Friday, December 30, 2005

Cuno and Rosa, Linder and Waro Kishi on January Chicago architectural events calendar

The new year starts off with nearly 30 Chicago architectural events, including a conversation with Art Institute President and new Architecture and Design curator Joseph Rosa, lectures by Mark Linder and Waro Kishi, new exhibits at the Graham and Chicago Architecture Foundation, an appreciation of the great Alfred Caldwell, and a new film on Mies van der Rohe at the Music Box. Check it all out here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Archeworks ArcheCircle Campaign Underway

Archeworks, the Chicago alternative school founded in 1994 by Stanley Tigerman and Eva Maddox to provide an education that addresses the ethical and social aspects of architecture and design, is in the midst of its ArcheCircle fundraising campaign. $10,000 gets you Project Benefactor status, or for $5,000 you can become a Distinguished Patron, with other contribution levels ranging down to $125, which makes you an ArcheFriend, or smaller amounts, which make you a contributor. The campaign helps cover the gap beween tuition revenue and the cost of running the school. Donations can be made through the usual channels, or on the website.

New York Times' Ouroussoff on Charlie Rose Tonight

Via Archinect, here's a heads up that the New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff is scheduled to appear with Charlie Rose on PBS tonight. Check your local listings. In Chicago, as will surprise no one familiar with the bargain-bin ways of the city's flagship public television station, WTTW, there's unlimited room for Nicholas Perricone and rock stars in their dotage, but none for Charlie Rose - he's banished to WYCC, the station of Chicago's public college system, where his show runs at 11:00 P.M. On many area cable systems, you can also catch Rose on Indiana's WYIN, which runs the show at 10:00 P.M. CST, and, if its usual schedule adheres, will repeat it tomorrow at midnight. Be forewarned, finally, that Rose has a habit of bouncing architectural guests like so many bad checks whenever breaking news intervenes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sweeter than Chocolat, Casanova offers up a visually stunning tour of 18th century Venice

King Kong and Narnia may be the big guns, but for architecture buffs, the new sly sleeper of a movie Casanova may be the biggest delight of the holiday season. The film reimagines the early life of the legendary lover as a Goldoniesque farce, overflowing with amatory deception, mistaken identity, swordplay and masked balls. And if it's directed by Lasse Hallstrom with a palpable lack of dramatic tension - the great set pieces most often amble amiably along rather than snap and crackle - if you just relax back into your seat you're liable to find it an incredibly entertaining concoction . . . (read the full article here.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Getting Back to the Root

Chicago's Lake View Presbyterian Church, a little-known 1887 gem by Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root is rescued and rediscovered in all its original, warm beauty. Read about it here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What a Big Urn You Have, Mr. Wright!

We've just received a press kit from The Westcott House Foundation, the organization behind the recently completed $5,300,000 restoration of the house of the same name, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908 in Springfield, Ohio. The 4,400 square-foot house, built for luxury touring car manufacturer Burton J. Westcott, is now open for tours. The first floor living space is an unbroken 64 by 20 foot plane. combining dining, living room and library. The foundation claims the twin 7-foot-high, 350 pound urns that grace the front terrace just off a reflecting pool are the largest Wright ever designed for a residence.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bobbing for Mies - Robert Venturi at IIT

Robert Venturi comes to modernist shrine Crown Hall on the IIT campus to out Mies van der Rohe as a closet symbolist and to attempt to define the architecture of our time. Read all about it here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

FEMA threatens to demolish Sullivan/Wright cottages damaged by Katrina

Courtesy of Joan Pomeranc of AIA Chicago, here's info from AIA/Architect online and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy on the desperate efforts to save Ocean Springs, Mississippi beach houses, designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in 1890, that were gravely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The Charnley cottage and guest cottage have been declared "not reasonably restorable," by FEMA, which is about to turn them over to the Army Corps of Engineers to be cleared away as rubble.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Photos of 630 North Franklin

630 North Franklin is the latest development from Brininstool & Lynch (in this case with Perkins + Will) for progressive developer Colin Kihnke's CMK Companies, which also produced Ralph Johnson's striking Contemporaine just a few blocks south. According to Emporis, the 11 story, 165 unit condo building is only the second Illinois high-rise to be built with a precast concrete structure. See the photos here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Chicago, Are You Dense? Well, no, not really . . .

Demographia has issued a new report World Urban Areas, Population and Density, (Adobe Acrobat format) ranking the world's 1,117 cities with 500,000 or more people on the basis of population density. Demographia is one of the websites of Wendell Cox, whose work is often published by the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank that wraps itself in a mantle of libertarianism to advance the interests of large corporations. Similarly, Demographia is pro roads, anti mass transit, anti smart growth, and pro sprawl, which is apparently what its new survey is intended to support - its two graphs illustrate a positive relationship between low density and high incomes.

The premise is highly contestable - does the relationship represent a cause or a result? Read more about it here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Museum of Broadcast Communications Curtain Wall Going Up

The transformation of a haggard former parking garage just north of architect Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City into a new home for Chicago's Museum of Broadcast Communications continues with the addition of a steel support structure for a new curtain wall that will open up views into the building from along State Street. In 2004, the MBC entered into an easement agreement with Marina City Hotel Enterprises LLC, which owns the portions of the complex below the top 40 floors controlled by condo residents, allowing the museum to build out over an access ramp fronted by a low concrete wall that had scarred State Street for decades.

The MBC's new 70,000 square foot, $21,000,000 facility, designed by Chicago firm Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, Inc, in partnership with sustainable design architect Helen Kessler, is scheduled to open late in 2006. A web cam allows you to follow the progress of the construction, with new shots posted every 15 minutues.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Essential Readings on the Issue of Torture

The issue of torture in the war on terror goes to the heart of what we are as a nation. Andrew Sullivan has just published what I would recommend as a right-on analysis, in response to Charles Krauthammer's Weekly Standard piece recommending that we codify the endorsement of torture in certain cases.

Sullivan is respectful of Krauthammer's closely reasoned arguments (although Krauthammer has always reminded me of Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock's
Shadow of a Doubt, a man who thinks a world is a foul sty and is a perpetual apologist for almost any violence or injustice as long as it's done by his kind of guys), but comes to a very different conclusion. Sullivan understands that in an extreme situation (the favorite hypothetical is the "ticking bomb" scenario, where a terrorist suspect knows the location of a device set to kill thousands of people), torture might be deployed, but the transgression cannot - and should not - be indemnified.

"In order to retain fundamental American values," concludes Sullivan, "we have to banish from the United States the totalitarian impulse that is integral to every act of torture. We have to ensure that the virus of tyranny is never given an opening to infect the Constitution and replicate into something that corrupts as deeply as it wounds." I think Sullivan's analysis may be one of the most important documents of this decade. But judge for yourself, Krauthammer here, and Sullivan here.

A9 Blockview beta Offers Interesting - and Erratic - Look of Cityscape

Probably just about everyone is familiar by now with Google Maps, which allows you to find any location in the United States, zoom down to street level, and place underneath a continuous satellite photograph of the terrain. Now the search engine A9's A9 Maps has Blockview, a beta map program that includes street-level photos of the that same terrain. (Someone has actually figured out how to bring this info into Google maps, but that's another story.)

It's really designed as a tie-in to its local listings, to show "street views of millions of business and their surroundings. Using trucks equipped with digital cameras, global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and proprietary software and hardware, drove tens of thousands of miles capturing images and matching them with businesses and the way they look from the street." The process appears to be highly automated, and the results are highly variable - you get pictures of vacant lots, and passing shots where it's often hard to figure out what you're actually looking at.

More to the point, the coverage is highly selective. (You can click the checkbox "Mark Streets Containing BlockView™ Images " and all the covered streets are marked in blue.) As might be expected, pretty much all the streets in the Loop and its environs are covered, but Millennium Park is not. Once you get outside of the Loop, it's pretty hard to figure out the logic behind the selection. There are multiple shots of Rafael Vinoly's new Graduate School of Business on the University of Chicago campus, but there's not a shot to be found of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, just across the street. If you luck out, you may actually find a good photograph of what you're looking for, but for now A9 Blockview is more a curiosity and a crapshoot than a reliable resource. Since it's currently a beta, however, it's easy to imagine how Blockview - or something like it - could evolve into something quite useful.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tanks for the Memory

Mayor Richard M. Daley jumpstarts a Chicago Architectural Club competition that attempts to place the soul of Chicago in the city's historic water tanks. Read all about it - and see all the pictures here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Benites & Lyster edit current 306090: Regarding Public Space

Chicago architect Clare Lyster and former Chicago architect Cecilia Benites are co-editors for the current edition of the New York architectural publication, 306090, Regarding Public Space, in which "Contributors . . . challenge traditional typologies (plaza, street, park and commons)," and suggest alternatives to the traditional methodologies ("top-down master planning, singularity of design, control and reform measures, cultural and formal expressions") that were used to create them.

The 150+ page publication includes the work of 16 contributors covering projects and proposals from across the globe. Lyster and Benites' Assembled Ecologies: Infrastructure à la carte, created along with Julie Flohr, was one of six winning submissions in the Graham Foundation's 21st Century Lakefront competition last year that dealt with the issue of creating a two mile long addition to Chicago's lakefront. 306090: Regarding Public Space, priced at $11.95, is distributed through the Princeton Architectural Press, and it is also available at the Prairie Avenue Bookshop.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Archi-Tourist goes beyond Gehry to guide travelers to new Chicago architecture

John Hill, the Chicago architect behind the popular Archidose blog, has launched a noble experiment, The Archi-Tourist, that aims to provide travelers with a guide to architecture that goes beyond the usual iconic stararchitect buildings. Initially, the guide offers information on 50 projects in twelve cities across three continents.

The Chicago section currently includes nine buildings, including John Ronan's Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, Tadao Ando's little known Eychaner/Lee House, Jeanne Gang's Kam Liu Building in Chinatown, and Jean-Paul Viguier's Sofitel Hotel. Each entry follows a standardized format, with architect name, completion date, image, map and location, as well as instructions on how to get to the building via public transpotation. If the building is open to the public, access hours are also listed.

The site is built on Wiki technology, which means that it allows others to add content. If there's a building you want to add, go to the contributor page to learn how its done.

Hill obviously can't do it alone, but if others help fill in the content, and the site is sufficiently optimized and publicized so that other sites link to it and it starts getting a decent placement in the search engines, Archi-Tourist could become an invaluable tool for tourists and architecture buffs alike - an on-line, traveler-friendly complement to local print resources such as the AIA Guide to Chicago and Chicago's Famous Buildings, as well as a self-enriching on-line community.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Eminent Domain as Class Warfare

Via PLANetizen and Archnewsnow, here's an excellent LA Times article on Riviera Beach, Florida, where city officials want to use eminent domain to demolish the homes of 6,000 of the town's 32,500 residents to free up lakefront property for a billion dollar yachting/residential development to lure the type of rich old white people (average age: 66.6 years) that now populate Palm Beach, just a few miles to south, where the median home price is over $2,000,000, compared to $290,000 in Riviera Beach.

The irony, of course, is that it was the more liberal members of the U.S. Supreme Court who carried the court's recent controversial ruling that the constitution's "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation" clause gives governments carte blanche to define "public use" pretty much any way they want, even if it means seizing property of the poor and middle class to turn it over to the rich, just to increase the tax base.

60-year-old housepainter Martha Babson sums up the situation succinctly, "What they mean is that the view I have is too good for me, and should go to some millionaire."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Is TIF forever? Chicago's TIF coffers swell

Like all good ideas, Chicago's TIF (tax increment financing) program may fall victim to its own success, moving from solution to problem. The program siphons off increases in property tax revenue to stimulate development in stagnant communities, but, according to a great article in this week Crain's Chicago Business by Greg Hinz over $300,000,000 has accumulated unspent from the city's 131 TIF (tax increment financing) districts, at a time when Chicago's revenues are running short and the city is still seeking to find a way to fund basic upkeep on its new crown jewel, Millennium Park. According to Hinz, nearly a third of the city's property tax revenues are now being diverted into TIF's. (If you want to learn more about Chicago's TIF's, the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group has a invaluable website with a lot of information and analysis, including how much money has flowed into each TIF, and the projects on which it's been dispersed.)

The Central Loop TIF district alone generates nearly $90,000,000 annually, although, with this month's groundbreaking at the long dormant Block 37 and two large condo towers going up just down the street, the Loop can no longer be considered a depressed area.

The city has become adept in expanding how TIF money can used. Large amounts of TIF money went into the development of Millennium Park, even though it falls just outside the Central Loop TIF's boundaries. According to Hinz, about $30,000,000 a year of TIF money has been used to fund new school construction.

TIF money may have already become an addiction. Even developers in booming areas like the South Loop expect - and get - dollops of TIF cash to aid their projects. The time to be subsidizing development is when there isn't any, not when we're in the midst of the hottest real estate market in memory.

All government programs have a tendency to become self-perpetuating, and TIF's are no exception. The Central Loop TIF is scheduled to expire in 2007, and whether or not it's allowed to die offers up a clear test: will the city have the discipline to turn off the spigot, or will TIF's just become an enormous, perpetual goody-bag for dispensing favor? In the case of successful TIF's like the Central Loop, the best thing to do is declare victory and move on.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Private vs Public selves on Chicago's Red Line

Via Archidose and Gaper's Block, here's a link to a great website, The Beautiful People Take the Red Line, by Howard Blume, self-described Paparazzi to the people. It consists of three selections of shots of people riding Chicago's Red Line "L". A subway car is a kind of psychic museum of the way we live within our own private selves, pockets of being hermetically segregated from an often densely packed community of others that we share the space with. The last gallery breaks the wall - the subjects are now aware they're being photographed: consciously public, directly engaged but increasingly guarded, their reactions devolving into a vastly smaller repertoire of expected behavior . . . To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet . . .

A Bureaucrat Triumphs and a Little Bit of Chicago Dies

And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? - Marcel Proust, in Á La Recherche du Temps Perdu on his encounter with a madeleine.

For as long as anyone remembers, one of the great unexpected pleasures of living or working on the periphery of Chicago's Loop was the strong aroma of chocolate suddenly wafting mysteriously through the air. Now, this singular delight is about to meet a brutish end. The countless many who loved it have been outnumbered by a disdainful one, slithering furtively to the EPA with a formal complaint against the scentgiver, the Blommer Chocolate Company, which has been processing cocoa beans in its Kinzie Street factory for sixty-six years. With singular and relentless obtuseness, the EPA has now put the strong-arm on Blommer to protect the "children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases" from the pernicious effects of inhaling cocoa dust, by installing equipment that will banish it from the air forever. What's next? Putting the screws to bakeries to eliminate whatever particulate produces the aroma of fresh-baked bread?

In reply, I can only paraphrase the response to the mania of another bureaucracy, the FDA, as it "protects" us from the supposed peril of prescription drugs imported from Canada, "Show me the dead chocolate sniffers." Show me the helpless urchins, weezing invalids and lovable grandmothers brought low by Blommer's romantic emissions. I suggest to you, sir, that you cannot, because they do not exist. Old, young or infirm, place any of them within the power of that sweetly dense scent, and I submit you will witness neither consternation nor concern, but only an unforced smile.

Six decades of pleasure, gone in an instant via a desk jockey's decree, the long, cold winter hard upon us, and aromatic respite snatched away, never to return. It's almost enough to turn one into a libertarian.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I Got Your Rafael Moneo Coffee Mug Right Here - let the Holiday Shopping gauntlet begin

Australian architect Ed Chew has tipped me off to his offbeat website,, which, appropriately, offers up a regular dose of quotes from prominent architects from around the world. This week, it includes quotes from such diverse practioners as Ken Yeang, Frank Gehry and Alvar Aalto.

Another section of the site offers up Chew's trademarked ArchiMuqz, small or large coffee mags with a caricature of and quote from a famous architect. (Dishwasher and microwave safe!) Although the collection includes the usual international suspects like Gehry, Wright and Libeskind, it also has a specific Asian emphasis, with mugs for Kisho Kurokawa (Kuala Lumpur International Airport,) and with Norman Foster having separate mugs for the HKIA airport and the HSBC Tower in Hong Kong.

I haven't ordered anything from this site yet, and I'm not freakin Consumer Reports, so if you wind up having complaints, don't come crying back to me. But if there's a certain someone on your list who's pining for an Adolf Loos Ornament is Crime coffee mug for Christmas, Ed Chew may be your go-to guy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Almost 50 Dates on December's Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events

The holidays aren't slowing down architecture-related events in Chicago this December. The Gene Siskel Film Center is sponsoring a mini-festival of three films - on Antonio Gaudi, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan. There are conferences on Structural Engineering and making affordable construction green and sustainable. There's Archeworks fall critique. There are lectures by Mark Sexton, Steven Holl, Robert Bruegman on sprawl, Charlie Lazor on his Flatpak House, and and the always provocative Dan Wheeler. Add in lunchtime lectures on the Loop's houses of worship, the Illinois Central Railroad's impact on the lakefront, and a discussion of the Tiffany Domes of the Chicago Cultural Center, and you'll find no shortage of choices to supplement your holiday shopping and final visit to Marshall Fields before it disappears under the smothering mantle of Macy's. Look over all of Decembers events here.

Growth of Chicago's downtown population tracked in new Brookings Institution Report

The Brookings Institution has just issued a new report, Who Lives Downtown, that tracks the growth pattern of the downtowns of American cities over the last three decades. While the 45 downtowns tracked in the study from 1970 to 2000 had a net gain of only 35,0000 housing units, Chicago's downtown alone has grown by over 20,000 residents, a 39.4% gain, to a total of 72,843.

Almost all that growth - over 16,000 people - occurred between 1990 and 2000. During the same 30 year period, Chicago's overall city population declined by 13.4%

Chicago's downtown has the highest rate of home ownership among the 45 cities surveyed - over 18,000 of the 44,638 housing units are owner-occupied. In all downtowns surveyed, the fastest growing segment is adults 25 to 34, while people over 65 and under 18 represent the biggest decline. Chicago's downtown is also very integrated compared to our cities. The only one of the survey's lists of the ten most and least white, black hispanic or Asian downtowns that Chicago appears on is that for Asian's, who comprise 8.4% of our downtown population - in Lower Manhattan, Asian's share of population is 41.8%. 67.6% of Chicago's downtown residents have at least a bachelor's degree, bested only by Midtown Manhattan's 71.5%.

Lest we become complacent, however, during the same period that America's downtowns added 35,000 people, our suburbs gained 13,000,000.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Seeing MacStars in Chicago's Grant Park

Is a franchised Hollywood-style Walk of Fame just the ticket for an underutilized portion of Chicago's Grant Park? Read all about it here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Learning from North Lawndale - 2006 Burnham Prize Competition Announced

The Chicago Architectural Club has announced the theme for the 2006 Burnham Prize Competition: Learning from North Lawndale - Defining the Urban Neighborhood in the 21st Century. There is no specific program, but addresses the challenge of North Lawndale's 5,000 vacant lots, half of them owned by the City of Chicago. The competition seeks entrees "that address these lots or the or the urban fabric in-between."

Registration closes on January 20, 2006, and Phase One entries will be due next February 3rd. The first round jury, to be chaired by landscape architect Walter Hood and including architect Kerl Lejeune of Booth/Hanson and a balance of members to be named later, will narrow the entries down to five finalists. Second phase entries will be due May 15, 2006. The prize for the winner is an extended fellowship at the American Academy in Rome for the Fall of 2006. Full information, including program, materials and download, can be found on the CAC's website here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Neat new guide to Chicago's Public Art - and its free!

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, with the sponsorship of the Chicago Office of Tourism, has issued a rather splendid free publication, The Chicago Public Art Guide. The 80-page publication is a treasure trove of information on everything from the Picasso Statute in Daley Plaza, to artwork in the parks, at the airports and in the neighborhoods.

If you've ever wondered where to find a Henry Moore sundial (try Sundial: Man Enters the Cosmos right by the Planetarium) or who designed the seahorses at Buckingham Fountain (Marcel Francois Loyau), you can find it all here, with lots of photographs - all color - in an easy to carry format, which includes an attached fold-out map of artworks in the Greater Loop area.

The profiles of the artworks are somewhat sanitized - the extended entry on the Haymarket memorial doesn't mention that previous memorials were blown up by 60's radicals, and the description for Milton Horn's Chicago Rising From the Lake leaves out the great story of how it was lost after the Wacker Drive parking garage for which was created was torn down, only to be found decades later in a trash dump, restored and remounted along Chicago's riverwalk. Still, this is the kind of overview that usually exists only in expensive coffee table books, and you can get it for free. I found my copy in the Visitors Center at the Chicago Cultural Center. It may or may not have been distributed to the city's other libraries - my contact at Cultural Affairs wasn't sure - but you can also call The Department of Cultural Affairs at 312/742.1156 to request a copy. It's well worth looking for.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Designing Women - Last Week for CAF's Five Architects Exhibition

Five Architects, the Chicago Architecture Foundation exhibition showcasing the midwest projects of five women architects including Jeanne Gang, Carol Ross Barney, Julie Snow, Sejima Kazuyo and Zaha Hadid, is in its final week, closing on November 20th. “We don't know if women think differently than men, and we may not know it for a long time," architect Denise Scott Brown has said. In Designing Women, I look at women architects' long battle to make their way in a traditionally boy's-only-club, and considers how their presence is changing the face of architecture. Read about it here.