Monday, January 30, 2006

Jeanne Gang, Franz Schulze, Archeworks Open House among 40 Events on February Architectural Calendar

The Chicago Architectural Clubs 2006 members show, Jeanne Gang lecturing on Through Material at the Archeworks Openhouse, Franz Schulze talking at CAF about the IIT Campus, Robert Brueggman discussing his book Sprawl, the story of the reconstruction of Jackson Park's Animal Bridge, a tour of Valerio DeWalt Train, an exhibition at the Graham Foundation at Golconde, and Engineers Week Expo are but a few of the more than 40 events on February's architectural calendar. Preview them all here.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Field's Name to Get a Reprieve?

This week's Crain's Chicago Business has an interesting story by Sandra Jones on how Federated Department Stores, which acquired Chicago's the Marshall Field's department store chain last year, may be taking a second look at their plans to wipe out the Field's name and put all stores under the Macy's banner in September. According to Jones, Federated CEO Terry Lundgren was impressed on how shoppers were loading up on anything with the Fields name on it this past Christmas.

The fact that it took a run on Fields memorabilia to alert them to the fact that there's still equity in the Field's brand doesn't give me much confidence in Federated's powers of analysis, but we will see. To me, it would make sense, at least at the State Street flagship, to use a branding like "Macy's at Marshall Field's", with the Macy's name in smaller, supporting type. The store could still stock the Macy's branded merchandise, while allowing Fields on State to continue to maintain and trade on its historic, potent brand, with the same measure of independence reportedly afforded to the Macy's flagships on 34th Street in New York and Union Square in San Francisco.

Keillor Vivisects Levy

French philsopher-as-popstar Bernard-Henri Levy has been barnstorming the U.S. pitching his new book, American Vertigo, Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, tangling with neocons like William Kristol and Francis Fukuyama and popping up on every talk show in sight, from Charlie Rose, to Jon Stewart, to Cooking with Martha. It's hard not to be carried away by Levy's peripatetic charm, but Garrison Keillor, a good Scandanavian like myself, is underwhelmed In the lead review of this Sunday's New York Times Review of Books (free subscription required), he dissects Levy's relentlessly facile observations as if they were a frog in biology class, with a distinctly American wit that from Mark Twain to Mike Royko and beyond has known how to dispatch nonsense with an ascerbic, cut-to-the-chase counterpoint.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

PBS to Mozart: You're Dead

Yesterday, January 27th, was the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The event has evoked its own backlash, such as a recent Arts op-piece that dismissed the composer's works as high-brow muzak, beloved for its bland, empty amiability, shriveling into dust in the shadow of true innovaters such as Haydn and Beethoven. Such an attack says more about the shallowness of the writer than of his subject.

If you've lived such a blinkered life that Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or a "music to make your baby smarter" CD means Mozart to you, you might be forgiven your ignorance, but to anyone who's ever been grabbed by the throat by those first, nervously unsettling string figures at the beginning of the great G minor symphony and never let go, Mozart's music is a full run journey that encompasses both the warmest sunshine of spiritial grace and the coldest recesses of our darkest soul. His worldview is hedonistic and humanistic, breaking through the brittle veneer of traditional morality to exult in life as lived - our darkest terrors, our insatiable lusts and venialities, our innumerable vulgarities, and, in the end, our most forgiving, generous and selfless aspirations to the divine.

To which PBS replies, "What DVD's does he sell?"

Last night, in Salzburg, the frigid evening was broken by the sound of the church bells ringing in unison throughout the entire city at the moment when Mozart was born, 250 years before. The event came at the intermission point of a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Riccaro Muti, and with soloists including Thomas Hampson, Cecilia Bartoli and Mitsuko Uchida. The magical evening was broadcast to televisions worldwide, except in the U.S., where it was not picked up by PBS or local outlets such as Chicago's WTTW, where programming is increasingly seen as the filler between pledge breaks. When will some broadcaster have the prescence of mind to create a pay-cable network that will finally allow PBS and its afilliates to devote their full attention to the geriatric rock stars, financial planners and self-help gurus that have become their truest love, and find a new home for the type of cultural programming that was such a key part of their original mission?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chicago Streetscene - January 20th, 2006

Water Tower Place Plaza at midnight, after a rare winter storm

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Let's Win One for the Old Sod

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, "Your Green Roof Infrastructure Industry Association," as they so unpastorally put it, has sent out a reminder that the deadlines are quick approaching for submitting projects for the three awards they will be presenting at their annual conference, to be held in Boston on May 11th and 12th. As far as I can tell, the contest is pretty much for the honor of the thing as a lazy reading of their website failed to turn up any mention of cash handouts. Last year, American Hydrotech's work for Chicago's Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital won for best "Intensive Institutional," and Terry Guen Design Associates won in the "Intensive Industrial/Commercial"(??!!) category for their work at Millennium Park.

The deadlines for submissions for the Green Roof Awards of Excellence is February 15th, and midnight, February 28th for both the Civic Award for "substantiated action (that) has advanced the public policy debate on green roofs," as well as for the Research Award, which "honors a person or research team who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of green roof research in North America.

Detailed information plus the usual PDF submission forms can be found online.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Architect Mazria starts up anti global-warming website architecture2030

Architect Edward Mazria, of the Santa Fe, New Mexico firm of Mazria Odems Dzurec, has started a new website,, which attempts to harness the power architecture to reduce and reverse global warming. "The building sector is responsible for half of all U.S. global warming emissions annually," he says in an open letter posted on the site, "and our emissions are increasing at an alarming rate according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "

To keep global warming under 2 degrees centigrade, he proposes cutting in half the amount of fossil fuel used in construction, to increase to a 90% reduction by 2025 and reach effective zero - the abolition of the use of fossil fuel - by 2030.

The site includes an analysis of the effect of global warming on weather and health, as well as on plants and animals, including coral reefs. It quotes U.S. Energy statistics that buildings consume 48% of all energy, with the balance split between industry and transporation, and highlights over a dozen case studies of projects throughout the world, from Morphosis, Busby + Associates, Gensler, Mazria's own firm and many others, that demonstrate new strategies for energy conservation. has the look of being the product of a one-man band, but a man of enormous industry and impeccible credentials. It includes a wealth of compelling information, creatively presented, that makes a visit more than rewarding.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Another Chicago Miniature Modernist Gem Bites the Dust

Episcopal Center of Chicago statueNot that long along, there was a 60's era mid-rise office building just off Michigan Avenue, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that, although largely unheralded, was one that firm's more graceful creations. It's lithe frame was not of steel, but of a rusticated poured concrete, and on the lobby floor there was a broad wall of handsome onyx set in bronze frames, so bright and rich that it looked almost eccentric, seeming to pop out like an effect in a 3-D movie beyond the austere visual framework of the building. The structure was demolished, without protest, for the 2004's 56 story 55 East Erie Condo tower.

Now, just a block north, another graceful piece of modernism, 1969's Episcopal Church Center, behind the historic St. James Cathedral, is about to meet a similar fate. Read about it, and see the pictures here.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Scandal Becomes Her

The twin corncob towers of Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City led off most of Chicago's local newscasts Wednesday night. The feds had indicted dentist Gary Kimmel, a longtime resident and condo association board member, for raking in $400,000 by leasing cars and renting out some of the nine units he owns to pimps running a prostitution ring.

There were quick glimpses of the undistinguished building on Erie Street where Kimmel has his offices, but a veritable orgy of shots of Marina City - as a backdrop for reporters on the sidewalk, glowing at night from across the river, and in slow pans rising up the tower shafts. One station dipped into its files for a long aerial shot that gave viewers the experience of flying directly over the towers, a Freudian dream metaphor that was far more explicit than anything else the reporting could convey about the sensual nature of the crime.

A whiff of scandal can be what gives a famous building its personality, even as it is seldom without victims. Very often, drugs and death are the meat the media feeds on. Think of John Belushi dying in a bungalow at the Chateau Maremont, or Chris Farley succumbing to a heart attack in his luxury condo in Chicago's John Hancock Building. The unspoken part of the allure of a hotel, from seedy to superdeluxe, is in it's potential as safe harbour for the illicit. ("What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.")

This is not altogether a bad thing. A building we know only intellectually is a dry, lifeless thing. Our urban architecture is evermore dependent on commoditized plans - we're as likely to refer to "our unit" as we are to "our home." Is this architecture the instigator of our conformity, or only the honest expression of our truest selves? At the same time, however, the endless, standardized repetition of space confers not only banality but anonymity, a door identical to all the other doors, behind which we can put aside the face we prepare to meet the faces that we meet. At least until a new Supreme Court says otherwise.

Dr. Kimmel's is a sordid tale: there's nothing good to be said about the violent exploitation of underage women. Yet, judging from the media coverage, it's the kind of thing for which we have an insatiable and compulsive appetite. With these new intimations of transgression, Marina City may take on a darker, more rawly visceral association that insinuates itself deep into the most reptilian chambers of our hearts.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Last call for 2006 CAC Member's Show Entries

The end of this week marks the deadline for members of the Chicago Architectural Club to submit work for the group's 2006 member's show, which will go on display at ISpace beginning February 3rd. Club members interested in participating should RSVP to Sam Marts before January 20th.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Chicago Freedom Museum preps for April opening

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, located in the first two floors of the artifact-studded Tribune Tower annex most recently home to a Hammecher Schlemer store, is the final stages of construction. The 10,000 square foot facility, designed by VOA Associates and exhibit designers Gallagher and Associates, is shooting for an April opening. The museum hopes to offer free admission to school tour groups to educate and counter what may be a very tenuous understanding of our most basic freedoms - nearly one third of the students in a recent survey thought publishing articles about our government required advance permission. At a presentation sponsored by Friends of Downtown at the Cultural Center earlier this month, the museum's executive director David Anderson ran into resistance from his audience to the proposed standard admission fees of $7.00 for adults and $5.00 for children. The centerpiece for the museum's central rotunda will be a spiral sculpture by Peter Bernheim and Amy Larimer, 12151791 (the ratification date of the 1st amendment), a series of stainless steel plates, eventually to number up to 1,000, "hovering from vertical cables. Each plate depicts the text of a historical record of freedom."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tuesday events for Michael Rock at CAC, State Senator Christine Radogno at SEAOI among late entries to January Calendar

On Tuesday, January 17th, State Senator Christine Radogno will appear at SEAIO's monthly dinner meeting, and 2 x 4's Michael Rock, whose graphics can be seen as a part of Rem Koolhaas's new Student Center at IIT, will give a "fireside chat" at ISpace for the Chicago Architectural Club.

Also added for later this month is Serving Up Architecture, a January 25th panel discussion at the Graham Foundation examining "the various and growing number of institutions and individuals that serve to bring architecture and architectural knowledge to the general public," will is slated to include John Russick, Curator, Chicago Historical Society, moderator Lynn Osmond, President, Chicago Architecture Foundation, Carol Ross Barney, Principal, Ross Barney and Jankowski Architects, Blair Kamin, Architecture Critic, Chicago Tribune, and Robert Theel, Regional Chief Architect, General Services Administration. That night also offers a lecture by Mark Linder at IIT, but a scheduled lecture by Waro Kishi at the Japanese Consulate has been cancelled. View the full calendar here.

AIA Award for Millennium Park Slights Uhlir, Plumps for SOM

Blair Kamin has a good story in this Sunday's Tribune on how the AIA's 2006 Regional and Urban Design Honor Award recognizing Chicago's Millennium Park gives the biggest credit to Skidmore Owings & Merrill, which is kind of like an giving the award for the Mona Lisa to the guy who sold Da Vinci the canvas.

SOM's original plan was competent - and embalmed - a bland regurgitation of Burnham and Bennett's original Grant Park designs from the early part of the 20th Century, which, in all fairness, was exactly what the city was looking for at the time. As Kamin points out, its not SOM but the park's project director Edward K. Uhlir who deserves most of the credit for overseeing the transition of the park's design from derivative to spectacular. Uhlir was the ringmaster who choreographed a diverse set of powerful personalities from Cindy Pritzker to Frank Gehry to Mayor Daley to fund-raiser John Bryan to create an entirely fresh and new consideration of what a city park could be.

At a symposium at the time of the park's opening, Frank Genry, architect of the Pritzker Pavilion, the undeniable centerpiece of Millennium Park, set the record straight. "Adrian Smith (of SOM) was doing the park," Gehry related, "and he called me and asked if he would do a fish sculpture on either side of his proscenium. And I said no, I don’t do fish sculptures. And that was it. I didn’t hear from him again, and I forgot all about it. "

"And then these guys (Uhlir and company) called and came out to see me. Before they came they said it was for Grant Park, and I said I already told them I wouldn’t do the fish sculptures, and they said, no, no, we’ve got something else. They said they wanted me to design this thing in the park, a bandshell. Then I said, aw, come on, I don’t want to do a bandshell in the park . . . come all the way to Chicago to design a little bandshell. I said if you’re going to do a music thing you’ve got to make it substantial . I said if I’m going to do it, I’d like to like to design the relationship between the audience and the stage. I think that’s a magical thing when it works. They said, oh, you can do that. I said, gee, that’s great. They said, we’ll even throw in the bridge if you want to do it."

It was Uhlir's vision, direction and persistence that created what we know today as Millennium Park, not SOM.

If you want to see something interesting that SOM is actually doing, check out the press release sent out this week on Adrian Smith's entry into a competition for the proposed 69 story Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, a design concept where the building would actually produce more energy that it consumes, by directing wind into the structure's mechanical floors to power wind turbines that supply electricity for the HVAC. "This is an iconic, high-performance building that is designed in harmony with its environment," the release quotes Smith as saying. "It is a skyscraper for a new age." The competition's winner, chosen from three finalists, is expected to be named next month.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Another deadening lump lands in River North

A Four Points Sheraton Hotel has just opened in a rehabbed garage/auto showroom just off Michigan Avenue. A building's got to be pretty bad if it looked a whole lot better when it was covered in Tyvek.

For a look at a building that adds something to the urban fabric rather than trying to kill it off, check out Archidose's entry on the Mercat de Santa Caterina in Barcelona, designed by the office of the late Eric Miralles.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Future City Competition Looking for Participants, Volunteers and Sponsors for January 28th Chicago Regional

Sponsored by the National Engineers Week and locally by the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois (SEAOI), ISASCE and many other organizations, the Future City Competition serves 7th and 8th graders by introducing students to engineering with the popular Sim City software. Students design future cities with simulation software, build scale models, write essays and give oral reports on their city's design. The Chicago Area Regional Competition has begun and is looking for volunteers to help mentor, judge and sponsor the event, which will be held at UIC on January 28th The competition is occurring in thirty-seven city’s across the nation and provides the students with an exciting hands-on way to learn engineering, math and science with a personal, real world connection. Chicago has been the only city to compete every year since the program began. For more information or to receive information about signing up for the 2006 competition, email Don Wittmer or call 312-930-9119.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Kaddish for a Legendary Church

A raging fire guts Adler & Sullivan's 1891 K.A.M./Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood and, in silencing the rich echoes of over a century of human aspiration, offers a potent reminder of how architecture channels urban memory. Read about it and see the images here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Small Victories Matter - a rehab at Washington College helps reclaim a Chicago Loop corner

The downtown Chicago corner where the Loop El turns from Wabash onto Lake has not had a happy history. On February 4, 1977, a rush hour train slammed into the back of the train ahead of it, causing three cars to plunge to the street and a fourth to dangle down from the tracks, killing 11 people and injuring 180.

The corner's intervening years have been less lethal, but increasingly dispiriting, as its buildings grew increasingly dark and decrepit. The capper could be said to have been the construction of a new Loop College, later renamed in honor of the late Mayor Harold Washington, whose basic style was a kind of bomb shelter modern . . . a redesign by the Chicago architecture firm of Holabird & Root has blasted apart the bunker on the first two floors . . . read the full story - and see the photographs - here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Learning from North Lawndale - competition deadlines pushed back

The Chicago Architectural Club's 2006 Burnham Prize Design Competition, Learning from North Lawndale - Defining the Urban Neighborhood in the 21st Century - has changed its deadlines. Pre-registration materials must be postmarked by February 10, 2006, and first round submissions are due by February 22nd. The new deadlines give participants an additional three weeks to prepare. The competition seeks proposals for the 5,000 vacant lots scattered throughout the North Lawndale neighborhood.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Renovation of Mies Federal Center Underway.

A $20,000,000 renovation is underway on the facade of the Dirksen Building, one of three structures designed by Mies van der Rohe for Chicago's Federal Center sited along both sides of Dearborn Street between Adams and Jackson.

"The facades are really not a curtain wall," said architect Paul Steinbrecher at a Chicago Architecture Foundation lecture on the project last April. "It’s a very custom designed building. " - read more about it and see more photos here.