Sunday, October 30, 2005

Driehaus Foundation Bungalow Award winners announced

The first annual Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Bungalow Award winners were announced last Thursday at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Supported by a grant by noted investment manager Richard Driehaus, who himself grew up in a bungalow, the awards included first prizes of $750 in each of four categories - best exterior rehabilitation, best interior rehabilitation, best interior restoration, and best landscaping- plus four honorable mentions. You can view the winners (bring your Acrobat) on the Chicago Historic Bungalows website. Especially intriguing is this "Best Rehab" awarded to Loleti and Hensley Gooden, which added living space in the attic and basement, linking it together with this staircase.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tigerman, Venturi, Gang, Ross-Barney, Rubio, Garofalo and much more - November's architectural events in Chicago

Stanley Tigerman on his new design for Pacific Garden Mission, Robert Venturi on Mies (already sold out), Elva Rubio, Carol Ross-Barney and Jeanne Gang at CAF, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien at the Art Institute, Doug Garofalo's lunchtime lecture at CAF - November offers up another bumper crop of lectures, seminars and panels, and you can preview them all here. Repeat's monthly calendar of Chicago architectural events lets keep track of what's going on. Visionary Chicago Architecture at the Graham Foundation, Sustainable Architecture in Germany at IIT and CAF, a SEAOI symposium on anti-terrorism design for structural engineers - nearly 40 events in all, which you check out on the Repeat monthly calendar for November.

Uptown Theater Update

The situation with the 1925 Uptown Theater, a 4,000 movie palace on the city's north side, continues to deteriorate. As can be seen in this photograph from the Friends of the Uptown, scaffolding has arisen over the ornate front facade, and weatherproofing has been placed over locations where original bricks and ornamental terra cotta have been removed and stored for safekeeping. Otherwise, the building's state of being closed and secured remains unchanged, and boosters continue to try to come up with a plan that could draw investment for the theater's revival.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Thom Mayne and CAC Water Tanks Competition winners tonight at Art Institute

The Chicago Architectural Club will be holding the awards ceremony for its Chicago Prize 2005 Water Tanks competition tonight at the Art Institute. Entries will be on display in the Louis Sullivan trading room beginning at 5:30 P.M., and the program itself will begin in the Rubloff auditorium at 6:00 P.M., ending with a lecture by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis, who chaired the competition's jury. The competition "challenges entrants to salvage a part of Chicago's urban fabric, the industrial water tank, through creative reuse and preservation." In a demonstration of it's unique acoustical properties, Mr. Mayne will give his address from within a vintage water tank reconstructed on the Rubloff stage. (or maybe not)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2.000-foot-high Pigeon Roost Proposed for Chicago's Lakefront

In this morning's Trib, architecture critic Blair Kamin and real estate columnist Thomas Corfmann reveal plans for a $300,000,000, 2,000 foot-high HDTV broadcast tower to be constructed by a partnership of J. Paul Beitler and LR Development along Chicago's lakeshore, not from another 2,000 structure, the Santiago Calatrava designed Fordham Spire. Read about it - and why it's such a bad bet - here.

The Red Line Lake Street Station: It's Great - Let's Trash it Up!

The bright and hugely attractive SOM rehab of the Lake Street subway station on the Red Line has only been open a short time, but that was apparently too long for the CTA, which has erected, smack dab in the middle of the platform, an incredibly shabby and outsightly wood shack whose sole purpose seems to be to shelter a huge new metal display case as if it were the Ara Pacis. Since a large part of the beauty of the station is in the interrupted sweep of its tile-covered vaulting, we can only hope that whatever work is still to be done won't linger forever and the ugly gray box will soon be dismantled and carted away.

We riders are also playing our part in trashing the station. Discarded chewing gum is accumulating in dark, flattened gobs over the surface of the beautiful, pink granite flooring. Where's Lee Kuan Yew when you need him?

Monday, October 24, 2005

LPCI website showcases Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards

On October 15th, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation honored nine preservations projects with its Preservation Award. Top prize went to the Renaissance Initiative, Inc., which has rescued 10 historic structures in Danville. Other honorees included the 1920's era American Bankers Building in Jacksonville, and the Hinsdale project that saved the endangered R. Harold Zook Home and Studio and moved it to a village park two miles to the south of its original location. The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois has done an exceptional job of documenting these projects on their website. There's a brief one page description of each project, accompanied by a slide show that documents it in photographs from start to finish. Particularly good is the slideshow depicting the rescue of a little known civic gem, the 1903 Jackson Park Animal Bridge, from a state of vandalized disrepair to a complete $6,200,000 reconstruction and restoration in 2003 that made the bridge and the numerous animal heads new again and secured their future new generations of delighted visitors. In another sign that Chicago's architectural institutions are finally coming to terms with the power of the internet, the LPCI site does an exceptional job of documenting the honored projects and illustrating the actual process of restoration.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ross Barney Jankowski's Swenson Science Building

Since I'm unlikely to get up to Duluth in the near future - and neither, in all probability, will you - I thought I'd go ahead and post some images from Ross Barney + Jankowski of their latest project, the Swenson Science Building at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. The 100,000 square foot, $33,000,000 edifice was dedicated on September 16th, replacing previous chemistry and biology labs built in 1949 and 1968, respectively, and will house over 1,000 students a semester. More about the building, including photos and plans and the story of three teenagers who vandalized the project and caused $8,200,000 in damage, here.

Crab Tree Farm Benefit for Unity Temple

The Unity Temple Restoration Foundation will be holding a benefit on Saturday, October 29th, with the proceeds going to the ongoing restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright's groundbreaking Oak Park building. It will consist of a day at Crab Tree Farm in Lake Bluff, whose collection of American and British Arts and Crafts is seldom open to the public. Included will be a talk by School of the Art Institute President Tony Jones on the relationship between Wright and Charles Rennie Macintosh. Cost is $70.00 for members, $90.00 for non-members. Call 708/383.8873 for information.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

When Modernism Goes Bad - Milwaukee's Amtrak Station and a Plan to Fix it

Late in his life, Mies van der Rohe was asked to describe his typical day. "I get up," Mies replied. "I sit on the bed. I think, 'what the hell went wrong? We showed them what to do.'" It's doubtful he was thinking of Milwaukee when he said this, but that city's 1965 Amtrak terminal is a perfect demonstration of how the principles of modernism could be hijacked by the less talented to create an often dreadful work of architecture, but one that still has its charms. Read about it here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Six Degrees of Edmund Bacon

The Philadelphia Inquirer's architecture critic Inga Saffron has written a cogent overview of the life of Edmund Bacon, the legendary and influential Philadelphia planner who died on Friday at age 95. By the time I read Bacon's The Design of Cities in 1975, his legacy was already being discredited. As Saffron relates, his large-scale projects often traded squalor for sterility, and he pushed the development of expressways that carved up the city, at the expense of its residents for the benefit of those who were just passing through. Yet, although I haven't seen it for thirty years, I still remember the Bacon book, especially the maps and the drawings that tried to lay out exactly how creating a vibrant city was done. The book is still used in university courses today.

The best planners imagine better new worlds that the general public may have no interest in. More likely, they may be actively hostile, with a strong attachment to the present, in all its corruption. That's the rub. Although planners are never elected, they don't stand a chance unless they master the political game. And if they do that too well, we run the risk of them becoming autocratic "power brokers," of the type of New York City's Robert Moses.

If Moses had died in 1945, we would have a very different, far more positive view of him than we have today. Robert Caro may never have existed. We would remember him as a reformer whose projects helped revivify New York under mayor Fiorella Laguardia. Instead, Moses held on, becoming more powerful and enduring than any mayor or governor, a master at subverting the democratic process and pushing through schemes that were increasingly destructive of the city's essential character and fabric.

Bacon kept Louis Kahn out of building in downtown Philadelphia. Would Kahn's own set of bold visions - a new city hall like a tinkertoy construction on steroids, and huge parking garages surrounded by office and residential towers - been an improvement on Bacon's vision? Or would they have just been the flip side of the coin of Bacon's own decidedly mixed achievements?

Daniel Burnham might have done it best. He created the landmark Plan of Chicago that bears his name in 1909, and died just four years later, before any curdling of attitude or reputation could set in. Edmund Bacon retired in 1970, at the top of his game, allowing him to spend the next several decades sniping from the sidelines, and to continue refining his beliefs to the point where he made his last big stand, at age 93, taking a spin on a skateboard to protest the city's banning of skateboarders from LOVE park, the plaza he created across from city hall.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Glenlivet Scotches Chicago Architect

The October 17th New Yorker Magazine, dubbed "The Art & Architecture Issue", includes an ad, created by the Berlin Cameron/Red Cell agency, for their client The Glenlivet Scotch that features Chicago architect Douglas Garofalo. The ad copy labels Garofalo one of "The Originators" for bringing the "avant-garde" to the suburbs, and features three photos, unidentified, of Garofalo's dazzling Nothstine Residence in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (To New Yorkers, Green Bay is apparently a suburb - let's hope they don't try to make that argument to a Packer fan.)

It's easy to make fun of this sort of thing. (Submit your own ideas for product endorsements by specific Chicago architects to the comments section of this posting - I'm not going to touch it.) However, the bottom line is marketing has taken over our culture, and as much as it may give Stanley Tigerman fits, Garofalo's Glenlivet ad could be another sign that the creativity of today's Chicago architects is entering the mainstream of America's cultural awareness.

The current New Yorker is worth picking up. There's articles on the troubled history of the Sydney Opera House, on the building boom in Dubai, and Paul Goldberger on pre-fab designer housing.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sense and Strangeness Mingle on Chicago Architecture Foundation's List of 2005 Patron of the Year Nominees

The Chicago Architecture Foundation has announced the list of nominees for its 2005 Patron of the Year Award, to be presented at a November 17th luncheon. The award "seeks to honor those individuals or organizations that have helped promote innovative architecture in Chicago." You can see the entire list - in PDF format - here.

While many of the nominee's are no brainers - Studio Gang's Chinese American Service League's Kam L. Liu building, the Ratner Center and Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago, some of the other nominees are fairly inexplicable, especially in the business category, where's there's respectable choices such as Florian Architects' Hyde Park Bank restoration, Brininstool & Lynch's Vue20 Condos on South Michigan, Jim Goettsch's 111 S. Wacker and Pei Cobb Fried's Hyatt Center, and Krueck and Sexton's Shure Technology Center addition, but also such puzzling choices as completely mediocre Pinnacle and Fordham Towers (and no, I'm not trashing them because of their classical detailing, but for being ungainly mishmashes of elements and form), Central Station, and Lakeshore East, which is a combination of the splendid (its new park), the decent (the Lancaster), and the ungainly (The Shoreham.) Somehow age also doesn't seem to matter. Lucien LaGrange's Erie on the Park is an exceptionally fine building, but it's been around since 2002, the same year construction was completed on another nominee, KPF's 191 North Wacker. One suspects the nominations are as much about honoring major CAF contributors - or potential contributors - as it is about recognizing great architecture.

Which is a good thing - it's always a great idea to tap the pockets of wealthy developers to support a good cause. Maybe it's like the Academy Awards, where clunkers like Airport or The Towering Inferno actually garnered Best Picture nods to placate their studios, but the actual awards went to Patton and Godfather II. Last year, the Patron of the Year's first, the actual awards went to a mainstream but solid roster of Millennium Park, the Contemporaine, and the revived IIT campus.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New York Producer Casts Spell on Chicago Critics

David Stone, producer of the surprise Broadway smash, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, apparently thinks he's the new David Merrick. Merrick, the legendary producer of such diverse megahits as Hello Dolly, Gypsy and Marat/Sade, was, as a person, a throughly unpleasant bit of business who cherished his feuds and had few principles. Perhaps his most infamous stunt was opening night of his revival of 42nd Street, where he kept secret the news of the death of its director, Gower Champion, until the opening night curtain calls, when his announcement transformed the rapturous applause of the audience to a grim funereal pall as if with the flip of a switch. It made front pages all across the world.

Stone is not in his league. He had a security guard bar Sun-Times theater critic Hedy Weiss from Monday's press conference for Putnam County. That was merely stupid. What happened next was incredibly puerile. He had four of the city's leading critics come up to the stage, and had them spell words, just as members of the audience apparently do in the actual show. Merrick must have been laughing from his dark circle of Hell to see how easily Stone made the critics an appendage to his PR stunt.

"Ms. Weiss was being held in detention for harassing the other students," Stone is quoted in today's Sun-Times. "We have also decided to withhold her juicebox."

I've only met Hedy Weiss once, waiting for a symposium to start, where we had a very pleasant talk about the mechanics of being a critic. However, I am also aware of her reputation of being a fierce competitor who aggressively protects her turf. Apparently at a press conference earlier this year for Wicked, Stone's megahit that's having an highly successful open-ended run at the Ford Oriental theater, Weiss was very vocal in expressing his displeasure at what she saw as an unfair leak of information exclusively to the arch-rival Tribune.

Stone said Weiss was banned for behaving "erratically and unprofessionally," but my bet is he knew she would have quickly - and loudly - blew the whistle and awakened the other critics from Stone's spell before they could be transformed from objective reporters into bit players in his marketing campaign. (The Sun-Times story reports that the Trib has lodged a complaint about the affair.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Big Blow in the Windy City

If you're not already maxed out on all the stories, I have an op-ed, Big Blow in the Windy City, on the Marshall Field saga - including a discussion on how deeply ingrained the Field name is in Chicago's history - in this Sunday's Long Island Newsday.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Classicists at the Gates

Both classicist architects and their more pragmatic Chicago counterparts have a weakness for returning to the past, but the way they choose to do it couldn't be more different. Read it here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Old Cook County Hospital Again in Jeopardy

Cook County Board President John Stroger has three basic obsessions: protecting his massive base of patronage workers' jobs in the safe harbour that is county government, raising taxes to support them, and tearing down the historic old Cook County Hospital. He may not place much of a priority on figuring out how to stop making poor people wait 8 to 12 hours or more to have their prescriptions filled at the new Cook County, which he modestly allowed to be named Stroger Hospital, but when it comes to protecting his perceived turf, he's a bulldog.

Last year, Chicago's Antunovich Associates architects created an extensive pro bono study that documented the old Cook County Hospital's viability and provided a detailed reuse plan. Stroger fired back, using pinched county funds for a $1,400,000 no-bid contract awarded to politically-connected U.S. Equities, which has now fulfilled its mission by producing a report telling Stroger exactly what he wants to hear: tear down Cook County.

The Beaux Arts building, dating from 1914, was the primary health facility for many of the city's poor. In 1983, it became the site of the city's first HIV/AIDS clinic. It's ornate terra cotta facade has been the backdrop for many of exteriors on NBC's ER television series, and the hospital also appears in the 1993 Harrison Ford film, The Fugitive.

Preservation groups like the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and Preservation Chicago have again raised the alarm. Although the County Board has so far refused to vote for demolition, the U.S. Equities report may provide cover for machine loyalists on the board to fall into line behind the increasingly embattled Stroger.

This morning the editorial page of The Chicago Tribune weighed in that "the political pedigree of the consultant study raises questions about its impartiality. When the study was announced earlier this year, we said: 'This exercise is launched with a fair amount of suspicion.' That cautionary advice still rings true today."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kroc Corps Community Center Competition down to Four Finalists

With little fanfare, last month the competition to design the Salvation Army's new $60 $70 million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center at 47th and State Street in Chicago was narrowed down to four finalists: Chicago firms Murphy/Jahn, and Ross Barney + Jankowski, as well as Antoine Predock and Behnisch Architects. The four will submit their proposals to the jury beginning on October 24, with the announcement of winner scheduled for October 27th. You can download PDF's of the profile and team descriptions submitted by each finalist from the competition website.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Reminders: Matthias Schuler at UIC tonight, Blair Kamin on the Chicago Seven in yesterday's Trib

Matthias Schuler of Transsolar, one of the foremost environmental architectural engineers of our time, will lecture tonight at 6:00 P.M. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Details here. A regular collaborator of Helmut Jahn and, co-consultant, along with Atelier 10, on the environmental rehabbing of Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall, Schuler's global projects are documented in the firm's book, TRANSSOLAR: Climate Engineering.

Also, if you missed it in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, catch Blair Kamin's account of the reunion of the Chicago Seven, the young architects who in the 1970's helped redefine Chicago architecture by bucking the city's Miesian autocracy, at the Museum of Contemporary Art last Tuesday. (You have probably about six days to read the article before it passes into paid archive hell. My own writings, on the other hand, may be long-winded, poorly argued and needlessly beligerent, but they're free.)

The sold-out event actually wound up being a reunion of the Chicago Six, with the ever iconoclastic Stanley Tigerman declining to appear, causing him to be compared by one panelist to Bobby Seale, one of original Chicago Seven, activists indicted for their actions during the 1968 Democratic convention, who was bound to his chair, gagged, and eventually separated from the trial by Judge Julius Hoffman. The comparison was engaging, if imprecise. If Judge Hoffman were alive today, he would soon discover that any effort to gag Stanley Tigerman would be an effort in futility, and that the only enforcable separations would be those myriad instances where Tigerman, himself, has chosen to sever himself from those whose efforts, attitudes or ethics he has found wanting. The event at MCA began with a concise and adroit overview of the history of the Chicago Seven by IIT architectural historical Kevin Harrington, Kamin provides a good overview of that history, but covers very little of the actual discussion, which was moderated by architect Doug Garafalo. It's hoped that the Chicago Architectural Club, which sponsored the event, will document the evening by putting a transcript or synopsis up on their website.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Chicago Streetscape: Prefab Stonehenge on Irving Park Road

September 30, 2005 - Prefab concrete elements lowered in place at metroNorthliving condo project on Irving Park Road on Chicago's northwest side.