Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bey Talks to Lifson, Lifson Talks up rehab of Mies 860-880

Lee Bey, former Sun-Times architecture critic, former deputy to Mayor Richard M. Daley and, now, former director of media and governmental affairs at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, will appear on this Sunday's Hello, Beautiful, with Edward Lifson, beginning at 10 A.M. on WBEZ, 91.5 FM. Maybe now that he's at least momentarily free of affiliations, he'll tell us what he really thinks about what's been going on in Chicago architecture since he left the Sun-Times in 2001. And I hope he'll also have more time to add to the wonderful photoessays - everything from the Schaumburg Space Needle to Pride Cleaners on 79th and St. Lawrence - on his The Urban Observer blog/website, from which I've stolen this 1973 rendering of a "revived" State Street that appears to replace all the street's great historic facades with a seemingly endless strip of uniformally banal concrete and glass frontage - apparently, we got off easy with late, unlamented State Street mall.

Back over at Edward Lifson's own blog, The New Modernist, there's an extended report on the restoration of the granddaddy of all Mies van der Rohe steel and glass highrises, the pathbreaking 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive Apartments. Last summer, Lifson says, investigations into the cause of two of the south windows cracking unveiled a leaking plaza, corroding steel, rust and oxidation. (Mies's love of travertine as a paving material carries a cost in freeze-and-thaw Chicago.)

A $7,000,000 million restoration is now being contemplated for the nearly 60 year old building (and for those snickering anti-modernists among you, I wonder what you'd look like at 60 if you never kept in shape). As Lifson describes the project, the goal would be to get back to Mies's original design, including replacing current laminated glass with Mies's preferred sandblasted variety.

This is similar to what was done by Gunny Harboe and Krueck & Sexton in the recent restoration of Mies's Crown Hall on the IIT campus. One would hope that the 860-800 rehab will also include a repainting with same kind of Tnemec paint used at Crown Hall. "It was just black as night and Mies was very proud of it," said IIT's Peter Beltemacchi at the reopening, adding that Mies also enjoyed the look of the paint as it aged and faded. The older I become myself, however, the more I suspect that this is a bit of a scam, a graceful way of accepting the seemingly inevitable.

I think no small measure of the calumny that has rained down on Mies's steel and glass boxes stems from the way, over time, that strong, glossy black fades to a washed-out gray that gives Mies's wonderfully crisp buildings a dulling and tired patina. Given the reflection of the sun off the adjacent lake, bringing 860-880 back to classic Mies black could prove absolutely breathtaking.


Edward Lifson said...

Hello Lynn, yes we're talking about using Tnemec paint at 860-880. We will certainly go for Mies' "black as night" look.

Anonymous said...

Good news about 860-880. Watch out for that etched glass though. A single greasy handprint will make it look like crap. And there is no way to clean them off without ruining the refraction qualities of the etched surface. Good luck!

I believe that the drawing of South State Street was SOM's plan for the block just North of Roosevelt. Dated though it is, it is actually a better looking plan than what is there now. Currently, on the left is now Dearborn Park's unfenestrated outer bailey, and on the right James Loewenberg's execrable State Place.