Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chicago Streetscene: Wrigley "Hockey" Field December 26th

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Time Regained - West Side Story in 70mm

It's impossible to fully recreate the original impression created by a sensational work of art. We read the stories of the riot that broke out at the premiere of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, but the separation of time divorces us from re-experiencing the full visceral impact of that event.

Leonard Bernstein's musical West Side Story was the sensation that demarcated the turning point of the 20th Century. Written at the crest of the Eisenhower fifties, with its overlay of "normalcy" in the clean suburban homes and the deceptive whitebread wholesomeness of the post-war boom, West Side Story, violent, raw and tragic, presaged the coming of the darker, splintering, disintegrating time to come.

You have an opportunity, but only through Thursday, January 1st, to revisit the excitement that the film version of West Side Story created in 1961, with a rare showing of a new 70mm print at Chicago's Music Box Theater.

Read all about the work, its troubled creation and how it holds up today, with pictures, here.


Caution!!!! - Reader Mike Doyle reports in a comment to this article that he left a later screening at the Music Box because of repeated projector breakdowns. This still may be your last chance to see West Side Story in 70mm, but if you're going to go, you may want to call the Music Box first to make sure they'e resolved their projector problems for this run.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is Condo Board sabotaging Marina City Landmarking?


Quick poll:
1. Which of the following enjoys the widest public awareness:

a. Chicago's twin-towered Marina City.

b. the Marina Towers Condo Association.

2. Which of the following websites would you say serves as the most comprehensive resource on Marina City, its history and importance:

a. Marina City On-line

b. Marina Towers Condo Association
With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, if you answered anything other than 1b and 2b, straighten up! You may just be the subject of a lawsuit from Ellis Levin.

(Full disclosure: I have been a resident of Marina City for decades. I don't write about Marina City as a great building because I live there. I live there because it's a great building.)

As we've written before, one of the world's finest buildings, Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City, is burdened with one of the worst condo boards, one that has repeatedly expressed contempt for the First Amendment, not to mention basic human intelligence, and deployed its lawyer, former progressive legislator Ellis Levin, to harass anyone who doesn't buy into their delusions of grandeur.

In late 2007, the board declared it "holds a common law copyright on the use of the Association name and building image. This means that under Federal and Illinois law, advertisers, movie makers and others cannot use the Association name or image without first obtaining express written permission from the Association . ."

This despite the fact that the "Association name" cited in the board's rules is not "Marina City" but "Marina Towers Condo Association."

This despite the indisputable fact that the association does not own Marina City and, in fact, holds title to NONE of the following
1. The first 20 floors of each twin tower.
2. Marina City's plaza and public spaces.
3. The actual "marina" of Marina City
4. The other structures in the Marina City complex, including the House of Blues and Hotel Sax.

This despite the fact that USCA Title 17, Sec. 120(a) specifically reads:
(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.— The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.
The home page of Steven Dahlman's remarkable Marina City Online website prominently features this statement:
Not sponsored by, endorsed by or affiliated with Marina Towers Condominium Association or Transwestern Commercial Services.
Yet, as a special Christmas gift, MTCA through Ellis Levin on December 23rd sent a letter attempting to shake down Dahlman (and his site's sole advertiser Michael Michalak) for $2,000 in penalties, $50.00 a day and attorney fees for misrepresenting Marina City Online as being MTCA-endorsed.

You can read Levin's absurd letter here, and Steven's rebuttal here. You can read MTCA's hallucinatory regulations on the use of images here.

Despite Levin's bloviated posturing, I have yet to read of him suing anyone to try to enforce MTCA's claim of being able to require payment and prior permission before publishing images of Marina City for commercial use. So why is he going after Dahlman? Could it because Marina City Online regularly exposes the Napoleonic pretensions of the MTCA, including its addiction to closed-door meetings and banning of recording of its sessions? Simply put, Levin is seeking to silence Marina City Online and harass it off the web.

Given the fact that nowhere else, other than Bertrand Goldberg archive's, is there such a wealth of information on Marina City than on Marina City Online's City Within a City: The Biography of Chicago's Marina City, and that we are living, not in Vladimir Putin's Russia, where only one official version of the truth is permitted, but Barack Obama's America, Levin's actions are an outrage.

A large group of Marina City residents are working to have the complex designated an official Chicago landmark. The MTCA, on the other hand, wants to be able to profit from Marina City's notoriety while renouncing responsibility for protecting the qualities that make it world famous. In 2003, it entered into an agreement with the owners of the commercial portions of the complex which, as quoted on Mike Doyle's Chicago Carless website, states:
The MTCA for itself, and for any successor, covenants that it will not initiate, enact, endorse or in any way give support to or voice support for any action which (a) seeks to have the Complex or any portion thereof designated as a landmark . . .
Which makes you wonder whether MTCA's litigious posturings are not just the usual ego trips but its own back door "poison pill" effort to go beyond its own authority to sabotage efforts to landmark Marina City by raising the specter of a flood of lawsuits being filed to shake down any publication or website that publishes, without their permission or compensation, information or images of a newly landmarked complex.

What can be done?

1. You could write Ellis Levin, 542 South Dearborn Street, Suite 1260, Chicago, IL 60605, to point out how far he's fallen from his years as a strong progressive voice, but at this nadir in his career, he's probably beyond shaming. (Full disclosure part II: I once, many, many years ago, made a contribution to one of Ellis's campaigns.)

2. You could write the Marina Towers Condo Association, 300 North State, Chicago, IL 60610. I doubt you can penetrate their ether of overweening self regard, expanding like a gas to overtake whatever space is made available to it, but you can try.

3. If Steven starts a defense fund, you can contribute to it, although Ellis might just see this as an opportunity to build up billings by filing still more litigation.

4. Probably most effectively, you can expose them. The MTCA is the pompous guy in a top hat strutting down the street as if he owned it. He doesn't. And well-considered ridicule is the best snowball.

5. Towards that end, I am declaring ArchitectureChicago Plus "the official newsite of Marina City." If you have a website, I suggest you make a similar pronouncement.

6. I have hundreds of photographs of Marina City and I plan to publish them. I will use the term "Marina City" frequently and at will. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. Marina City. etc.

The battle over Marina City is like Chicago, itself, where many of the most wonderful things in the world, and many of the most craven, live side by side. Which side are you on?

How Do You Fit Sears Tower Under the Christmas Tree?

One of the many wonderful gifts I received from my family this year was from my nephew Frank, this Lego building set of the Sears Tower (Cat not included).

It's part of a Lego Architecture line created with Chicago Legomaniac and model maker Adam Reed Tucker. The instruction booklet, which also includes two pages of information about the facts and history of the building, references other models of icons like the Seattle Space Needle and the Empire State Building. However, if you go to the Lego Architecture website, there's just a "Coming Soon" placeholder, and the only other Architecture series model for sale on the Lego website is one of the John Hancock Center, complete with corkscrew parking ramp. (Elsewhere, however, you can order a $300.00, nearly 6,000 piece Taj Mahal set.)

The home page of Adam Reed Tucker's own website, Brickstructures, also carries an "Updates coming soon" label, and the "Construction Sets" section is empty, but the Architectural Models section takes you to photos of some of Adam Reed Tucker's spectacular, large-scale Lego reproductions of not only the Sears and Hancock, but the Jin Mao, the never-to-be world's tallest 7 South Dearborn, the Burj Dubai and others.

And returning to the Sears Tower, it's unlikely that even Bruce Graham or Fazlur Khan could ever have anticipated how well the twin antennas would serve as a muzzle scratcher.


Happy Holidays One and All!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in Chicago 2008

It's impossible to capture a great city like Chicago at Christmas, throughout all its facets and neighborhoods, in anything less than a book, and neither you nor I, dear reader, have time for such a thing, no matter how grand, so here's a highly selective look at Christmas in Chicago, 2008.These are just samples. See ALL the photo's here, and have a great holiday. See you after the 25th.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jeanne Gang's Cinematic Space at Columbia College

Last week saw the groundbreaking for the Media Production Center at Columbia College, designed by Jeanne Gang and Studio/Gang Architects. The 38,000 square-foot, $21,000,000 facility is the first entirely new building commissioned by Columbia, a hermit crab which over a century of history has always found its spaces in buildings built for others, becoming, in the process, the savior and caretaker of such landmarks as William LeBaron Jenney's Ludington Building and Howard van Doren Shaw's former Lakeside Press building.

In an interview that is part of an excellent overview of the project by Ann Wiens in Demo 8, the magazine of the Columbia College, Gang talks about how she researched and conceived the project, which will include two film/video sound stages, a motion capture studio, animation lab and classrooms among its spaces.
“What has become the most interesting thing for us,” Gang told Wiens, “is realizing how much there is in common between making films and making architecture. When we think about space, we think about it in very similar ways: What do you see when you come around this corner? What is in the foreground and the background? Setting up a long shot, a frame within a frame, you’re constructing space too, but film has a different language for it.”
Wien reports that Gang prepared by watching a list of favorite films provided by Doreen Bartoni, dean of Columbia's School of Media Arts ". . . with an eye toward how the cinematic space was constructed. At Studio Gang’s offices, architectural sketches for various views within the building are pinned to the wall alongside stills from films that relate to them . . Gesturing toward a rendering of a ramp that runs the length of the building’s interior fa├žade, she says, 'As you’re moving up the ramp, you get this experience of the shadows from the glass being drawn across the space,' noting that it is inspired in part by the way Hitchcock used shadows and stairs to designate the passage of time in his films." (With those black silhouette people, the rendering at the top of the page has a definite Saul Bass-like feel to it.) Read the full story here.

We've written about architecture in film before, also talking about Hitchcock's expressive mastery with architectural tectonics and space. There's now an entire book of the subject, which I'm going to have to pick up, The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock, by Steven Jacobs, which explores how the director's use of architecture gave a psychological grounding to the emotions of his films, from the self-contained universe of the courtyard set for Rear Window, to the claustrophobic interiors of Psycho. (Is there anyone who's seen that film who doesn't feel they know and have lived in that house from the second floor hallway to the bare-bulb lit cellar?)

Cinema creates narrative spaces and, Hedrich-Blessing notwithstanding, architecture does, as well. Still photographs of the built environment, no matter how expressive or stunningly beautiful, in the last analysis flatten architecture, stamping out any feeling of how a building is actually experienced, of how it changes second by second with the shifting of the light and the continuously changing perspective of our bodies as they move through it.

In his best films, Hitchcock depended on key collaborators such as Saul Bass, whose stunning title sequences for films such as Psycho and Vertigo create psychological spaces for the audience, a decompression chamber that acclimates them to the environment they are about to enter. The brilliant music of Bernard Hermann creates a very specific acoustic space for that same audience. Just as the sound waves bouncing off a wall define the dimensions and character of a space for its inhabitants, Hermann's music sets the emotional space of a scene.

Hitchcock also worked with a series of extremely talented production designers, including Henry Bumstead, whose extraordinary, nearly 60 year career stretched all the way from My Fred Irma in 1949 to a long association with Clint Eastwood that ended with Letters from Iwo Jima, just before Bumstead's death at 91 in 2006. His work for Hitchcock not only included classics such as the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo, but, as related by Jacobs, also included "interventions" at the director's Scotts Valley estate, and furniture, gates and grilles for another house in Bel-Air. You can read Jacob's introduction to his book here, and, should you happen to understand Dutch, can enjoy an in interview with the author on YouTube here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Selling Calatrava's Chicago Spire: No Building? No Problem!

It had already been dubbed the Drillbit or the Big Screw, but in October Crain's Chicago Business added a new nickname for the Santiago Calatrava designed Chicago Spire: the Lien-ing Tower of Chicago. Construction work stopped just as architect Calatrava filed an $11.3 lien against the project for unpaid services. Co-architects Perkins + Will filed for another $4.8 million. Contractors filed for millions more, and finally it came to developer Garrett Kelleher suing himself, with one division, Chicago Spire LLC and Shelbourne Lakeshore Ltd. filing a $17.5 million lien against a different division, Shelbourne North Water Street L.P.
All that's left, beyond a shoeshine and a smile, is a 76 foot deep, 110 foot across hole where a 2,000 foot high building should be rising. Kelleher, however, appears to be clinging to his Gatsby-like optimism, running the full-page ad shown here in this past Sunday's Chicago Tribune. According a report by Blair Kamin, a Shelbourne spokesman says Kelleher is merely "waiting for the banks to start acting like banks again." Whether he's talking about the banks so careless in their lending that they brought down the nation's economy, or the banks so afraid of lending that they're keeping it there, remains unclear.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Thursday: Burnham's Legacy, Archeworks Critique and a new Plan for Grant Park

We've got three late listings, jamming up on Thursday, December 18th, the last active day in the calendar before everything shuts down for the year-end holidays. (Not to mention Daniel Barenboim's return to Chicago for an all-Liszt recital at the Harris Theater.)

At 12:00 P.M., at the Chaddick Institute of DePaul, architectural historian and author Sally A. Kitt Chappell will lecture on Chicago's Urban Nature: The Legacy of Daniel Burnham, going up against the Art Institute's Joe Rosa at a 12:15 Landmarks Illinois lecture at the Chicago Cultural Center, Are We Ready to Landmark Goldberg Buildings?, a prelude to the upcoming Goldberg show in the Department of Architecture's new Renzo Piano Modern Wing gallery.

Starting at 5:30, with a cocktail reception for its new gallery, Archeworks will be conducting its Semester Final Critique and Review, open to the public, of this year's three student projects, including pocket parks for Little Village, the stewardship of six of Chicago's major community parks for the proposed 2016 Olympics, and a consideration of water scarcity and pollution worldwide.

At at 6:30 P.M., at Daley Bicentennial Plaza Fieldhouse, the Grant Advisory Council will be offering up Planning for the Southwest Corner of Grant Park: public input, promising to review new plans by EDAW and Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill Architecture for the sloping section of Grant Park east of Michigan and north of Roosevelt that has most recently been bisected by a ramp access point for trucks supporting construction of the new Metra 11th Street station.

You can find details on all of these events here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lunatics we Love - Prince-Ramus Lost in the Esquire Funhouse

It begins with the image of Vitruvius "wherein he fellates his client--some emperor named Caesar" and goes downhill from there.

If you thought my stuff is bad, you've yet to encounter what may be the worst writing on architecture you ever encounter, Scott Raab's The Young Savior of American Architecture Burying Frank Gehry.

The subject of Raab's portrait, Joshua Prince-Ramus of the firm REX, is portrayed as having an ego that's even more bloated than Vince Vaughan after Thanksgiving dinner. Read all about it, and see the pictures, including Prince Ramus's spectacular Museum Plaza in Louisville, here.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Architectural Toys at ArchiTech Gallery Through December 27th

I've already fessed up to my own obsession with construction toys, and through December 27th you can relive your own at David Jameson's ArchiTech Gallery, which is marking its tenth anniversary with the exhibition, Architectural Toys, drawing on items from the late 19th and early 20th century.
Architectural toys have been treasured since the days of the Pharaohs and were left in their tombs for the afterlife. American and European toys of the 19th Century were made in wood and cast stone, anticipating years of rough play by legions of youthful architects.
Included are the Froebel Blocks beloved of Frank Lloyd Wright, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, and the modernist white-city American Skyline set, which I also played with as a kid. Pride of place goes to an Erector Set Ferris Wheel, replicating the most popular attraction of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. There was also a 1950's building kit designed by Charles Eames, and a "Fort Dearborn" Lincoln Log set, which proved vastly more popular than the "Prairie Avenue Massacre" building set issued by Kenner shortly thereafter.

The ArchiTech Gallery is at 720 North Franklin Street, Suite 200, and is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday noon to five P.M., "or by chance or appointment." There's only three more weeks to catch it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blagomania reaches Milan, by way of Cleveland

He may never realize his dream of being President, but disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's viral 15 minutes of (in)fame(y) - which includes John McCain on Letterman tonight poking fun by peppering the word "bleepin'" into his opening remarks - has gone global, popping up in Milan in a post on the indispensable Opera Chic block quoting the Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith on a lawsuit filed by Don Rosenberg, the long-time Cleveland Press music critic who found himself muscled to the sidelines by a set of connected bluebloods taking offense at Rosenberg's tough but honest critiques of the capabilities of music director Franz Welser-Most. Smith writes:
Welser-Most also was quoted as favoring a system of charging money to get an audience with him (it sounds rather like something that Illinois Gov. Blagojevich might have thought up) -- more than $5,000 before the donor would get a handshake, but, for $10 million, "of course, you go to dinner."
Is it only a matter of time until the phrase . . .

to Blago v: to trash talk about putting the screws to an associate in pursuit of personal gain, often with unrealistic expectations arising out of a hallucinatory sense of self-importance

. . . make its way into Webster's?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If Blago were around, this guy wouldn't be having a problem

view here.

Trump and Aqua at Large and in Detail

As one of the greatest building booms in Chicago's history draws to a close, the two most distinctive additions of the city's skyline emerge.

Trump International Hotel and Towers has dramatically changed the scale of Chicago's riverfront and the Magnificent Mile. At 1362 feet, the Adrian Smith/Skidmore, Owings and Merrill design is the tallest building constructed in Chicago in over 34 years, and is now the city's second tallest ever, after the Sears Tower at 1451. You can see some spectacular photographs taken from the top of the tower, taken by crane operator Ken Derry, here. (Thanks to Isaac Gaetz for tipping us off to these.)

The Trump dominates the vistas all around it.
While most of the design is about big, there are some more human scaled grace notes, such as this perfectly proportioned garden separating the entry ramp for the garage spiral from the walkway leading to the Wrigley Building Plaza and Michigan Avenue.
Where the Trump commands attention through its sheer size, Studio/Gang's Aqua, while no shrinking violet at 82 stories and 822 feet, dominates through it's distinctive appearance. As it nears completion, this may be the best time to see it, when it exists as pure form, before the addition of balcony railings whose presence is currently exaggerated by being wrapped in big plastic baggies.
Although the condo component of Aqua has essentially sold out, the project is currently dealing with the pullout of Strategic Hotels from its commitment to construct a 225 room annex to the adjacent Fairmont in 15 of Aqua's floor. It's almost too bad we're in the era of digital photography, because developer Magellan might have compensated for the loss by getting indicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to shake down Kodak for a cut of all the film sales engendered by a building that will undoubtedly become, after Da Bean and the Water Tower, one of the most photographed attractions in Chicago.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Don't Mess with Sam Zell

As a follow-up to today's post, there's this morning's news that our beloved governor, Rod Blagojevich, has been picked up the feds for running his office as a criminal enterprise. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Blagojevich tried to put the screws to Tribune Company owner Sam Zell to have him fire the Tribune editorial board writers who have been calling for the hapless governor's impeachment, or have Blagojevich hold up funding for renovations at Wrigley Field. Courtesy of the Trib, here's a link to the entire 78-page complaint, here. John Kass must be in hog heaven. What kind of idiot would think he can best a bare-knuckles gutter fighter like Sam Zell? Does this mean Pat Quinn gets to pick our next U.S. Senator?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Coal in the Stocking

Traditional Tribune Tower Christmas
2008 Tribune Tower Christmas

Sam Zell is turning into Captain Renault. He's "shocked, shocked" that the steaming pile of debt in which he buried the Tribune Company has led it to being forced into bankruptcy. Having once earned the nickname "the grave dancer" for his genius at picking clean the remnant value from the fresh corpses of other businessman's irrational exuberance, he apparently couldn't see coming the "perfect storm" of economic factors that would lead the Tribune Company into Chapter 11. We are led to believe that when we took the company private early last year, he couldn't have anticipated that loading it up with over $12 billion in debt at the same time that revenues, even before this fall's meltdown, were in relentless implosion, could have anything other than a bad end. For an investment of about $300 million, Zell got control of the company, and the employees - on paper they now own the company, as part of a strategy to avoid paying federal taxes - are left holding a less than empty bag: $7.6 billion in assets, $12.9 billion in debts.

Not so long ago a newspaper was seen as a license to print money, but with amazing rapidity, the stench of mortality overtook the smell of green, and the vultures circled. At the Sun-Times, it was royalist, accomplished looter and convicted felon Conrad Black, who, according to the current Newsweek, recently wrote a fawning op-ed piece praising George Bush, not in shameless pandering in quest of a pardon, but as his Lordship's sincere attempt to redress "the failings of the American justice system" that inexplicably put him behind bars.

If you listen to the "expert" analysts today, you get the impression that the bankruptcy will be a painless process where the debt holders will simply acknowledge that their investment is now worth billions less than what they paid for it, and everyone will be allowed to go on with their live. Don't bet on it.

For now, workers get paid, the 401-k's endure, and the Trib, as well as the Los Angeles Times and other papers in the company's stable, will continue to be on the stoop each morning, but its hard to believe that the big bank investors who have just had their pockets picked won't be putting the screws on Tribune management to protect the balance of their investment.

A nightmare vision of the future can be found in New York Times' Maureen Dowd's column last week profiling James McPherson, a self-proclaimed "Thomas Edison" of "the new journalism," who fired his Pasadena's weekly five reporters and outsourced their functions to India. "I pay by the piece," he brags to Dowd, "just the way it was in the garment business." One Mysore, India-based reporter was unclear whether the Rose Bowl was a sports story or a food event, but what do such distinctions matter when you can buy a thousand words for $7.50?

It would be easy to dismiss McPherson as a charlatan, but then there's Dean Singleton, publisher of also-ran dailies in Pasadena, Denver and Detroit - and current Chairman of the Associated Press - also drunk on the wonders of outsourcing, and off shoring, every possible part of the process. The next step? Increasingly, publishers are seeing sugarplums in a new business model where content is provided, not by paid reporters, but by readers. You can see a reflection of that idea in the Trib's Letters to the Editor page, which now sprouts vanity photographs of the letter writers.

The result of all this, of course, is mush, journalism as a popularity poll without depth or tenacity, a generic understanding that understands nothing. The world isn't just flat, it's featureless. Mysore or Pasadena, Chicago or Danang - same, same, right? Where everything is interchangeable, the intrinsic value of anything is zero, and all meaning is lost.

McPherson and Singleton depend, of course, on a wide readership with good jobs and the kind of wages that will allow them to buy the goods their advertisers want to sell. They just don't intend to provide any of those jobs themselves. They cling to yesterday's idea of the future, the supply chain economy of trolling the globe for a rotating churn of literate but impoverished workforces, exploiting desperation with a chimera of hope. That's not a business model. It's a Ponzi scheme.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

MVRDV: Coneheads of Gwanggyo, Hog Butcher of Europe

Telescoping towers gather a lot of moss, at least that may be the case in Korea, where it was announced last week that Rotterdam-based MVRDV is the winner of a competition, co-sponsored by Daewoo, to design a central "Power Centre" for the new town of Gwanggyo, about 20 miles south of Seoul, which is projected to have an eventual population of 77,000.

MVRDV's proposal, for a large site in the middle of a lake and timbered hills. calls for development in a sequence of concentric rings, and "a series of overgrown hill shaped buildings with great programmatic diversity . . . "

The project is intended to be super-green, both literally and figuratively. "Every part of the program receives a terrace for outdoor life. Plantations around the terraces with a floor to floor circulation system store water and irrigate the plans. The roofs of these hills and the terraces are planted with box hedges creating a strong, recognizable, cohesive park. This vertical park will improve the climate and ventilation, reduce energy and water usage. As a result a series of overgrown green 'hills appear in the landscape."
It's not quite clear what all of these people are going to be doing for a living. Only about 8% of space created in MVRDV's plan is devoted to offices, with the balance equally distributed between housing; culture, retail, leisure and education; and, rather surprisingly for a "green" town, a full 30% allocation for parking.

Not surprisingly, the powerhouse engineering firm Arup is being brought in as an engineering partner to figure how to make the thing possible. The project is currently in the hand of local bureaucrats for "further development and feasibility study," which, given the current economic climate, puts us anxiously in mind of some other distinctive-looking towering green presences.

You can can more pictures and info, including one of the models being made, in this great post on ArcSpace, here.
And, in the department of things we've found while looking up other things, a visit to the MVRDV website brought us to their 2000 Pig City project, which considered Netherland's position as the biggest pork exporter in Europe, in the quantity of 16.5 million tons per annum.
MVRDV, doubting a mass conversion to vegetarianism, posited an alternative that would be less demanding on Holland's limited land resources and more humane for the pigs - at least until the moment we knock them off - in which the stockyards would go condo in a series of 76 towers offering high-on-the-hog beachfront apartments complete with big balconies to allow the animals to frolic about in tree-shaded sunlight.
Why didn't Daniel Burnham think of this?

Although it's the British who appear to have gotten there first:



(stream of consciousness blogging ©Edward Lifson)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Brandt, DeStefano, Murcutt cited by AIA

At its annual meeting last night at the Spertus Institute, AIA Chicago named Craig Brandt, AIA of Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge as its 2008 Dubin Family Young Architect., with AIA President Rik Master describing Brandt as "an exceptional architect with incredible potential. His talent and ability will take him very far in this profession." Singled out for mention was Brandt's recent design of a port of entry facility in Raymond, Montana, shown above, for the United States Department of Homeland Security, which manages both to frame the stunning natural vistas that surround it and evoke Hammond Beeby's commitment to traditional design in a modernist expression.
AIA Chicago also named DeStefano + Partners as winner as its 2008 Firm Award for "a high level of attention to design across the board, including technical detailing the principles of sustainability," from the College of DuPage Technology Center in Glen Ellyn, to a new administration center in Danang, Vietnam. Among DeStefano's recent Chicago worksare One South Dearborn, pictured above, with it's graceful, tree-filled plaza and distinctive crown.

Blair Kamin reports that on the national level, AIA has awarded its 2008 Gold Medal to Australian architect Glenn Murcutt.
You can read my profile of this remarkable architect and his work, from the time of his 2004 residency at IIT, here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Bunker

Should bureaucrats and architects be forced to watch Downfall (Der Untergang), director Oliver Hirschbiegel's harrowing film of Hitler's last days as a burrowing mole beneath the Berlin of the collapsing Third Reich?

One can't follow the contemptuous early reviews of the new underground Capitol Visitor Center, which has just opened after ten years $621 million, in such ideologically diverse newspapers as the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, without feeling chills down the spine that the spirit of Albert Speer is alive and well, not just in the nation's capital, but in the American presence both domestic and foreign. (Thanks to Blair Kamin's Skyline blog for the heads-up)

Where visitors had, since its creation centuries before, approached the temple of democracy across broad, generously landscaped lawns whose trees established a natural, human scale, they now must scuttle beneath a massive, overpaved plaza, only to find themselves in an overscaled "Emancipation Hall" that evokes, not Democracy, but Speer's Berlin or Mussolini's Rome
It all began with the 1998 shooting of two Capitol policeman, and security concerns that escalated with 9/11. Couple those fears to the power of bureaucrats controlling the purse strings and the emptiest, most banal emotions of imperial self-importance, and you get a rancid, toxic stew that creates things like the new Capitol Visitors Center, a joyless funhouse mirror offering a perverted nightmare reflection of the true spirit of American democracy.

During an even more troubled time, World War II, the city of London suffered incredible destruction during the Blitz. The spirit of its citizens became immortal in how they survived, endured and triumphed.

In early 21st America, the bombs have yet to fall, the earth has yet to be despoiled, yet, increasingly, we are allowing ourselves to be herded into the underground shelters on false promises of a perfect security. We place our hopes not on our character but on the fig leaf of the bunker. A bunker under the capitol. Bunkers for our embassies. Bunkers at our public buildings. An above-ground bunker at Ground Zero. As Carol Ross Barney proved at Oklahoma City, it doesn't have to be this way.

When Rem Koolhaas labeled Daniel Libeskind's proposals for ground zero “a massive representation of hurt that projects only the overbearing self-pity of the powerful," I found his remarks pompous, condescending and false. Now, with the designs like the new Capitol Visitors Center, I'm no longer so sure.
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Decline and Fall

It was one of Chicago's greatest institutions. Now it's just in the way.

Lee Bey, on his Urban Observer blog, has posted a series of striking photographs - including the one you see here - of the Michael Reese Hospital complex on the city's near south side. The fact that they're in black and white makes Lee's images seem even more elegiac.

The story of the hospital, recounted in photoessays on the wonderful Forgotten Chicago website, is an object lesson in the dynamics of a city. It was originally created to replace a hospital created by the United Hebrew Relief Association at LaSalle and Schiller that had been destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, funded out of the estate of Michael Reese, who had grown rich speculating in real estate in the 1850's, during the city's infancy. The hospital named after him, which opened in 1880, was to be free of the kind of prejudice that remained prevalent in other Chicago institutions, serving patients regardless of their race or religion.
The eight men whose names are inscribed on the cornerstone, laid July 4, 1905 (shown above in a Forgotten Chicago photograph) formed the committee that had raised $400,000 for the new building designed by architect Hugh Garden, and including people like Moses Born, who had made a fortune in the clothing business and whose distinctive Frost & Granger designed house still stands on Drexel Boulevard.
There was also Leon Mandel, co-creator of the now forgotten Mandel Brothers, at State and Madison, one of that great street's grandest department stores, so prosperous that the 1912 Holabird and Roche building spilled over to a classic Chicago School-styled annex on Wabash. Long past its the death of its creators, Mandel Brothers failed in the 1950's and was sold to Wieboldt's, a lesser chain that failed, in its turn, the 1970's. The great State Street palace, its original terra cotta storefronts reproduced in fiberglass but shorn of its ornamental cornice, now houses outlets of Filene's Basement and T.J. Maxx.
There's Julius Rosenwald, who helped make Sears, Roebuck, now a division of K-Mart, a national powerhouse, and who would also go on to found the Museum of Industry and fund the 1929 Rosenwald Apartments at 46th and Michigan, one of the city's first and best low-income housing complexes, now boarded up and rotting.
William M. Eisendrath made his fortune in tanning and leather goods, Herman F. Hahn in wholesale jewelry, Maurice Rosenfeld from dry goods and real estate, Edwin G. Foreman, whose name lives on in Foreman High School, in banking, as did M.E. Greenebaum.

Michael Reese was one city's jewels, a medical facility whose innovations including the use of incubators for babies born prematurely. As the century progressed, Michael Reese continued to serve the neighborhood around it as its constituency shifted from Jewish to Afro-American. The area became increasingly poor, and the response was the standard response of the 40's and 50's. As at IIT, it was a scorched earth approach, razing the existing, decaying built environment to create a empty tabula rasa for an idealized new Corbusian environment of buildings constructed in a broad expanse of greenery and, increasingly, parking lots.

Over time, the focus of philanthropy moved elsewhere, the neighborhood continued to deteriorate, and in 1998 Michael Reese got sucked up in the pervasive supply chain economics of our era, becoming just another cog in the vast empire of Nashville's Hospital Corporation of America. After a few years it sold Michael Reese to still another faceless corporation, Envision Hospital Corporation of Arizona, which pushed the hospital into bankruptcy court this past September, with up to $100 million in debts.

Now the city lusts after the 37-acre complex as an off-again, on-again site for the mayor's great white whale of the 2016 Olympics, as a part of a $1.1 billion village for the athletes. The hospital is in the process of closing, not with a bang, but with a whimper. In July, the city crafted a deal to pay the owner of the land, Medline Industries, $85 million, with Medline immediately kicking back $20 mil to remediate toxic waste contamination on the site. That deal fell apart as estimates of the actual cost of the remediation began to skyrocket, to $32 million and counting. Now the city may invoke its eminent domain powers to acquire the property, and is set to the borrow $85,000,000 to complete the acquisition. And all traces of Michael Reese will be erased from the earth.

Sic transit gloria, Chicago-style.