Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This is Learning from Vancouver?

Separated at birth? One Museum Park (left), Edgar the cat (right)
cat photograph: Yukari

OK, not everybody has to be Kate Moss, and not every building has to be supermodel skinny. Still, Chicago, which has long heralded the Vancouver example of tall, thin buildings that bring density to the urban core while maintaining plenty of light and air circulation, talks a good story, but once there's money to be made, it all tends to go out the window. That was confirmed when Sam Assefa, director of land use and planning policy and a key advocate for the Vancouver approach, was recently unceremoniously dumped in a reorganization of Chicago's planning departments.

The Trib's architecture critic Blair Kamin has been singling out the high-rise work of architects Pappageorge Haymes for praise, but the fact of the matter is that they've provided cover to city bureaucrats inflicting major damage on the city's lakefront, especially at 600 North Lake Shore Drive. It's an handsome building, split into the two as a sop to provide more light, but it still often places the adjacent Ohio Street Beach into deep shadow.
To be sure, it's not Pappageorge Hayme's fault, but 600 North is a structure that should never have been built. A clown car load of aldermen muscled it through as they huffed and puffed at protesting activists. "This is not a communist country!" the Trib reported then alderman Burton Natarus as railing. "You act as if this beach belongs to you personally," Bernard Stone ranted. "It belongs to all the people of Chicago," he lectured, even as he was stealing a finite and irreplaceable resource placed in his trust for the benefit of all the city's citizens - sunlight on a public beach - and handing it over for the profit of a single private developer.
The situation at Roosevelt Road lacks that kind of venality, but a building with the massiveness of One Museum Park still plays havoc with shadows and light. It's an interesting problem, as the original concept was to create a southern street wall to Grant Park that would complement the historic landmarked street wall down the west side of Michigan Avenue. That street wall, of course, is the opposite of Roosevelt, composed primarily of medium rise buildings standing shoulder to shoulder with nary a gap.
That kind of scale apparently no longer offers an adequate level of profitability, and so we get east Roosevelt Road, composed entirely of just four huge towers, one completed, one under construction, and two more planned (in the current economy, don't hold your breath). Continuous podiums at street level, portly towers above, with gaps that dissipate any visual sense of a street wall's feeling of closure. And would anyone really want a continuous street wall 60 stories high? At this point in Chicago's development, is a truly civil streetwall like Michigan Avenue any longer possible?

And who knows? With its rounded, stepped massing, One Museum Park, amiable and Rubensesque in a lost spaceship kind of way, could actually wind up becoming an object of affection, just like Edgar.

Chicago Streetscene: Getting the Account

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tigerman, Wright, Gropius, van Berkel, Maas, Endres, Garofalo, ∑liasson, de Leon, Bucky and Becker - 70 events on April calendar

I must be sick. I'm actually publishing the April calendar of Chicago events before the month begins. But then, you'll probably need to a couple days preview to let you decide how many of the 70 - count -em - 70 events you'll be able to shoehorn into your calendar. (Google and iCal to come.)

Everyone's running at full cylinder right now, with Stanley Tigerman discussing the backstory to his new Illinois Holocaust Museum at CAF, Eric Lloyd Wright at Unity Temple, Sharon Johnston + Mark Lee, Carme Pinós. UNStudio's Ben van Berkel, U of Ky's Michael Speaks and MVRDV's Winy Maas at UIC, Paul Endres, Tom Leader and Ming Zhang at IIT, and Arturo Vittori, Office dA's Monica Ponce de Leon, and Matthias Böttger at the Art Institute, whose Meredith Mack will discuss Renzo Piano's new Modern Wing at CAF.

Doug Garofalo and Eric Ellingsen give gallery talks at the MCA's big Buckminster Fuller exhibition, where Olafur Eliasson will also lecture even as he's putting the finishing touches on his own MCA show opening May 1st. Clyde Baker will talk about engineering foundations for the world's tallest buildings for SEAIO and the Structural Engineers Foundation and SEAOI holds its annual Bridge Symposium.

DePaul's Chaddick Center offers up an afternoon conference on Daniel Burnhams's plan for Manila and Baguio in The Phillipines, acting commissioner Chris Raguso talks about changes in Chicagos's planning departments for Friends of Downtown. Richard Kieckhefer discusses Architecture for Reformed Liturgy at the Loyola Museum of Art.

An especially troubling aspect of the month's events is that I will be foisting myself off on the public, not once, but twice, at CAF, on the 6th with a gallery talk for the Boom Towns! Chicago Architects Design New Worlds exhibition that I guest curated there, and again on the 29th with a lunchtime lecture on George Pullman and his privatized town planning. Apologies to all in advance.

One of the most important events in April will undoubtedly be Grahm Balkany's April 20th presentation, Gropius in Chicago: A Legacy on the Brink, which will cover his expanding research on Gropius's role in planning and designing a series of striking buildings for Michael Reese hospital, now gravely endangered with being bulldozed into a characterless tabula rasa for an athletes' village for the 2016 Olympics.

Amazingly enough, this only scratches the surface of all the great events being offered up in April. Preview them all here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's Spring in Chicago!

Last Thursday:
Tomorrow - frogs and boils

Friday, March 27, 2009

Symbol vs Substance: Chicago's memorial to Daniel Burnham

Does a proposed memorial to architect and planner Daniel Burnham represent an overdue tribute or a colossal failure of nerve? Should 2009 be the year to finally begin realizing Burnham's vision for a grand gateway to Chicago's lakefront? A story in three parts
I. The rebellion against a closed competition to design a memorial to Daniel Burnham.
II. Is There a Disconnect Between Competitions and Chicago Architecture?
III. Restoring Burnham's Vision for a Grand Gateway to the Lake.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Own Your Own Calatrava, Krueck, Gang, Summers

Ok, so you're not in an economic percentile that allows you to commission a building from one of Chicago's top architects. Courtesy of the Graham Resource Center, the library at the College of Architecture at IIT, you can still have your own artwork, suitable for framing, as they used to say (fish wrapping not allowed).

On April 2nd, to benefit their endowment fund, the Graham will be holding an auction,
both live and silent, of dozens of striking items., from Santiago Calatrava's sketch for the Chicago Spire - dating from those halcyon days before liens began to fly - Ron Krueck's early color pencil study for the Spertus Institute, Jeanne Gang's ink drawing of her Aqua Tower, a Gene Summers etching (bottom), a first edition of Learning from Las Vegas signed by Venturi and Scott Brown, and Ralph Johnson's watercolor of his l'Universitiare Catholique de Louvain in Belgium (top). Other architects represented include Martin Felsen, Peter Pran, Helmut Jahn, Joe Valerio, Gordon Gill, John Dubrow, Steven Brubaker, and Peter Ellis. You can check out all the items, and see the full information on the event. here.

Thursday, April 2nd. Cocktails at 5:00, dinner at 5:30, silent auction 6:30, live auction 7:15. Tickets are $75.00, and include a one year membership in the Friends of the Library. The auction, itself, is open to the public, and for those who can't attend in person, bids from remote parties will also be accepted. For more info, and to RSVP, call 312/567.3263.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Transsolar/Behnisch exhibition opens Saturday, Stefan Bennisch lectures

Ecology. Design. Synergy. is the name of a new exhibition opening Saturday, March 28th, that features the work of Behnisch Architekten and Transolar ClimateEngeering. The press release quotes Behnisch partner David Cook as stating, "The exhibition is not necessarily intended to present models for sustainable architecture. By drawing on the five senses, the exhibition attempts to provoke a re-definition of the term 'sustainability' by focusing on the complex series of relationships between human beings and their immediate environment."

The exhibition will feature such projects as the LEED Platinum Genzyme Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Norddeutsche Landesbank in Hannover, Germany.

This Saturday, March 28th at 11:30 a.m, there will be a public lecture by Stefan Behnisch and Transsolar partner Thomas Auer at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 North Michigan, where the exhibition will run through May 17, 2009. Hours are Tuesday, 11AM–8PM; Wednesday–Sunday, 11AM–6PM. Admission: $6 general; $5 senior; free for students and children under 14; free Tuesdays.

Chicago Streetscene: Sea of Glass

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chicago Architecture News 3/24/2009 edition

The National Public Housing Museum receives $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant will support planning of Our Stories: Resident Voices of Public Housing. The PHM is working towards a 2012 opening in a structure that is the last surviving building of the Jame Addams Homes, which opened in 1938 as the first federal public housing project in Chicago. Read the full press release (pdf format) here.

The Society of Architectural Historians receives $213,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to "develop the first online architecture journal that will incorporate moving Google Earth maps into articles about the build world." The first issue of JSAH Online, to be co-published with the University of California Press, is scheduled to be release in March of next year. "JSAH Online will be the first online journal to the arts and humanities that incorporates such cutting-edge features" as simultaneous viewing of both text and dynamic images including film and video, zoomable images, digital maps and 3D models.

Spertus Museum launches Ground Level Projects, to be on display in the glass-enclosed Michigan avenue vestibule.
On April 30th, an installation by Chicago-based artist Deb Sokolow will be the first of four "creative encounters curated by Staci Boris that investigate, challenge, and expand traditional perceptions of the Jewish experience" in the museum's new Krueck & Sexton designed home, and will be visible "from the street, connecting public and private spaces." While admission is required for the museum proper, access to the Ground Level Projects will be free. More info here.

Future Perfect: Mid-Century Modern Design Drawings extended through May 30th at the ArchiTech Gallery, 730 North Franklin, Suite 200. The show displays design from drawings from the mid-1940's to late 1960's "that mark the beginning of the most accelerated period in American consumerism." Designers include Henry P. Glass, R.G. Martelet, Vincent Raney and Bertrand Goldberg. More info here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yikes! Venice Biennale, 2016 and Northerly Island - Still another four events added to March calendar

Yeah, as if what we had for the balance of the month wasn't already enough. There's the New Yorker's Paul Goldberger talking about Frank Lloyd Wright at Unity Temple this Thursday, Larry Beasley on the The Dream for True Urbanism in the Middle East: Recent Planning and Development in Abu Dhabi at CAF on Tuesday, where Jeff Renterghem of Pappageorge/Haymes discusses Museum Park and Central Station lunchtime on Wednesday, with Mies fashion show birthday party at Crown Hall that same evening and the Chicago Modernism Show and Sale this weekend.

Now we've added FOUR - count 'em - FOUR more events to what should be the waning days of the March calendar. On Monday, at Glessner House, a panel moderated by Vincent Michael for the Western Great Lakes Chapter, Association for Preservation Technology takes on Authenticity and How it Shapes Historic Preservation. On Thursday, Aaron Levy and The Architect's Paper founder and editor William Menking give us We, the Unsigned: Dispatches from the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, at the Graham Foundation. On Monday, March 30th, author Phyllis Ross adds another lecture on American modernist furniture and industrial designer Gilbert Rohde for the Architecture and Design Society of the Art Institute, and on Tuesday, March 31st, the Grant Park Advisory Council will offer a presentation on the impact of the 2016 Olympics on Grant Park and Northerly Island.

Get ready to update your Blackberries. Check it all out here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

You've Got Your Priorities; I've Got Mine

Two lines diverge back-to-back at the Museum Campus . . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forget St. Patrick: It's Spring!*

*to be followed by forty days teasing sun and biting cold, and summer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I Be Sick - 2009 Edition

Yes, it's the cicada-like eighteen month or so recurrence of completely non life-threatening but thoroughly annoying illness, accompanied by the usual festival of projectile vomiting, head transformed into a bemurked, dull clanging bog where snatches of Meistersinger, Pulcinella , Nine Inch Nails and basically every piece of music I've ever loved clash against each other in shattered meaningless fragments with all the dull horror of Berlioz's witches sabbath , and the standard accompanying descent into existential dread. My apologies to anyone who showed up for my gallery talk at CAF this past Saturday. I'm very sorry. (Not as sorry as I am for myself, at the moment, of course, but sorry, nontheless.) Hope to be back soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Introducing . . . Wee Willie!

or, how a new nickname may be the best reaction to the renaming of a Chicago icon and North America's tallest building on the cheap after a firm that's leasing only 3.5% of the building's space at a miserly $14.50 a square foot.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Don't Drink the Green River - Chicago Celebrates St. Patrick's Day Tomorrow

St. Patrick's Day may not come until text Tuesday, but Chicago can't wait. Saturday, March 14th will see the annual dyeing of the Chicago River emerald green. See all the pictures on how it's all done, and how all of Chicago goes Irish here and here. The dyeing begins at 10:45 a.m., and can best be seen from the Michigan avenue and Columbus Drive bridges, and upper and lower Wacker between Columbus and Lake Shore Drive, a location change necessitated by construction. The parade kicks off at noon at Columbus and Balbo, named after the famous Irish explorer and aviator, respectively. Info on all Chicago's St. Pat's events here.

UPDATE: I am, unfortunately, sick as a dog, and I won't be able to do the gallery talk Saturday morning. This year, I won't be able to be there. I'll be giving a gallery talk at Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan, 11:00 - 11:45 a.m., for Boom Towns! Chicago Architects Design New Worlds, the exhibition I curated for CAF that's making a return visit through May 1st. But if it's any consolation, I promise to turn green somewhere during the talk.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Borg, Borg, Borg! Swedenborgian Revelation and Dan Burnham

If you read the 1909 Plan of Chicago, you can find no shortage of precedents - from L'Enfant to Haussmann and more - that influenced the thought of its primary author, the great Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. But what were the influences that shaped his world view?

The pungent aura of unveiled truth will fill the Art Institute's Fullerton Hall this Thursday, March 12th, beginning at 6:00 p.m., as noted scholar and Burnham groupie Kristen Schaffer speaks on the topic of Finding Burnham in the Archives: Swedenborgian Revelations and the Plan of Chicago.

Like Daniel Burnham, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) made no little plans, and like Burnham, he was no Miesian. Here are just some of the fields he studied and mastered: physics, astronomy, watchmaking, bookbinding, cabinet work, engraving, brass instrument construction, cosmology, mathematics, anatomy, physiology, politics, economics, metallurgy, mineralogy, geology, mining engineering, chemistry, the Bible, and the human soul.

According to scholar S. Synnestevedt, Swedenborg "ejected the Newtonian concept of permanent, irreducible particles of matter and suggested that everything material was essentially motion arranged in geometric forms."

In late middle age, Swedenborg was dining at a favorite inn when an apparition appeared commanding him not to eat too much. That night, the apparition appeared again, in a dream, and revealed himself as the Lord God, who commanded Swedenborg to reveal the spiritual meaning of the Bible. The result was the Arcana Coelestia, and a series of other writings - 50 massive volumes in all - that would eventually led to accusations of him being a heretic.

Biographer James John Garth Wilkinson explained Swedenborg's doctrine of "Universal Correspondence" as arguing "that bodies are the generation and expression of the souls, and that the frame of the natural world works, moves and rests obediently to the living spiritual world," making "all things into signs as well as powers . . . the smallest things, as well as the greatest, are omens, instructions, warnings, or hopes."

The largest city finds expression in the smallest, the smallest contains elements of infinity. Things are both themselves, and symbols of larger powers. Sounds kind of like a city, no?

Swedenborg influenced and was admired by American transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, and over the centuries a divergent range of other adherents from Baudelaire to Balzac, Helen Keller to Jorge Luis Borges. You know, that whole crowd.

Daniel Burnham was the grandson of a Swedenborgian minster. His parents were 'Borgs, and Burnham, himself attended Swedenborgian schools as a kid. Another scholar, Irving D. Fisher, has noted:
To understand the iconography of the Plan of Chicago one must consider the religious doctrines of Swedenborg and Burnham's adherence to Swedenborg's religious tenets. In his Chicago Plan Burnham prominently employed two doctrines in Swedenborg's system: the doctrine of series and degrees and the doctrine of correspondences. Swedenborg carried over both doctrines from his intensive scientific studies to his later visionary phase.
Others have seen the "White City" created by Burnham for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition as "Swedenborg's heavenly city in stone, steel and concrete."

Once you start reading about Swedenborg, you get swallowed up in the man's massive talents and accomplishments, and often strange life. Did I mention he spent much of his life inspecting his family's mine, that he was a noted metallurgist, one of the first people to understand how the brain and cerebral cortex worked, and anticipated much of modern physics.? That he was a clairvoyant to European royalty? That he collected bottle caps?

You get caught up in this stuff and your head begins to spin. How Prof. Schaffer is going to boil it down to a 90-minute session is I have no idea, but it should be fun to see her try.

The event is free, and is co-sponsored by Chicago's Swedenborg Library, which is located in the Chicago Temple Building Again, it takes place this Thursday, March 12th, 6:00, Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute. Takes notes. There'll be a quiz.

And don't eat too much.

Once More into the Woods - Haitink's CSO Mahler 1 released - better than Raisin Brahms?

The birds chirping in the morning, the stretched setting of the DST sun, the spring monsoons, followed by howling winds and biting cold - nature is back full force in Chicago, and what better way to celebrate than with Gustav Mahler's own Pastoral, his Symphony No 1, just released in a performance conducted by Bernard Haitink.

An interesting aspect of the performance, according to the CSO press release, is that "Haitink chose to go back to the composer's intentions for the famous "Frère Jacques" theme that opens the fourth movement. Traditionally played by solo double bass, the passage in fact was written to be performed in unison by the entire bass section, muted; however, after discovering this was beyond the capability of most orchestral bass sections, Mahler compromised and gave it to the solo principal player. Haitink has reassigned the haunting passage to the entire CSO bass section here--the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony to do so."

I expect to be downloading as soon as I scratch up a sawbuck from beneath the sofa cushions. You can beat me to it by going to iTunes, for $9.99, or buying the antique versions in CD or SACD form from the CSO store. On May 12th, you'll be able to get the recording in audiophile lossless download from HDtracks.

The perfect accompaniment to Chicago's next blitz und donner fest, which should be coming round in about . . . ten minutes.

. . . and lest you might still be starved for culture, we give you:

Monday, March 09, 2009

Architectural Calendar Goes Postal - Is It Good for You?

A really dedicated reader who goes by the name of postal has actually gone to all the trouble of making the March, 2009 Calendar of Architectural Events available in the Google calendar format, which you can access here. Once there, you can import individual events into your own Google calendar.

postal also put the calendar into ics format . . .
. . . so you can import it en masse into your own Google calendar, or into iCal or, possibly, Outlook 2007. (If anyone does the Outlook import successfully, let me know.) In iCal, of course, it can be placed in its own calendar or integrated with one that already exists. You can download the ics formatted calendar here.

My thanks to postal. for taking the substantial amount of time it took to create these calendars. It's deeply appreciated.

Now I'm looking to you, dear readers, to let me know whether this is a feature you would like to see with each month's calendar.

Andrew Metter in Focus

Blair Kamin took some time off Sunday from covering the usual suspects to focus on the latest work from one of Chicago's most talented, yet often under-the-radar architects.

Andrew Metter toils for A Epstein and Sons, a powerhouse international firm that often operates in the shadows, as architects of record doing the grunt work for other firm's designs. Henry Cobb was the branded architect for the new Hyatt Center on Wacker, Lohan Anderson the up-front firm for 353 North Clark, but Epstein is provided architect of record services for both projects.

Occasionally, Metter and Epstein's annex/5 design studio gets to shine on their own. I first encountered their work in an 2003 competition to find a reuse for the historic - and now apparently doomed - St. Boniface Church at Chestnut and Noble, which combined new residential construction with converting the actual church to a day-care center.

For Stanley Tigerman's 2004 Ten Visions exhibition at the Art Institute, Metter teamed up with Margaret McCurry for a proposal to reclaim "found infrastructure" - train lines, river embankments that carve up neighborhoods - for activities that resist gentrification. "The idea," said Metter, "was to reclaim the ground for income-producing activities: hothouses, farmers' markets, etc....The other idea is that along the river you establish manufacturing." Factories are submerged, the roofs become eco-parks, with housing for the workers. "There's no such thing as affordable housing," Metter argued. "It's all subsidized by the government. So the idea was to design a new topology: a house and a job. It's a new building type and mental construct-not just build homes and figure that people will get checks from the government, but build it in conjunction with income-producing opportunities."

In this Sunday's Trib, Blair Kamin enthuses over Metter's latest project, a new headquarters for Serta Mattress on a 20 acre site in Hoffman Estates. I remember being struck by the design when Metter presented it at a Chicago Architectural Club session a couple of years ago. Instead of the usual suburban tabular rasa, it actually works with the natural topology, creating an elegantly detailed, streamlined presence that hovers almost weightlessly above the surrounding prairie. Metter is also a highly capable photographer - damn him - and the Trib has put up a portfolio of handsome photos of the Serta complex, which you can see here.