Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Impressionists: the End is Near! (For Now)

Chai Lee of the Art Institute recently sent us an email reminding us that this is the last week to view the museum's incomparable collection of Impressionist masterworks in the setting to which we've grown accustomed to seeing them for the past thirty years. After this Sunday, May 4th, a more benign local version of Colonel von Waldheim will be crating up all the canvasses and shipping them to Texas, where they'll be on display in the Kimball Museum's blockbuster exhibition, The Impressionists: Master Paintings From the Art Institute of Chicago, which will run from June 29th through November 2nd. A few old favorites, such as Seurat's La Grande Jette and Cezanne's Chiens Jouer au Poker will continue to hold down the fort awaiting their companions' return.

Other gallery renovations are already nearing completion. Some time in June, we'll see the new galleries for the museum's Department of Prints and Drawings, designed by wHY's Kulapat Yantrasast. (Check out the strange animation, which depicts what must be an architect's wet dream: perfect, white-walled galleries almost entirely unsullied by actual art.) Then in July, Renzo Piano's revamp of Gunsaulus Hall, aka "the bridge to the other side", is scheduled to be unveiled. Windows along the north side which had been bricked over since the 1930's will once again bring natural light into the galleries and provide "stunning views of Millennium Park", and of the urban theater of the Metra trainings passing below.

The AIC promises that all our old friends will be home for Christmas, - December 22nd, to be exact - but stop in by Sunday to wish them a bon voyage for their excursion into the realm of Louis Kahn.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Wrigley Company is Dead! Long Live the Wrigley Building!

Contrasting local presences: Left, Global Headquarters, William Wrigley Jr. Company, Michigan Avenue; Right, Metra Station serving Mars candy plant, west side of Chicago [Metra photo]
It may shock some people to learn that the 1921 Wrigley Building, arguably one of Chicago's half-dozen most recognizable buildings, has never been afforded official landmark protection. The argument has always been made that the Wrigley family, throughout the decades, has been a responsible steward for a structure that, like Marina City, has become a symbol for Chicago throughout the world.

And they have. Just as, for over a century, the William Wrigley Jr. Company has been a bedrock component of Chicago's economy and culture. But in today's hyper-volatile, hyper-scaled, aggressively globalized world, all that can change in a snap of the fingers.

And it just did. Only six years ago, in a failed attempt to acquire much larger Hershey Foods, Wrigley muffed its chance to be the fish that swallows, and on Monday became the fish that gets inhaled, agreeing to be acquired for $23 billion by Mars Inc.

As always in these things, all parties are insisting nothing much will change. Wrigley will retain a major autonomy in its operations and a strong Chicago presence. And that may be true. Less than three years ago, the company opened it news $45,000,000 Global Innovation Center on Goose Island, designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. Yet the lesson of corporate history is that companies seldom pay $23 billion for an asset without succumbing to the itch to tinker and streamline in search for the best possible return on its sizable investment.

So, while continuing to ascribe to Wrigley/Mars nothing but the best of intentions, the time has come to ask for a small token of good faith.

Even though, as a private company, Mars is insulated from the stock market's ruthless appetite for uninterrupted good news not just quarter to quarter by seemingly moment by moment, no corporation is immune to an economic ethos in which a beloved building, considered a prime asset for nearly ninety years, can devolve, almost overnight, into a redundant white elephant, suitable only for cashing out the value and purging it from the books.

The time to begin the landmarking process is now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Four from Artropolis 2008

Artropolis is on the scale of the kind of things Chicago used to do just to prove it could. The art show, which closes on Monday, takes up more than half a million square feet in the gigantic Merchandise Mart, and includes thousands of works from thousands of artists from all over globe, in no fewer than five different shows, from insider artists, to outsiders, to the undiscovered, and the antique. You could camp out at the Mart for every one of the 28 hours the show is open and still not do it justice. (But you wouldn't starve - there's a wide selection of often high-end food and drink.)

There were a large number of works that grabbed my attention, but I'll concentrate on just four with an architecture tie-in that caught my eye.

The Robert Koch Gallery is exhibiting the work of photographer Michael Wolf, whose work on exhibition at Artropolis includes the hyper-realist shot, shown above, of Marina City, which contrasts the rigid form of Bertrand Goldberg's towers with the intimations of humanity - visible clearly in the supersharp photo, reproduced in large scale - within the lighted units.

The Linda Durham Gallery of Contemporary Art of Santa Fe includes this photograph by Michael Eastman. Titled Fidel's Stairway, it's part of a series depicting architecture in Cuba. In contrasting one of dictator's proclamations with the decaying grandeur of the colonial-era staircase on whose wall it is inscribed, the photo manages to combine history, reportage, architecture and poetry all in one shot. Eastman's own website offers up a very generous gallery of his strikingly evocative work capturing architecture, from the monumental to the mundane, from both the U.S. and across the world.

The Priska C. Juschka Fine Art Gallery in New York City's Chelsea district is showing the work of Dana Melamed, the Israeli born artist, now living in New Jersey, who creates dense, three-dimensional surfaces "by dipping printing waste and film into acrylic and glue, torching and melting them, then drawing and scratching into the layers with a razor." Melamed says the destructive techniques reflect urban life, and especially on a day when I'm slightly overwhelmed by it, I'm not one to argue. The portfolio of her work, which you can sample here, has a hypnotic Piranesi-like complexity that reads city life through its decay and destruction. The detail shown here is from a 2007 work titled, When The Sky Turned Grey. What shows up here as flat is actually an intricately layered assemblage of materials. You can see a sequence of photographs of Melamed at work here.

Finally, at the Next show section of Artropolis (at the south end, right next to the food), Galerie Vernon is showing the mesmerizing work of Jakub Nepraš, a Czech artist who makes boldly colored, fantastical videos, such as his Babylon Plant, in which corpuscles that are actually - if I understand it correctly, moving vehicles and people - pulsate throughout the arteries of large, amorphous organisms.

Atropolis is open on Sunday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. If you can find a way to play hooky from the office on Monday, April 28th, it's open from 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. (3:00 P.M. for The Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair, The Artist Project and the Intuit Show of Outsider and Folk Art.)

Sally Kitt Chappell reads from Chicago's Urban Nature (twice) on Wednesday

In what will undoubtedly be the last late listing to the April calendar of architectural events, author Sally Kitt Chappell will read from her book, Chicago’s Urban Nature: A Guide to the City’s Architecture and Landscape, twice, this coming Wednesday, April 30th. The first event will be at 12:00 P.M. in the Millennium Room of the Chicago Cultural Center, the second at Access Living's award-winning new headquarters at 115 West Chicago, designed by LCM Architects.

Chappell's book provides an "illustrated guide to Chicago's stunning blend of nature and architecture. At the heart of the city's urban concept is the idea of connection, bringing buildings and landscapes, culture and nature, commerce and leisure into an energetic harmony. Packed with maps and recommended tours, and bursting with splendid photos, this is an essential guidebook for day-trippers, lifelong Chicago residents, and professionals in landscape architecture, urbanism, and design."

The lecture is the third in a series of Five Weeks of Conversations Within Communities, a series sponsored by the University of Chicago Press and Chicago's Mayor's Office of Special Events that has as its goal "fostering dialogue between Chicago citizens and Chicago writers. The series continues with a May 7th lecture by Louise W. Knight, author of Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy, and concludes on May 14th with Stuart Dybek, author of Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, as a final lead up to Chicago's annual Great Chicago Places and Spaces, which will be offering up over 200 tours May 17th and 18th.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Staggered Truss: Not as Painful as it Sounds

A new hotel brings an innovative engineering technique, pioneered by the American Institute of Steel Construction, to Chicago for the first time. Iconic architecture, via Valerio Dewalt Train, to follow. Read all about it, and see how the thing will look when it's finished, and a lot more images. here.

Chicago Streetscene - 343 North Dearborn

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Prince of the High C's

I'm as much a sucker for Wagnerian gloom and blood-and-lust Puccini as the next guy, but sometimes its ok to settle back and realize that, as Harry Carey might have said had he chosen a radically different career path, there's nothing like fun at the old Opera House.

And that's apparently just the kind of giddy delirium overtaking denizens of the Met in New York as they take in the new production of Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment with Natalie Dessay and tenor of the moment Juan Diego Flórez. The role of Tonio is the one Luciano Pavarotti, in a production with Joan Sutherland, rode to superstardom in the 1960's, and now Flórez appears to be following in his footsteps, firing off a succession of nine high C's in the aria "Ah! Mes Amis", like a string of firecrackers, not just once but, at the roaringly appreciative audience's command (and Met impresario Peter Gelb's collusion), in an encore, as well. In the New York Times, Bernard Holland's review includes links to recordings not only of Flórez' "Mes Amis" (with encore) from Monday night's performance, but a video, as well, plus Dessay's sparkling account of "Salut à la France'. For a more irreverent take on the spectacle, check out Opera Chic's reports, including mid-performance posts from her Blackberry, here, here, and here.

This coming Saturday, April 26th, you'll be able to hear the performance at 12:30 P.M on WFMT, 98.7, and see the whole thing in HD at over half a dozen Chicago area theaters, with an encore performance for Sunday, April 27th at 2 P.M.

Here's the whole Flórez Mes, with ovation, from the Vienna Staatsoper, April of 2007.

And finally, to top even that, here's a performance (forgive the buzz) from the incomparable Alfredo Kraus, whose appearances at Lyric I was too much of a dunderhead to seek out. Even in his mid sixties, Kraus nails the high C's and sings with the same clarion, crystalline beauty that was the hallmark of his art. He was the real thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kamin Joins the Chorus: CCM - Stop Hiding Your Museum!

Blair gets it. Months after we began talking about how the Chicago Children's Museum is deliberately withholding all but the most deceptive images of the large structure they want to muscle into Grant Park, the Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer-Prize winning architecture critic Blair Kamin blasted the museum and its architects, Krueck and Sexton, for withholding all but the most abstracted images on the proposed structure from the public.

In a demonstration of just how much K&S has allowed itself to be co-opted by the museum's cynicism, project manager Tom Jacobs posted a comment to Kamin's article, which reads:
The Chicago Tribune has been in possession of many presentation plans, sections, and elevations for the proposed Children’s Museum since April 4, 2008 including several views of the sculptural glass entrance and skylights. The choice of illustrations that tell an incomplete and one-sided architectural story was made solely by the Tribune. We would like to encourage all media to contribute to fair, complete and accurate reporting to facilitate the needed debate.
Yeah, right. In fact Kamin posted 12 of the 14 images on his blog, and you can see them all here. (Missing were - still another! - meaningless cross-section, and a photograph of the current garage entrance, for which we include our own photograph below.)
And what exactly are these images Jacobs would have you believe provide you the real story? Let's start at the beginning, with the first image, of the current Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which we've cribbed from Blair's Skyline blog:
Wow, how objective. Taken in what looks to be the dead of winter, all parched brown earth. The desert in Lawrence of Arabia was more inviting.

Now here's what Daley Bi really looks like, in a similar, if less wide angle shot, taken this past Sunday.
The next two images are birds-eye view of about six square blocks around the museum drawn from about half a mile up. Four is a cutaway drawn from about two blocks away. The next four are floor plans. The last four are cutaways. In three of them the museum - all levels - takes up about a sixth of the vertical space of the rendering; about two-thirds is given over to empty sky. Every one of these drawings deliberately seeks to obscure the scale of Krueck and Sexton's proposed buildings both to the existing park and to the human form.

And I will repeat a point that Kamin does not mention. There have been no images released - as in zero, none - of what the interiors of the 100,000 square foot museum will be like. This would be unacceptable for any project of this size, but for a proposal for a subterranean design to be occupied by children, to be built on public ground, and its operations subsidized by taxpayer funds, it is unconscionable.

And what is most disconcerting is how many sterling reputations are being voluntarily trashed in service of the Museum's desperate campaign to force its way into the Park. A great Chicago family of philanthropists, the Pritzkers, have descended into the gutter to smear opponents of Gigi Pritzker's pet project as racist. There's some solace, I suppose, in the fact I can no longer find on the Krueck and Sexton website a "press section" on the CCM project that consisted in its entirety of two news articles playing up that race-baiting theme, but its supremely depressing that Tom Jacobs has decided to transform himself from a talented architect to a snake-oil salesman. When he says that the 14 images released to Tribune give a true picture of the CCM design, he knows he's lying, and when he concludes with, "We would like to encourage all media to contribute to fair, complete and accurate reporting to facilitate the needed debate," he knows he's doing everything in his power to ensure exactly the opposite.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Does This Make My Butt Look Fat?

All of us have body parts that, while fully functional and probably essential, don't always show us in our best light. Seen from the south, the bustle building pictured here forms a perfectly proportioned element of the composition of 1955's Prudential Building. Seen from the southeast, however, the complex appears to be packing a big trunk. (Originally there was supposed to be a twin bustle along the west side of the building.) Probably back in 1955, when the Prudential marked the easterly point where building ended, no one envisioned how new construction would push further and further east, putting the Prudential in the shadow of newer, larger, taller towers, and the bustle on more conspicuous display.

Recently, the indispensable Lee Bey ran a post on his The Urban Observer blog on Naess and Murphy's Prudential Building, built over railroad air rights, and the first skyscraper to be completed in the city after the onset of the Great Depression. Adding a visual marker to the north end of Grant Park, the 42-story structure immediately became the Chicago's premiere office address, and its tallest building. You could see the whole of Chicago from its observation deck, which you accessed from the world's fastest elevators and what were then said to be the world's highest escalators. Within a year, the observation deck had attracted a million visitors. Long before Windows to the World, Stouffer's Top of the Rock restaurant was the place for special occasions and the expense account crowd. And just in case you missed the branding, Prudential, according to Bey, also paid famed sculptor Alfonso Iannelli $7,500 to create the massive relief of the Rock of Gibraltar on the building's western facade.

The restaurant and observatory are long gone. It's not even the Prudential Building anymore, just One Prudential Plaza, to demarcate it from its bigger, but not necessarily better, offspring to the North. From the Chase Promenade of what is now Millennium Park, however, The Prudential still offers up a beautifully scaled landmark that remains one of the most iconic and graceful visual anchors in Chicago.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Kamin: Children's Museum a "Bad Marriage"

Less than a week after my own analysis of the Krueck and Sexton design the Chicago Children's Museum is working overtime to ram into Grant Park, Pulitzer Prize winning Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin weighed in Thursday with his own blistering evaluation, which calls the proposal, which would burrow visiting children 48 feet below ground, "as bad for the museum as it would be for Grant Park." In a very detailed analysis, Kamin considers the design, the politics, the precedents it would set, and the long-standing legal protections that the Museum seeks to destroy.

As important as Kamin's prose is an accompanying graphic that takes the Museum's cynically deceptive drawings of the project, all made from a far distant perspective intended to mask any sense of the construction's scale, and blows up one cross section to where you can actually see how the purportedly unobtrusive skylights tower over the human figures standing beside them.

When reading through Blair Kamin's piece, I was reminded again of an extraordinary fact. I have never seen -not on the museum's website, or that of its architects, Krueck and Sexton, or anywhere else - a single image of the museum's interior. Think about it. The public, the City Council, Park District and Plan Commission are being asked to pass judgment on a subterranean grotto that will stuffed with children without ever seeing a single image of what it will be like. Has there ever been any major structure, commercial or cultural, marketed to the public that kept the character of its interiors completely hidden?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

News Notes from All Over

Anima of Shangri-La exposed as hoax - or is it? Wednesday's Chicago Tribune carries a story on Teng & Associates, after a two year search, lining up a $300 million loan to complete their $480 million Waterview Tower on Wacker at Clark. Earlier in the week, rival Sun-Times columnist David Roeder had reported (see post just below) that the project had been unable to obtain financing,and that construction was in danger of being halted and the building turned into a parking garage. The loan came courtesy of the Beijing Construction Engineering Group Company, which is not a financial firm but acted as a middleman for funds provided by the Export Import Bank of China. Who has the better handle on the Chicago real estate market - the pessimistic American lenders, or the Chinese? Place your bets now.

Many of you will no doubt think this refutes my previous post on this topic. But does it? On Monday, I write about Waterview and its Shangri-La hotel being the victim of a possible curse from the anima of the demolished Shangri-La restaurant and soft-porn house. On Wednesday, save-the-day financing is announced to take Waterview to completion. And where does this salvation come from? That's right. A Chinese company. Is it possible that the anima, after reading (or perhaps having it read to them; the cognitive abilities of anima remain somewhat unclear) Monday's post looked again at the project that had usurped its name and, moved by that project's fragility and struggle to be born, reversed the direction of its spiritual energy?

Grant Park mulch and clean for Earth Day this weekend. The Grant Park Conservancy, Grant Park Advisory Council and volunteers from Exelon and JPMorgan Chase are teaming up again this year to care for the trees in Grant Park, Saturday and Sunday from 9 A.M. to noon. Get the info here.

Group fights Lincoln Park privatization - Crain's reports that a group called Protect Our Parks has filed a lawsuit in Chicago Circuit Court to stop construction of a soccer field that the Latin School, in exchange for financing, will convert to extensive private use for up to the next 20 years.

The Chicago Children's Museum has filed for a liquor license for their proposed location in Grant Park.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Shangri-La Car Park - Curse of the Danish Love Girl?

Once upon a time, in a world where millionaires were as numerous as the apples on the trees, and the market for high-end condo's as inexhaustible as the very heavens, there was Shangri-La, an ultra-luxury hotel that was meant to anchor Waterview Tower, a 90-story skyscraper raising along the south bank of the Chicago river at Clark Street.

It was a beautiful dream, but one whose ending may be anything but a fairy tale. As reported by Chicago Sun-Times real estate columnist David Roeder last week, the project appears to have run aground, and construction on the site may soon simply stop.

Roeder cites the usual reasons for this sad state of affairs - the failure to line up $320 million in financing in an increasingly tight credit market, a slew of liens placed against the property, etc. , etc., etc. The usual safe, rational explanations. But may I suggest a more primal, even occult, source for this reversal of fate?

Not that very long ago, where the Renaissance Hotel now stands, there was another Shangri-La, at 222 North State. According to Cinema Treasures, it began as the Rumba Casino, but by 1944 had become the Shangri-La, a Polynesian restaurant, with suitably exotic decor. After the restaurant closed in the late 1960's, the building with the oriental-styled canopy kept its name but became a 482-seat theater, where the exotica was now to be found in the names of the soft-porn films, such as Bedroom Fantasies, Aroused, and Danish Love Girl, that became its new bill of fare. In 1981, "progress" smashed the Shangri-La into rubble. Did its tortured exiled spirit linger along Wacker Drive, finally to avenge itself on the presumptive tower a block and a half to the west that sought to appropriate its name?

You be the judge. In 1955, just to the west of the Shangri-La, a massive 12-story high parking garage was erected. It's open floors and wire retainers led the building to become known as the "birdcage." See how it looked it here. Open it up in a separate browser window. Now compare it to the photo of the current stubbed state of the Waterview tower, which Roeder says may be converted to a parking garage until such time, if ever, that economic conditions arise that would support the completion of the original tower.

Notice the resemblance. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or was Waterview the cold, beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra, flying high above supposed Freaks like the evocatively named soft-porn house and neighboring garage, regarding them with such cruel disdain as to invite a banished anima's revenge, ending in retribution, mutilation and humiliation: "One of us. One of us" ?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jagged Icebergs and Open Pit - the Brutalist Design the Chicago Children's Museum seeks to force into Grant Park.

You can scarcely tell it's there, can you?

Renderings the Chicago Children's Museum have been desperately hiding from the public reveal the scarring intrusiveness of the structures it wants to build in Grant Park. See them, and read a critique of Krueck and Sexton's design here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Skyline Brides

So here's a little relief from the hot and heavy coverage on the Chicago Children's Museum increasingly corrupt campaign to grab land in Grant Park.

How many couples have found Chicago's lake and architecture to be the perfect backdrop for celebrating the most important day of their life? Click on the link to see just a few we've stumbled across over the last few years. The link . . . here

Grant Park to become Allstate Place - two superb takes on the CCM battle

On just one day, two superb takes on the Chicago Children's Museum battle:

Museum flap a fight for kids? Try adult clout contest - Greg Hinz, first at Lerner Newspapers and for years now at Crain's Chicago Business, has long been among the most knowledgeable and savvy observers of Chicago politics. The essence of the CCM battle is captured just in the headline of his story. He reveals in passing that Allstate is giving the museum $15 million of the $40 million raised so far towards the projects $100 million cost for "naming rights" to what would be the "Chicago Children’s Museum at Allstate Place." That's what Grant Park becomes: "Allstate Place" While acknowledging area residents may have a bit of NIMBY arrogance, Hinz concludes, "Sometimes, the folks who live in a neighborhood are right and the connected folks who want to change it are wrong. This is one of those times." Read the entire excellent piece here.

Save Grant Park. The second amazing take comes from a somewhat unexpected source. Andrew Patner is the long-time music and culture critic who now writes for the Sun-Times. He also does Critic's Choice commentaries for WFMT. Those commentaries are sometimes known to ramble and digress (yeah, I know, like I don't), Andrew's April 9th program , however, is a model of great, concise writing, which manages to get all the facts, plus a highly personal viewpoint, in just a few minutes of airtime.

He talks with admiration about the legendary Lois Wille as, "a woman who spoke her mind and spoke it with eloquence . . . [who] secured her place in history with a book that is very much of concern today," that book being Forever, Open, Clear and Free, her account of A. Montgomery Ward's decades-long battle to preserve Grant Park. Patner talks about Wille's April 8th Chicago Tribune op-ed, co-authored with former MacArthur Foundation head Adele Simmons, in support of CCM's constructing a new building in Grant Park, which shared a full page with an opposing op-ed by Peggy Figel, co-founder of the organization Save Grant Park.

Patner takes note of a Monday press conference at which Wille appeared for an organization called All Chicago Children's Museum Committee. "The problem," says Patner, "is that there's no such committee. It's an invention of Hill & Knowlton, the public relations firm that told us for decades that cigarette smoking was a great thing."

Patner concludes, "Lois Wille wrote a great book . . . the problem is Lois wrote the book, but Peggy Figiel and Save Grant Park are the people who seem to actually have read it."

You can hear all of this superbly written and argued broadcast here.
Explanations from Jack and Michael on how Greg and Andrew don't know what they're talking about and should both just get out of a place where they're not wanted and move to the suburbs, to follow.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Approvals!, says Park District: We're Building the Children's Museum!

The proposal to construct a new home for the Chicago Children's Museum was introduced in the City Council on Wednesday, with a June vote scheduled. The Park District, however, doesn't feel it needs have to wait for either City Council or Plan Commission approval. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday that the Park District Board was expected to to approve talks with CCM co-ordinating construction of their building in Grant Park. Superintendent Timothy Mitchell is quoted as dismissing public uproar against the CCM's land grab affecting the project in any way, "I don't see that happening," says he.

Anyone taking bets we'll see another midnight raid bulldozing the park's current field house, followed by an announcement that we now have to build the museum, because the fieldhouse is gone and the Park District doesn't have any money to build replace it?

With the Blessing of the Chicago History Museum

For almost eighty years, the firm of Hedrich Blessing has created some of the most iconic photographs of architecture, views that have defined individual classic buildings for generations. In 1991, the first forty years of Hedrich Blessing's work, through 1969, was donated to the Chicago History Museum.

The size of gift is staggering: 14 collections encompassing a quarter million photos. Now, with a $90,000 grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the museum is digitizing 15,000 of those images and making them available on-line. Work began in 2006, and today from 20 to 25 images are being added to the catalog each day. It's a three-part process that involves an initial scan, a cleaning up of the digitized images, and adding them to the museum's ARCHIE on-line database.

Obviously, this is a scholar's treasure trove, but anyone can take a trip through the catalogued - and still copyrighted - images. Currently, the Museum has completed digitization of 230 images from 1933-34 the Century of Progress Exhibition, 225 from the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a whopping 2,200 documenting the work of Mies van der Rohe, including exhaustive catalogues on projects like the pioneering 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments and IIT Commons Building, everything from hero shots, to a wealth of photos taking during construction, and even shots of drawings and floor plans. Next up is Bertrand Goldberg, to be followed by Holabird & Roche/Root, Graham Anderson Probst and White, SOM, Harry Weese, Albert Kahn and White Perkins and Will.

Two examples, courtesy of the Chicago History Museum, are included here. Be forewarned, however, ARCHIE can be as addictive as You Tube. You'll may find yourself browsing to just one more page, then another, and another, until the next thing you know it's 6:00 A.M., the sun's coming up, and you find you've fallen asleep on your keyboard, leaving your face looking like a waffle. Check it all out here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Schindler's Houses at Facets this Sunday

A film by Heinz Emigholz, Schindler's Houses, will play for one performance at 12:30 P.M. this Sunday, April 13th, at Facets Multi Media, 1517 W. Fullerton, 773/281.9075. It looks like it could be interesting:
Heinz Emigholz, the premier purveyor of architectural oddities (D'Annunzio's Cave; Goff in the Desert), offers a stunning portrait of urban Los Angeles through the houses of Austrian-American architect Rudolph Schindler. Using no voiceover, archival photos, or other conventions of standard documentaries, the film presents beautifully composed shots of 40 of Schindler's houses in the order in which they were built. . .

Children's Museum Announces Grand Coalition - Poll Respondants Remain Underwhelmed

The Chicago Children's Museum called a big press conference Monday morning to unveil its All Chicago Children's Museum Committee, which, according to the Chicago Tribune report on the event, CCM President Jennifer Farrington heralded as proving the CCM's proposed land grab enjoyed wide support from both "well known folks and unsung heroes," but the unsung heroes appeared to be there mostly as window dressing. In the museum's press advisory for the event, published in Trib architecture Blair Kamin's Skyline blog, the only names listed as being available for interviews were very familiar:
Phil Harris, former Chairman of the board, Chicago Children's Museum

Bob O'Neill, a staff member paid a healthy salary to lobby for the views of the Grant Park Conservancy, whose Board of Directors is short on "unsung heroes" and heavy on clout-heavy big corporations, law firms and institutions like Cushman and Wakefield, drugmaker Glaxo Smith Kline, Jones Lang LaSalle, The Pritzker Organization, Baker & McKenzie and the Fogelson Companies.

Rev. Michael Pfleger, a once independent populist firebrand who has grown increasingly close to the Daley administration as the mayor has become a passionate advocate for causes, such as gun control and immigrants' rights, for which Pfleger has been a historic champion. Pfleger recently slammed the swiftboating of Rev. Jeremiah Wright in which a few of Wright's more radical statements were lifted from his sermons and put into rotation play on You Tube, but Pfleger has had no problem with taking what still appears to be a single encounter with an individual who made racist comments at a community meeting on the CCM, and inflating it into repeated allegations of racism against the whole of the opposition movement to CCM building in Grant Park.

Lois Wille, obviously CCM's big trump card. The author of the landmark book Forever Open, Clear and Free, which chronicles the decades long efforts of A. Montgomery Ward, against a coalition very similar to that behind the CCM, to enforce historic agreements that Grant Park be kept free of buildings, Wille has come out in support of the museum. On one level, this is a major coup for the CCM, but on another level, as much as I admire Lois Wille, there's still a larger question: If A. Montgomery Ward were alive today (and still in possession of his faculties even at age 164), which side do you think he would be on?
As the Poll Turns - Reponses turn heavily against the CCM

An interesting thing happened in the Chicago Tribune's unscientific poll of its readers on their position on CCM moving to Grant Park. The poll first went up with a story on the museum's intention to file permits on Friday, and for the day the story remained current on the Trib's website, voting was running a consistent 74% or so opposed. Then, slowly the division evened out to a 50/50 split on Saturday, and by Monday morning, the last 400 or so votes cast were actually running 80% in favor of the Museum. Clearly, at this point, the poll had disappeared from access for all except those who were specifically seeking it out, and what we were seeing was no longer the response of the general public, but a reflection of the competing efforts of Museum supporters and opponents. At this point, the machine's long effectiveness in getting out the vote was showing results.

However, just as I was about to write about the opponents to the CCM's move to Grant Park showing the traditional failing of reformers of not knowing how to run their pluses, a radical change took place. The poll is again on an active web page - the Trib's report on this morning's press conference - and in the 12 hours from 7:40 a.m this morning, to 7:56 this evening, a whopping 2962 new votes were cast, the most intense period of voting since the poll began. These new votes ran 83% opposed to the CCM. Across all 7167 votes cast to 8 P.M. Monday evening, 5060, or 71% are saying "No" to the Children's Museum's land grab. Either the Museum's opponents suddenly became superstars in working their precincts, or the Children's Museum dog and pony show this morning is having an effect exactly opposite from what its strategists intended.

As the City Council Turns.

It's being reported that the Museum's incursion will be coming up for consideration in the Chicago City Council on Wednesday. Previous reports had the Daley administration boasting it had the votes to override the opposition of Grant Park's alderman, the 42nd ward's Brendan Reilly. Today, however, a report by WGN's Bob Jordan indicated that a number of alderman are expressing reluctance to dismember their own power by handing the Daley administration a precedent for eviscerating what has historically been a bedrock component of aldermanic power: the right of veto over projects in their own wards.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Uptown Theater Rots as Rival Promoters Battle Over It's Future

In this past Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times, pop music critic Jim DeRogatis has a terrific account of the tangled story of efforts to save the 4,300 seat Uptown Theater. For years after its 1981 shuttering, it was the palace that no one wanted, trashed and decaying under the ownership of a succession of leading slumlords.

When it became known, several years ago, that not one, but two major concert promoters, local Jam Productions and national Live Nation, reportedly had the hots for acquiring the historic venue, it looked like a can't lose proposition that would finally lead to the Uptown's rescue. But as DeRogatis relates, the theater's situation has only become more complex and troubled, with even the fact of who now actually owns the theater being far from clear. Charges remain that Jam may be effectively sabotaging efforts to save the Uptown to quash competition to its bookings at the nearby Riviera and Aragon, an allegation the company denies. Live Nation has retained the clout heavy law firm of former mayoral chief of staff and current park district president Gery Chico to plead its case in court. DeRogatis clings to an optimistic stance that the Uptown's restoration "has the potential to remake the Chicago concert scene." Current estimated cost to bring it back? $45,000,000, and counting. Read it all here.

Want to see what the Uptown looks like today? Via a tip from the indefatigable Lee Bey's Urban Observer blog, check out the work of photographer Carey Primeau, a sampling of which can be found on Primeau's Neglected Beauty website. In one photo, you can see the Uptown's grand foyer, even after all the neglect, is still a stunner, but in a second shot, you can see another of the theater's sweeping stairways overtaken by rot. Among Primeau's other photo subjects is the abandoned St. Boniface Church in East Village. Almost five years after I wrote about an architectural competition held by the Chicago Archdiocese to find new uses for the historic building, nothing has been done. The building remains empty and deteriorating, but, as you can see from Primeau's photo set, it still retains a stunning beauty.

Primeau's photographs are the subject of an exhibition opening this week: Carey Primeau: Neglected Beauty, at the Tapestry Center, 3824 W. Irving Park. The exhibition opens with an April 11th reception at 7:30 P.M., and thereafter will be on view, Saturday only from 9:00 A.M. to noon, or by appointment.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Chicago Childrens Museum Continues to Hide Museum Design

Chicago Children's Museum: A first look at the plans for Grant Park is the name Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin gave to a Friday posting on his Skyline blog.

No, not really. The Museum's campaign of evasiveness and secrecy continues unabated. The "look" that Kamin describes is twelve more of the same dishonest images the CCM has clung to since the debate began. (I'm assuming he published everything CCM gave him.)

It begins, as could be expected, with a photo of the current Daley Bicentennial, conveniently taken in winter - all leafless trees and brown lawns - to make it look as forlorn as possible. (You can see photos of what it actually looks like in bloom here.) Then we get the same aerial views we've seen before, from so far up that it wouldn't matter how high the museum structures are - even Frank Gehry's soaring Pritzker Pavilion, on the other side of Columbus Drive, looks as flat as a pancake. Next there's a number of cutaway elevations, and a rendering of the view to the north, again drawn from an enormous distance to eviscerate any real sense of human scale. And finally a series of floor plans for the different levels, the only thing really new. (Judge for yourself. You can see them all here.)

Even the Tribune appears to believe the museum's offerings are inadequate. They had Gentry Sleets and Phil Geib create their own graphic, again an aerial view, of the proposal.

CCM's architects Krueck and Sexton have made drawings - lots of them - that actually show how their skylights will look in the park to a human being - not a bird flying just beneath the clouds. There are drawings of what the atrium and entrance pavilion will actually look like, not the white abstracted blobs that appear in the renderings released to Kamin. I've seen them, both at the infamous community meeting hijacked by museum supporters, and in a recent presentation at the Chicago Architectural Club.

Yet in it's apparently infinite contempt for the public, the Museum continues to hide these drawings. Why? I would suggest it's because they know that if they're released and people see how the structures it wants to build will actually be experienced by people in the park, it could be toxic to their case. I could, of course, be wrong - the public might find the "sculptural" skylights enthralling - but the Museum's continuing refusal to let them be seen leads me to suspect they may agree with my assessment of the downside. The Tribune's on-line poll, despite what I would expect to be organized block voting by both the Museum and the opponents of its move to Grant Park, has been holding at 66.6% of voters, as of this writing numbering 3,781, saying "No" to CCM's proposal.

Blair, you're being spun. You're the guy with the Pulitzer, the man with the clout. Tell CCM President Jennifer Farrington to stop the stonewalling and release the drawings she's keeping hidden, and let the public decide.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Landmarks Illinois Redesigns Michigan Avenue Streetwall

. . . all in a good cause, of course.

On Wednesday, Landmarks Illinois dramatized its Ten Most Endangered list for 2008 by providing several views of what they fear the landmarked Michigan Avenue Streetwall might become in the current climate where hard won protections are being chipped away by "compromises" that are undermining the most basic tenets of landmarks preservation.

It began with highrises like the Heritage at Millennium Park towering behind the Chicago Cultural Center, and the under-construction Legacy rising behind the Gage Group and University Club. Now, says Landmarks Illinois, with proposals to demolish all but the front third of the Chicago Athletic Association and placing another tower behind a former YWCA at 830 South, developers are threatening to turn the historic street into a sequence of false fronts, a Potemkin preservation.

To dramatize their point, Landmarks Illinois took a Robert Thall photo of Michigan Avenue and did a Sim City retrofit of how its appearance could change with stepped rooftop additions, in Marge Simpson beehive hair style, on the Gage Group, People's Gas and former John M. Smyth buildings. The one mistake they made was that the projected result probably looks a lot better than what might actually get built there.

Elsewhere, the list is a combination of the familiar and off-beat.

Landmarks Illinois adds its voice to the effort to landmark the 1888 Germania Club, for which a proposal is on Thursday's Landmarks Commission agenda.

The always energetic Sam Zell figures in two of the items: the Daily News Building, which reports say he wants to mutilate in order to replace its current public plaza with an office tower, and Wrigley Field, in 11th position a last minute addition, which Zell is working overtime to palm off on Governor Rod (I loved the team so much I bought the stadium!) Blagojevich in a "no costs to taxpayers" deal that would rob the city of millions of dollars in property taxes and possibly extend the already corrupt TIF franchise to include siphoning off sales tax receipts from general revenues. The plan's backers are suggesting that the teeth be removed from Wrigley's current landmark designation so as not to get in the way.

Outside of Chicago, there's the Gunners Mates School at Great Lakes, the stunning blue glass-walled structure that was Bruce Graham's first design, and Max Abramovitz's iconic flying saucer-shaped Assembly Hall at U of I Champaign-Urbana. Lesser known endangered discoveries include the steel through-truss bridge over Spoon River, of poet Edgar Lee Masters fame, in Fulton County, and Dutch windmill-inspired The Mill in Lincoln, Illinois.

Check out the full list - with much more information and lots of great pictures here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Mayor Daley loves the little children - to hide behind

Putting aside, at least for a moment, his race baiting rants of last year, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley on Wednesday assumed the softer persona of everyone's favorite uncle, standing up for the rights of little kids being able to have a museum built for them in Grant Park. "I'm very proud of the children of Chicago—black, white, Hispanic, Asian, physical, mental difficulties, doesn't matter," the Tribune quoted Daley as saying.

It was all very touching, except when you stop to think that, if it were really about the children, would you be disgorging them from buses into the exhaust-filled cavern of the lower Randolph, and injecting them into an underground bunker? That's the grand vision behind the Chicago Childrens Museum's land grab.

The mayor's warm and fuzzy statements dovetail with the efforts of the museum's high-powered lobbyists to "astroturf" their way to victory by manufacturing the appearance of public support even as every poll to date has shown overwhelming public opposition to the museum building in Grant Park.

Daley's fight isn't about children, it's about power. It's about pleasing a well-connected heiress. It's about getting alderman to agree to set the precedent for the evisceration of their own power by destroying the tradition of aldermanic oversight over projects in their wards. It's about the mayor realizing his long held dream of driving the final stake in the heart of the A. Montgomery Ward decree's that have preserved Grant Park for over a century. Above all else, it's about crushing in advance any effective opposition to whatever other pet projects the mayor wants to cram anywhere in the city he might desire, especially in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics.

But, of course, you probably already knew that. The only people who stand to fooled by the mayor's rhetoric are the ones already in his back pocket.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

From Adjaye to Mau and Marshall to hotels for fish - Over 60 Events on April Architectural Calendar

OK, seriously now, if you've been considering cloning yourself, April may be the month to do it.

From David Adjaye (at both IIT and Chase auditorium for CAF) to Bruce Mau and Kerry James Marshall at the Art Institute and Neil Denari at UIC, there's over 60 great events on the April calendar. You want more? How about Ross Wimer talking about SOM's future, Bill Donnell talking about his 30 years as owner of the Monadnock Building, Sulan Kolatan, Rocio Romero, Brian Goeken, Sylvia Lavin, a Vince Michael trifecta, Robert Bruegmann, and Smith and Gill.

Resistant to the cult of personality? All right, there's planning in China, Emily Roth on Unity Temple going green at 100, Benjamin and Cohen on their new book covering 50 years of great Chicago houses, the latest Archeworks papers, a new 306090 all about models that doesn't once mention Heidi Klum, a sustainable 2016 Olympics, Lucien Lagrange on LaSalle Street, E.C. Botti on restoring the Cultural Center's Tiffany Dome, SEAOI's annual Bridge Symposium, a CAF panel of preservationist illuminati, fish hotels on Michigan avenue - trust me, there's a lot.

If you can't find something that peaks your interest, frankly, our relationship may have come to a serious impasse.. Check it all out here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Daley Center In Line for $250 million Makeover?

Municipal Architect reported today that a required quarter billion dollar restoration to the facades of architect Jacques Brownson's 1965 Daley Center may be taking the iconic building in a radically different direction. MA's website version of the story includes a blurry photograph, reproduced here, of a rendering of the rehab taken by a cell phone camera during a confidential presentation by architect Henry A. Douglas to a meeting of top-level city officials.

Douglas's proposal replaces Brownson's rugged Permi-Cone steel exterior with a classically inspired masonry design that echo's the traditional design and Corinthian colonnade of Holabird and Roche's 1908 County Building, which forms the west wall of the Daley Center Plaza. The redesign would be executed to dovetail with next year's centennial anniversary of Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago, and the spectacular Beaux Arts cityscapes created for the Plan by Jules Guerin.

A high ranking city official, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted the rehab may be an effort to cater to Mayor Richard M. Daley's reported preference for classical designs, but the official denied the effort had anything to do with being in constant, desperate fear of losing his job. "I just want the Mayor to be happy," MA quotes him as saying, "Is that so wrong?"

The Daley Center's self-sealing Permi-Cone steel facade was thought to offer permanent protection requiring minimal maintenance, but a recent engineering study uncovered a steady leaching of the steel surface, caused by an unlikely source: meurdephyenol. Traditionally used as a buffering agent, the chemical has now been discovered to also be a byproduct released by bird droppings coming into prolonged contact with acidic precipitation and rising vapors from melting road salt, causing the meurdephyenol and carbon molecules to interact and break down the steel over time, resulting in a surface sloughing of now unbonded metallic particles.

The Daley Center has always been a popular roosting ground for the city's pigeons, but the engineering study cited the 1983 opening of the building's 32nd-floor health club as an acceleration point in the facade's deterioration. The exceptionally bright lighting scheme of the club attracts literally thousands of pigeons to perch along the ledges. The study found that the pigeons roost on the ledges while ignoring even such primal needs as food, water and mating, as their exceptionally small brains leave the birds staring through the windows, little heads cocked to one side, mesmerized by the motions of exercisers peddling furiously on the stationary bicycles. One leading ornithologist has estimated that the volume of droppings as roughly quadruple that normally produced by similar birds looking out in the other direction.

Department of Building officials issued assurances that the thickness of the facade panels precluded any danger of pieces of the building falling to the pavement and killing or enraging passerbys, but already a patch of burn-through corrosion on the 27th floor has exposed conduit and wiring installed by the FBI as part of surveillance for 1977's sting operation Higher Office, which resulted in the conviction of three senior Circuit Court Judges, seven attorneys and two pizza delivery drivers. Acquitted in the prosecutions were Judge Norbert Blye, two public prosecutors, their masseuse, and a police dog later ruled to be severely addled.