Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jyoti boat

Friday, August 29, 2008

83rd Birthday Party for the Uptown

"Not For Today, But For all Time," is how Balaban & Katz described their $4,000,000 Uptown Theater when it opened in 1925. Empty and crumbling for decades, it currently looks like every one of its 83 years, and more, but the incredibly opulent movie palace, one of Chicago's great glories, now has a chance to make good on that claim after it's recent purchase by Jam Productions.

Friends of the Uptown will celebrate the theater's 83rd anniversary on Thursday, September 4th, at the Kinetic Playground, 1113 W. Lawrence. It will begin with a slide presentation on the historic building, and include a free showing of the documentary, Uptown, Portrait of a Palace. The event is free for everyone over 21, but is limited to the first 500 people. Read my article, with pictures on the Uptown, where you can also download a PDF of a 32-page B&K magazine detailing the glory of the Uptown, here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Is Your Underpass. This is Your Underpass on LSD

Underpasses stink. And I'm not sure I really want to know what that smell is. Is there a more destructive - and more ignored -bit of urban infrastructure?

Chicago's Edgewater community chose to confront and defeat the blight with a pair of spectacular bricolage mosaics along the walls of the Bryn Mawr underpass. Read all about it, and see all the pictures, here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Seats still available: Pomo at Moto for Archeworks 8/27

Hungry? No? How about two days from now?

There are still spots available for this Wednesday night, August 27th's benefit for Archeworks at Homaro Cantu's Moto restaurant. To wit:

Moto on Fulton will offer a special 7-course prix fixe menu with wine pairings for this special event. The fixed price of $350 per person includes the 7-course meal, wine pairings, tax and gratuities. A portion of the proceeds from this dinner benefit Archeworks, Chicago's alternative design school.
Advanced purchase is required and space is limited. Contact Archeworks at 312-867-7254 or to reserve your place. And bring me a doggy bag.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dead Mall Walking

This Saturday, economy be damned, throngs of shoppers still surged like a teeming river along the sidewalks of North Michigan Avenue, Chicago's premiere shopping boulevard. Flowing past Chicago Place, the vertical mall at 700 North, it's unlikely they could imagine the strange world that awaits them on the other side of the large, self-powered revolving door that now churns impotently, stripped of its power to suck in passers-by. Read all about it - and see the pictures - here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

5 Days Left to Meet Your Fate

Czech composer Leos Janáček is the patron saint of late bloomers. As Pierre Boulez noted in a recent BBC interview, if Janáček had died at sixty-one he would remembered, if at all, as a marginal provincial composer. It would not be until his next year, with his opera Jenůfa, that he had his first major success.

Then, in 1917, Janáček met Kamila Stösslová, an attractive married woman some forty years his junior, and he went a little funny in the head. His love for her dominated the remainder of this life - at least 700 letters between them survive - despite the fact that she's described as remaining "aloof", with all indications being that the relationship remained completely platonic, which is probably just as well when you consider this was in a time long before the miracle of Viagra.

In Janáček's obsession, however, he had found his muse, and in little more than five years, he created an explosive output of some of the greatest - and most distinctive - works of 20th century music. His five-movement Sinfonietta, with it's primal brass fanfares and fever-pitch passion, is 25 minutes of aural ecstasy. Janacek studied Moravian and Slovak folk music, and the phrasing of his music deliberately reflects the rhythm, pitch and inflections of the spoken Czech language. His music sounds no one else, and there's never been anything quite like it since.

The BBC Prom's is offering an opportunity to hear one of Janáček's least heard operas, 1907's Osud (Destiny), which Janáček, himself, never saw performed in his lifetime. It features a composer, his great lost, regained, and lost again love, and a mother-in-law from hell. This past Thursday's fine performance, with Jiri Belohlavek conducting the BBC symphony, can, for the next five days, be heard streaming here.

Last year, Pierre Boulez conducted what he has announced is his last staged opera performance, Janáček's shattering From the House of the Dead, a production captured on DVD. Earlier this month at the Proms, Boulez, conducted an all Janacek program that begins with a performance of Sinfonietta that grows on me each time I listen to it. It's followed by another Janáček rarity, the engaging 1926 Capriccio for piano left hand and an ensemble that includes a flute, two trumpets, three trombones, and a tenor tuba(!)

The concert concludes with a performance of Janáčeks massive (260 performers) Glagolitic Mass. In an extended intermission interview, Boulez talks in depth about Janacek's music, and how he discovered his love for it in a loaned out London apartment in the 1970's. Boulez notes that in the Glagolithic Mass, Janáček sets the text in an archaic church Slavonic, making the aura of the music even more timeless.

Not to be missed, and for the next six days, you can listen to it here, and Osud here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

At Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum, It's "If it's not broke - break it."

Mary Louise Schumacher, the Milwaukee Journal arts writer who took over the architecture beat from the inestimable Whitney Gould, has a dispiriting piece on how one of the first acts of the Milwaukee Arts Museum's new director Daniel Keegan is to move admission desks into the stunning, cathedral-like entry hall that architect Santiago Calatrava designed for the Milwaukee Art Museum. Calatrava's building made the museum a global destination, so what better way to repay him than to start cheapening it up? Can coffee and souvenir kiosks be far behind? A conscious decision was made when the museum opened to let people come in the grand hall and look around. Now you have to know you can request an "amenity button" to do it without paying an admission charge. Read it all here.

*amenity button: a diversionary device designed to allow management to feel good about a bad policy

Monday, August 18, 2008

Do You Remember the '68 Democratic Convention? The CHM is looking for you.

And, no, I don't mean from watching it on TV. For those you who are not so good on history, the 68 Convention was one of the most dramatic events Chicago has ever seen, sparking violent confrontations between protestors and police that began when the demonstrators outside the Conrad Hilton on South Michigan became enraged after discovering that the John Logan statue was not actually in Logan Square.
The Chicago History Museum will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Democratic National Convention (DNC) by recording interviews with individuals who witnessed and participated in the DNC and the demonstrations organized for the event. The museum seeks bystanders, policemen, demonstrators, delegates, photographers, and students to share their memories and experiences about this explosive event in American political history. Beginning Tuesday, August 26, and ending Friday, August 29, the museum invites individuals for interviews between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The Museum’s curatorial staff will conduct the interviews on the fortieth anniversary of the historic convention. I was there: The 1968 Democratic National Convention is a project under the auspices of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. Interested individuals should call 312.799.2004 for appointments. Individuals that arrive without an appointment will be taken at a first come, first served basis.
I would go, but unfortunately, I was young and afraid to leave the house. Ah, the vicarious life.

Trump at 1125: Still Only Number 3, make that 4

Even with a final pour of concrete 1,125 feet off the ground, the Trump International Hotel and Tower still needs three more feet to beat out 1969's John Hancock Center for the title of Chicago's second tallest building.* That will come with the construction of the steel spire that will raise the structure to its ultimate height of 1362 feet. The Saturday topping off ceremony, which secured the Trumpster the title of tallest concrete structure in North America, is described in a Chicago Tribune story here. All hail the mighty Putzmeister 1400 that made it possible.

*thanks to poster David for reminding us that the Aon building is actually Chicago's second tallest, at 1,136 feet.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Becker Goes Off in a Huff(ington) on Uncle Dan

As you may already have heard, the popular Huffington Post news-site has begun an experiment of adding local versions, with Chicago being chosen as the inaugural city.

"We've decided to start with Chicago," writes editor Arianna Huffington, "because it's always been a great news town -- offering a vibrant mix of politics, sports, business, music, food, and urban life."

HuffPost Chicago's debut edition includes posts from such uber-celebrities as John Cusack, Ina Pinkney and Christie Hefner, a "don't believe all those stories about how bad Cook County Jail is" apologia from Sheriff Tom Dart, plus contributions from local bloggers such as Chicago Carless's Mike Doyle and the eternal wanderer Edward Lifson. There's a lecture the great Leon Depres gave at the Chicago History Museum on The Dark History Of The Treaty Of Chicago (spoiler alert: the Pottawatomie, Chippewa, Ottawa, et al got screwed.)

On a lower shelf from all these illustrious contributors is my own modest contribution, A Civic Seance: Can the Spirit of Daniel Burnham Reshape Chicago?, which expands on a posting here earlier this week on the upcoming centennial of Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago and the Chicago Architectural Club's Union Station 2020 competition.

I heard somewhere that Tribune media critic Steve Johnson is already trashing the site, but if the initial mix of posts can be sustained, I see Huffpost Chicago becoming an eclectic and informative web presence. I'm glad to be on board.

Chicago Streetscene - Lillies of the Pond

Chicago Streetscene - The Goat of Thrift watches over 47th Street

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rebori/Goldberg Florsheim Mansion opened for August 21st Bite-Size Arts Ensemble Benefit

The Bite-Size Arts Ensemble describes itself as a "non-profit arts incubator" and after rummaging through their website and reading their inaugural press release I've come to the - no doubt reductionist - conclusion that their mission is to help artists learn how to work the room and entrepreneurs to work with the creativity of artists . . .
As a training organization, the Ensemble provides access to a variety of performance venues that help both performers and audience members develop fundamental entrepreneurial skills. Performers learn and execute basic business principles through the planning and marketing of shows, and audience members learn how to apply creativity to non-artistic disciplines and ideas.
The five new members the group added last month include a juggler, a film maker, a jazz pianist/composer, a singer-songwriter, and a animator. The promise of meeting the newest inductees is but one attraction of the groups August 21st benefit.

In addition to food and drinks, you'll have a rare chance to see the inside of the home at 1328 North State Parkway whose roster of residents is as illustrious as the modernist architecture is striking. What was originally a pair of small townhouses was built in 1938 by architect Andrew Rebori as his own residence. Eight years later it was purchased was Lillian Florsheim, who sculptress whose last name came from her marriage to shoe magnate Irving Florsheim.

Lillian then commissioned her son-in-law, who just happened to be architect Bertrand Goldberg of Marina City fame, to bridge the two townhouses with an eight and a half wide by thirty-foot long kitchen that drew on what Goldberg learned about galley kitchens when he was working on the design of rail cars. The kitchen is suspended from a pair of I-beams that span the courtyard, and was enclosed in a fiberglass screen. After Lillian's death in 1988, Goldberg, himself, along with his wife Nancy, Lillian's daughter, took up residence in the house.

After Goldberg's death in 1997, the house was sold out of the family, and in 2006 Chicago Magazine quoted the latest owners' intentions to use the house "to reinvent the salon." Hence the film maker, animator, musicians and juggler.

While the Bite-Size Ensemble will definitely accept more (support levels range all the way up to Wild Rhubarb Visionary, $10,000 and up), the tariff for getting an inside view of Rebori's and Goldberg's handiwork is a mere $89.00, with two time slots, 5:30 to 7:00 P.M., and 7:30 to 9:00, both on Thursday, August 21st. You can see more information and reserve tickets here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Union Station focus of Chicago Architectural Club's 2008 Burnham Competition

For much of the past four decades, Chicago's 1925 Union Station and its environs has seemed to have been a heat sink for bad ideas. In 1969, in one of those acts of civic vandalism that gives one shivers, the station's soaring concourse was demolished for construction of one of ugliest skyscrapers of the era, 222 South Riverside, which, until a welcome 1992 renovation by Lucien Lagrange, channeled passengers through bare concrete passageways like cattle being pushed down the chutes of an abattoir.

In 2003, the Chicago Central Area Plan endorsed an idea for a new subway under Clinton Street that would be a corrupt politician's wet dream and commuters' nightmare. Passengers would be buried up to four levels below the street in a project whose ultimate cost would likely make the $300 million squandered in the mothballed "superstation" under Block 37 look like penny candy. Most recently, it's been proposed to divert $58 million from the city's TIF slush funds to subsidize an ill-conceived project to add 18 floors to the existing station with over a half a million square feet space of office space in narrow floorplates.

Oh, and did we mention that the first idea to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago was a competition for the design of a statue?

Fortunately, the Chicago Architectural Club has taken a different tack and made the revitalization of Union Station the subject of their 2008 Burnham Competition. Union Station 2020 is part of Burnham 2.0: A Patchwork Plan for the High-Speed Rail City, created in partnership with the Chicago Humanities Festival and Chicago History Museum, where the work of the entrants to the competition will be exhibited beginning November 8th.

The competition comes at a propitious time when, in the face of airlines falling over themselves in an apparent race to slash their operating costs by driving away excess passengers with an increasingly debased customer experience, inter-city rail travel is growing explosively, with many Amtrak routes now bursting at the seams. Union Station 2020 solicits:
. . . innovative solutions for the transformation of Union Station into a center of high speed rail traffic and related programs. It is not simply a question of designing an efficient and functional transit hub. How can this intermodal node become more than a mere knot of infrastructure? What role can this project play in the reconfiguration of Chicago’s West Loop and of the city and region? How can an existing landmark building be transformed to accommodate and generate a new combination of activities while welcoming an unprecedented level of rail traffic? What can Union Station be in the era of High-Speed Rail?
The competition brief proposes shunting those inconvenient suburban commuters somewhere else and turning more of Union Station's tracks over to Amtrak. You even get to propose tearing down 222 South Riverside without having to replace the office space. (Ah, poetic justice.)

The competition jury will include Stan Allen, Dean of the Princeton University of School of Architecture, Chicago architects Doug Garofalo and Zoka Zola, Geoff Manaugh, editor of Dwell Magazine, and the ubiquitous Bruce Mau. A blog has been set up through which you can submit questions through September 15th. Online submission of entries opens October 10 and closes October 15th. Winners, including a $10,000 first prize, $3,000 second, $1,500 third and up to three honorable mentions, will be announced November 8th.

You can download the competition brief, as well as drawings, photos and other information, here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

It's August 11th - Time for the Monthly Calendar of Architecture Events!

Yes, I know, I'm terrible, but I've . . . been busy. Plus, my goldfish ran off with a disreputable salmon, and I was extremely conflicted about how to react. Should I be angry? Relieved? Can I still return the ten-gallon drum of fish food? But enough of my problems.

Next month, for sure.

Even though things get pretty slow in August, there's still quite a bit to tempt you away from the beach or comfy hammock. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's chief architect Barbara A. Campagna appears twice, WGN's Mike Nowak talks about going green about going green, Susan Benjamin discusses the shopping mall from the 19th century to today for Landmarks Illinois, and much more. Check out the full August Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events here.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Walter Sobel Fell Company Store's fate in hands of Winnetka Zoning Board August 11

Docomomo Midwest is in the midst of an effort to save architect Walter H. Sobel's Fell Company store in Winnetka. The award-winning design, which combines a modernist concrete frame with polychromatic brick infill and a shaded front arcade, was designed to accommodate an additional two floors of future construction, but in June developer New Trier Partners got the Winnetka Design Review Board's approval for demolishing the Fell store and replacing it with a four story structure that would exceed the suburb's current building height limit.

The matter now goes before the Winnetka Zoning Board of Appeals, Monday, August 11 at 7:30 P.M. in the Council Chambers of the Winnetka Village Hall, 510 Green Bay Road. More info on the Docomomo Midwest website here.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Don't Miss It, Sunday last day - Adler and Sullivan Project - Best Exhibition of Summer

Did I mention I tend to procrastinate? From the moment I heard about it, I intended to check out the exhibition, Crombie Taylor, Aaron Siskind and the Adler and Sullivan Project, at Crown Hall at IIT, 3360 S. State.

It opened June 12th. I finally got around to it yesterday, and I was blown away. If you can carve a hour or so out of your Sunday, you won't regret the trip you make down to IIT today. Sunday, August 3rd, is your last chance to see it, 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. It will be the best five bucks you ever spent.

This is a recreation of a 1954 exhibition. a product of the Institute of Design at a time when it made the former Chicago Historical Society, now the club Excalibur, its home. Acting director Taylor Crombie, along with instructor, photographer Harry Callahan, the man who introduced Richard Nickel both to photography and to Louis Sullivan, initiated a project of photographing all of the work of Adler and Sullivan at a time when the standard response would less likely to have been "It's about time", than an uncomprehending "Why?"

The resulting exhibition, reconstructed at Crown Hall, includes 130 photographs of 35 buildings, 109 of them from students. Many of these photographs have been given wider currency over time, many more are fresh. There is a remarkable video documenting, in color, the banks Louis Sullivan designed in the twilight of his career, taken from what must to have been a spectacular 1976 Crombie Taylor that employed 200 slides, three large-format screens and six projectors.

All of this would made the exhibition a must-see. But there is something even more extraordinary. After Crombie Taylor undertook a major restoration of the Auditorium Building's banquet hall, he created replicas of 26 of Sullivan's stencils from both the Auditorium and the legendary Garrick Theatre, at their original scale in panels as large as four by eight feet.

They are a revelation. We have seen samples of these stencils before, in books and exhibits, but never quite like this. What is striking first is the range, not just the foliate stencils of which we are all familiar, but also stencils of a striking geometric abstraction that skirts with minimalism. Nothing looks tired or dated. Everything appears as if it were minted just days before.

You could say they are perhaps even too bright. These stencils were designed, for the largest part, for indoor spaces illuminated by subdued carbon filament light. At Crown Hall, the glow of gold-leaf stencils as they catch the natural daylight seems almost to be channeling Klimt. As you walk around the stencils, changing how you see the light striking them, they modulate from flat surface designs to three-dimensional patterns that seem to float above their backgrounds.
Removed from the form and context of their original mountings, the stencils immerse you in their rich polychromaticism.

I apologize for all of you who would be enthralled by this exhibition, but can't make it on its final day. Until the showing at Crown Hall, Crombie Taylor's stencils had not been seen since the 1960's. We can only hope it will not be another forty years before they - and this remarkable exhibition - are on display again.