Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chicago Streetscene: Plow Field

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Waterview down 25, up 38

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Crain's Chicago Business and the Wall Street Journal are both reporting that the concrete carcass on Wacker may actually finally be completed.  Megadeveloper Related Midwest has acquired Waterview, originally intended to combine a Shangri-La hotel with upscale condo's.  The structure, which got as far as 27 unfinished floors before the  money ran out in 2008, will be downsized from 90 stories to 65 - no condo's, but 500 luxury apartments, with construction to begin next year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chicago Streetscenes: High Palette, IBM Bride

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Three from UIC

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Wilkinson, Blender split

An email released late this afternoon announced the firm of of Wilkinson Blender Architecture has been dissolved.  Best know for their residential architecture, the team of Michael Wilkinson and Richard Blender also championed the creation of the Bloomingdale Trail, and served together as co-Presidents of the Chicago Architectural Club from 2006 to 2008.

The new enterprises are Wilkinson Design Corporation, 2222 North Elston, 312.965.9581; and Blender Architecture LLC, 2215 West School Street,  773.360.1251.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Esquire Theater goes the way of the Chesire Cat

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42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly today announced a compromise that would keep parts of the original facade, including the iconic vertical sign, of the historic Art Deco Esquire Theater on Oak Street, designed by architect William Pereira and opened in 1938.

The theater's auditorium was gutted in 1989 for multiplexing.  It's stunning lobby spaces, as sleek as an ocean liner, were mutilated to accommodate elevators and the first floor's conversion to retail space.  The theater closed for good in 2006.  It was supposed to be destroyed for a ten-story boutique hotel, but then alderman Burton Natarus refused to support the upzoning, and the property was foreclosed on in November of 2009.
 Now, said Reilly today in his constituent newsletter . . .
After many months of negotiation, Alderman Reilly is pleased to report that the new ownership of the Esquire Theatre site, 58 E Oak LLC, is currently pursuing an adaptive reuse of the Gold Coast parcel located at 58-68 East Oak Street.  The existing Lakefront Protection Approval from September 2008 permitted a complete demolition of the Esquire Theater to be replaced with new construction of three-story boutique retail, continuing the existing character of the street.  However, this new plan incorporates preservation of the existing exterior walls, the mansard roof and a complete restoration of the iconic Esquire Theater sign.
Something is better than nothing, so we're told, but the result is such a total desecration of the original, the question arises of why even bother?  The ribbed brick facade is cut in half, and planted with trees.  The marque is gone, and the strong stone block above is reduced and punctured to a kind of mannerist frame.  All sense of the original  building is now lost- will the sign even be lighted?  It's just a collection of artifacts.  Why not just paste the sign, which is, itself, a replica, on a new building and be done with it?
‘All right,’ said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dali Takes Singapore

So you think this is pretty neat ...........?
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Ok, now blow it up about ten times bigger and stick it atop a trio of 57-story towers as if it were beached in the subsiding of Noah's flood . . .
. . . and you get the Skypark atop Singapore's Marina Bay Sands resort complex, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, a long way from Habitat '67, with Parsons Brinkerhoff and the inevitable Arup taking on the structural engineering chores.  The project was brought our attention by our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson.
photograph: Wikipedia Creative Commons, CMGlee
This is what $8 billion will buy you these days: 2,500 hotel rooms, a shopping mall and convention center splitting up 2 million square-feet, an infinity swimming pool the length of a city block, two theaters - Lion King included - and a casino with 500 tables, 1600 slot machines. and no fewer than 14 cocktail waitresses named Agnes.  The lip of the two-and-a-half acre Skypark makes up what Arup claims to be "the world's longest public cantilever . . . constructed from a pair of tapering post-tensioned steel box girders up to 10 meters deep, supporting the concrete deck."
Running the show is the Sands Las Vegas Corporation, which could have fit more than two of the late architect Martin Stern, Jr.'s also late Sands Tower into each of the Marina Bay's three skyscrapers, and still have more than enough space left over for the egos of the Rat Pack.  While the Sands Tower bore a distant resemblance to a tubby Middle-Eastern minaret, the Marina Bay's design carries no regional design elements.  If it followed a school, it would have to be Mega Modern, High-Tech, High-Roller Bling.
photograph:  Wikipedia Creative Commons, William Cho
At the base of the complex is the recently opened ArtScience Museum, whose 21 galleries are housed in 10 metal-clad "fingers" - their tips cut off to allow in natural light that make up what is called "The Welcoming Hand of Singapore", open to currencies of all nations.  It's moated in a 40,000 square-foot lily pond.  (What I would give to hear what Alfred Caldwell's appraisal.)  Appropriately enough, among the ArtScience Museum's inaugural exhibitions is Dali: Mind of a Genius, which includes a massive mural he created for Alfred Hitchcock's film Spellbound.
Who knows?  Maybe Marina Bay is the what Dali would have done if he had survived into the 21st century - with a lot more money.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Organic Construction in the Garden of Lurie

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Through this portal, some of the most amazing engineering in Chicago can be found.
Check out those fractals!
From Louis Sullivan, to Frank Lloyd Wright, to Cecil Balmond, Zaha, and beyond, architects periodically convince themselves they've arrived at the organic, at a grasp of the informal that breaks the bounds of the traditional construction, and rivals the fecundity of nature.
A look at a single flower betrays how short even our best designs fall. The most abject plant is a marvel of adaptation, form and function far beyond even our most sophisticated attempts.
In the end, it's not an emulation of natural form, but geometric abstraction - the circle and square, the right angle and the straight line - that stand most human in their aspect, encapsulating both the mastery of our intellect, and the tragic denial of the primacy of our existence as living entities arising out of nature.
 Set against this splendor, our proud towers seem paltry reductions.

Archi-treasures Jewels in July, Chicago Bridges, RAW humor, Griffin, Koo and Saldaña Natke - more great stuff still to come on the July Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events

Yeah, I know, it's the 18th, so we're a little late, but a lot of things shut down for the summer, including, apparently, myself.

In any event, there's still nearly a dozen and a half great architecture-related events to come on the July Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events, headlined by this Wednesday's, July 20th, Jewels in July, at the Adobo Grill, Archi-treasures' annual benefit supporting their work bringing together architects, landscapes architects and community builders with non-profits who need their services.

The rest of July begins tonight, with James S. Phillips talking about The Evolution of the Chicago Bridge: A Brief History in Four Acts, at the Häfele America Chicago Showroom. RAW humor will be the subject of AIA Chicago Young Architects Forum event on Tuesday, the 19th.  AIA Chicago also has a session on Glass Reinforced Concrete on Thursday, the 24th, as well as no fewer than four more events on Tuesday, the 27th.  On Thursday the 28th, SEAOI's SEPAC cocktail party will offer great views from the Cliff Dwellers Club and an Engineers Discussion of the recent Japanese earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear plant.  Also on Thursday the 28th, at Pearlstein Hall at IIT, there's 3 Architects | 3 Different Approaches, a panel moderated by Roberta Feldman with architects Dina Griffin, Jackie Koo and Patricia Saldaña Natke.

And there's more!  Check all all the great events - air conditioning included! -  still to come on the July Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Miesian Marilyn, Chicago's Plaything

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Our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson took the striking photograph you see above of a still unbagged Forever Marilyn, the 26th-foot-tall sculpture by J. Seward Johnson.   In this WGN piece, Bob actually appears to get the answer to the question of what keeps the soaring structure secure.  Turns out the base of the 34,000 pound sculpture itself weighs 10 tons, "engineered for a category 5 hurricane"
And speaking of hurricanes, if the intent of Forever Marilyn's promoters was to grab attention, they're already succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.  Seemingly everyone in Chicago who puts finger to keyboard has felt compelled to add their two cents, and coverage has gone viral globally, even including this story by the Chinese news agency  Xinhau depicting how Marilyn is going to be a favorite photo-op for the numerous wedding parties stopping their trolleys along the Mag Mile.
To me, what's most interesting is how the supersized human figure of Marilyn Monroe, a constant curving presence seemingly without a single right angle, plays out against the relentlessly rectilinear Miesian skyscrapers that compose her backdrop.
What will be a continuing source of fun will be watching how visitors mug, vamp, and clamber to document their own relationship with Marilyn, this one made of sterner stuff than the flesh-and-blood original who succumbed to the irreconcilable contradictions between adoration and longing,  objectification and obsession, delight, delirium and despair. Choose the pairings that fit you best.

Marilyn and Jack, together again:
. . . even as he turns his back on a distaught Kate Sullivan . . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ben Weese's gracious goodbye to Landmarks Commission

In his Cityscapes blog today, Blair Kamin publishes, in full, architect Ben Weese's gracious farewell letter to Mayor Emanuel on the occasion of his being dumped by the Mayor from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, to which he has given distinguished service for decades.  Buried within the letter is the way Emanuel chose to let Weese know he was out.
When I arrived at last Thursday’s meeting I was informed that this was my last meeting as a commissioner.
Classy, no? 

Blair has already written on how Emanuel's appointments, with the exception of landscape architect  extraordinaire Ernest Wong, has purged the commission of all architects and architectural historians, in favor of a roster of connected people in unrelated fields that appears to be a direct violation of the Landmark ordinance's guidelines for appointees' qualifications.

As I've written before, the Landmarks Commissions, under the heavy thumb of whatever's the current incarnation of the the Department of Development, has been pretty much like all other city commissions, a rubber stamp.  The only time the Commission exercised any independence, in the case of the Farwell Building, the Landmarks chairman - former Daley chief of staff, and the Museum of Science Industry's million dollar man David Mosena - simply called another meeting to reverse the vote and give the developer what they wanted - destruction of the building.

The one function in which they really sweat is Permit Review, where the commissioners on that subcommittee sit through endless presentations of proposed changes to landmarked buildings.  Ben Weese ran that subcommittee; now it will hold its sessions without any input from an architect, because Emanuel's left none on the commission.

Landmarks preservation in Chicago doesn't really need a commission. It needs a commissioner.  Not  someone who shows up once a month to chair meetings and traffic cop matters to their pre-ordained conclusions, but someone who will both manage the departments incredibly dedicated and talented staff, and be a highly visible, highly vocal advocate for the department's mission.

In the meantime, the body of appointees comprising the Commission on Chicago Landmarks remains pretty much a scam.

Read the full text of Ben Weese's letter in Blair's blog, here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Flaying of St. John

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The distant view, through Sherman Park, is a glimpse of something weird, almost Gaudian.

As you get to the edge of the park, at 52nd street, you come upon the immensity of it.
The story of St. John of God church is one repeated throughout the changing neighborhoods of every city. A great house of worship built to serve an influx of immigrants - in this  case, Polish.  Designed by Henry J. Schlacks, whose Renaissance facade was described by the AIA Guide to Chicago as a masterpiece, St. John of God was completed in 1920.  By 1922, 2,400 families called it their parish.  Then, as the story always goes, those families begin to disperse as white flight claims the neighborhood.  Membership plummets, and, in 1992, the church is closed, a grand edifice sealed for an uncertain future.  In time, after few can even remember when the building was active, it's demolished.  A piece of architecture that defined the lives of tens of thousands of people vanishes into thin air.
Except St. John of God doesn't.  To be sure, the building will soon be forgotten history.  It's carved limestone, however, lives on.  Carefully, it was peeled away, to be re-assembled on a new church for St. Raphael the Archangel in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border.

For now, a single automobile tire rests incongruously in the foyer.  Rubble is everywhere, even framing the great altar.
 Mosaics disintegrate like pixels fading to white.
The destruction of St. John of God, and so many others like it, is testament to a society where everything is disposable. With their massive scale, solidity, and classical grandeur, structures like St. John look like they were built to endure forever.  Now, stripped down to raw brick, it looks like a monument from some not-quite-placeable ancient civilization.
All of Schlack's Renaissance finish and detailing scraped away, St. John now appears timeless, its architectural style malleable and mysterious.  The ruined entrance looks like it could be some ancient shrine in the Holy Land.
The stripped pillars of the bell towers resemble Mayan columns.
This is the afterimage, lingering in the eye for a millisecond before disappearing forever.  But in that brief time, it brands itself into your consciousness.  Is this what's beneath our dreams?  Is this a ruin, or is this the essence?  Too real, too primal, not to have us gild it in polished finish?