Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Last Wright - FLW in Mason City documentary debuts Saturday

Just a few years ago, the city fathers of Mason City, Iowa, were thinking of trying to sell it on E-Bay, but this past March a $9 million state grant is making it more likely that Frank Lloyd Wright's 1910 Park Inn, his last surviving hotel, will finally be restored to its original glory. It's part of a $34 million plan that will also see the restoration of the adjacent City National Bank, designed by Wright at the same time. The two buildings were featured in the 1910 Wasmuth Portfolio that established Wright's reputation throughout Europe. After the hotel closed in 1972, the building went into a long decline, but in the new plan, it will be restored to its original purpose and become, the city hopes, a major tourist draw.

A new documentary on the hotel, The Last Wright, will have its debut this Saturday, November 1st, at 3:00 P.M., at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 North State. The filmmakers, Iowan Garry McGee and New Yorker Lucille Carra, worked on the project for over three years, and are scheduled to be in attendance. "Through rare archival footage, and a look at stunning Wright masterpieces, this film offers a provocative, ironic tapestry of an American century, tracing the life, death and rebirth of a Midwest downtown through the prism of The Park Inn."

The 60-minute documentary will be paired with This American Gothic which depicts Eldon, Iowa's efforts at reviving their town through a Gothic House Visitor Center "in honor of the local structure that inspired Grant Wood's iconic [painting] American Gothic."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chris Abel on Foster in China, Friday Lecture at IIT

In a really late addition to the October calendar (boo!), we've just learned that Aussie-Cornhusker Chris Abel, visiting professor at the University of Nebraska will be lecturing Friday, the 31st, at 1:00 P.M., on the work of Norman Foster in China, where the architect's nearly $4 billion Terminal 3 at Beijing Airport (pictured here), twice the size of Pentagon, opened earlier this year. The lecture will take place in the Lower Core of Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall, 3360 South State Street.

Ding, Dong, the Scaffolds Gone!

It's not just the leaves that are being shed now that we're in late October. On some high-profile sites, including Block 37, new buildings are at long last emerging from their scaffolding cocoons.

The scaffolds that darkened the sidewalks around the Hotel Wit construction site at State and Lake, made only partially less ugly by the quotations from Daniel Burnham and Albert Einstein, finally came down this week.
And the scaffolding with the high, reed thin red metallic verticals that upstaged the huge round columns of Trump Tower's grand entrance, thin white roof that obscured the giant metal trellis, and massive wood frontispiece proclaiming - lest there had been any confusion - "Trump" in giant letters, also underwent deconstruction this week.

Slowly, as projects like these come to completion, with the tanking economy making new iterations, at least for the time being, increasingly unlikely, Chicago's sidewalks are thankfully emerging from their scaffold caverns and possession shifted from construction crews back to the people.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicago Streetscene: Millennium Park Maples Aflame

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spirit of the Bee Hive/Chicago Style: Ornament Removed from Building attributed to Adler and Sullivan - No Louis Harmed in Process

An architectural mystery story.

The ornament on the 1884 building is gone. Where did it go, who did it, what was it like, and what's the history behind the structure on Chicago's State Street that bore the hand of the great architect Louis Sullivan? Read all about it - and see all the pictures - here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The night Frank Lloyd Wright Spent in Hennepin County Jail

Reader and blogger Aaron M. Renn reminds us that we forgot to mark the 82nd anniversary of the arrest of Frank Lloyd Wright at the kitchen door of his cottage at Wildhurst, Lake Minnetonka, where he was in illicit domicile with "Montenegrin dancer" Olga Milanoff, who would become the third - and final - Mrs. FLW after he married her less than two years later.

Wright, who was writing - and apparently generating material for - his autobiography at the time, had been charged with infidelity by Mrs. FLW #2. and "alienation of affections" by Mme Milanoff's aggrieved husband. You can read a splendidly dramatic and evocative front-page account of the incident by Minneapolis Tribune reporter Ben Weltner here.

If you missed commemorating the actual October 21st anniversary date this past Tuesday, I'm sure FLW wouldn't mind if you chose to belatedly mark the occasion with the traditional drinking game of thumbing through 1950's magazine profiles and downing a shot each time "Frank Lloyd Wright" and "world's greatest architect" occur within 12 words of each other.
(Minneapolis Times photo courtesy Minneapolis Public Library)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tonight - One Night Only - A Rare Chance to Journey to Shanghai on Film at CAF

In old Hollywood, just the name Shanghai carried a mystique of the exotic and erotic, of the hidden and mysterious. Just think of Marlene Dietrich in von Sternberg's Shanghai Express, or an Orson Welles film noir, set in San Francisco, gaining another layer of meaning just through the naming of blond (another inversion) Rita Hayworth's Lady from Shanghai. Nor are Chinese filmmakers immune to the attraction of the city's mingling of China and Europe, underworld and high society, as in Zhang Yimou's 1995 film Shanghai Triad, with Baotian Li as a mob boss equal to Eddie G., and his main squeeze Gong Li (ummmmmm, Gong Li).

Of course, there's lot more to Shanghai - celluloid and otherwise - than my own rather warped take on it, and you'll get, I'm sure, a much more balanced and nuanced take this evening, October 22nd from 5:30 to 7:00 in the John Buck lecture hall at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 South Michigan, when WBEZ film critic Jonathan Miller takes you on a journey to Shanghai on Film, with "selected clips from classic and contemporary films . . . [to] explore how Shanghai has been depicted, what its image has meant and how it is presently changing." (I'm also betting Jonathan's got a far more inclusive, germane and compelling selection of films than those I've chosen here.) It's part of the program scheduled in conjunction with CAF's great new Shanghai Transforming exhibition, which you'll also be able to check out on the walls of the John Buck auditorium.

Tickets are $15.00, $10.00 for CAF members, $5.00 for students. Bring your own popcorn.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Louis Sullivan Cedar Rapids Bank: on Fatal Side of Proposed Levee?

photographs: Einar Einarsson Kvaran, Wikipedia
Paulina Saliga of the Society of Architectural Historians has brought to our attention an on-line petition drive against an ambitious anti-flood plans by Cedar Rapids, Iowa that could be putting in peril the future of the Louis Sullivan designed Peoples Savings Bank from 1911, which stands less than a block from the riverfront. The building, which had undergone a major restoration under the direction of Wilbert Hasbrouck in 1991, sustained major damage to its main floor and basement, including a reported destruction of original construction drawings, in the disastrous flooding of this past June.

Earlier this month, plans were unveiled for a new Cedar Rapids flood protection system that would see the construction of a huge new levee downtown requiring the moving, or - more likely in a city that has no real idea of how its going to compensate owners whose properties would be seized - the demolition of the Peoples Savings Bank, currently a Wells Fargo branch, which at last report remains closed.

The initial estimate for the cost of the overall flood control proposal is $1 billion, or nearly $8,000 for every one of Cedar Rapids' 126.000+ residents. You can read the text of a petition against the proposal, which would impact 500 homes and businesses and leave historical landmarks like the Sullivan bank unprotected, and add your own name here.

And in way of things I found while looking up other things, here's a wonderful appreciation of Louis Sullivan by Sarah Vowell, in a video recorded at the Metropolitan Museum's reconstruction of a staircase from the Chicago Stock Exchange Building.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Uncle Sam: State Street Slumlord?

I know times are tough, but this is ridiculous. Who would have thought the Federal government would be channeling the spirit of Lou Wolf to become the blightmasters of State Street?

Read the sad story of the GSA's neglect of Holabird and Roche's once proud 1916 Century Building, 202 S. State Street - and see all the pictures - here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Santiago Calatrava to Chicago Spire Developer: "You owe me MONEY!"

Somehow, the similarity between Santiago Calatrava and Bert Gordon has never struck me before, but Crain's Chicago Business is reporting this afternoon that the Spanish architect has gone on strike. Claiming he hasn't been getting paid, he's stopping working on the Chicago Spire, and placed a $11.3 lien against Garrett Kelleher's Shelbourne Development, with Perkins+Will filing another lien for $4.85 million. Read the full story here.

And read Calatrava, in happier times, explaining his 2,000-foot-high spiraling tower here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Deconstructing 55 East Monroe

What can you about Mid-Continental Plaza, 55 East Monroe? That it takes up a full half city block, and has enough granite in its lobby and concourses to capsize an oil tanker? That its squat, closely spaced mullions rise the building's full 583 foot height without a single setback, giving the structure the appearance of a gigantic radiator or a maximum security prison, minus the charm?

One of the great glories of Chicago architecture, Shaw & Associates 1972 design definitely isn't, but, seeking to cash in on the renewed popularity of the east Loop with the advent of Millennium Park, the top 15 stories of the building are now being transformed into the "Park Monroe", ultimately projected to include almost 350 condo units.

As documented in these photographs by our intrepid photo correspondent Bob Johnson, Goettsch Partners is in the process of opening up the Mid-Continental's monolithic facade.

At first the only visible sign of the work was a cyclopean square of plywood at top center.
Now we're seeing Goettsch's dematerialization of the skin of the upper stories, stripping away the thick mullions which are wider then the structure beneath, which exists only behind every second column. A glass curtain wall, inset with terraces, is being put in their place.
Lightening up the facade is especially important as the apartments, themselves, tend to be narrow shotguns stretching deep into the half-block wide interior.
The final result will be a kind of stacked wedding cake, one where the edges of all the layers are flush. The Park Monroe will almost look like a separate building, perched atop an opaque, heavy -metal plinth.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Diane Keaton: Architecture Critic

(image: Ambassador Hotel, 2004, Wikipedia commons)
Seeing the beautiful Robert Harris restoration of the first two Godfather films over the past two weeks reminded me of Diane Keaton's skills, then only beginning to be apparent, as an actress. A Monday article in the L.A. Times on the destruction of the Ambassador Hotel reveals that Keaton is also not only a dedicated architectural preservationist, but a cogent writer, as well. Keaton details the rich history of the hotel, her efforts with other activists to save it, including coming up with plans for alternate use, and the recalcitrance of the Board of Education bureaucracy, which has, a la Chicago's Block 37, obstinately engineered a demolition only to leave a vacant lot. Read Keaton's fine article here.

Chicago nightscene: Barnacles

Monday, October 13, 2008

And to think I saw it all on State Street!

On Friday, greasy pilings flame bright at the side of the bridge . . .On Saturday, an exquisite giantess with a face two stories high peers out sadly from behind the thread-like bars of her newly unveiled prison of beauty . . .
And on Sunday, sweating, straining bodies, in an unending rainbow stream of day-glo color ritual run past the dead red fish, concrete cobs, and sacrifice house of the succulent flesh . . .
. . . while off to the side, on IBM Plaza, the youngest runner paces the race he creates out of his own imagination . . .

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Macy's Newest Dance on Marshall Field's Grave

Just when you think Macy's couldn't do anything more to trash the legacy of the historic and iconic Marshall Field's department store, they take it to a new level. It was Marshall Field's, more than anything else, that made State Street one of the world's premiere shopping streets. Now, apparently, Macy's can no longer even be bothered to dress its State Street windows.
Only two years after snuffing out the venerable Marshall Field's name, Macy's is rubbing the noses of Chicago shoppers in its 150th anniversary celebration, which falls six years short of the 1852 origins of Field's as the Potter Palmer emporium at 137 West Lake. Once one of the great prides of retailing, the State Street windows are now papered over with magazine-ad-like posters that are a supersized version of those usually found hastily pasted onto the walls of alleys and boarded-up buildings. Belying its claim of maintaining it as a distinctive midwestern "flagship", Macy's continues its debasement of its State Street property into just another generic outlet of an anonymous supply-chain retailer thinking it can save the department store by running it like an upscale Wal-Mart.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cary Primeau at Chicago Art Open 2008, Today at Noon

Cary Primeau, whose striking photography we've featured here before, will be appearing today, Saturday, October 11th, at 12 noon at the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart for the 2008 Chicago Art Open. The show, which exhibits the work of 285 artists, runs through Sunday, October 19th, from 11 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., daily. $5.00 suggested admission.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Chocolate Park

Thomas L. Friedman must love Chicago, because it's flat, flat, flat.

Not that we've been content to leave it there. George Pullman grew rich jacking up buildings to the higher street level the city created to raise Chicago up out of the marshy muck that become an unhealthy cesspool. Chicago may have few hills outside of Beverly, but we've built our own, usually along above-grade railroads and roadways.

Case in point is the area west of the Loop that's come to be know as Hubbard's Cave, where the Kennedy expressway burrows beneath a continuous concrete mat of surface streets, many of which themselves course through the area atop high viaducts.

Des Plaines Avenue just south of Kinzie is one of those stilted thoroughfares, and on September 25th the Chicago Park District dedicated a new park that is one of those rare - and welcome - cases where the changes in the city's terrains aren't hidden, but worked with. The 1.03 acre park makes the descent from Des Plaines down to Jefferson Street in a series of rolling hills and sloping walkways. The $5,000,000 project includes a playground and enclosed dog park, some tennis balls included.

The land on which the park stands was donated to the city by a subsidiary of Fifield Realty Corporation, which is rapidly populating the former industrial area with a series of staggeringly mediocre constructions. A neighborhood group, the Fulton River District Association, estimates that there are 3,500 to 4,000 residential units within a two-mile radius of the park.
The crowning temple on this shining city on a hill is a new 65,000 square foot Jewel-Osco, designed by Camburas and Theodore, Ltd. of Des Plaines (the suburb, not the street.) The project is being submitted for LEED certification. The roof combines 45,000 square feet of reflective membrane and 22,700 of green LiveRoof system. Recycled building materials were procured from within a 500 mile radius to reduce transportation costs, and 98% of construction waste was recycled. There are sensors that adjust heating and cooling based on the number of people in the store, and a large salad bar with lots of different kinds of olives.
At the moment, the new park's name is its number - #551. A worthy individual is sure to soon be found to honor as the park's permanent namesake, but this is really the Chocolate Park. It sits at the foot of the massive Blommer Chocolate works. Despite the crack efforts of the EPA, which had no problem with British Petroleum dumping thousands of additional pounds of toxic chemicals into Lake Michigan but was johnny-on-the-spot in forcing Blommer to drastically curtail its aroma producing emissions, the faint smell of chocolate still pleasantly hovers the city's newest greenspace, adding a graceful endorphin high to the recreation.

The Fulton River District Association is putting together an advisory council for the new park, to assist in the park's governance and maintenance, including a "Clean and Green Day" this coming Saturday, October 15th, from 9 a.m. to 11:30. For more information, contact Maria via phone, 312/217.6580, email, or visit their website.
Right now, the "hill" on which the new Jewel-Osco was built, 25 feet above ground level, simply drops off to the west, but the contours of Park 551, whose stepped descent mirrors that of the adjacent Pickens Kane building to the northwest, suggests that we could foster a lot better city if the developers filling up the area with new buildings took the time to more creatively to work the changes in terrain into the design of their structures.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

DeStefano+ gets Mies Fever

It was announced yesterday evening that the prominent Chicago architectural firm of DeStefano+Partners will be following Dick's Last Resort in abandoning the seemingly perpetually troubled North Pier complex and will be moving to a full floor at 330 N. Wabash (aka the IBM Building), the iconic, recently landmarked Mies van der Rohe structure completed in 1971. DeStefano has signed a 10-year lease for the whole of the 33,000 square-foot 32nd floor, placing them just steps away from competitor Perkins+Will, on the 32rd. The move is part of a new city initiative to shepherd into a single building all architectural firms that replace the ampersand in their name with a plus sign.
DeStefano's transformative work in Chicago includes the ABN/Amro building in the West Loop, One South Dearborn, and the announced 100-story Waldorf Astoria Tower in Streeterville.