Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Little Blue IHOP on the (Medical District) Campus

In a Illinois Medical District campus overwhelmingly populated by four-square structures of deep sobriety:
The headquarters for the Medical District Commission at 600 South Hoyne clearly stands out . . .
. . . not only for the distinctive form with a loving nod to classic Rooty-Tooty-Fresh-'N-Fruity design, but for the heightened security provided its executives by the killer rabbit standing guard at the entrance . . .

Zaha's Burnham Pavilion starting to look finished. Pay no attention to those folks behind the curtain!

Now . . . . open wide!
Photos courtesy of our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Aching at the Temples - Malls R Us at Facets starting Friday

"A sacred place is one that orients one to the values that people hold in common . . . most people don't think of malls as sacred places and yet they function as ceremonial centers." That's how one of the talking heads in the new documentary Malls R Us describes the role of the shopping mall in our time. Are they heaven or hell, and what does it mean for a culture when the sacred spaces keep going empty, with the groupies of annihilation gleefully tracking the decline on their own website (Malls with annual per square foot sales of less than one third of normal are labeled "greyfields", by the way.)

The film will be at Facets, 1517 W. Fullerton, from Friday, July 31st through Thursday August 6th. $9.00 admission, free for Facets members.

Is the Mall our Agora? Do we do over-sentimentalize its significance? Did Plato give us a highly sanitized view of the Agora of ancient Greece? Did Socrates really spend all his time there philosophizing or, like the rest of us, did he pass most of his days sipping the Athenian equivalent of a Frappachino and checking out the "Twelve Olympians" set of bobbleheads in the tchotchke shop?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When a giant mantis gets a raging sunburn - and really drunk

and, yes, we're slumming for still another day, but, hey, it's summer!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I told you we should have gotten Kelleher's check up front

A few commentators slammed me for being ungracious when I suggested in 2007 that we impose on the developer of Santiago Calatrava's proposed Chicago Spire, Garrett -"I have absolutely no doubt this project is going to sell out" - Kelleher to monetize upfront, as a reasonable pledge of good faith, his $9,000,00 commitment towards the estimated $14,ooo,000 cost of realizing a Calatrava design for DuSable Park, intended to honor the city's first non-native settler, on a 3.5 acre strip of land at the mouth of the Chicago river. The project has been gestating ever since Mayor Harold Washington dedicated the site all the way back in 1987. Two and a half years after Kelleher's announcement, the Chicago Spire remains nothing more than an enormous hole in the ground, and the photo you see above depicts current conditions at DuSable.

2029 anyone?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thomas Adès The Tempest now on record

Almost five years after its premiere, Thomas Adès opera, The Tempest, is now available in a recording from EMI of a 2007 performance that included much of the original cast. Adès himself conducts the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. $20.99 on CD from Amazon. $15.99 downloadable on iTunes. The recording has been named Gramophone magazine's August CD of the month. Alex Ross's fairly ecstatic review of the original production here.

Are you awake NOW? Not so stupid elevator tricks in art and advertising

Via weburbanist, 15 often amazing transformations of elevators from the almost unseen workaday machines of numbing repetition to shock-to-the-system attacks of visual theatrics. Videos included.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

ArcchicagoPlus Summer Day: Rattus Zamphir

via Opera Chic and the Daily Telegraph, a member of the all-Remy orchestra conducted by photographer Ellen van Deelen. View the entire ensemble here.

And for you CSO lovers, we leave you with . . . Mathieu DuMuroid:

Rapp & Rapp's 203 N. Wabash needs a friend - with about $12 million

Chicago's Crain Business reported this week that 203 N. Wabash has failed to find a developer, is behind on its taxes, and faces foreclosure on a $9 million dollar loan from John Hancock Life.

Originally built in 1928 as the Old Dearborn Bank Building, the narrow, 27-story structure has had a rocky history. The bank itself lasted only another few years, being liquidated in 1932. More recently, a 2004 restoration of the building's exterior has not been enough to attract a buyer. With a width of only 48 feet bringing light deep into the floorplates, you'd think the building would be a natural for residential conversion, but proposals to make the property a hotel from both Sage Hospitality and Kimpton Hotels, and another proposal to convert it to student housing have all fallen through. In 2007, it was reported to be 86% leased, last year the figure was 60%, and the latest Crain's report puts it as 42%.
Which is strange, because it's a gem of a building that was designated an official Chicago landmark in 2003. It is one of only two office buildings attributed to the firm of Rapp & Rapp, best known, best known for movie palaces like the Chicago, Uptown, Palace and Oriental. While the overall profile of 203 North Wabash is handsomely restrained, you can see Rapp & Rapp's hand in the building's whimsical ornament, which includes gargoyles, griffins, squirrels, ducks, among other creatures. It's listed currently at $12,500,00, but for now I'm betting you could pick it up for a song and, if you've got deep enough pockets to outlast the current economic collapse, make yourself a very neat profit once things turn around.

First Look at Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

The great thing about movie trailers is that they're often much better than the movie. The horrible thing about movie trailers is that they're often much better than the movie.

Tim Burton's 3D version of Alice in Wonderland isn't due for release until next March 5th, but, according to MTV's Eric Ditzian, Burton brought what he calls this "semi-trailer" to the show at the Comic-Con convention this week. "There's not a lot of footage to show." The premise is that this is a "sequel" to Alice in Wonderland, with the heroine in question is now 17 and falls down the rabbit hole again. I first came across this on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily, and, in its fragments, it looks rather spectacular. Given the vicissitudes of film production, this could be as good as it gets - stupid Alice, Trix are for kids - but I'm got fingers crossed that the final movie retains the visual and dramatic impact of these small samples.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Zaha's crab excreting its soft shell

photo courtesy of our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson.

Tonight: Mayor Richard M. Daley's Scorched Earth Obsession About to Obliterate Michael Reese?

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley wants to destroy this:
and this:
and this:
and this:
We've written before about how the rich legacy of Bauhaus inspired architecture on the former Michael Reese Hospital campus is living on knife edge waiting to be sacrificed to the mayor's Olympic vision. Now it's crunch time.

How casually our mayor comes to the international Olympics table in the role as a destroyer of world culture. Let us count the desecrations:

1. A century of Chicago Jewish culture, as embodied in on of its most enduring and important institutions.
2. All manifestations of a critical decision point in Chicago history where, in the mid 20th Century, Michael Reese chose not to abandon the city, but commited itself to be a key mover in the plan to rescue a desperately troubled south side.
3. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in the city, from the hand of famed designer Hideo Sasaki.
4. Chicago's richest repository of Bauhaus-inspired architecture, a worthy mirror to the Mies van der Rohe designed IIT campus from the same era, in buildings bearing the unmistakable imprint of the involvement of Walter Gropius, one of the most important architects of the 20th century.

Destroy it all, our mayor decrees. Grind it into the dust and leave no trace behind.

And it gets worse.

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition has already reported that the commemorative plaques - to Gropius, to donors, to the spot where softball was invented at the old Calumet Club - have all disappeared. Now added to the pile is Pillar, a sculpture by renowned Chicago Afro-American sculptor Richard Hunt, which vanished between June 30th and July 3rd.
Far too heavy and large for amateurs to remove, the sculpture was surely uprooted from the fenced-in site by one of the various contractors. The GCC has been attempting for the last week to locate the sculpture, without luck. At the present time it is considered stolen, and joins several other irreplaceable historic artifacts in this pathetic category. On June 30th, a source at the hospital informed the GCC that demolition contractors had wanted to remove the important Richard Hunt sculpture so that it could be sold as scrap metal. If anyone has any knowledge of the sculpture’s whereabouts, please contact us immediately.
We are told we have no choice but to do this, to provide an athletes' village for the 2016 Olympics. This is, of course, a lie. The Michael Reese location is a very capacious 37-acre site. It would not be hard to strike a balance between preserving Chicago's rich history and supporting a better future.

But our Mayor is desperate. Cities all across America have no alternative but to keep coming up with innovative ways to survive in an often gravely uncertain economy, but at a July 8th press conference Mayor Richard M. Daley declared he has but one idea - the 2016 Olympics. "This is the only economic engine," said Daley, adding that he has "nothing else up my sleeve." There is no Plan B. Daley gives us but one choice for securing Chicago's economic future, a choice between stagnation and an Olympics that lasts all of several weeks during one summer seven years away. He's become like the drunk telling his family that their only salvation is, not in his sobering up and getting a grip, but in the lucky lottery ticket he's just purchased.

Specifically, he is desperate to find a developer willing to commit over $1 billion dollars to build the Olympic Village, and he apparently believes if he gives them a clean-as-a- whistle tabula rasa site they'll forget to ask themselves basic questions such as how they'll be able to unload up to 5,000 units after the village is converted to condo's when there were only about 4,400 sold throughout the entire downtown area in the peak year of 2005.

Yes, this is the Chicago of legend - tough as nails, cynically corrupt, where, for those with money and power, anything goes.

That is not my Chicago. It is not the Chicago of the millions of non-insiders who love this city and its history, and see its culture as something to be cherished, not pitched in the nearest dumpster.

Tonight, Tuesday, July 21st, 7:00 p.m., at Olivet Baptist Church, 31st and King Drive, the 4th ward's alderman, Toni Preckwinkle, will join officials from the city and Chicago 2016 in unveiling the grand plan for demolishing Michael Reese. The activists of the Gropius Chicago Coalition will be there, as well, "for a polite showing of support in favor of a more sensitive plan." You're invited, too. You get to declare which Chicago is your Chicago, and probably do it with a lot more grace and diplomacy than I've shown here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wow, if only the city always moved this fast - newsstand now in place

As can be seen in this photo provided courtesy Edward Lifson, the city, amazingly, has already put the replacement newsstand in place at Chicago and Michigan.

Yes, it's plug ugly - a heavy-lidded tool shed in Bob Stern black, and I wonder how badly this metal can heats up should Chicago ever gets to summer - and yes, as predicted, ads for the 2016 Olympics are plastered all over it, but it appears to be generously proportioned, with a fair amount of display windows. Here's hoping proprietor Anil Modi is back in business shortly, with minimal loss in income, and enjoys a long, prosperous future serving the appetites of we hopeless addicts of the printed page.

(Also check out Edward's blog for the first photo of fabric inching its way onto the aluminum frame of Zaha Hadid's Burnham Pavilion in Millennium Park.)

From the Chicago Architecture Blog, here's a great post with photo's showing the new(stand) being hoisted into place.

Get high at the Chicago Temple this Thursday- Sacred Spaces summer tours

Since we're a bit of a sluggard, we've already missed the chance to alert you to a tour of Chicago Sinai Congregation last Thursday, but the local branch of Sacred Space International is offering a total of 12 tours this summer of "a diversity of worship spaces throughout Downtown Chicago with architectural tour guides."

We don't have the full schedule, but this Thursday, July 23rd, will see the opportunity to tour what is claimed to be the tallest church in the world, the sky chapel 400 feet up in the Chicago Temple building by Holabird and Roche. Although the building itself dates back to 1921, the sky chapel was added in 1952 as a gift from the Walgreen family. The First United Methodist Church, whose main 1,200 seat sanctuary is on the first floor, has been at this location since 1838, and it's the last survivor of what was once Chicago's church row, where most of the the young city's most prominent houses of worship centered around Chicago's public square, on the block now occupied by the Daley Center. Chicago Temple's current sanctuary includes five stained glass windows designed by architect Dirk Lohan.

Next weeks tour will be of the Downtown Islamic Center, located in a five-story building where the ground floor appears to be the usual State Street retail building but "with one step inside, the DIC offers visitors a calm oasis away from the activity of the city. The founding of this center stemmed from the need for a place to observe Jummuah, traditional Islamic Friday prayer." Future tours, taking place through October 1st, will include such locales as the Midwest Buddhist Temple and Harry Weese's Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist.

Tours begin at 5:15 p.m.; $15.00 per person, $5.00 for members. Reserve by calling 312-580-1050 or via email.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Michael Reese Demolition Plans to be Unveiled Tuesday

We received word from Grahm Balkany of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition that this Tuesday evening, July 21st at 7:00, 4th ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago 2016, and the Chicago Department of Environment will unveil the plans for demolishing the historic Michael Reese campus and the Bauhaus inspired buildings designed in partnership with Walter Gropius, as well as the amazing beautiful Hideo Sasaki landscaping shown below.
It is not expected to be pretty, and the coalition is seeking to get as many sympathetic bodies in attendance as possible "for a polite showing of support in favor of a more sensitive plan. We will have some tee shirts for group identity, signs, etc."

I've written in detail about what's at stake here, and will be giving you an update Tuesday morning, but for now here's a heads up that the session is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at the Olivet Baptist Church at 31st and Martin Luther King Drive, itself an historic structure dating back to 1876. If you can, leave a couple bucks for the church's restoration fund, as well.

WTF? Overnight, local landmark newsstand disappears from face of the earth

So, I'm walking east on Chicago yesterday to pick up Crain's and the Sunday NYT (in a disconnect of how the digital world should work, you can't see them on-line until Sunday, but you can buy the paper versions Saturday afternoon) and suddenly, I'm struck dead as I'm confronted with this:
One of Chicago's last real newsstands, open 24 hours, that was there seemingly forever, suddenly vanishes into thin air, freshly poured sidewalks erasing any trace that it ever existed.

Crains's had already reported in 2007 how the decline in print media and aggressively priced subscription offers from publishers were squeezing single copy sales and newsstand operators' future. For the city, however, that death march wasn't moving fast enough.

It's another pound of flesh being extracted by JCDecaux S.A., the French firm with which the city signed a 2002, 20 year, $200 million deal for a monopoly on the city's bus shelters. As with the recent parking meter deal, the Daley administration continues to turn control of Chicago's streets over to private interests, and now we have things like a new Pritzker Park in the South Loop, where a huge area has been left unlandscaped to provide JCDecaux a place to put one of the food concessions promised them as part of the deal.

Crain's Ann Saphir reported on Friday that the destruction of the Chicago Michigan newsstand was still another manifestation of JCDecaux's control, as they will be constructing their own replacement beginning "at the end of the month."

And, of course, while the city makes sure Decaux is taken care of, the newsstand's proprietor, Anil Modi, who works long hours to keep his business going, gets screwed. He apparently gets to return, but no matter how long it takes to build Decaux's stand, he'll receive not a penny of compensation for all the lost income, no doubt part of the city's strategy to just make him go away.

Instead, according to CDOT spokesman, he'll get "better accommodations," a euphemism for the relentless Disneyfication of Chicago's streetscapes, where every bit of character needs to be rubbed out for the banal and generic. What I'm sure we'll soon see at Chicago and Michigan is one of JCDecaux's dark, thick-limbed Bob Stern specials, with the incredible mosaic display of magazine covers that Modi provided replaced by a small area to display his wares and really big areas for ads that line Decaux's pockets.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Praise of Little (comparitively speaking) Plans: Burnham Bros. at DePaul

Sometimes the most enjoyable shows can be the ones at the periphery. Building the Business of Architecture: The Burnham Brothers and Chicago in the Golden Twenties, at the DePaul University Art Museum through September 16th is a small show but a good one. Although there some different pieces - handsome examples of terra cotta from Stuart Grannen of Architectural Architects and some drawings and photo's of the Carbide and Carbon Building (now the Hard Rock Hotel), probably the Burnham Brothers' most accomplished work, the exhibition focuses heavily on a single building,

The structure in question, the 23-story structure Engineering Building at 205 West Wacker, is one of those large - and largely anonymous - buildings that fade into the surrounding streetwall, in this case the one along the south side of the Chicago river. At the time of its completion in 1928, however, it was a prestige project, home to a large number of engineering firms, with the headquarters of the Western Society of Engineers taking up the 11th floor. The exhibition includes a large number of "heavily annotated" working drawings, and sharp, informative text from curator Paul Jaskot, professor of art history at DePaul, who calls the building's Wacker drive location "a fantastic site for exploring the intersection of urban planning, economic history and the importance of advertising to architects in the 1920s." The Burnham Brothers were Daniel Burnham's sons, Hubert and Daniel, Jr. Their firm was one of two eventually split from D.H. Burnham and Company, the other being Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.

Jaskot sees the Engineering Building's extensive use of terra cotta on the facades as an expression both of economy, lightness, and an era when Chicago was still constantly rebuilding. "By 1926, the average building in Chicago's Loop district had a predicted lifespan of only twenty-eight years, and therefore builders did not choose the most expensive, long-lasting materials, preferring those that could be acquired cheaply while also being aesthetically pleasing."
When I was a kid growing up, out with the family, we would find ourselves, when nature called, searching for what was called, seemingly interchangeably, a bathroom, washroom or restroom. One of the most interesting part of the Burnham Brothers show is to see how these terms actually evolved at a time when women were becoming major components of the workforce. On the plan for the Engineering Building's 13th floor, there's the usual "men's toilet." But there's not only a corresponding "women's toilet", but adjacent spaces labeled "wash rm", "women's rest rm" and still a third, with the name "quiet room." Hey, in a time when we tend to be crammed into stacked cubicles, isn't that something all of us - regardless of gender - could really use today? There were also separate cafeterias for men and women, and, a sign of the slow tread of progress, a segregated cafeteria for Afro-Americans in the basement.

I don't want to oversell Burnham Brothers - it's not a show that's going to knock your eyes out, but in a year where it tends to be all about making big plans, it's refreshing to see something both smart and human-scaled. The DePaul University Art Museum is at 2350 N. Kenmore, just a couple blocks from the Fullerton L stop. Hours are M-Th 11 to 5, Friday, 11-7, and Saturday and Sunday, 12-5.

on Saturday: how to make really big buildings out of concrete and break things for educational purposes

We've written before about the Museum of Science and Industry's Science Chicago program that, through partners as varied as UIC, the U of C, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Facets Multimedia, has created a year long series of events to introduce young people to the joys of science.

We wanted to alert you to a great event this Saturday, July 18th, From Sidewalks to Skyscrapers: The Latest in Building Technology, which will feature a talk by a structural engineer to be named later from the Portland Cement Association who has worked on such signature reinforced concrete structures as the Burj Dubai and Chicago's Trump Tower and will cover the selection of structural materials and how not to have your really big building fall down in a hurricane or an earthquake. We're also promised live demo's including breaking concrete beams (cool!) and what should be a really interesting tour of the labs of CTL Group, which specializes in R&D and testing of construction materials, including the concrete used in the Burj Dubai.

It takes place this Saturday, July 18th, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at 5400 Old Orchard Road in Skokie, and it's limited to - depending on which website you consult - 30 or 50 participants. $7.00, ages 12 and up. Register here. Information here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Streeterville's Parkview park continues to blossom

When the Trib's Blair Kamin wrote about the park at the ParkView Condominiums last October, he talked about it needing time to fill out. A summer later, and it's already on it's way.

The 1.75 acre private park, serving both the residents of the Solomon Cordwell Buenz designed condo tower and the public, is a hugely handsome addition to Streeterville. Designed by San Francisco's Hargreave Associates, it provides a variety of levels that mediate between the streets and the condo tower and a variety of conditions that combine to form a richness only rarely found in Chicago Park District design.

The center point could said to be a grove of pine trees that will keep the park green even in winter.
The project has come out pretty much as described on the website of the developer, MCL Companies, in 2006, combining canopy trees set to produce rich fall color, perennial flowers, decorative grasses and a fountain.
Across the street, the former North Pier, revitalized by MCL as the River East Art Center provides a warm, colorful backdrop.
The longer-term issue, of course, is how long the current quality of the park will be maintained by private interests and whether, should the need arise, the Chicago Park District will step up to the plate and secure the park for permanent public access or, as at the park next to the AMA building, the only green space in River North, they will simply look the other way as its destroyed. When you look at the how beautiful the ParkView Condominiums park is today, you can only hope that day of reckoning is a long way off.