Dangerous Precedent

Chicago - Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) today announced his opposition to a proposal by the Chicago Children's Museum to build a new 100,000 square-foot facility in Grant Park. Reilly made his announcement following a three-month public process structured to allow the Children's Museum to present their plans and to facilitate public input. Recognizing that Grant Park belongs to the residents of the city of Chicago, Alderman Reilly acknowledged that his decision impacts the entire city of Chicago and not just neighborhood residents or his downtown constituents.

According to Reilly:

"Grant Park belongs to all residents of Chicago and, thanks to Montgomery Ward's vigilance, Grant Park has remained protected open-space for 171 years and is now one of our city's most precious public assets. There is only one Grant Park and it should remain forever open, clear and free for future generations, from every corner of Chicago, to enjoy for many years to come."

"Grant Park has been one of Chicago's most precious resources for 171 years. The Chicago Children's Museum is not the first private tourist attraction to try to build on Grant Park. Over the past 150 years, dozens of private buildings have been proposed for Grant Park. If exceptions had been allowed for those private developments, there would be no open space left on Grant Park today and we wouldn't even be having this debate."

"This debate is about the future of Grant Park and whether we should abandon our 171 year commitment to preserving this park as an open space for all residents of the city of Chicago to enjoy. Allowing the Children's Museum to build on Grant Park would set a dangerous precedent and open the flood-gates for other private developers to lobby for their own locations on Grant Park. I agreed with the Chicago Tribune's recent editorial against new building in Grant Park when they opined 'saying no to a Children's Museum today empowers Chicago to keep saying no for eons of tomorrows.'"

Reilly says he is prepared take whatever steps are necessary to preserve and protect Grant Park from the Children's Museum proposal and any future building proposals.

"Just as previous generations fought to protect Grant Park for our generation, I believe it is our generation's responsibility to protect Grant Park for the benefit of future generations - for all Chicagoans from every corner of the city. I will not bow to political pressure in this effort, because I refuse to ignore Grant Park's 171 years of history as a specially protected open space."

"Back in his day, Montgomery Ward incurred the wrath of an angry Chicago City Council that claimed his fight to preserve public open space and to protect Grant Park was impeding 'economic progress' for the city of Chicago. In fact, one alderman went so far as to say the 'downtown lakefront is no place for a park - it should be used to bring revenue to the city.' Thankfully, the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed and now more than a century later, the people of Chicago are still able to enjoy the beautiful open space that is our beloved Grant Park."

Daniel Burnham, 1909:

"The lakefront by right belongs to the people. It affords their one great unobstructed view, stretching away to the horizon, where water and clouds seem to meet Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated by individuals to the exclusion of the people. On the contrary, everything possible should be done to enhance its natural beauties, thus fitting it for the part it has to play in the life of the whole city. It should be made so alluring that it will become the fixed habit of the people to seek its restful presence at every opportunity."

Related Phone Numbers

Children's Museum Supporters:

Chicago Children's Museum, Peter England, 312-527-1000
Mayor Richard Daley, 312-744-3300
Grant Park Conservancy, Bob O'Neill, 312-829-8015

Grant Park Supporters:

Alderman Brendan Reilly, 312-642-4242
Friends of Daley-Bi, John & Peggy Feigel,
Friends of Downtown, 312-548-9454
NEAR (New Eastside Association of Residents), Richard Ward,

Reilly opposes Museum, risks ruin. Daley diverts discussion and grabs headlines with the Big Lie

42nd ward Brendan Reilly this morning announced his opposition to the move of the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park. Crain's Chicago Business quoted his statement:

"There is only one Grant Park and it should remain forever open, clear and free for future generations, from every corner of Chicago, to enjoy for many years to come,. . . I believe that supporting the Children’s Museum proposal to build on Grant Park would set a dangerous precedent that would open the floodgates for other entities to lobby for their own locations on Grant Park."

Now we get to watch as Mayor Richard M. Daley works to destroy him. Daley has already said he will work to suspend the long tradition of an aldermanic veto over proposed projects in his or her ward in order to ram the museum through the City Council.

Because Chicago media allows him to get away with it, the Mayor is again turning to his weapon of choice - charging opponents with racism, with St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger gleefully abetting the slander.

The mayor is a seasoned expert at diverting attention from the merits of the issue - whether it be the museum proposal, Wal-Mart expansion, or the pandemic corruption within his administration - by making sensational, headline-grabbing accusations against his opponents. It works.

It doesn't matter that the accusations are without foundation. The Sun-Times quotes Pfleger as encountering a museum opponent who asked him why the museum wasn't being moved to a black park on the south side. "I said, 'That is a racial comment. Our conversation is over. Please walk away from me.' Was Pfleger the least bit curious as to whether that person was representative of the people opposing the museum? Of course not. He got what he wanted and moved on.

I've attended - and made recordings - of several of the Grant Park Advisory Council's public meetings on the museum debate and I challenge anyone to find any statement made by anyone that can be considered racist. Blair Kamin has expressed concerns about the museum. Is he a racist? Am I?

Both the Mayor and the Pfleger have been to Millennium Park, and they've both seen children of all races and nationalities playing together in Crown Fountain. Yet they persist in pushing the big lie, because, as masters of gutter politics, they know how effective it can be.

In taking his courageous stand, Brendan Reilly has crossed the Rubicon. If the story of A. Montgomery Ward is any guide, the battle will only get uglier, and the alderman stands to become a very lonely man. Daley will be looking for Reilly's head to be brought to him in a basket (to mix Roman metaphors), and if the past is any indication, there's already a fierce battle underway among his courtiers to be the ones to do it.

Carol Ross Barney, on video for AIC oral history, at IIT in person Wednesday night

The Graham Foundation has restarted the Art Institute of Chicago's invaluable Chicago Architects Oral History Project with three new interviews of female architects "coordinated in conjunction with Chicago Women in Architecture."

New on-line is Deborah Burkhart's April, 2006 interview of master architect Carol Ross Barney, whose work, both in Chicago, and in the award-winning Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City has won international recognition, and resulted in the architect winning AIA's 2005 Thomas Jefferson Award.

Not only is there the usual transcript, in Adobe Acrobat format, but it's among the first to also to be videotaped, with five extended excerpts available on the history's webpage. (Videos are also included on new oral histories of architects Gertrude Lempp Kerbis and Cynthia Weese.) The vocal inflections and physical mannerisms of the subjects reveal the subjects' personalities in a way that words on a printed page cannot, taking the interviews to a deeper, more expressive level.

The wide-ranging interview depicts the way Ross Barney's Catholic upbringing shaped her moral and world view, leading her to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica. She discusses how her years at Holabird and Root established relationships that would help her land her first clients when she opened her own practice, now Ross Barney Architects, in 1981.

Ross Barney definitely considers herself a Chicago architect. "As far as being about Chicago, I'm very rooted to this place. I spend my entire life within ten minutes of my birthplace. I was born in Grant Hospital. I was baptized at St. John Cantius Church. They're both about ten minutes from here. So, I feel rooted here. In the early years of my practice, when I'd get a
commission - even ones that are pretty well-known, like Cesar Chavez [Multicultural Academic Center] or Little Village Academy—I didn't spend much time researching about the place because it was my place and I knew it almost instinctually." That all changed when she won the commission for the Oklahoma City Federal Building that replaced the Alfred P. Murrah Building, destroyed by a car bomb in 1995 in what was then the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

Ross Barney also talks about the founding of Chicago Women in Architecture, and ends with the discussion of a design for a new Federal Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which was deep-sixed by the district's influential Congresswoman. Ross Barney's transcript, at only 58 pages, is one of the shorter interviews on the Oral History website, but in architects' years, the Lady in Black is still little more than a pup, with a long future of great projects hopefully still before her.

This Wednesday, September 19th, at 6:00 Ross Barney will be appearing in McCloska Auditorium of Rem Koolhaas's McCormick Tribune Campus Center, 3201 S. State, at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she is a visiting professor. Her lecture is titled Material Investigations. Perhaps she'll touch on such recent projects as the Yellow Stair, a redesign of one of those famous stairwells at the Museum of Science and Industry, a new public library in Champaign, and her synagogue for Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, designed to attain LEED Platinum status.

You can read Ross Barney's oral history - and see the videos - here.
You can read my 2004 interview with her here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Daley Plays the Race Card on CCM

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is probably the closest thing this country has to an elected monarch, and he gets testy when the peasants have the temerity to question his judgement.

On Moday, in one of his patented incoherent angry rants he followed the lead of St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger in branding opponents of the move of the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park as not only child-haters, but racists.

A year ago, the residents of the New East Side were pillars of the community, pioneers in bringing back downtown living. Now that they've stepped out of line and refused to swallow the lies and evasions coming out of his administration, they've become, almost overnight, the scum of the earth: senile oldsters, enemies to progress, serial haters of blacks, Latinos and children.

If the Mayor actually believed this, he'd be a fool. Richard M. Daley is no fool. He rules from atop a machine built from equal parts sweet inducements and gutter politics. Play the sycophant, don't get in the way, and your minor indiscretions will be humored. Show a backbone, however, and you'll be instantly surrounded by hoards of flunkies competing to break it - and you. In the words that David Mamet wrote for Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables, "that's . . . the Chicago way."

When, along with the museum's supporters, he keeps repeating the mantra that "Grant Park belongs to the people of the city of Chicago," what he really means is let's dilute the strength of the large majority of people in the immediate area who passionately oppose the new building by claiming the support of the residents in outlying areas who, not having a strong opinion one way or the other, are unlikely to contradict us.

It follows the pattern of the community meeting last Monday hijacked by museum supporters. The museum's Jim Law responded to the 85% disapproval rate of the museum building by the residents attending the community meetings by sneering that they represented only 6% of the total resident population. Mayor Daley won re-election last February in a landslide that saw only 11% of the city's residents voting for him. Would Law say that Daley's election was invalid, as well?

No one has surveyed the people of Chicago about the best uses for Grant Park, and the Daley administration, of course, is not interested in doing so in any even-handed fashion. When the Mayor says Grant Park belongs to all the people, what he's really saying is that it's his personal possession, to do with what he pleases, and he's getting very annoyed by the people who aren't falling into line.

The battle has turned ugly because the Mayor has seen the possibility of losing. He's like a cornered porcupine, shooting off quills in desperate abandon. It's worked for him up until now, but there's always a first time.

Forever Open, Clear and Free (except when it comes to me)

The Chicago Children's Museum wants to build a new 100,000-square-foot home in the same Grant Park where, a century ago, A. Montgomery Ward fought a long, bruising, and ultimately successful battle to enforce a 1836 mandate that Chicago’s lakefront public ground be kept “a common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstruction whatever.” They're flexing their clout and reviving the playbook of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley's vaunted political machine to make sure nothing gets in their way, but community groups and open space activists aren't co-operating. Read a blow-by-blow account of the battle over the new building, complete with renderings and photos, here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

OWP/P Environmental Awareness lectures, CNU IL Conference, Pecha Kucha2 - additions to September calendar

Monday at noon Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Council will be the leadoff lecturer for OWP/P's 6th Annual Environmental Awareness Week. Henderson will be followed on Tuesday by a presentation by Heifer International, John Andersen of the Nature Conservancy on Wednesday, a discussion on grasslands by the U of C's Justin Borevitz on Thursday, and concludes Friday with a panel discussion on the benefits of natural open land, including the Wetlands Initiative, Openlandss and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. All events are scheduled to run from noon to 1:30 P.M., and will take place at OWP/P's offices at 111 West Washington, conference room 22c. RSVP required.

Elsewhere, the Congress for New Urbanism, Illinois Chapter, will be holding its first annual statewide conference in Wheaton on Friday, September 28th, with Doug Farr and Susan Mudd discussing LEED for neighborhood development among the presentations.

And then there's Pecha Kucha2, at Martyr's on Lincoln Tuesday night, September 25th, the speed presentation event in which everyone gets slightly under 7 minutes to present 20 slides - for 20 seconds each - to cover whatever they want to talk about. Those scheduled this month include architects Deborah Kang and Anders Nereim.

This week also sees lectures by Carol Ross Barney and Gordon Gill, and the unveiling of Landmarks Illinois 2008 Watchlist. Check out the entire September calendar here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Farnsworth Saved From Drowning - Documentary Debuts Tonight

By now you've probably read how Mies van der Rohe's masterpiece, the Farnsworth House, narrowly escaped major damage from Fox River flooding following the polite August monsoons that dumped over nine inches of rain in the Chicago area. Trib architecture critic Blair Kamin writes about it here.

Tonight, Thursday, September 13th, at 8:00, WTTW, Channel 11 will debut a new documentary, Saved from the Wrecking Ball: The Farnsworth House, that describes the building's previous major trauma, the battle to keep the house open to the public after long-time owner Sir Peter Palumbo put it to auction in 2003. Amidst fears it could be sold to a private buyer who might cut it up and cart it off for re-assembly far away from its spectacular Plano, Illinois site. Farnsworth was ultimately acquired for $7,500,000 by a group of preservationists that included The National Trust for Historic Preservation and what is now Landmarks Illinois. I wrote extensively about the battle here.

The new documentary is hosted by WTTW's omnipresent Geoffrey Baer, and is said to also tell the story of Mies's ultimately soured relationship with client - and rumored lover - Dr. Edith Farnsworth, which was also the subject of June Finfer's acclaimed play, The Glass House.

WTTW will show the documentary again on Sunday, September 16th at 2:30 a.m. (?!), and is finding its way onto the schedules of other public television stations across the country.

Read our version of the Farnsworth House story here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Emerging Chicago Architecture on CAF October 6 tour

Chicago Architecture Foundation docent Nancy Cook and tour director reminds us that this year's Emerging Chicago Architecture tour is coming up on October 6th. It's a great opportunity to not only see some of Chicago's best new buildings, but also actually have the architects on hand to talk to you about them.

This year's event will begin at CAF, with a talk by Stanley Tigerman before setting forth for a tour of his new building for the Pacific Garden Mission, followed by stops at Rancho Verde/Christy Webber with architect Doug Farr, and a stop at the Center on Halsted with Gensler's Elva Rubio. A walkaround of Helmut Jahn's new SRO on Clybourn, sans architect, and projects by Miller/Hull and LCM Architects finish up the 4-hour event.

For a highly reasonable 45 bucks ($40.00 for CAF members) you can guaranteee yourself a spot on the bus. (Bring your own sack lunch, and purchase your reservation on-line at the CAF's website, via Ticketmaster, complete with that monopoly's accustomed unreasonable service charge, in this case $5.75.)

More information available on-line.

Monday, September 10, 2007

No Escape(s) for The Palmer House

Roving correspondant and habitual shutterbug, engineer Bob Johnson, gives us these shots of the continuing restoration of the facades of Holabird and Roche's 1925 Palmer House, in this case of the removal of the first of three massive fire escapes and screens, re-establishing the continuity of the facade's long row of tall window groupings. Here's hoping they also restore the original window frame design and pediment of the newly re-exposed center window sets, as well.

Last year, Preservation Chicago led a successful charge to block concessions made by a typically pliant Commission on Chicago Landmarks, during landmarking negotiations for the building, that would have allowed developer Thor Equities to destroy the original limestone facade on the first two stories and replace it with a decidedly non-contributing steel and glass "modernization." The Commission's lack of backbone still failed to protect the hotel's great block-long arcade, whose width is being decimated in an effort to increase ground floor space, an economically suspect strategy since most of it will be deep within the building's interior.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Tigerman, Wimer, Kerwin and the 2016 Olympics - late additions to the September calendar

This Monday at 6 P.M., you can hear Stanley Tigerman, whose new building for the Pacific Garden Mission is set to debut next month, give a lecture at School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where at the same time two weeks later, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's Ross Wimer will also lecture. And if you're lucky, you may still may be able to get a reservation for this Tuesday's dinner talk for the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois by SOM's Tom Kerwin, on the topic of planning for the proposed 2016 Chicago summer Olympics.

And don't forget that this coming Saturday, September 15th, you'll have a rare chance to tour Gordon Bunshaft's Building 42, Hostess House, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, one of 25 finalists in the American Express Partners in Preservation competition, which pits landmarks against each other in quest of funding dollars.

These events are among nearly 40 individual items on the September calendar. Check them all out here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Addio Luciano

When I think of Luciano Pavarotti, I often remember the commercial he made, pre-superstar phase, for American Express, part of its legendary "Do you know me?" campaign. "When I sing Tosca," the ebullient tenor says to the camera, "they shout, 'Bravo! Bravo', but when I check into a hotel, they say, "Who? Who?" If you didn't know him, you immediately wanted to. His warm, engaging personality - which, along with an outsize talent, would soon make him one the most famous people on the face of the earth - leapt off the small screen.

Especially in his later years, it was fun to make fun of Pavarotti, of his massive, demobilizing girth, his constant cancellations, and his barnstorming Three Tenors stadium tours. Now he's gone, and all that melts away. There's only his many great recordings, and the memories of that pure, flawless voice and his timeless artistry.

As might be expected, OperaChic offers up a wonderful, wide-ranging tribute, bringing together comments from his colleagues, her own cogent explanation of his fabled diction, and several videos. See, and - most importantly - hear it all here.

On another troubling note, the New York Times is reporting that the great conductor Claudio Abbado, battling undisclosed health problems, has cancelled all upcoming concerts in the near future, including a return to Carnegie Hall next month.

Once More into the Breach for Marshall Field's Protesters

Saturday, September 9th will mark the one year anniversary of the end of Chicago's legendary Marshall Field's department store and its rebranding as the local Macy's outlet. A group called Fields Fans Chicago will again be gathering, from 1 to 2:30 P.M., under the store's great clocks to protest the change. The group's has a great website that's definitely worth checking out.

The group claims to have distributed over 60,000 leaflets, 63,000 label buttons, and thousands of "Field's Is Chicago/Boycott Macy's" bumper stickers in support of its cause. It cites its continuing boycott of the store as contributing to a 77% drop in profits for the Macy's chain last quarter.

"As we continue our grassroots efforts to bring back Marshall Field's in all its glory," the group's announcement reads, "it is good to keep in mind that in corporate America, anything can happen. After seven years as part of Daimler, Chrysler is again an independent American auto company. 'AT&T' became 'Cingular' only to reverse course back to 'AT&T.' "

Unfortunately, these examples don't exactly present optimistic harbingers. Chrysler is a deeply-troubled company in a deeply-troubled industry, which Daimler was dropping like a hot potato before it could inflict even more damage on its parents finances, and the rebranding of Cingular as AT&T comes from the same kind of global consolidation that resulted in Macy's replacing the Fields name. The only valid example mentioned by the group, the triumph of Classic over New Coke, remains notorious because it represents an extremely rare exception to overall trends.

And that's the key issue. The former Marshall Field's biggest problem is not the name change - although that monumentally stupid move managed to wipe out a century of valuable brand equity overnight - but the fact that while, in in their heyday, the great department stores like Field's and Bullocks and Filenes were all about uniqueness, in today's supply chain economy, it's all about sameness and standardization. It's not about building a business, it's about wringing every last profit from being the last and biggest dinosaur in an industry that is struggling to justify its continued existence.

You only have to look at Macy's latest move to market itself through a series of celebrity endorsers that is said to include Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and Jessica Simpson. What, exactly, do these people have in common other than being famous for being famous, and what, exactly do they have to do with building a department store brand? The answer, of course, is very little.

The resort to celebrity endorsers is most often a mark of desperation. A quick high, bereft of nutrition, followed by a long, painful withdrawal. In the rare cases where they're used well, with a logical and compelling relationship to the brand they're promoting, celebrity endorsers can be enormously effective. When merely slathered on like cheap perfume, however - as is the case with the Macy's campaign - they're simply marketing smack.

I am in total sympathy with the protesters and wish them only the best, but without a bold and radical rethinking of what a large city's flagship department store should be, and how what made it exciting and seductive can be translated effectively into the realities and possibilities of today's markets, reinstating the Marshall Fields name won't help much. The nightmare scenario is the recent closing of the century-old Carson Pirie Scott flagship, designed by Louis Sullivan. Corrosively unsentimental, Macy's could just decide that their massive State Street property is worth more as marketable real estate than as a department store, which would be a real, but completely plausible, tragedy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September 17th deadline for shaking money out of the Graham - Why is their website so bad?

The Graham Foundation has sent out a reminder that September 17th is the deadline for individuals to submit an inquiry form for 2008 grant funding. This year, the Graham awarded seven grants to individuals and 13 to organizations (the inquiry deadline for organizations is February 28, 2008), totaling over $250,000. More information, including an on-line inquiry form, can be found on the Graham Foundation's website.

The foundation makes "project-based grants to individuals and organizations and produces public programs to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society." It makes its home in Schmidt and Garden's turn-of-the-century Madlener House.

With the 2006 appointment of new director Sarah Herda, the Graham appears to undergoing something of a retrenchment. Its last public lecture or exhibition was back in October of that year. The foundation's website has become spartan veering towards the inscrutable. The "programs" page has a single item, "H_edge - ARUP Advanced Geometry Unit/Cecil Balmond" for October, with no indication of whether it's an exhibition or lecture, or any further details.

It wasn't long ago that the Graham seemed to be getting the hang of the web, and was actually posting streaming videos of its lectures, making them more readily available to the public. On the evidence of its current web presence, however, it's backward march, full-force. The design is clumsy and unattractive, and the navigation is non-intuitive. (The home page is now the grants page.) Unless they're hidden in some secret nook, those videos seem to have entirely disappeared. One can understand if the Graham has decided to re-orient its priorities, but the current website is a misshapen embarrassment.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Carol Ross Barney, the two Gordon's - Gill and Bunshaft, Preservation Chicago's 07 Benefit at Opera Lofts, Landmarks Illinois Chicagoland Watch List

Ah, a perfect Labor Day weekend, cooking on the grill, tossing frisbees, relaxing hours lazily basking on the beach . . .

The Chicago architectural scene has sprung back into action big-time, with over three dozen events. You can tell things are heating up when Gordon Gill, Carol Ross Barney and Nathan Kipnis are all giving talks on the exact same evening at competing venues.

Preservation Chicago is holding its 2007 benefit at the Opera Lofts. There's an open house at Gorden Bunshanft's Hostess House at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and a rare opportunity to tour Eliel and Eero Saarinen's Crow Island School in Winnetka. Historian Bill Tyre talks on the history of Prairie Avenue, Charles Leeks discusses the Chicago Historic Greystones Initiative at APA. There's an update on progress at Adler & Sullivan's Pilgrim Baptist Church, and a book signing at CAF by Lisa D. Shrenk's for her new volume on building the Century of Progress Exhibition.

Landmarks Illinois unveils its 2008 most endangered Chicagoland Watch List. Mario Gooden and Charles Waldheim lecture at IIT. But wait - there's more! We're too lazy to put the links in this posting, but you can check out the entire September calendar for yourself here.