Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Daniel Burnham Saved From Drowning

We're embarking on a new series, Chicago 2019, in which we hope to draw on the lessons of the past year, including the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics, and the Burnham Plan Centennial celebration, to start talking about where we go from here.

Tomorrow, or soon thereafter, we hope to publish our post mortem on how the architectural elements of the celebration played out as the year went on, but for today, we give you . . .

Daniel Burnham Saved from Drowning
For now, we're beginning with an expanded - and copiously illustrated - version of the Burnham piece I wrote for the Chicago Reader earlier this year, in which we attempt to rescue Daniel Burnham from the murky waters of the sea of adulation marking this year's centennial celebration of his 1909 Plan of Chicago. This is Burnham with the bark off, and a tale of how the architectural component of the celebration was hijacked by academics and ideologues who were about as far from the spirit of Daniel Burnham as nature allows. Read the full story in all its gory detail, follow the links to all things Burnham, and see the images here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Working on year-end piece - so here's a Cat Blue

special bonus: from Roger Corman, the cat with the X-Ray eyes

Monday, December 28, 2009

This is Living? MAS Context's winter edition rich, fascinating - and free!

For a publication with no visible means of economic support, MAS Context manages to keep churning out great content, for sure. Case in point is Living, the just-issued Winter edition of the quarterly edited by architect Iker Gil. It's another real keeper.

Your Living is Not My Living, And That is Fine
, is how Gil titles his introduction, and it's reflected in another cornucopia serving of images and ideas, beginning with photographic case studies of five projects, from old icons - Kisho Kurokawa's metabolic Nagakin Capsule Tower, where living is compacted to stacked units of 100 square feet - to new icons, Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid complex in Beijing - to abandoned icons - Taiwan's pod-like UFO houses.

Among the great essays are Chicago architects Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn's tale of living in Venezuela's Maracaibo, a boom town where gasoline can be bought for next to nothing but water for a family of four runs $300 a month. There's a fascinating interview with Eric Bricker, the director of Visual Acoustics, the documentary on legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman that derives its title from Shulman's description of the interior of L.A.'s Bradbury building, featured in films from Jack Nicholson's Wolf to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The 90-year-old+ Shulman's response to Bricker's proposal to create a film on his life could well become my new manta: "Well, I don't see why not."

For his photoessay Assembly Required, Andrew Clark has actually taken the time to count up all the packages, steps and pieces required to put together all the furniture featured on individual pages of the Ikea catalogue (this living room, at 32/235/1234, will send chills down the spine of even the most dedicated DIYer).

Pride of place, however, goes to Living in Cabrini, where photos of the infamous housing project run next to vivid memories of former resident James Lockhart to provide one of the most eloquent expressions I've ever encountered of the actual experience of a specific architectural space.

There's much more, it's all good, and it's free. Check out Mas Context here, and download the Living issue here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy After Christmas! Chicago makes No. 5 on list of 100 Places to Remember Before They Disappear

photograph: Jim Richardson/Getty

So much for warm holiday spirit. We just caught up with this slideshow from England's The Guardian depicting 16 of the 100 places the International Panel on Climate Change is betting won't be around a century from now. Bhutan, Caracas, Australia's Kakadu wetlands, and, Chicago?

"That's today weather, and now, the forecast for the 21st century:"
a gradual, dramatic increase in heatwaves and flooding due to global warming . . . an increase in hot summer days . . . unpredictable heavy rain and flooding . . . damage [to] Chicago's tourism industry.
Guess those $500 cases of pop at McCormick Place don't seem such a big deal now, do they?

The good news: Chicago's climate will be just like that of Texas and Alabama. They'll be a lot more good country western bars, our college football teams will win more games, and the Indiana Dunes will really come into its own. A Daley will still be mayor; she'll just be mangling the English language with monophthongized dipthongs.

See the entire slideshow here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in Chicago 2009 - in photos and video

Yes, it's finally here. Christmas in Chicago, 2009. Watch for that special visitor coming to the subway.

Check out all the photographs here. And if you're still not Christmas'd out, check all the great photo essays and stories from previous years.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chicago Christmas 2009 - We're Working on It

Yes, there will be a Christmas 2009 photo essay, hopefully by Thursday. Here's a small preview.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The stunning overlooked details of Chicago Architecture, courtesy Gregory Jenkins

Gregory H. Jenkins, AIA, has practiced architecture in the Chicago area for a quarter century. More recently, however, he's developed a sideline that's resulted in two remarkable web sites, and a great new book, on the Chicago architecture and sculpture you've probably glanced at countless times, but never have really seen.

Chicago Architecture in The Loop combines commentary, information, and Jenkins' striking photographs. Most recently, he's had an extended series on the Daniel Burnham/Peirce Anderson 1905 Edison Building. Formerly known as the Commonwealth Edison Building, it's one of two derelict buildings (the other the 1927 Bankers Building) around the Mies van der Rohe Federal Plaza. The Chicago Board of Education, the Edison's current occupant, has treated its facades with malign neglect, slumming them up with cheap, incongruous replacements for terra cotta panels that seem less an expression of the CBOE's thrift than to its indifference to doing anything right. (This photo not by Jenkins) Jenkins's photos let you see the underlying grandeur of the building.

What he's especially good at is the details, all those ornamental expressions that we've probably overlooked even in a building we walk by several times a day. You may have noticed that Burnham and Anderson loved lions on their buildings, but did ever notice the variations? Jenkins has, and he gives you photos of all of them: lions with rings in an open mouth, lions with rings in clenched jaws, abstracted lions with no rings at all.

Chicago Sculpture in the Loop
is Jenkins' second website, and it may be even more interesting. You'll find out who was behind all the those sculptures that have become visual icons of their respective buildings, and see them close up. You'll discover the importance of sculptor Henry Hering, a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who first gained fame at age 17 for his work on the Fine Arts Building of 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (now the Museum of Science and Industry). His work is everywhere in Chicago, including the four allegorical figures overlooking the Great Hall of the Field Museum. Ever wonder about those two statues atop the soaring columns at Union Station? One is Allegorical Night (complete with owl), the other is Day, and they're by Henry Hering, as are the figures on the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

How many times have you walked by Tribune Tower? Have you noticed the remarkable gargoyles designed by Rene Paul Chambellen? Jenkins has, and you can see them on his site.

Now Jenkins has assembled 177 of his best photographs in a new book, Chicago Figural Sculpture: A Chronological Portrait 1871-1923, which "documents extant figural sculpture in the heart of Chicago." Did you know there's a casting of Jean Antoine Houdon's George Washington on the fifth floor of City Hall? It's there in Jenkins' book, along with Johannes Gelert's Herald, which originally graced Burnham & Root's 1891 Chicago Herald Building on Madison, then stood on the roof of the parking garage that replaced, then, briefly, in a niche in the even larger parking garage that replaced that, until finally winding up in the garden collection of St. Ignatius Prep on Roosevelt Road. You can see where all of the Richard Bock busts of German writers that once graced the facade of Adler & Sullivan's Schiller Theater have wound up, as well as such overlooked wonders as this ornament from Charles Atwood's Marshall Field store.

You can preview the first chapter of the book here. You can buy it on-line here or here. As usual, I'm telling you this too late to make it a great Christmas gift, but maybe you can just give a gift card with a printout of the cover photo. It looks to be one of the best Chicago architecture books of the year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

David Steele's Buffalo Rediscovered

American society is propelled by a powerful desire for change and replacement. We consume the new and toss off the old . . . Although cities can not be so easily hauled away to the dump, they can become removed from our collective national consciousness. These used-up cities become forgotten places. One such forgotten place is Buffalo, New York. - David Steele
Buffalo is one of America's most remarkable cities. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a boom town. Built, like Chicago, on railroads, grain and steel, the "Queen City of the Lakes" was the 8th largest city in the U.S. Also like Chicago, it's population peaked in the 1950's, but it's fall from grace was more dramatic. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway diverted the lake shipping and, over time, Buffalo's key industries withered and died. By 2008, it had lost over half it's population.

Yet much of the architecture has remained. And Chicago architect David Steele, who grew up in Buffalo and studied architecture there, has a great new book, Buffalo: Architecture in the American Forgotten Land, that documents the richness of that architecture in striking black-and-white-photographs. If you've shuffled off to Buffalo on Friday, December 18th, you can meet the author and have him sign a copy of his book, from 4:30 to 7:00, with a presentation at 5:15, in the Council Chambers of the Buffalo's Art Deco City Hall, whose 393-foot height is almost as tall as the tip of the dome Daniel Burnham proposed for the new city hall in his 1909 Plan of Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright's great Larkin Building may have been demolished in 1950, but the house he designed in for Darwin Martin not only endures, but it's undergone a major restoration and has a new, glass-walled visitors center designed by Toshiko Mori. There's also the twin towers of H.H. Richardson's State Asylum for the Insane (not to be confused with his State Capitol, which serves a similar purpose)(pictured above, photo not by Steele), Adler & Sullivan's stunning Guaranty Building, and Daniel Burnham and Charles Atwood's Ellicott Square, which for nearly two decades after its 1896 completion was the largest office building in the world. There's also modernism, not only the aforementioned City Hall, from 1930, but Eliel and Eero Saarinen's Kleinhans Music Hall, and the spectacular, abandoned Art Deco Central Terminal, two and a half miles from downtown. (The photo below, by Dave Pape, was taken during a 2007 fundraiser. Steele's book, however, covers more than just the most famous buildings. It's truly a walking tour of the fabric of a great city, from streetscenes, to churches and shops, to Buffalo's striking homes, in an encyclopedia of styles. Although the city has about 15,000 abandoned homes, and about an equal number of vacant lots, much survives. In a recent USA Today article by Rick Hampson, local preservation activist Harvey Garrett's explains why so much quality architecture survives:
"Buffalo was rich at just the right time" — 1870-1914, when great architecture was still relatively inexpensive — "and poor at just the right time" — after 1950, when many older buildings in cities with better economies were demolished.
Steele describes his handsome book as "a love letter to Buffalo's built environment," but it's also a striking documentation of how architecture defines the character of a city over time. You can see the photographs here, and buy copies of the book here, hardcover $45.95, softcover $31.95 here.

Also, from 2008, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff on Saving Buffalo's Untold Beauty, here.

Make No Little Plans on WTTW tonight at 8:00

Judith Paine McBrien's new documentary, Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City, makes its television debut tonight, Thursday, December 17th, at 8:00 on WTTW, Channel 11. Insomniacs may also catch the film Saturday, December 19th, at 2:50 a.m. A DVD of the documentary is now available for purchase.

The film has taken some critical hits - probably nothing less than a Citizen Kane could fully capture the drama and contradictions of Uncle Dan's story - but it's an accomplished, compelling overview, with some stunning images, of Burnham's life and work.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Red Shoes - Must-Have Items, only available through Thursday

I've always avoided watching Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes when it popped up on television. With its smudgy images and color bleeding at the edges, the compromised prints on display gave the impression of a hoary, shopworn artifact of an obsolete style of filmmaking.

That was then. After a seven-year campaign by Martin Scorsese, The Red Shoes has undergone a miraculous restoration that again lets us see one of the most remarkable films of the past century the way it was meant to be seen. It's being shown at the Music Box through Thursday.

The restorers at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, led by Robert Gitt And Barbara Whitehead, had their work cut out for them. The Red Shoes was shot in three-strip Technicolor, a process in which three separate strips of black-and-white film ran through the camera at the same time, with a prism and filtering gelatin creating three black and white negatives, capturing color separations of cyan, magenta and yellow which were then used to create positive prints. The three original negatives the UCLA restorers had to work with shrunk at different ratios down through the decades, a problem compounded by mis-adjustment of camera settings during filming. The negatives were filthy with dirt, scratches, and, worst of all, mold, which had begun to feed on the very images themselves.

Each of The Red Shoe's 579,000 individual frames were scanned digitally at a 4K resolution and painstakingly repaired back to their original quality. The restorers quality-checked their work against an original Technicolor dye transfer print of the film.

The plot of The Red Shoes is pretty basic. World famous impresario takes a gamble on two unknowns - a ballerina and a composer. Gestative tribulations are followed by triumph. Romantic complications. Conflict between life and art. Tragic death. Anguished remorse. As Pop Liebel once said, "There are many such stories."

What sets The Red Shoes apart is, first, the quality of the performances, especially that of Anton Walbrook as the Pygmalion/Henry Higgins Boris Lermontov, who wills the ambition of Moira Shearer's character, Victoria Page, to became a great dancer into reality. Walbrook was gay, and some writers have also pointed to Walbrook's Lermontov, as gay, as well, as he shows no romantic inclinations and surrounds himself with a coterie of male collaborators.

Even so, Lermontov's obsession with Page, his jealousy of her amant, the composer Julian Craster, played by Marius Goring, is as intense as any lover's, and it's the savage fight for control of Vicky between Lermontov and Craster as she prepares in her dressing room to go on stage for her comeback, that sends her fleeing them both, down a winding, constricted stair, a mirror to another stair at the beginning of the film, which Craster and a mob of his fellow students race up to claim a seat in the gallery for a Covent Garden premiere.

The title may be The Red Shoes, but it could more accurately - if less commercially - have been called The Impresario. Walbrook is the magnetic core of the film, portraying a man, as observed by Roger Ebert "who imposes his will but conceals his feelings." His Lermontov is the Deus ex machina that, far from resolving the complications of the plot, sets them diabolically spinning, only to have them turn brutally back on him in a way that make him the tragic victim of his own actions.

The extraordinary images sear The Red Shoes into the audience's emotions, creating a visual dialectic between the realism of the every day - the bustling workaday Covent Garden district post World War II - and the rich fantasy of dreams and ambition. When Vicky Page is summoned to Lermontov's villa - she arrives in an almost surreal teal outfit, complete with tiara - it's not just any abode, but the Villa Leopolda, which just last year changed hands for a mere $750,000,000. Vicky moves her way through a mazelike landscaping, to a steeply rising, seemingly endless stairway, lined with soaring cypresses, that makes her journey seem like Orfeo's ascent to Olympus.

The center of the film is The Red Shoes, itself, a 17 minute ballet created by Robert Helpmann expressly for the movie. It's based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale about an evil cobbler who places a pair of magical red shoes on the feet of a young dancer, who dances, and dances, and dances. In fact, she can't stop dancing, The red shoes have taken control of her, and she can't take them off. Her clothes turn to rags and she dances to her death, collapsing before a group of worshipers outside of their church, where the controlling spirit at least lets them go home after the epiphany. Think Dance Sacrale with drabber clothing.

Visually, the sequence is one of the most stunning in all of cinema. It begins with a stage stuffed Zeffirelli style, dazzling but concrete, and then veers out into the pure fantasy that only film can create, veering into a kind of dream state in which the physical world keeps transforming in the service of stream-of-consciousness wonder, fear and desire. As created by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff and production designer Hein Heckroth, the incredibly vibrant colors become, in themselves, an indelible expression of emotion.Thanks to the restoration, we can again experience these images at their original, hypnotic power. A Blu-Ray version of the restored film has been released in Britain and will undoubtedly eventually be released here. But scale is as much a part of the composition of this film as anything, and even a 60 inch flat panel fails to do it full justice. You have a rare opportunity, only through this Thursday, December 17th, to really see The Red Shoes, at the Music Box, at 3733 North Southport. If you're smart, you won't let it pass by.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chicago River really steamed

. . . you'd think it was winter or something.

Nokia dumps Deco

Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that, after only three and a half years, Nokia is closing both of its United States showcase stores, including its outlet here, in Philip Maher's stately Jacques building at 543 North Michigan.
Nokia never got around to carving cell phones into the hands of either of the two bas relief women above the doors. They remain very much an expression of their time, when high fashion was expressed not in high tech gadgetry but designer gowns.Reports that the site will now become the first American site for a ZhuZhu Pets store remain mere rumors. Personally, I'm holding out for making it the elegant Chicago outpost of Peeps & Co.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Community Meeting on plans for Gropius Michael Reese site tonight

4th ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle will be holding a community meeting for Prairie Shores and Lake Meadows residents tonight, December 9th, 7:00 p.m., at which "there will be a discussion of plans for the Michael Reese site," where an assembly of irreplaceable Bauhaus-influenced buildings designed with the collaboration of Walter Gropius are currently in the process of being obliterated. The meeting will be at Olivet Baptist Church, 3101 S. King Drive. Dress warm, and if you want to double-check the meetings still on, call Ald. Preckwinkle's office at 773/536.8103.

In related news, Urban Remains is offering up items from Michael Reese "in the form of misc. equipment, furniture signs, teach aids . . . and other odds and ends." Urban Remains website describes their role: "Architectural artifacts were essentially off limits, pending the city of Chicago's purchase of the hospital campus . . . unfortunately, a good portion of the mid-century furnishings were badly damaged from vandals, lack of building maintenance or outright abandonment of the buildings containing the furniture."

van Berkel in Winter

The two Burnham Centennial pavilions closed to the public October 31st. The Hadid, the last to arrive - six weeks late - was the first to go, all traces now removed. The more angular steel frame of the van Berkel, stripped of its glossy white melting ice cream scoops, endures, long enough to become, covered in the first snow of the season, the lovely geometric sculpture you see here. (Photo courtesy our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Free Day

. . . I got nothin' - check back tomorrow.

Oh, wait - how about a cat in a box? Will that do for today?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Art Institute Lions go Mod for Christmas

In celebration of the opening of the Renzo Piano designed Modern Wing earlier this year, the 18th annual holiday wreathing of the Art Institute's twin bronze lions has taken a contemporary turn.
Instead of the traditional evergreen wreaths, this year's were designed Yves Behar out of multi-colored aluminum leaves. On December 16, they'll be replaced by the traditional evergreen wreaths, and Behar's leaves distributed to Chicago kids to use for their own home decorations. (See a small slideshow of pics on Behar's fuseproject website here.)

Gang Nifty, Valerio Gothic, three centuries of type - Sunday reading

Jeanne Gang is number 22 in the New York Time's Style Magazine Fifty 50: The Names of America's Up-and-Coming ("for your guest list or cocktail patter"), citing Aqua as "Chicago's coolest new skyscraper." (Teddy Cruz is number 14) Page 90, online non-html mag here. We're promised an expanded version of the profiles in January at

And in the inevitable pushback department, Aqua's sinuous balconies are criticized for being heat sinks leeching energy out of the building (I live in Marina City; touch one of my external columns on a sub-zero day - I dare you), and an architecture student at Drury University claims Gang copped a "I'm better than this place" attitude when she sat in on a critique. But he still thinks Aqua is beautiful.

25th Anniversary issue
of Chicago Life, bundled with the Times, includes Lois Weisberg interview with a great story of how John D. MacArthur helped fund her first major project, a 1956 George Bernard Shaw Centennial celebration. There's also a neat Joe Valerio article on the U of C and Gothic architecture. (Henry Ives Cobb originally pushed for the Romanesque.)

Bauman Rare Books ads on back cover NY Times Book Review features copy of Robert F. Kennedy To Seek a Newer World inscribed by the author in perfunctory fashion to "Herm" Kogan. Yours for $4,000. Also, review of The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer will leave you never hearing That Old Black Magic quite the same way again. Taschen's brought out A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles, Volume I, 1628-1900. But what about Kabel?