Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hey, Deceps: Who's gonna clean all this up? Loveable Transformers trash Chicago

OK, so now that our state's Decepticon-in-Chief has been judged wanting and sent away, it's time for the some memories of the Transformers:Dark of the Moon shoot last summer when unseen bots-to-be-CGI'ed-later were wreaking havoc on Chicago architecture.

 dateline: July, 2010: Chicago

Filming of Transformers 3 continues to picturesquely rubble up the streets along the Chicago River, this time in front of Milton Schwartz's Executive House, now Hotel 71. The actual transformers, including a 40-foot-tall Decepticon modeled after Rod Blogojevich, will added later via CGI.



Combatants struggle to secure Chicago's Wacker drive from adversaries to be added later, and every shot seems to require starting off with a big explosion.  I think it's the law.  Bay's law, actually.

Father Time takes it all in unmoved.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dark Satanic Mills Descend on Boul Mich. Resuscitation to follow?

 click images for larger view (recommended)
It began, not all that long ago, like this . . .
. . . the soaring entrance to the spectacularly unsuccessful Chicago Place vertical mall on North Michigan Avenue, done up in a style that might best be called Prairie School meets glitz generic.  It was finally put out of its misery about two decades later.  Dominating the entrance were two 42-foot-high murals by Thomas Melvin, depicting Chicago in broad strokes and superbright colors . . .
This is what the same wall looks like now . . .
It's part of the just opened Chicago outpost of AllSaints Spitalfields, the British clothier.  Like Chicago Place, it was born in the 1990's, but there the comparison ends.  By the time it opened, Chicago Place was upholding traditions that were already dead; AllSaints was defining what was to come.
our mission is to create a brand that blends cultural, fashion and music into a potent formula of desirable clothing that expresses individuality and attitude.
AllSaints doesn't advertise, depending instead on word-of-mouth, and it keeps in place a kind of corporate omerta about itself.  Staff is forbidden to speak about the business - you can make up a far better back story for the Mise-en-scène in your own head.  One description of the chain's design mantra is "crumpled fabrics and clothes that often to the untrained eye might appear to be lopsided."

The design of the new 11,000-square-foot Chicago flagship is surreal and spectacular - Dickensian Gothic.   It's been described as being modeled "after an industrial European rail station," but it seems much more like an abandoned factory, scrubbed to a high polish that never existed in its original incarnation.  According to a great account by Tim Girvin of the evolution of the Allfields Spitalfields brand and design of its Seattle outpost . . .
“The All Saints store is an expensive monument to the distressed style of decoration: the brickwork is exposed, the wood flooring carefully aged.” According to friends working as the architects of record for the Seattle location, the concept of detailing that degradation is one of careful staging — teams working for weeks on the blasting and chiseling of every single brick. All Saints Spitalfields becomes in this light, a kind of set design, a cinematic production.
In place of the Mag Mile's long-faded pretensions to high elegance, we get a massive heavy-metal denture jammed into the untoothed maw of a Po-Mo relic. 
The entrance is framed in ancient-looking black steel beams and columns, beaded with bolts, and framing distressed brick, also painted black.
The same brick, unpainted, sides the 42-foot-high entrance foyer.  It's all dominated by the back wall, a soaring-to-the-ceiling grid of hundreds of antique Singer sewing machines. Along with the ram's horn, they're signature motifs of the chain and its fashions.
The selling space beyond has the same distressed brick walls, even on the tall, squat columns.  Bolted metal pilasters climb up the walls, to a metal molding course topped by squat brackets.  Furnishings are similarly retro-industrial - heavy metal tables, often wheels of uncertain function, interlocking gears in framed black panels mounted high up on the walls, an iPad held in place by a thick, thumb-screwed wood block.  Everything has been painted a light buff.  As with most of the apparel on display, the palette is so constrained you feel as if you've fallen into sepia.

Today, sewing machines tend of be not black but white, but the basic principles of manufacturing remain in the factories in China and other developing countries where almost all the clothing we buy is made.  Perhaps a century from now, we'll be purchasing our apparel in stores designed in a kind of nostalgic replication of the typical contemporary industrial setting  you can see here.
Retailing as stage set, of course, is nothing new.  A century ago, department stores attracted their newly-middle-class customers with palatial architecture and furnishings, repackaging the gilded age luxury of the robber barons for the mass market.
In the 1920's, movie theater operators brought in audiences with the fantasy of having been given the keys to an Egyptian temple or the Palace of Versailles, examples of an authoritarian world order in which the middle class was limited to the bureaucracy serving the royal court.  Now we've apparently graduated to a super-scrubbed, nostalgic recreation of a brutal industrial past that our ancestors struggled at great sacrifice to transcend.

"And other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"  Comedy=tragedy+time.  Certainly a parallel formula holds true for high-end retailing.  As brutal as the early industrial age may appear to us now, at the time - to capitalist and laborer alike - it was an age of optimism, of moving beyond the Malthusian uncertainty of rural life.
AllSaints Spitalsfield could be a mainstay or a fad.  Just this past May, running dry of cash after having been owned successively by an Icelandic firm that failed, and then a leading Icelandic bank, that also failed, the company was acquired by British private equity firm Lion Capital.

In either case, they'll be plenty of time later to mine the deeper, darker meanings of AllSaint's Terry Gilliam/Mark Romanek vision of the perfect selling space.  For now, be sure to check out the trippy architectural concoction that has Potter Palmer and Arthur Rubloff turning over in their graves.  But then again, Rubloff was always a snappy dresser . . .

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Werner Bros, slightly daffy

 click images for larger view
At first glance, the cold storage warehouse on Paulina just north of Howard seems a standard 1920's-era brick box leavened by classical terra cotta ornament, but there's just enough eccentricity to make you wonder if Leon Schlesinger may have changed an "a" to an "e" and done some moonlighting in the architecture racket.
The white and black swirls above the air conditioner may appear more Aubrey Beardsley than Chuck Jones, but the family crest - awaiting decryption - guarded by two later-addition owls, adds a bit of WB surrealism, especially the bird to the right, which looks incensed by the pigeon perching on its head.

While on the terra cotta framing the entrance, curling tendrils appear to become the four hands of a leering grotesque on his throne, enrobed in a pincurl-lapeled mantle pulled back like a peeled skin to expose  his internal organs . . .


. . . and just above the door, a keystone of ornament seems to resolve into the pinched face of a puffy mandarin, a star of What's Opera, Doc? had its inspiration been not Wagner, but Puccini's Turnadot.

Two more for June - Alternative Career Paths, Growth of Carsharing

Never too late, apparently, to be adding events to the June calendar.

RSVP by today for the Illinois Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architect's Wednesday evening panel, Alternative Career Paths in Architecture, while Thursday noontime at Depaul, the Harry Chaddick Institute will be hosting a discussion on The Growth of Carsharing: A Review of the Public Benefits and Tax Burden of an Expanding Transportation Sector.

Elsewhere this week, Margaret Cederoth of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Christopher Drew from Adrian Smith+Gorden Gill Architecture will be discussing the lessons of Masdar City for APA Chicago on Tuesday, the same evening Sara Beardsley of AS+GG will be discussing their Chicago Central DeCarbonization Plan at AIA Chicago.  And this Saturday and Sunday will offer an Open House for the Poetry Foundation's new home designed by John Ronan.

There's still a dozen and half great events to come, so check out the June 2011 Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Four Scenes from Wednesday's Rally to Save Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital

click images for larger view
At a rally this past Wednesday, Vince Michael, looking like he's mad as hell and about to go beat the crap out of Northwestern, announces that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Prentice Hospital, designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg, one of its Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in America for 2011.
Zurich Esposito of AIA/Chicago was joined by Landmarks Illinois' James Peters and Preservation Chicago's Jonathan Fine at the rally, held just outside a two-block square site across the street from Prentice that Northwestern has left empty and gravel covered for the past two years.  Their organizations, all part of the Save Prentice Coalition, are calling for landmark designation to protect Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Chicago building from Northwestern's plans to demolish it for still another vacant lot.
Add your name to the petition here.

Chicago Streetscene: Joe Lieberman and Rod Blagojevich at MBC benefit

click image for larger view (rubber chicken unidentified)

Chicago Skyscape: Storm Sunrise

click image for larger view

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is the Fix In? Don't let it stand. Rally today for Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital, as National Trust names it one of its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America - the two faces of Preservation in Chicago

Today, June 15th, there will be a rally to express support for saving Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital, 11:00 a.m. at McClurg and Huron. (see map here.) Organizers are urging supporters to "Arrive no later than 10:45. Wear your 'Save Prentice' t-shirts, bring signs to show your support, and tweet from the Rally using #SavePrentice." You can also add your name to the petition to save Prentice - and to pass it on to others - here.

On Thursday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that Prentice Hospital has been named to its 2011 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
“The boldly imaginative Prentice Women’s Hospital is one of the most distinctive buildings in a city world-famous for its rich architecture,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “It is irreplaceable and landmark-worthy, but like many buildings of the recent past, Prentice Women’s Hospital is not appreciated and protected. Retention of the building—rather than demolition—provides a sustainable and economically viable future for a striking structure with decades of useful life ahead.”
click images for larger view
For much of this year, the discussion about architecture in Chicago has been dominated by Northwestern's stated intent to destroy Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Prentice Hospital and replace it with a vacant lot.

Then, suddenly at the end of April, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks deftly pushed the debate on Prentice aside by proposing to landmark the 1928 Art Deco Chicago Motor Club Building (shown to the left in the photo at the top of this post) on Wacker just west of Michigan Avenue, abetted by Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who sniffed . . . "historic preservationists do not appear to be concerned about the building", apparently unaware that Preservation Chicago had named the Motor Club as one of it's "Chicago 7" most endangered buildings all the way back in 2009.  Four days later, Kamin would report that the only reason the building hadn't landed on Landmarks Illinois latest list of the 2011 most endangered historic places in Illinois was that the Landmarks Commission had told the group that it was already working on it; there was no need to have the Motor Club on the list.
To be sure, the Motor Club is an absolutely wonderful building, as superbly presented in another crackerjack report by Landmarks staff Heidi Sperry, Terry Tatum, Mike Crawford, Lisa Napoles, and Nikki Ricks, edited by departing Landmarks head Brian Goeken.  The report's compelling advocacy is achieved through an impressive work of scholarship, combining history, analysis and documentation, richly illustrated with current and historic photos and illustrations.  Download the report here.

The Chicago Motor Club building, a structure no developer has rushed to acquire, goes up for auction on June 23rd, with a suggested minimum bid of only $500,000.  We don't know the winning bidder, or whether their intention would have been to rehab the Motor Club or demolish it, so landmark protection is a good thing.  But the bottom line is this:  as the Commission itself acknowledged, there is no immediate threat to this building.  No one has proposed demolishing it, or filed for a permit to do so.

All the publicity for the Motor Club, however, did its job: edging to the sidelines the battle for Prentice, a building that IS in immediate danger, whose owner has been very clear in stating their intention to demolish it.
Flash forward one month.  Another surprise.  With little advance notice, preliminary landmark designation for Prentice suddenly appeared on the Landmarks Commission June agenda. Finally, the chance everyone was waiting for.  Landmarks Illinois, Preservation Chicago, docomomo, and an impressive roster of other preservation groups quickly rallied to appear at the meeting to testify as to Prentice's central importance and demonstrate the breadth of support for saving it.

And, just as quickly, it all disappeared.  The morning of the meeting, Prentice was removed from the agenda and "deferred."  Blair Kamin quoted Northwestern University's Ron Nayler as saying "It just requires further discussion with the city."

And that's how power and landmarking intersect in Chicago.  If you're a poor schmo who doesn't want his or her house in a landmark district, or an unknown developer-to-be-named later picking up an unwanted building at auction, the Landmarks Commission is brave and unyielding.  If you're a clouted powerhouse like Northwestern, you can simply make agenda items disappear, taking everything behind closed doors, where transparency and democracy go to die.
And so the fix is in.  42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly, who was instrumental in the battle to keep the Children's Museum out of Grant Park and saving the Lake Shore Athletic Club, prominently announced back in April that he had negotiated with Northwestern a 60-day moratorium in their filing for a demolition permit for Prentice.  Since then, he's become the invisible man.  There's been no updates on Prentice in his email reports to constituents, and the sentence "42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly was unavailable for comment" has become almost boilerplate on news reports on the ongoing battle for Prentice.

Reilly is one of Chicago's best alderman.  He is also ambitious.  Has he decided that to advance politically, it would be better not having powerful Northwestern as an enemy?  Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has also taken no position on saving Prentice. 

I would love to be proven wrong, to have a press conference pop out of the blue in which Northwestern and the City announce a compromise that will save Prentice.  Realistically, however, in Chicago, clout city, the kind of omerta now in place usually means the fix is in.

The most egregious demonstration of the dark side of preservation in Chicago can be found a few miles south of Prentice, at the site once occupied by the Michael Reese Hospital complex.  Back in 2009, architect Grahm Balkany staged a herculean effort to document and save the Bauhaus-inspired buildings at Reese designed with the collaboration of Walter Gropius.  Did the Landmarks Commission embrace Balkany's incredible scholarship?  They did not.   When a proposal for saving the important Reese buildings was presented to them, the Landmarks Commission only response was to critique its imprecisions.  Their incuriosity was absolute.  They lifted not a finger to consider the importance of these irreplaceable structures.

What could justify such dereliction?  Only this: mayor/municipal monarch Richard M. Daley lusted after the site for his pipedream of a 2016 Olympics.  And when the Olympics evaporated into the mist, he still rushed through the demolition of all buildings on the campus save two, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. For what?  For nothing.  For a wasted plain as testimony to his arbitrary and absolute power.
But he wasn't done.  In an act of unbridled cynicism, the Daley administration pledged to save the handsome and historic 1907 Schmidt, Garden Michael Reese main building.  And then they let it rot.  They did nothing to secure the building as it was assaulted by rain and trashed by squatters.  Part of the roof caved in. Little more than a year later, the city announced, as if it were an act of fate rather than their own negligence, that they now had no choice but to demolish the building, at cost of a few more millions.  Michael Reese is the new Block 37.
And they still weren't done.  Early in May, I received a frustrated email from Eric Nordstrom of Urban Remains. " . . . so tragic. so angry. city and/or wrecking company will not let me salvage any of the ornament. the terra cotta lions . ..
 . . . destroyed daily. the amazing sullivanesque panel . . .

- destroyed!"
This is same kind of civic nihilism Northwestern has in mind for Prentice.  They will demolish it, and leave an empty lot behind.  There will be no new building anytime soon.  Last November, Crain's Chicago Business reported Northwestern Hospital lost $186 million in 2009.  And it's not like Northwestern is short of places to expand.  It's already doing massive land-banking in the area, including a huge two-square-block site just across the street from Prentice that's been an empty gravel yard since the demolition of Lakeside Veterans Hospital two years ago.
No, Northwestern wants to annihilate Prentice, quickly, because it terminates the argument.  It precludes the prospect of more and more Chicagoans becoming familiar with Prentice, appreciating its architectural importance. its keystone role in the city's urban fabric, and joining the fight against demolition.  At Prentice, Bertrand Goldberg proved that hospitals and great architecture can be one.  Like Richard M. Daley at Michael Reese, Northwestern wants to destroy the evidence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rally for Prentice Tomorrow at 11:00, plus Olivares,Vergara, Mansueto, McCormick Place, Lighthouses and more - this week on the calendar

A debate on the future of Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Prentice Hospital at Dick's Last Resort, Marina City, tonight, Tuesday, June 14th, is already sold out, but tomorrow, Wednesday, June 15th, there will be a rally in support of saving Prentice, which Northwestern wants to destroy for a vacant lot.  The rally is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the corner of McClurg and Huron.
Please be in position at 10:45 a.m.
Wear your Save Prentice T-shirt
and bring signs showing support
There's a post on Skyscraperpage.com claiming that, despite promising not to, Northwestern has already applied for a demolition permit.

If you don't have tickets for tonight's debate, there's also designer Jonathan Olivares at the Graham, and Camilo Jose Vergara at the Field. Wednesday, the 15th, Murphy/Jahn's new Mansueto Library at the U of C is the topic at CAF lunchtime, with Archework's Design Riot: Rise Up for Good Design fundraiser at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery that evening.

On Thursday the 16th the winners of Chicago Architectural Club's McCormick Place REDUX competition will be discussed at lunchtime at the Cultural Center for Landmarks Illinois. At the Cultural Center on Friday, Donald J. Terras will be discussing Lighthouses of Chicago Harbor, while on Saturday, Carolyn Armenta Davis will be discussing The Art of Architecture: 21st Century African|Black Diaspora at the Evanston Main Library.

There are still dozens of great items this month, so check out the June Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chicago Streetscene: Reliquary Edition

Lyster's SYSTEMscapes, School of Art Institute's annual show (reception tonight) - new exhibitions for June

New exhibitions for June:

The Design Show - there's an opening reception today, June 13th, from 6:00 to 8:00 for a series of exhibitions sponsored by the School of the Art Institute.  (More information here.)

Where is Where - showcases design from the SAIC's Departments of Architecture, Interior, and Designed Objects (AIADO) and Fashion, featuring work from 50 graduate students.
The works explore the unseen aspects of our society—many of which have been forgotten or overlooked—by reinhabiting space, challenging perceptions of interiority, and redefining values.
It's in the Sullivan Galleries in the former Carson Pirie Scott Building, 33 North State, 7th floor, and runs through June 25th.

Loaded -  also on view currently at the Sullivan Galleries features the work of fifteen emerging designs that was recently on display at Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile.
The provocative objects presented in Loaded explore the history, physicality, and currency of two catalytic materials: iron and sugar. In addition to the 13 unique objects (lighting, tableware, and jewelry) created for the exhibit, two of the projects—one in sugar, the other in iron—have been produced in multiples specifically for the show. Elements of the exhibition design also engage in this investigation, resulting in custom cast-iron display fixtures and sculptural sugar props.
And if that's not enough, the Sullivan Galleries will also be displaying the work of finalists of Delta Faucet's  second-annual Designers of Tomorrow Contest, in which students " were challenged with finding inspiration in Delta’s unique and innovative products — such as the In2ition shower  —  to create an original design that utilizes Delta products in a home environment other than a bath or kitchen."

Clare Lyster: SYSTEMscapes/Drawing Distribution Flow
  - opened last Friday, June 10th, at showPODS, in the 1800 block of south Halsted in the Chicago Arts District, where it's on view 24/7 through July 31st.    It's described as an exhibition . . .
of large-format maps of post-Fordist delivery systems, including Netflix, Facebook, Fed Ex, Amazon.com, Ryan Air and U-Tube.  The maps address the fluidity of our culture by indexing the geo-spatial effects of the time-space networks that infiltrate our daily lives. They uncover new opportunities for architectural design in an age in which space is increasingly mediated by infrastructural systems and communication networks. The maps are conceived by Clare Lyster as part of her ongoing research on architecture’s fall-out with emerging logistical networks, what Manuel Castells calls “the space of flows”. 
More information here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Zinc Garden Grows at Ronan's Poetry Foundation

 click images for larger view
As we move inexorably closer to the June 25-26th Open House, the new building designed by architect John Ronan for the Poetry Foundation races towards completion.   The black zinc screen is largely in place along Superior . . .
although the elevation along Clark Street still awaits its facing.
Most recently, the trees for the entrance courtyard have been put in place, part of the landscape design by Reed Hilderbrand . . .
Right now they're more large, low-level shrubs, but as the building ages, we'll get to watch them rise to their full height.
A talk by Ronan about his building during the Open House is already wait-listed, but you can watch videos where he discusses his design here.