Monday, May 12, 2008

Chicago Children's Museum - Spaghetti Bowl East?

This is the underside of the "Spaghetti Bowl", a/k/a the Circle Interchange of highway ramps along Congress between Halsted Street and the old Main Post Office:
. . . and this is a just released rendering of the design the Chicago Children's Museum is seeking to clout into Grant Park. (You can see three new renderings released by the museum Monday on Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin's The Skyline blog, here.)
Kind of reminds you of an updated version of the covered walkways at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus that ultimately proved so unpopular they were demolished in the 1990's.

What is now a berm housing the current Daley Bicentennial fieldhouse, fully landscaped and gently sloping down from Upper Randolph to the park level, with twin ramps gracefully providing access to the park from both the northeast and northwest corners of the site . . .
becomes, in CCM's dispiriting proposal, a convoluted switchback profusion of ramps.
Undoubtedly, the spin doctors at CCM have taken out their tape measures to be able to claim that their new design has just as much green space as the current configuration, but a quick visual comparison . . .
. . . shows that the footprint of CCM's latest design (bottom) cuts a much larger swatch through the park. Just as importantly, much of the surviving green space is sliced and diced into thin, useless strips, isolated islands, and cul de sac dead ends.

You begin to understand why the museum has, until recently, assiduously withheld renderings of their design. Each new drawing, intended to show how the project is responding to critics and getting better and better, only winds up making the thing look worse and worse.

On Monday, the museum trotted out another manufactured committee, this time of educators, in support of their proposals. It appears that Board of Education employees were given paid time off to appear at the press conference.

In contrast to the ad hoc astroturf groups that will disappear the moment the Children's Museum issue is resolved, the list of the real, standing organizations opposing the Museum - those with ongoing memberships, boards, and long, distinguished histories - grew again on Monday, adding the voice of the Metropolitan Planning Council:
We deserve better than being presented with the proposal to relocate the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park as a fait accompli without the benefit of a thoughtful planning process which would have added clarity and provided answers to many of the issues circling this controversial proposal. In the absence of those answers and a public planning process, we cannot support this plan.
The paragraph came at the end of a letter signed by Lee Mitchell, Chairman of the MPC Board of Governors, and by President Mary Sue Barrett, a former Daley administration official. The Children's Museum proposal goes before the Chicago Plan Commission, this Thursday, May 15th.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think the people pushing this realize how comtemptible they are.

Anonymous said...

Well said.........we and the Children's museum deserve better!
We expect better from those involved in the planning process.

jack said...

Mr. Becker....do you not realize that you have become somewhat of a joke as a critic with postings such as this within the architectural community? You can certainly have an opinion on the precedence and legal issues surrounding the CCM proposal, but to somehow claim that the Krueck + Sexton proposal with its' ADA accessible ramp is significantly inferior aesthetically to the inaccessible existing conditions is simply ludicrous.

Comparing an interior rendering to photos of exterior space? It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad....

Lynn Becker said...

No, Jack, I would suggest that it's you guys who are becoming a joke in persisting in not seeing what pretty much every other independent voice - i.e., not controlled by City Hall - has come to see: that this is a bad idea, in the wrong place, executed in the wrong way.

So what's your excuse going to be this time? Please don't keep us waiting in telling us how the prestigious Metropolitan Planning Council, headed by a former Daley administration official, doesn't deserve to be heard.

ADA accessible does not have to mean a byzantine carving up of parkland. The current ramps to Daley BiCentennial descend gracefuly. The proposed ramps are simply a set of intestines plopped down on the site. And although the rendering I included is set in an interior, it clearly shows how inept and inappropriate the ramp design outside and above is.

Ryan said...

As a member of the architectural community I have not heard any jokes about Mr. Becker, nor have I heard any negative comments regarding his criticism of this project.
I'd guess that Mr Becker does not realize his supposed joke status, but that's just my supposition.

jack said...

Even your cohort in trying to whip up attention for your blogs, Blair Kamin, has conceded that the architecture can no longer be considered an issue due to its deft handling by the almost universally acclaimed architects....

Now as far as your critical abilities, clearly they are lacking....an accessible pedestrian ramp (Mr. Becker, no matter how 'graceful' you think the existing ramps are, they are NOT accessible) zig-zaggin in front of a wall of windows, activating both interior and exterior spaces is clearly an intriguing architectural idea....

Clearly, the zealots such as yourself should focus on the legal and stop making fools of yourselfs with regard to the so-called architectural reviews

Lynn Becker said...

Hey, Jack, show us some of your buildings and we'll see how well grounded your own critiques are.

jack again said...

Mr. Becker, I would be glad to...they include buildings in downtown Chicago and throughout the States and a couple overseas and are office buildings, condos, apartments, schools and labs. I think the greater point to be made here, however, one in which I think you should be very sympathetic to, is not what my skills as a designer are, but rather what my or anyone's skills are as a critic. Obviously, one does not have to 'do' to critique.

Now, I have spent time teaching and critiquing at Harvard’s GSD, U of I Champaign, and the University of Cincinnati and I am a regular teacher and critic at UIC and IIT. Those are my creds….now what about yours? Once again, based upon your criticism of Ron Krueck’s CCM proposal, you have a real problem with objectivity and with determining appropriate architectural precedence, not to mention a lack of understanding of basic design challenges such as ADA guidelines….

Anonymous said...

Even your cohort in trying to whip up attention for your blogs, Blair Kamin, has conceded that the architecture can no longer be considered an issue due to its deft handling by the almost universally acclaimed architects.

Apparently you read some different article by Mr. Kamin, for in the most recent piece linked to above in Mr. Becker's post - Kamin only says that architecture is not the "sole issue." And nowhere in it does he call the architecture "deft." I have yet to see anything from Kamin that does not criticize the architecture every bit as harshly as Becker.

jack once again said...

anonymous....the design changed and Blair wisely chose not only not to criticize it, but rather to extol the design skills of the architects....

I know Mr. Kamin does not support the project, but he does know when to stop himself from letting his criticisms fall into subjective absurdities...

Lynn Becker said...

Hey, Jack, you're the guy who has said everything is subjective, at least when it comes to the museum's opponents.

You still haven't given us an example of an actual building of yours, but I respect your anonymity. (Although, as I'm sure you'll agree, coming from Harvard is no guarantee of quality - hell, they once even published something I wrote.)

If the new mess o' ramps is all about ADA accessibility, why did it not appear in any of the previous designs? You and I both know it's really about finding something to stuff all the skylights under.

I'm very up front in my writings, but I never expect anyone to accept my opinions simply because I say so. You've repeatedly portrayed the current park as overrun with drug-pushers and the homeless. I say to my readers, go and check it out and judge for yourselves. I also publish, or provide links, to those drawings the museum has chosen to release, obviously because I think they support my arguments, but also so readers can look at them and judge for yourselves.

It's just struck me that there's one thing you've yet to do. You're very good at ignoring arguments that are irrefutable and sniping away at those where you think you can gain points. But you've never put yourself on the line to give us the benefit of telling us exactly why you think this latest, or in fact, any of the designs are good and worth building. I know it may be difficult when interior views are almost entirely non-existent, but go ahead and give it a shot. Then readers will be able to compare your erudition with my ignorance, and be able to judge for themselves.

jack finally said...

Well, Mr. Becker, you must have me confused with someone else, because the only thing I have ever characterized the existing condition is lacking of any architectural integrity. I believe the park is there for ALL of the city to use, and, indeed, the playground east of the site is quite heavily used. This playground, of course, will remain untouched by the CCM proposal.

The Children’s Museum program is basically just a dumb box. Like many museums, they want to maximize wall space, flex-space, and lighting conditions in order to maximize control over exhibits. Therefore, this program would seem to be unusually well-suited to the proposed Grant Park location. From what I can tell from the drawings including the plans, sections, elevations, and interior and exterior perspectives, Krueck and Sexton have done a remarkable job of opening up not only the museum to the park, but connecting upper Randolph with the park that covers the million square foot Monroe Street Underground Garage (all of which, interestingly enough from the Ward mandate, was built above existing grade at the time). Currently, the only way to access the park is along the two ‘graceful’, yet too-steep-for-wheelchairs ramps on either side of a concrete plaza along upper Randolph. The existing condition of the concrete plaza affords a beautiful view of the park beyond including Buckingham Fountain, but it is rarely used due to the fact the steep ramps are each about a block away. The CCM proposal will allow park visitors from Randolph to enter the park along this access via a winding ramp and a stair. The ramp appears to me that it will interact with the interiors of the museum in a bridge-like manner (as you have already conveniently pointed out) creating quite a interesting experience….not unlike the thrill everyone seems to enjoy crossing the Gehry bridge and the soon to be new Piano bridge landmark.

Added green space, removal and replacement of deteriorating and non-accessible field house, a design by one of the city’s most heralded architects, the chance for many more children from all over the city and beyond to enjoy Grant Park….what’s not to like? Again from an architectural point of view, I think the K+S design is noteworthy in not only the experiential connections it makes with Millennium Park, but in the way it integrates glass, landscape, and movement to transition from the park on top of the garage to upper Randolph while revealing somewhat of the truth that the entire park is in fact a building.

One final note, when I first heard of this latest redesign, I have to admit I was skeptical….I feared it would be a compromise that would benefit no one. I was happy to discover my fears were groundless….as with most of the complex projects I have been a part of, a good designer will use every opportunity, obstacle, new challenge, etc. to improve the design and I think the drawings clearly prove this. The current design appears to not only integrate the museum with the park flowing south better than any prior scheme, but it quite literally does not increase any profiles beyond that exist today. (Yes, the ‘towering’ entrance pavilion, while not now on park land, will be there, but any renovation of the garage and field house will require such a pavilion and the height will be necessary to accommodate current elevator standards. Regardless, the K+S pavilion will appear as a jewel particularly compared with the Excelon behemoths, and the Harris Theater precast block.)

So, what really is the problem? Is there really such a consensus city-wide that the K+S design is going to destroy Daley Bi? That strictly architecturally speaking, somehow all of the delight of the existing conditions, whatever that may be, will be lost forever?

Or rather, it is really about legal precedent, new users to the park, traffic fears, power and politics?

Lynn Becker said...

Jack, thanks for the very detailed response.

I'm probably going to try to put together one (last?) summary article for my website tonight. I'd like to try to get your analysis a little broader exposure than it will get in the comments section.

Would it be OK to incorporate - on a separate linked page if you prefer - the last three paragraphs of your last post as an expression of a positive view of the project and, if so, are there are any specific images you'd like me to include to accompany it?

thanks again for taking the time for putting together your thoughtful response.

jack in response said...

since it's your blog, and particularly due to the fact that I have remained somewhat anonymous, I would say you can do whatever you like with the my comments.....I would greatly appreciate that if you did edit, that only the first paragraph be removed and that none of the essential points gets lost...you know, editing that will minimize my looking too foolish ;-)

as far as images, I think the same ones you are already using in addition to the others that Mr. Kamin included on his blog....In my opinion, the latest proposed section displayed side-by-side with the existing section is very enlightening....

Anonymous said...

not a bad building when you think of concept.

but just a bad idea from the get-go to try and cram this into Grant park

Anonymous said...

They better not touch Cancer Survirvors Plaza. And what of the tennis courts, the mature trees, the native grass meadows? The ugly abomination of Mill Park is enough concrete and steel. And I can't help but wonder if the reason to move it from Navy Pier is to make way for a casino there. How will Lake Point Tower residents feel about that?

Anonymous said...

Where will the fresh air for the inside of the museum come from? The lower levels of Randolph are choked with deisel fumes from buses and trains. So will they have to have unsightly exhaust chimneys above grade?

Anonymous said...

The whole concept of a childrens museum seems kind of sick. Is this where we go to see what an 1890 vintage toddler looked like?