Thursday, April 30, 2009

Boom Lingers a few days longer

I'm told by the folks at CAF that if you still want to see the exhibition that I guest curated for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Booms Towns! Chicago Architects Design New Worlds, it may linger on a few days past its official Friday, May 1st closing date. You'll find it in the atrium of the Santa Fe Building, 224 S. Michigan. No guarantees, but if you're in the neighborhood, pop in and check it out, and let me know what you think by going to the visitors' book and leaving me a comment (and a good recipe for beef Stroganoff, if you have one: just slip it between the pages.) Read more about the exhibition from CAF here and from me here.

Cool Jobs at the MSI: Larry Novak talks Burj Dubai, Saturday, May 2nd

Because we're a little behind (surprise, surprise) in putting up the May calendar, we want to alert you to Science Works! Cool Jobs and Hot Careers, an all day career expo at the Museum of Science and Industry for young people ages 13 and up. You get to be "up-close and in person" with such scientists as a designer of mobile robots, a storm chasing meteorologist, a computer game designer, and more. On the architecture side, at 11:45 a.m., you can meet structural engineer Larry Novak, who has worked for SOM on such signature projects as the Burj Dubai, "the tallest free-standing building on Earth!" Complete info here. (Free with admission and ticketing, enter through the West Pavilion. Exhibits and shows are not included.)

Balmond's Solid Void adds hours this Sunday, Herda at Artropolis

The Graham Foundation has announced that its extraordinary exhibition, Cecil Balmond: Solid Void is adding hours to coincide with this weekend's Artropolis/Art Chicago at the Merchandise Mart. The exhibition will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., including this coming Sunday, May 3rd, usually a day the exhibition is closed. The Graham Foundation is at 4 West Burton Place.

In addition, Graham executive director Sarah Herda will join Paul Morris, Vice President of the MMPI Art Group; Rhona Hoffman, Rhona Hoffman Gallery; and Dominic Molon, Museum of Contemporary Art on a panel, Art and the New Economy, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. this Sunday, MAy 3rd, at the Merchandise Mart Conference Center. The panel will focus on "positive and effective ways to navigate challenging times [and] explore funding, collecting and the market."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chicago Streetscene: The Snake Pit

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple among National Trust's 11 Most Endangered

Frank Lloyd Wright's 1909 Unity Temple was named Tuesday to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2009 list of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. This may come as a shock to the thousands of visitors from all over the world who make the pilgrimage to Oak Park each year specifically to see one of the most important works of the self-proclaimed, and quite possibly actual "world's greatest architect."

Unity Temple replaced a previous church which had burned down when lightning hit its steeple. Call it an omen. Wright worked to subvert the top-heavy hierarchy that traditional Christian houses of worship took in both form and operation, and a create a new alternative that was both democratic and spiritual. The result is among America's greatest spaces, a perfect cube whose shallow surround of balconies, where worshippers face each other as well as the alter, creates an intense feeling of fellowship and sanctuary.
Unfortunately, as at Wright's Fallingwater, where the supports for the spectacular cantilever sagged over time and required an expensive replacement, innovation has its costs. At Unity Temple, this was Wright's use of not brick or stone, but concrete to create an entirely plastic sense of form. As the National Trust says in their press release:
Since Wright’s experimental concrete design did not call for expansion joints, there is extensive cracking. A coating of concrete applied in the early 1970s is no longer performing its vital, protective function and must be restored.

With its innovative and geometric design, the building has 16 separate flat roofs. Instead of using gutters, Wright designed an internal drainage system with downspouts hidden inside the four main interior columns of the temple. The system was undersized and essentially inaccessible, and to this day water continually overflows the drains and permeates the concrete roof slabs. Heavy rains in September 2008 caused a large chunk of plaster and concrete to fall from the sanctuary ceiling.

Many of Unity Temple’s art glass windows – there are more than 75 of them, in 10 different designs – are cracked, bowed and in need of professional conservation. In addition, much of the beautifully modulated wood banding throughout the building is in need of refinishing, plastered and painted surfaces require expensive restoration, and the original Magnesite floors – a signature feature – are cracked from heaving and require extensive repairs.

While Unity Temple has been well maintained, water infiltration has caused extensive damage to the concrete structure and interior finishes over the years. Now structurally compromised, the building urgently requires a multi-million-dollar rescue effort, a capital investment that Unity Temple’s community of dedicated supporters cannot afford.
The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation estimates that $4 to $6 million needs to be raised quickly just to stabilize the building and execute the most pressing repairs to the concrete. The full cost of restoration, including the interiors, is pegged at $25,000,000.

Unity Temple, 875 Lake Street, is open to the public. If you think you know what it's like from photographs, think again. It's an easy half-hour ride from downtown via the Green Line. Open Monday-Friday 10:30 - 4:30, Saturday and Sunday 1:00 - 4:00. Self-guided and pre-arranged tours. Admission: children 5 and under free; seniors and students with a valid ID, $6.00; adults, $8.00. The experience of one of architecture's greatest glories: priceless.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Will it Never End? One More Event: Doug Farr at Art Institute Tuesday Evening

SAIC's M.S. Historic Preservation program is hosting a lecture by Doug Farr, Founding Principal of Farr Associates, on Sustainable Urbanism in the Fullerton Auditorium, tonight, Tuesday, April 28th, at 6:00 p.m.

Who's the Crazy One?

On first read, the Los Angeles Times report of pianist Krystian Zimerman's angry tirade near the conclusion of his Disney Hall recital seems a another tale of a pampered, self-righteous artist, with Zimerman announcing this was his last U.S. concert due to this country's military policies. "Get your hands off my country," he is reported as saying, although accounts of U.S. military operations in both Poland, the country of his birth, and Switzerland, his adopted country, appear rather hard to come by.

Then you get to this sentence: "An earlier piano was destroyed by Homeland Security at JFK airport because officials were suspicious that its glue could be an explosive in disguise." Bureaucrats hacked apart a priceless Steinway belonging to one of the world's most accomplished - and well known - musicians because they thought the glue smelled funny. Zimerman is merely rude, perhaps only direct. We seem to be insane.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Towns Go Boom for Good May 1st - Becker Takes On Pullman Wednesday, April 29th

Ok, it's already come back from the dead once. Don't expect a second resurrection. If you're reckless enough to really want to see the exhibition that I guest curated for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Booms Towns! Chicago Architects Design New Worlds, Friday, May 1st is your last chance. Read more about it from CAF here and from me here.

And to add insult to injury, this Wednesday, April 29th, from 12:15 to 1:00 P.M., I will be delivering this week's lunchtime lecture, Before Burnham: Private Planning and the Town of Pullman. George Mortimer Pullman (and, no, that's not a lost Baldwin Brother in the picture to the right) was Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Citizen Kane rolled into the one, and the story of the self-named town he built in 1880's, the "perfect city" that mesmerized thousands of visitors to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, is one of the great, tragic epics of American history. Even as I write this, I'm working to cram the vital highlights into a fast 40 minutes.

My talk will take place in the John Buck lecture hall of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, with the exhibition in the adjacent atrium, both in the beautiful Santa Fe Building, 224 South Michigan.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Expulsion: Chicago set to destroy Bauhaus Modernism at Michael Reese

The Olympics won't take place won't take place until 2016, and the winning bidder has yet to be announced, but to clear the way for an athletes' village, the City of Chicago is rushing to grind into dust one of the city's richest collections of Bauhaus-inspired architecture, even as a young scholar reveals new information about the role of legendary architect Walter Gropius in the design of the Michael Reese Hospital campus.

Any way you look at it—environmental, architectural, historical, or planning—the city’s push to obliterate Michael Reese is about as far from sound and sustainable as you can get. Read about it, in all its aspects - and see all the photographs - here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Walking to the Skokie Swift on a Sunny Morning

And miles to go before the Red,

And miles to go before the Red.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Traditionalist Zombies vs. Modernist Conspiracists

Being human, we enjoy being amused as much - probably more - than we do being enlightened. No matter how great the critic, they are more likely to be remembered less for their reasoned judgements than for moments of expertly written invective, and, as anyone unfortunate enough to actually read my stuff knows, nothing beats a grievous outrage of design or corruption to get the creative juices flowing.

Rarely, however, have I encountered anything as entertainingly nasty - and spot-on - as the normally sedate London Times architecture critic Hugh Pearman's unbound riff - in the alternate personality of guest writer "Squidgy" - on the controversy of Prince Charles', aka "the twattish heir to the British throne" attempts to subvert the public planning process to replace Richard Rogers' design for the Chelsea Barracks site in West London with an antediluvian classicist monstrosity by his court architect, Quinlan Terry.

It's a tale filled with greed, hypocrisy, conspiracy and complicity (Rogers' design is "Not. Very. Good. In fact, it is Shockingly Bad . . . a dog's breakfast worthy of Kanine Krunchies), with room for some well-aimed thwacks! at competing critics, as well.

In the tradition of Alice ("If you don't have anything good to say, come sit by me") Roosevelt, we give you Woke up on a Chelsea morning.

Gropius at Michael Reese, Earth Day at the Spertus, Ross Barney for CWA - a reminder, a cancellation, and still MORE events for April

No matter how late in month we get, there's still events being added to the April calendar, and we have a bunch more.

Gropius in Chicago
We'll start, however, with a reminder of Monday's 6:00 p.m., lecture at Hafele America's Chicago showroom, in which Grahm Balkany will present the findings into his research into what is described as architect Walter Gropius's "mostly forgotten role in Chicago. Mr. Balkany's project indicates that the Michael Reese Hospital campus has at least 8 buildings done with Gropius's heavy involvement. This is in addition to his master planning for the campus and the region, and urban design issues for the area of Michael Reese." More information here.

The city is fast tracking wiping every last piece of the Michael Reese Hospital complex off the face of the earth. beginning as early as June.

On Sunday, May 17th, Balkany will lead a free tour of the Michael Reese Hospital Campus, starting at 2:00 P.M. A donation of $10.00, to "help support the costs of continuing research", is, however, suggested. More info here.

One Cancellation: Winy Maas or MVRDV will not be making it to UIC this coming Wednesday.

Now on to the new stuff:
Modern Earth Spring 2009 - on Wednesday the 22nd, Earth Day, 5:30 - 8:30 pm., the Spertus Institute will be the site of this event sponsored by The Elements Group offering up d’oeuvres, organic wine and cocktails, Brazilian lounge music and green tours of the venue, as well as presentations on nature-oriented and sustainable design will include Krueck and Sexton Architects on the design of The Spertus Institute, and its relation to the natural environment and sustainability, and the IIT Student Architectural Studio Team and Krueck and Sexton Architects on the conceptual design of Project Nomad, a proposed mobile nature and environmental learning center inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. Info here.

Cathy J. Maloney: Chicago Gardens: The Early History - the author will be discussing her new book, which covers a period of history from the first vegetable plots at Fort Dearborn to the innovative garden designs at the 1933 Century of Progress exhibition. Twice on Friday, April 24th, 12:15 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 6:30 p.m., Cyrano's Bistrot. Info here.

NPS Rustic: The Arts & Crafts Style in our National Parks - tea proceeds a lecture from former National Parks Service historian Robert Blyth. At Second Presbyterian Church, Saturday, April 25th, beginning at 1:00 p.m., Info here.

Chicago Women in Architecture's 27th Annual Spring Scholarship Brunch with Carol Ross Barney - the noted architect, whose Jewish Reconstruction Congregation in Evanston has just been named one of AIA Cote's Top Ten Green Projects, will be the featured speaker at this benefit event, Sunday, April 26th, 11:00 a.m - 2:00 p.m., at the Galleria Marchetti. Info here.

Park Ridge Artists Colony - also on Sunday the 26th, architect Sam Guard will lecture for the Kalo Foundation, at Park Ridge's First United Methodist Church, beginning at 1:00 p.m., Info here.

Okay, can we finally close the book on April now? There are still almost 30 events between now and the end of the month. Check them all out here. (To make sure we get everything in, publication of the May calendar will be delayed until June 15th.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chicago Streetscene: The Gnawer

Trump Riverwalk begins to Take Shape

For years, even as Trump Tower soared to its full 1362-foot height, this is what the adjacent riverwalk looked like:Reading about all of Trump's battles with his lenders, and the reports of the imploding real estate market, it made you wonder if the money had dried up, and all we'd be left with was the huge gravel pit filled with construction paraphernalia that included what looked like a giant wooden wok.

It didn't help that last September Crain's Chicago Business reported that Trump was having trouble finding restaurants and businesses to lease the four-level riverwalk's 83,000 square feet of retail space, and had hired a broker to pitch it for a price upwards of $130 million.

What looked like a radical value engineering on the some of the signage was also discomforting.
Recently, however, the site has been abuzz with activity.
The odds are looking better and better that we may finally get back the Wabash segment of the riverwalk that has been closed since just before the old Sun-Times building was demolished in 2003. Maybe it will even look as good as in the renderings.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

If Zumthor Came to Chicago

" . . .and all the madonnas are smiling." (click to view video) via vernissage tv.

A life, a real life, needs lots of patience. A good life needs a lot of patience, and with work it's the same.
Those are the words of Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who on Sunday was named the 2009 winner of the Pritzker Prize, architecture's Nobel. Zumthor's small body of work has won international acclaim for structures that combine a a deep sense of spirituality with a simplicity that is not reductive, but eloquent. The video above is from a press conference at the 2007 opening of the Kolumba Art Museum, built out of the ruins of a Cologne church that had taken a direct hit from an aerial bomb in 1943, the year of Zumthor's birth.

At that press conference, Zumthor continued,
Nowadays we are used to the fact that a lot of museums are part of a “marketing strategies” campaign. For cities, the art plays a minor role, they are interested that the architects come up with a sensational shape that attracts people for at least a year or two, maybe even five or seven . . .this is the famous “Bilbao effect,” a worldwide phenomenon.

But here – and you can feel it – it’s different. It’s the opposite meaning. It all started with the art, the collection and its substance. Here people still believe in the art. It’s not just a good investment. Here people believe in the inner values of art, the spiritual values, it’s ability to make us think and feel.

In a cell phone interview with Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, Zumthor talked of visiting Chicago and the IIT campus. "I respect Mies a lot," he told Kamin. From the videos, he also shares Mie's appreciation of a fine cigar.
Swiss Pavilion, EXPO 2000, Hanover, Germany

When the Art Institute's Joe Rosa unveiled two designs, by Zaha Hadid and UNStudio's Ben van Berkel, for temporary pavilions to open in June in Millennium Park to honor Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago, he spoke of having them come in to ""misread our city but re-interpret and reactivate it." I'm glad to have them here, but after thinking of Zumthor and his work, Rosa's strategy seems more and more like an intellectual's parlor game, less the "You must change your life" of Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo," than changing the style of one's shoes.

Don't get me wrong. I'm excited having stuff by Hadid and van Berkel in Chicago, however temporary. Unlike Zumthor, I love surface and sensation, and I have little patience. And, really, what are the odds we'll ever get Zumthor, known for turning down many more projects than he accepts, to build in Chicago, a city known for its often rude, anarchic commercial enthusiasms? Who among the usual suspects would come forward as a patron for his kind of work? What kind of building would it be? What kind of presence would it bring?

And yet, it would be wonderful, yes? Not a glib "misreading", but an amazing counterpoint to our evasion of the spiritual. An expression, not of the "make no little plans" hubris that's become the mother's milk of every hack politician's dreams of grandeur, but of Burnham's all-but-forgotten vision of a deeper, more ethical and profound sense of urban life.

Somehow, I'm thinking just contemplating those questions may prove, over the long run, more compelling and rewarding than anything that comes and goes in Millennium Park this summer.
Zumthor will be presented the Pritzker Prize, which includes a $100,000 honorarium and a bronze medal, on May 29th in Buenos Aires. You can download a pdf with all information on the award from the handsomely redesigned Pritzker Prize website here.
(images of the Kolumba Museum and Swiss Pavilion EXPO 2000, Hanover, courtesy Pritzker Prize)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Restoring the Parthenon, ULI Chicago panel - two MORE events added to April calendar

Monday, April 13th is the last day to register for the inaugural program of the Chicago Midwest Chapter, Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America. On Monday, April 20th, Vangelis Mazidzoglou will lecture on The Restoration of the Parthenon Today at 6:45 p.m. in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, with a reception at 6:00. RSVP to 312/350/2060 or by email. More info here.

Unfortunately, it's one of a logjam of events on the 20th, the most important of which is Grahm Balkany's lecture, Gropius in Chicago: A Legacy on the Brink, about the gravely endangered status of the buildings of Michael Reese Hospital. Lee Bey reported on Friday that the city's issued an RFP for smashing everything into dust and wiping the site clean. More info here. We'll be writing a lot more about this later.

Also on the 20th, there'll be a lecture on Applying Biomimicry to the Built Environment, sponsored by CAF, at Columbia College, while Dean of the College of Design at the University of Kentucky, Michael Speaks - er - speaks, at UIC at 6:00 p.m.

Our second added event is on Thursday, April 30th, starting with registration and a continental breakfast at 7:45 a.m., when ULI Chicago is putting on a panel, State of the Industrial Market: Past, Present and Future Opportunties.

This week is also jam packed, with Monica Ponce de Leon at the Art Institute on Monday, April 13th, and Ben van Berkel at UIC on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Stanley Tigerman discusses his new Illinois Holocaust Museum lunchtime at CAF, and at 6:00 Tom Leader lectures at IIT. Frank Lloyd Wright's grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, speaks at Unity Temple on Thursday, and a preview of the National Public Housing Museum takes place on Friday. Oh, and over a dozen other events this week, as well. Get the details and check them all out here.