Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New issue of Edward Mazria's Architecture2030 E-News now online

Issue 1 of the on-line journal architecture2030 is now on-line, and includes a story on the Goddard Institute's James Hansen recent lecture, Is There Time to Avoid 'Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference' With Global Climate? architecture2030 is work of green architect Edward Mazria. Mazria will also be speaking, along with Sprawl: A Compact History author Robert Bruegmann at the AIA's two-day development conference March 9th and 10th.

And a late addition to the March calendar: This coming Friday, March 3rd at 7:30 P.M., the Rev. Dr. John Cook, former Divinity School Professor and Dean of the School of Sacred Music at Yale University as well as an internationally renowned expert will lecture on Housing the Sacred, Building the Protestant Church in America, at Winnetka Congregational Church.

Monday, February 27, 2006

From Mies' birthday to Walter Hood, Craig Dykers, Joseph Rosa, Lee Bey and beyond - nearly 50 events on March architectural calendar

Salute Mies van der Rohe with one of his signature martinis at his birthday party at IIT, hear lectures by Walter Hood, Brad Cloepfil, Craig Dykers, the Art Institute's new curator of Architecture and Design Joseph Rosa, and Lee Bey, dance the night away at fund-raising galas for the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Landmarks Preservation Council as it salutes Los Weisberg. The March calendar of Chicago architectural events is bubbling over with almost 50 events, including a scheduling train wreck on March 2nd that includes not only the Mies celebration at IIT, but John Vinci talking about Pilgrim Baptist at CAF, and the announcement of first round winners in the Chicago Architectural Club's Learning from North Lawndale competition. Check it all out here.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Becker discusses blogs, the internet, and the arts on Edward Lifson's Hello Beautiful Sunday morning

In cyberspace, even Max Reger has his own website. How have blogs and internet affected the arts? That's the question under discussion on this Sunday (February 26) morning's Hello, Beautiful, Edward Lifson's show on WBEZ 91.5 FM. Lifson has just started up his own blog, Teatro Lifson, and, still under the spell of the heady mania we all experience when we first realize we can be our own publishers, he's assembled a panel to discuss how blogging and the internet are - or aren't - changing the arts. It's scheduled to include Terry Teachout, drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, music critic for Commentary, and, with Chicago's Laura Demanski, creator of the About Last Night blog, Barbara Koenen, creator of the Chicago Artists Resource website, and myself. Will culture ever be the same?

The show runs from 10:00 to 11:00 A.M., CST. If you're not in Chicago, you can hear the program over WBEZ's streaming audio by going to their home page, and clicking on the Live Webcast in RealAudio link at the top of the page. Later in the week, the broadcast should also be available on the Hello, Beautiful audio library page.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mies' M & M goes C of A

Last night, IIT Professor and architectural historian Kevin Harrington gave a highly informative lecture on Mies van der Rohe's Minerals and Metals Building. In the 1930's, Chicago's Armour Institute, soon to be renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology, brought Mies to Chicago to take over its school of architecture and design a new campus. It wasn't until 1942, however, that he was finally able to complete his first structure for the campus, the Minerals and Metals Building. Far less known than Crown Hall, it’s the building where Mies began to work out a new form architecture that would soon redefine modernism through the world. Recently, it’s been taken over by IIT’s rapidly expanding College and Architecture. I hope to soon write about Harrington’s lecture in greater depth. For the moment, here are some very informal photos to give you an idea of this unique building, whose two-story great hall hosted Wednesday night's lecture.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sullivan & Wright's Charnley House seeks docents for tours

The Charnley-Persky House Museum Foundation is looking for individuals to undergo four weeks of training to become docents for tours of the historic 1891-92 Astor Street mansion. Topics covered in the Saturday sessions (1:00 to 4:00 P.M. each week) will include clients lumberman James Charnley and his wife, Helen, their architects, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, a detailed walk-through of the house and an overview of the Gold Coast area. The fourth Saturday will switch to Madlener House, the current home of the Graham Foundation, which is also included in Saturday public tours of Charnley. Interested volunteers should contact William Tyre, Manager of Programs, at 312/573.1365 or via email.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood - After 47 years, neighborhood gem Uptown Snack Shop is forced out of business

After 47 years in business, the Uptown Snack Shop, a neighborhood institution, was given 30 days notice to vacate, and will close this Saturday, February 25th. With a brand-new Borders, once-posh Uptown is struggling to cast off its long held status as a refuge for the city's poor, and the museum-quality Snack Shop has found itself in the way. Read all about it and see the photo's here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Clueless Art Critic Rips ABC State Street Studio Signage

As a postscript to our post of February 9th, Tribune art critic Alan Artner has weighed in with an amazingly clueless piece ripping of the new ABC State Street studio LED, having apparently swallowed hook, line and sinker, without any evidence of independent thought, the station's PR declaring the 40 foot high video board a "sculpture" rather than signage. Artner bitches and moans how - surprise, surprise, surprise - it's not really a work of art, but a source of light pollution. Earth to critic: this is an entertainment district, not his empty idea of elysium. Artner is more than old enough to remember State and Randolph in their primes, when they were ablaze with gloriously over-the-top signage, such as the late, lamented marquee of the United Artists. The ABC concoction is a modern day counterpoint to the iconic Chicago theater sign and marquee, which is in no need of Artner's wagging finger to more than hold its own against the newcomer across the street.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

But Isn't Playing God the Whole Reason We're Here? Thoughts on Edward Lifson's oath for city planners, developers and architects

With Trump Tower now rising out of the ground and beginning to block the gorgeous, unobstructed view of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building we've had since the old Sun-Times building was torn down, Edward Lifson, host of WBEZ's Hello Beautiful, who would had preferred to have had the view maintained with a open plaza, has been prompted to post on his Teatro Lifson blog his version of Hippocratic Oath, this time targeting city planners, developers, and architects.

Well worth a read, it's a highly idealistic call for modesty and urbanity. Some of the points - an obligation to the less fortunate (see: Archeworks), and the emphasis on the importance of craftsmanship, for example - draw on long Chicago traditions. (Although the way the Chicago architectural establishment invoked craftsmanship in their condescending trashing of Rem Koolhaas Student Center at IIT reminds me of a quote attributed to Goethe, "If the artist is not also a craftsman, the artist is nothing, but calamity: most of our artists are nothing but craftsmen.)

At Lifson's invocation, "Do not play at God!" I must draw the line. What is human life but trying to grasp within that fleeting intermission of an eternal sleep a taste of unfettered power and being? What is life for an artist or architect than to be able to think you've finally found the answers that have eluded everyone else, and, in the words of the poet:
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" -
Only to have the world respond:
"That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."
The glory and the horror and architecture is how clearly it reveals our innermost aspirations, whether result be the Acropolis or Las Vegas. To ask a developer or an architect not to build is like asking a dog not to scratch. Our most natural impulse is to do what comes naturally (marketing to the reptillian brain, anyone?), and although it may be fought in finely tailored suits, in wood-paneled boardrooms, the battle to shape our built environment is a take-no-prisoners wrestle amongst both the most indolent and most aggressive elements of our deepest pysche.

That's just my initial take. There's much to think about in Lifson's oath. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

IIT lecture by Patricia Kelley among late entries to February calendar

What You See is (Not) What You See: Literalism, Embodiment, and Minimal Art, is the title of a lecture to be given at 6 P.M., Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at Crown Hall on the IIT campus of Patricia Kelley, Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Art History at Depaul.

As of this moment, you can also still make reservations to hear Robert Bruegmann talk about sprawl this Wednesday, February 15th, at 6:00 P.M. at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, on a panel that will also include John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee, and current President of the Congress for New Urbanism.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Waterview Tower - Class Conscious Facades?

Work has begun on the site of what will be the Waterview Tower, an 82-story high mixed used development on newly reconstructed Wacker Drive at Clark Street, along the south bank of the Chicago River. In Sunday's Chicago Tribune, Blair Kamin writes of a twist in the design of the 1050 foot high tower, by Teng & Associates' Tom Hoepf, that leaves the upper stories resembling "a right triangle." Viewed from the east, the side of the big money of Michigan Avenue and Trump Tower, the building is a razor-thin 32 feet wide. Viewed from the west, from what could be called the "service entrance" side of the building facing the more workaday environs of the West Loop, it grows both wider, blunter and less graceful: less Twiggy, more Margaret DuMont. More wrapper, more views, more revenue.

It puts me in mind of another Tromp d'oeil building, Asbury Plaza at Dearborn and Chicago, which, viewed from the corner, conceals its 300 foot long bulk to appear as a bafflingly small, square tower.

From one rendering, it appears Waterview Tower's south facade will mediate with a certain amount of panache between the wide and narrow of the east and west facades. I'm probably more concerned about what appears to a tall, sheer blank wall along Wacker and Clark, above the retail, covering up the parking garage, which the floodlighting shown in the drawings may not be able to redeem from an oppressive street presence.

The slightly schizoid faces of Waterview Tower is actually a good personification of the way the project is trying to bring luxury to uncharted ground. The trains of the Loop elevated screech along their rails just a half-block south. Not that long ago, the area was home to the Shangri La, a soft-porn movie theatre torn down to make way for what is now the Renaissance Hotel. Now, Waterview Tower is to include the first Chicago outpost of the five star Shangri La hotel chain, as well as condo's that start at close to a million and just keep going up from there. Its being constructed on the last unbuilt parcel along West Wacker Drive, a surface parking lot that's been there for decades. It joins such skyscrapers as the Leo Burnett Building and 77 West Wacker, and probably puts a big red redevelop-me "X" on the C.F. Murphy's handsomely brutalist 55 West Wacker, a big building in 1968 that now finds itself a shrimp in a tank of giant lobsters.

What with Trump Tower, and Calatrava's Fordham Spire, it's astonishing there's still unquenched demand for this kind of king's ransom housing. Maybe after prospective owners work out their mortgage payments, the proximity to cheap public transportation will seem a major selling point.

Friday, February 10, 2006

OMA cooks up whole stack of Mies for Louisville

"I do not respect Mies," Rem Koolhas has written. "I love Mies . . . I do not revere Mies." Nowhere is this in greater display than in OMA's design, unveiled yesterday, for the $380,000,000 700 foot tall Museum Plaza in Louisville, whose upper reaches look like Koolhaas and OMA design partner Joshua Prince-Ramus took Mies' IBM and Seagram Buildings and stashed them atop a high shelf. Read all about it here.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

New ABC 7 State Street Studio Nears Completion in Historic Chicago Theater

It's long past the Fall 2005 opening that was anticipated at its groundbreaking last April, but ABC 7 Chicago's new sidewalk studio on State Street finally seems to be nearing completion. Within the past week, a 40 foot-high curving video panel has been illuminated with everything from the ABC logo to views of the lakefront and the city's landmark buildings. Read about it and see the pictures here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A different view of classic Chicago skyscraper

Here's an alternative view of a Chicgo landmark, a classic rectangular tower clad in glazed terra cotta, with a clear, almost Sullivanese articulation of its spare structure.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

CAF offers up April tour of Vancouver

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is sponsoring a four-day study tour to Vancouver, Canada this coming April 27 through 30th. "Learning from Vancouver" has becoming a buzzword for everything from parks planning, affordable housing, and development that favors slender towers to keep openness in the skyline. This could be your chance to see firsthand whether the Vancouver mystique is reality or hype. Events will include tours and presentations by the city's co-director of planning and green architect Peter Busby, whose Brentwood transit station puts the CTA's innate conservatism to shame. (The former Busby & Associates firm is now a part of Chicago-based Perkins+Will). The $1,750 cost for the tour ($100 singles supplement), includes airfair, accomodations and meals. For information, contact Larren Austin at 312.922.3432 X 263, or check out the registration form online. The CAF will be offering another, weeklong tour to Rome this November.

Monday, February 06, 2006

MSI Highlights Black Creativity in Architecture

The Museum of Science of Industry's annual celebration of Black Creativity this year "highlights the contributions of African Americans and encourages deeper interest in, and understanding of, black culture and heritage." It's exhibition, Architecture: Pyramids to Skyscrapers, features the work of African and African-American architects, both past and present. It includes models and drawings of key buildings, as well as a showcase of projects from both high school and college students and professional architects. Throughout February, there are also weekly workshops that will bring students and teachers together with architects including Charles and Eben Smith, William Brazley, Jr., RaMona Westbrook and Larry Parkman. Wednesday morning, February 22nd, there will also be a symposium where high school and college students considering a career in architecture will be able to engage Africa-American architectural leaders in learning about opportunities in the field. Events are free with museum admission, but registration is often required. For full information, check out the attractively designed website. The exhibition runs through February 28th.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ry Cooder's ballads of Chavez Ravine

John Hill's Archidose blog has a great post on Ry Cooder's album Chavez Ravine, which recalls the almost idyllic working class Mexican-American neighborhood's destruction in the 40's and 50's in a Chinatown-like pursuit of money and power.

In this case, however, the motivator wasn't water but baseball. Even as long-suffering Dodger fans were enjoying their 1955 moment of triumph as the team won its first-ever World Series, owner Walter O'Malley was plotting to sell them out in favor of tapping into the money gusher that was mid-century California with a move to Los Angeles.

Plans for a public housing project with the achingly ironic name of Elysian Fields, whose architects included the legendary Richard Neutra, were deep-sixed, all the current residents evicted, and the neighborhood wiped off the face of the earth to make way the construction of the Dodger's Chavez Ravine stadium. It's a cautionary tale of the intersection of power, planning and architecture, especially timely in the light of the Supreme Court's recent decision to give cities carte blanche in using eminent domain in condemning people's home and businesses to turn them over to monied developers. The Archidose link's include one to Chavez Ravine: 1949, a book of photographs of pre-Dodger Chavez (example above-left). Check it out here.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Tonight on WYIN - Founding Father Rescued from the Waxworks - Simon Russell Beale as John Adams

It's perplexing how the American Revolution, one of greatest dramas of human history, descends on film into a sort of Waiting for Guffman theatrics. America's founding fathers are inevitably reduced to pious icons, dimensionless ghosts moving through the treacherous, uncertain events of their day as if it were a sleep-inducing pageant.

A rare exception is the current PBS American Experience documentary, John and Abigail Adams, and the reason boils down to a single performance, that of Tony award-winner Simon Russell Beale as John Adams. Despite his pivotal role in arguing for and securing American independence, Adams is probably most often remembered as a rotund, would-be monarchist whose worked as a diplomat in Europe was overshadowed by Franklin, and who had the dubious distinction of being the first American President to be rejected for re-election, his one-term a biding-the-time break between the A-List administrations of Washington and Jefferson. It's Samuel Adams that gets the most airplay today, and that's through a beer commercial.

The PBS film, drawing heavily on the correspondence between Adams and his wife and collaborator Abigail, capably portrayed by Linda Edmond, is obviously intent of restoring Adams to his proper place in our history. It's capably done, but it's Beale, who's just taken over the role of King Arthur in Broadway's Spamalot, who makes the project transcend its genre.

He gives us a John Adams affording full measure to his irascibility, his stubbornness, his vanities and frustrations. Agitating for independence when others counsel moderation, struggling with the demands of diplomacy, watching as his Vice-President's role in the Senate is reduced from participant to onlooker, even pitching hay with the workers on his farm while in political exile, Beale makes Adams so visceral that it's as if you're standing beside him, feeling the heat radiating from his body and his energy displacing the air around you. You suddenly experience history, not as the usual inevitable progression seen through a thick, cloudy glass of history, but as a succession of lived moments - so familiar in our own daily lives - where nothing is certain, little settled, and achievement comes only from the constant anxiety, frustration and hope of human interaction. If John and Abigail were a feature film, Beale's work would be worthy of an Oscar.

Tonight, Saturday, February 4th at 9:00 P.M., you can catch a rerun of John and Abigail on Northwest Indiana's PBS outlet, WYIN, which is carried on many Chicago cable outlets. If you're home during the day or awake at odd hours, WTTW will be repeating the show at 1:00 A.M, 5:00 A.M, 9:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M on Monday, February 20th. You can also order it is on DVD from PBS.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chicago Streetscene - January 28, 2006 - Expanded Bleachers under Construction at Wrigley Field

Lecture on Mies's First IIT Building added for February 22nd

Kevin Harrington, Professor of Art and Architectural History and IIT, and co-author, along with Franz Schulze of the latest edition of the book Chicago's Famous Buildings, will lecture on - and in the 1941 Minerals and Metals Building, the first structure to be built by Mies van der Rohe on the IIT campus. Although less famous than Crown Hall, the m&m marks the first time Mies used exposed I-beams as part of his architectural aesthetic, framing the plain brick infill on the short end of the building. m&m has recently undergone renovation, and provides additional space for IIT's burgeoning school of architecture. Harrington's lecture will be at 6:00 P.M., February 22nd. The Minerals and Metals Building is located at 3350 S. Federal on the IIT campus, a block west of Crown Hall.