Monday, July 30, 2007

CAF collecting donations to assist family of docent Steven O'Rourke

Anyone who's ever taken a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour knows that the volunteer docents who lead them - profoundly knowledgeable enthusiasts for our rich legacy - are among the city's most treasured assets.

You've already probably read the tragic story about how one of these great docents, Steven O'Rourke, an architect who gave tours to third and fourth grade students, recently lost his life to a hit-and-run driver, leaving behind wife Rachel, and three children, ages 1, 4 and 9.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is currently collecting donations to assist Steven O'Rourke's family through this difficult time. Checks should be made out to CAF, which will combine the funds into a single contribution to the Rachel McKee Family Assistance Fund, which the CAF is hoping to make by August 15th. "Please be sure to include your full mailing and e-mail addresses along with your contribution so your assistance to Steve's family can be properly recognized."

The mailing address is:
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60604

Friday, July 27, 2007

If only Fazlur Khan had thought of engineering Sears Tower in renewable Pine

"Oh, no, Mr. Thornhill; there is no George Kaplan."
Apparently, there's no Mr. KAPLA, either. The pine blocks bearing that name are the creation of Dutchman Tom van der Bruggen, and the name itself is an abbreviation of “Kabouter Plankjes”, which, the company website tells us, is Dutch for "gnome planks".

They're the kind of blocks Mies might have loved, as they're all based on "progressions of the uneven numbers 1:3:5. 3 thickness for one width and five widths for one length." They don't snap together; the constructions are held together by basic gravity. Add a measure of creativity, and the rectangular blocks can create constructions that are both flexible in shape, and of incredible size and intricacy, as can be seen in the various models posted on the KAPLA USA website.

The master gnomes of KAPLA have visited the Chicago Tourism Center at 72 E. Randolph, and left behind a mini-city of KAPLA towers, ringed by its own Loop L, in which the centerpiece is a soaring replica of the Sears Tower. Courtesy of roving correspondent Bob Johnson of Bowman, Barrett & Associates, we offer you this photo of the Tourism Center installation, which also includes a number of other skyscrapers a la Kapla. (See if you can find the shrunken head version of Taipei 101 in the photo's lower right.)

Staff hopes to keep the installation up for a while, and this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, July 28th and 29th, from 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., the KAPLA master builders will be back to demonstrate KAPLA building techniques and create replicas of other Chicago landmarks.

Conceptual Architecture made Flesh - Apu's Kwik-E-Mart

Yes, today marks the opening of the long awaited opening of The Simpsons Movie, and so after this weekend the Kwik-E-Mart returns to the realm of the cartoon. For the next few days, however, you can still visit one of only 11 Seven-Elevens in the U.S. that have been transformed into replicas of the legendary convenience store in the long-running series. So here's a few photos from our roving correspondent Nora Fitzpatrick from Apu's Chicago Brigadoon, at 6754 W. 63rd Street.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, manager Frenko Rahana has temporarily been taken over by the spirit of Apu, answering the phone using his name, and, just like in the series, telling each departing customer or shoplifter, “Thank you. Come again.” The Kwiki-E-Mart is stocked with all products Simpson, from KrustyO's cereal ("Now with 20% more air"), Buzz Cola, and pink (or Pepto-Bismal, in the words of Trib writer Charles Leroux) frosted Sprinkilicious donuts



which the Wall Street Journal reports are flying off the shelves at the L.A. Kwik-E-Mart at the rate of 4,000 a day.

Architecture in the Simpsons' Springfield will be the subject of an upcoming 2008 exhibition, From Concert Hall to Maximum Security, Paradigms of Virtual Architecture, to be curated by Joe Rosa for the Art Institute. (just kidding . . . I think.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Road to Widgitdom - more on the sale of the Chicago Reader

More on the sale of the Chicago Reader, the alternative weekly that gave me my writing career, which was sold yesterday (see yesterday's post) to Creative Loafing:
1. The Reader's Mike Miner reports on his blog on Wednesday's staff meeting with new owner Ben Eason. While Eason told Miner his view of the importance of editorial was "It's everything," Miner seems less than convinced. "A newspaper, I think I read somewhere, is supposed to be a community talking to itself, and owners from a thousand miles away make an intrusive addition to the conversation." Only recently consolidated from four to three sections, the Reader will now become a single-section tabloid.
2. Editor and Publisher reports that, just as Conrad Black sold off the Chicago Sun-Time's prime riverfront site to Donald Trump, the Reader is being divested of a key asset - its real estate. The Hubbard Street loft building in which the Reader operates is not part of the Creative Loafing deal, but is being sold in a separate deal to InStep Software. On its website, a company named InStep Software LLC lists its Chicago headquarters address as 55 E. Monroe.
3. San Francisco Bay Guardian blogger Tim Redmond speculates the Creative Loafing deal had to involve at least $25 million.
4. Pepsi or Coke? Both E&P and New York City's Gawker raise the possibility that just two mega-chains, Creative Loafing and Village Voice Media, may wind up essentially controlling alternative weeklies throughout the nation.

So here's what we're left with. One emerging chain of alternative newspapers, Village Voice Media, based in Phoenix. A second, Creating Loafing, run out of Tampa. Assurances notwithstanding, how much can these managements have their fingers on the pulse of their flagship cities of New York and Chicago?

Newspapers traditional role as engines of local identity is being rapidly eroded. In our market economy, efficiency is all. While Macy’s or the Tribune Company may talk of consistently and reliably high quality being the result of standardization, the more likely result, as mandated by the supply chain, will be the lowest common denominator they think consumers can be induced to tolerate.

Macy’ service and standing among consumers won’ be improved by its just announced policy to cut associates’ pay, down to the lowest tolerable denominator, but if parent Federated Department Stores thinks it will give a quick shot to the bottom line, no matter how short-lived, who cares?

The Tribune Company is loading up with billions of dollars of debt in a buyout deal where the cash goes to Sam Zell and his partners while the employees are left holding the bag. As the nominal owners of the company under an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), their principal holding will be a mountain of IOU ‘s so overwhelming that, more than likely, it will soon send the corporation careening towards bankruptcy. Will Ben Eason ‘s investors be any more patient in expecting what they consider an adequate return on their $25 million stake? Can there be enough cuts to satisfy that beast?

Eason appears to smitten with the old media idea that the way to conquer the web is to throw money at it. ""You need money and manpower to compete on the Internet," E&P quotes Eason as saying. "I can sit there and publish in four markets and let every venture capitalist guy in Silicon Valley fund some fresh new start-up and come after us or we could go and do our own national company and get out in front of them."

Of course, most Internet phenomenons started out as almost guerrilla-like operations. Think Craigslist. The very mention of its name raises terrors in the hearts of old media, but it had its genesis in the actions of just one man, Craig Newmark, and as a hobby. It grew through the use of volunteers and contractors.

Old media types like Eason are always looking through the wrong end of the telescope. In his mind, if he bulks up enough, national advertisers will be so seduced by his massive corporate physique that they won't be able to keep themselves from throwing business his way. Oh, and now that you've got that all worked out, take a few seconds to figure out how to redesign the product to fit the business model.

The irony is that in obsessing over consolidating and homogenizing, old media companies blind themselves to the true power of the Internet. While their product is looking more and more interchangeable, the genius of the Internet is how easy it is to match up readers to content in a very individualized way. RSS, blogs and portals allow Internet users to make up their own newspapers from millions of different sources. The question is not how to take The Reader, or the Chicago Tribune, or even New York Times, to the Internet, but what professional news delivery should be in a wired universe. And the killer app isn't going to come out of a boardroom or an endless series of conferences with venture capitalists, but from a student center, or a rooftop deck, or a Starbucks, from someone with a laptop cruising the Internet with curiosity and intent.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chicago Streetscene - Root windows

Onions Awarded, Ammonia Protested, Public Art Celebrated, Reader Sold - A Wednesday Miscellany

DuPage Theater demolition bottoms out Preservation Onions - Enough about recognizing preservation excellence - what about honoring the stinkers? That was the premise behind a recent Landmarks Illinois program where the 100 people in attendance were asked to choose "the stinkiest onion of the bunch", the lowest point in architectural preservation this past year. They picked the March approval for bulldozing the DuPage, one of only two structures in the suburb listed on the National Register. My own choice wasn't even on the list of the nominees: the Commission on Chicago Landmarks vote to demolish an official landmark, the Farwell Building and paste its facades on a completely new building, a precedent that threatens to turn much of Chicago's architectural heritage into a cross between Disneyland and a Potemkin village.

The Save Our Lake Initiative is a petition drive to stop British Petroleum from upping the volume of pollutants it dumps into Lake Michigan from its Whiting, Indiana refinery. The Grant Park Conservancy is pitching in by offering a copy of the petition on its website, in Adobe Acrobat format. The signatures are due by this Friday, at 3 P.M., to be turned in at the Daley Bicentennial Fieldhouse, 337 East Randolph.

Goodbye Roosevelt Collection, Hello, Public Art - Friends of Downtown has changed its July program, to be offered this Thursday at 12:15 in the Millennium Room of the Chicago Cultural Center. Nathan Mason, curator of special projects for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, will lecture on the wealth of public art in downtown Chicago.

Chicago Reader Sold - word came this afternoon that the Chicago Reader, which carries the blame for making my career writing on architecture possible, has been sold to Creative Loafing, Inc., which publishes alternative weeklies under that name in Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa Bay and Sarasota. The Tampa-based company made Richard Roth, who founded the Reader in 1971, an offer too lucrative to refuse, and while no one can blame Roth for deciding, after 36 years, that it was a good time to move on - in today's web-based world, it's not going to get any easier - it's still a very sad day for Chicago. Staffers (I'm only a grateful occasional freelancer) will get more information about the paper's future direction tomorrow, but a certain amount of economies engineered through national consolidation would appear to be inevitable.

On a parallel note, even as the food court in its former Marshall Fields flagship on State Street was shut down for health code violations, Macy's announced it's closing its Lake Forest store in the Howard Van Doren Shaw designed Market Square.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When Smudgy Concrete beats Polished Granite

The New Modernist's Edward Lifson has been covering the "upgrading" of the lobby of Mies van der Rohe's iconic IBM Building (now 330 North Wabash), consisting of the usual tarting up of something beautiful in a marketers desperate stab at pursuing what they believe is contemporary taste (elevator signage a la Mr. Magoo in size and brightness, divans struck together stadium bleacher style and bronzed like cheap watches), to be followed, a decade or two down the road, by - at enormous expense - ripping out all the trendy "improvements" and putting everything back the way it was, as future owners come to realize that maximizing the building's value depends on preserving the integrity of its original vision.

Lesser down on the architectural food chain, I offer you the story of architect Alfred Alschuler's 1912 Thompson Commissary Building, at 350 North Clark Street, just north of the Reid Murdoch, an elegant survivor that's been serving as the headquarters for Mesirow Financial. Built for the once prosperous but now forgotten Thompson restaurant chain, its faced all in cream terra cotta, with garlands of fruits, vegetables and grain, rendered in glazed clay, as the most prominent ornament.

For years, Mesirow and Friedman Properties thought enough of the structure to bath its facades in floodlights at night. Now, with a 40 story skyscraper, designed by Lohan Anderson, with A. Epstein and Sons as architects of record, rising across the street to serve as the new home for both Mesirow and the law firm of Jenner and Block, fleeing Trump's shadow on the IBM, the Thompson Commissary Building is being treated with less than kid gloves.

Recently, the vaguely limestone-looking concrete that replaced the terra cotta just above sidewalk level is being replaced, in turn, by slabs of polished granite. And while you'd think a finely finished stone would beat a crudely surfaced expedient hands down, the new "upgrade" is jarringly ham-fisted. While the smudgy former material somehow blended in with the terra-cotta above, the granite sticks out like a sore thumb, its stiff textured hardness inserted like a foreign object into the soft uniform contours of the terra cotta. It doesn't make the Thompson look "modern" - only confused.

The Thompson Commissary Building has no landmark protection - it's rated Orange, for potentially significant, on the Historic Resources Survey. The cynic in me wonders whether the new granite is a step towards compromising the Thompson's "architectural integrity" - a crucial criteria in evaluating if a building merits landmarking - should the Thompson stand in the way of still another River North megadevelopment.

POSTSCRIPT: This whole historical restoration thing is more complicated than it seems. Read the shocking things I later learned about this project here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Last Week to See Blaser's West is East is West/Mies van der Rohe

This week is your last chance to catch West is East is West/Mies van der Rohe, Swiss architect and writer Werner Blaser's exhibition of ten pairs of large photographs that links the visual ethics of Miesian modernism with that of traditional Asian architecture.

On the left of each pair is a view of a Mies building set next to a shot of an older Asian counterpart. An entry in Mies' Barcelona Pavilion is placed next to the "Moon Gates" of the courtyards of the Imperial Residences in Beijing. An overhead shot of Chicago's Federal Center, displaying the Miesian grid expressed through every horizontal and vertical element of the complex and its buildings (with Calder's Flamingo an anarchic interloper) is matched with a shot of freer, but still geometrically rigorous Asian rooftops. The juxtapositions jump-start contemplation of the most fitting expression of essential architectural concepts - portal, garden, inside/outside, concealed/revealed, open/contained among them.

The exhibition is on display, admission $5.00, in the center core of Mies' Crown Hall, 3360 South State on the IIT campus, hours 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., through Sunday, July 29th. An added attraction is being able to see the gloriously restored Crown Hall during summer break. Soon to be crammed with drafting tables and the work and models of students, it's now completely empty, in full temple of modernism mode, the great expanse of light-filled, uninterrupted space serene and unsettling at the same time.

Also closing this week, on Saturday, July 28th, is Powerhouse: The Photographs of Darris Lee Harris. The title pretty much says it all - striking depictions of industrial architecture in both big picture and detail. The show is up at the ArchiTech Gallery, 730 North Franklin, open by appointment and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, noon to 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chicago Streetscene - Calderian Knot

CSO's loss LAP's gain - Dudamel's Bartok on iTunes

On Tuesday, DGG made available on iTunes a performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by their music director-designate Gustavo Dudamel, recorded live at performances this past January.

Last April, the 26-year-old Venezuelan's debut with the Chicago Symphony had set orchestra, audiences and critics on fire. With his combination of rock-solid technique, distinctive ideas, and infectious energy Dudabel transformed the now warhorse Mahler 1st Symphony into something that sounded exhilarating, newly-minted. It was evident that the orchestra, which can be a tough crowd, had taken to Dudamel. By the symphony's close, pages that often veer toward wearying bombast became an ecstatic expression of youthful power and optimism. The CSO played their hearts out for their young conductor, rekindling memories of the kind of virtuosity that stunned the world during the early years of the CSO-Solti partnership.

Instantly, the city was ablaze with talk. Could this be the guy we've been waiting for? Could he be the light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel of CSO's search for a music director to succeed the departed Daniel Barenboim?

As fast as hearts were set aflutter, however, they were stomped flat as a pancake. Before Dudamel's final concerts later that week, the official announcement was made: the Los Angeles Philharmonic had seized the moment and snapped Dudamel up, signing him to a contract that will see him succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen as Music Director starting with the 09/10 season.

Well that was fun. Let's hope CSO management can coax him back for some guest engagements. He was a great counterbalance for the council of illustrious elders - Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink - running the orchestra on an interim basis.

Of course, it's entirely possible Dudamel will crash and burn - a brief bubble, a passing fad - but judging from the Chicago concerts, and his recordings, including the new Bartok - a fluid, flavorful and powerful performance - I wouldn't bet on it.

Classical iTunes is still a bit of strange bird. The fact the St. Matthew Passion is chopped up into individual 99-cent songs takes a bit of getting used to. The other side, however, is that music can be liberated from having to keep adding fillers to reach a saleable 60-70 minute CD. The Dudamel Bartok Concerto is being sold, not as part of a larger package, but as a single work, priced at $5.99.
Postscript: This morning a major candidate for the CSO post appears to have been eliminated, as the New York Philharmonic announced that Riccardo Muti has committed to spending six to eight weeks a season with that orchestra. The NYP named Alan Gilbert, 40, as its new Music Director, beginning in 2009.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ok - So I Lied

In a moment of caffeine-induced delirium, I made a major blunder in the story on the new hotel going into 208 S. LaSalle, which is not, as the media person at Bank of America has rather testily (understandably) brought to my attention, their headquarters at 231 S. LaSalle - which is the site of the former Grand Pacific - but another, rather lesser building with which Lucien Lagrange can work his will with no great damage. The great banking hall of the former Continental remains in all its current glory for the private banking and commercial account elite of the Bank of America's customers.

My abject apologies to all for completely wasting your time, and leading you down a path of gross deception. (Did I tell you about the WMD's I found?)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Xefirotarch on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

Maybe they had a lot of catalogues left over. (48 pages, $16.95)

The Art Institute once again serves as a recycling bin for shows Curator of Architecture and Design Joseph Rosa mounted at his former SFMOMA home.

The exhibition Xefirotarch, which opened Thursday, showcases the high concept digital work of Argentinian architect Hernán Díaz Alonso, who founded the firm in 2001. In the words of the press release:
Díaz Alonso' baroque designs - resembling animal forms, plant structures, or fungal growths - blur the visual and spatial boundaries between surface, decoration, and structure to create an original and distinctly figurative architectural approach.

Díaz Alonso is greatly influenced by much of a broad range of visual practices, including the art of Francis Bacon and Matthew Barney, science fiction films, and digital practices in design, architecture, and art. His aesthetic, always sensual but often grotesque, evolves through a series of conceptually linked projects and experiments, with the ultimate goal of offering not only a spatial experience, as one would expect from architecture, but a temporal experience as well. Thus the resulting work occupies an as-yet undefined domain that lies between the formal demands of architecture and the narrative possibilities of different uses of space.
Díaz Alonso worked in the firms of both Enric Miralles and Peter Eisenman.
His passion for complexity makes him a good match for Rosa's infatuation with the theoretical. (Xefirotarch's amazingly complex website has to include instructions for its use.)

Read an extended interview with Díaz Alonso in Archinect here, and the architect in discussion with EMERGENT's Tom Wiscombe in a 2006 Architectural Record podcast here. In a 2001 interview, Díaz Alonso said:
"I think in five years I will still be training for when I become an architect, which is going to be somewhere between 45 and 50, which is really when you become an architect."
Which gives him another another seven years in which to play - he doesn't hit 45 until 2014.

Xefirotarch is on display in the Art Institute's Gallery 227, where it runs through October 28th.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly Announces Opposition to Lake Shore Athletic Demolition

Crain's Chicago Business reported Tuesday afternoon that newly elected 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly has issued a press release opposing the demolition of the 1927 Lake Shore Athletic Club, for which Fifield Properties is seeking a demolition permit in order to replace the building with a new residential tower designed by architect Lucien Lagrange. Crain's reports Reilly has engineered a 60 day extension beyond the expiring 90 day permit delay mandated for buildings rated "Orange" (not an official landmark, but potentially significant) on the city's Historic Resources Survey.

Crain's quotes from Reilly's statement:
“Throughout this process, Northwestern and Fifield have argued there is absolutely no economically viable re-use option that could save the Lake Shore Athletic Club from demolition,” Reilly says in the statement. “Frankly, I am not persuaded by that argument. After meeting with many experienced architects, zoning attorneys, developers and urban planning consultants, I believe economically viable re-use options do, in fact, exist.”
Crain's story also quotes an email from Fifield President Rick Cavenaugh saying he will use the extra time to lobby harder for the club's demise. “Once the actual legal and construction-related issues are debated, we feel confident that the concept of re-use will prove to be the lowest-and-worst use for the property.”

Clearly Fifield sees Reilly's actions as a threat, not only to their Lake Shore Drive project, but to the long-standing status quo in which development interests have operated largely unchecked. Fifield VP Alan Schactman has been circling the city's real estate community's wagons with a letter urging his colleagues put the screws to Reilly to get the alderman to step out of their way.

Powerhouse developer David "Buzz" Ruttenberg, has a letter in the current Crain's in which he decries the possibility that office holders like Reilly may be straying off the reservation He lectures readers that the "responsibility of an elected official to lead and not merely follow the majority, or a vociferous minority." What he really means, of course, is that having an alderman controlled by a vociferous minority is supposed to be his job, or, more accurately, that of of a cadre of big money-developers who use clout and massive campaign contributions to keep aldermen in their back pockets. For Ruttenberg, if Reilly turns his back on the voters who put him in office because they were disgusted with his predecessor's coziness with developers, it would be a profile in courage. For pretty much everyone else, it would simply be a betrayal.

The smart money still has to be against Reilly and the club's survival. Too many powerful interests feel the need to stop what he's doing in the bud, before the contagion can spread.

If Reilly doesn't come up with alternative developers with the resources and commitment to preserve the current building, he can please the developers and still play the good guy - "Hey, I tried," he can say, as the wrecker's ball crashes. The stand he took today proves that he's brave. The next two months will determine if he's effective.

Chicago Streetscene - Woman and Rat, Michigan Avenue

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mayor Daley: I Will Go to Dubai (It Could Happen)

Only Al Gore stands between Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and top billing on the roster of speakers the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has just published for its 2008 World Congress, Tall and Green: Typology for a Sustainable Urban Future. Oh, wait, Gore and Daley are listed as invited, as is London mayor Ken Livingstone. Is this a speaker list or a prospectus? You should know I, also, am holding a big party of my own next March, with Barack Obama, k.d. lang, Alfred Brendel, Kathy Brock, Fergie, Jay-Z, the Empire carpet guy, and Gandhi among the invited guests. Prime sponsorships still available.

But back to CTBUH's Congress, which is taking place next March 3rd through the 5th, in Dubai, perhaps the world's most explosive boom town. A city whose metro area numbers not much more than 1,500,000 inhabitants, Dubai boasts, according to Emporis, over 60 towers 300 feet or higher, 11 of them over 700 feet tall. Add to the mix the world's largest indoor ski slope, "Dubailand", the world's largest theme park - complete with life-size dinosaurs - and a 59-story rotating skyscraper, and you have to hold onto your head to keep it from spinning. Check out CTBUH's Dubai profile, from which these images were taken, for a better feel of how surreal this place can be.

Also scheduled to represent Chicago are SOM's Bill Baker talking about “Engineering the World’s Tallest”, the Burj Dubai, the megatower whose ultimate height remains a closely guarded secret, (although Emporis is listing an unconfirmed figure of 2,651 feet) and Aqua architect Jeanne Gang, speaking on “Tall Buildings that Relate to Place.” Other luminaries slated to appear are Werner Sobek, Leslie Robertson, and Ken Yeang. You can see the full current list of papers and presenters here.

CTBUH's is promoting the event as a Carbon Neutral Congress. A portion of the registration fees for the conference will go toward the purchase of green indulgences through Climate Care to offset the copious amounts of CO2 spewed into the atmosphere both from the conference itself and from the all the travel - I would guess no small portion of it on private jets - to and from the event.

While Dubai is the site of some of the world's most spectacular new structures, from the pictures on the conference website, most host hotels look more like refugees from the land around O'Hare, exponentiated. An exception is the five-star Dusit, which resembles a double-stacked Monopoly game piece, clad in glass and stretched to a 40-story height. Pass GO at least three times if you expect to stay here. Bewarned, however, that it doesn't look as spectacular during the day as it does in the perfect sunset shot you see here. For the economy-minded among us, there's the $140 a night Arabian Park, done up in perfect Howard Johnson modern.

So will Daley take the bait? Compared to Grand Beach, which can still be a frosty in March, I hear Dubai is lovely that time of year, (73 to 92 degrees, on average), and "Shopping is something of a national past time." If Lori Healey starts talking about building a chain of islands in Lake Michigan that resemble a map of the world, you'll know he probably went.

You can place your own reservations on-line here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Orbert Davis Headlines UIC Scholarship Benefit July 19th

Jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis will headline the 2007 Scholarship Benefit for the UIC School of Architecture and the Arts, which provides significant support for the school's student scholarship program. The evening will also include theater selections from Cheryl Lynn Bruce, an exhibition of works by artists affiliated with the college, a buffet dinner, and refreshments. A silent auction will include over "20 objects and experiences" from architects Doug Garofalo and Dan Wheeler, artists Maurice Blank and Phyliss Bramson, and architectural tours from Martha Pollak and Peter Hales, among other offerings.

The event will take place Thursday, July 19th, from 6:00 - 9:00 P.M., in the Art and Design Hall, 400 S. Peoria. Ticket prices range from $35.00 to $200.00, and can be ordered by contacting Consuela Marie Sanchez, by email, or by calling.312-355-0480. More information can also be found on the benefit's website.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Manolo Blahnik - Despoiler of Antiquity?

"No, Ms. Nemcova, we're not calling you an elephant."
Anthee Carassava has a great story in this Sunday's New York Times about how the 5,000 seat Odeon of Herodes Atticus amphitheatre in Athens is being done in by twin new plagues. What war and earthquake couldn't accomplish in over two millennium, bubble gum and stiletto heels is. Recently over 60 pounds of discarded gum was scraped from the Odeon's marble, but the strain of that operation pales in comparison with the impact of modern patrons in their oh-so-stylish stiletto heels, which are being blamed for an epidemic of cracks in the structure's wall and foundations. Reports Carassava:
"Strengthened by a metal rod, stiletto heels and their metal tips transmit more pressure per square inch than a 6,000-pound elephant, architects and archaeologists say."
Most of the damage has taken place on the lower tiers, where the swells dwell. The upper reaches of the theatre, the realm of the less affluent and their more sensible footwear, has undergone much less wear and tear.

And while we're on the subject of stiletto's, also check out in the The Times Lisa Chamberlain's story on new hotels in New York's historic Chelsea district, including Greenhouse 26, pictured here, a project from Arpad Baksa Architect that's angling for Gold LEED status. 19 stories, 26 rooms total, 19 feet wide, offering a possible preview of where Chicago is headed under the "cram-it-in-up-to-the-gills" policies of the current administration.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Farr, Kessler, Sexton, Spertus, bungalows, birds and stinking onions - all on the July calendar of Chicago architectural events

It's summer, and the pace has slowed - the month doesn't really start until July 10th - but there's still over two dozen items on July's calendar of architectural effects, starting out with Doug Farr at CAF, and Helen Kessler at Women in Planning + Development Chicago. There's green bungalows, Peter Kindel on completing the "Last Four Miles" of Chicago's lakefront at APA, TOD and the CHA's Plan for Transformation, Mark Sexton leading a tour of the new Spertus Institute for AIA Chicago, and Sally A. Kitt Chappell signing copies of her new book, Chicago's Urban Nature, again at CAF. Plus the massive new Roosevelt Collection development in the South Loop discussed by RTKL for Friends of Downtown. There's even audience participation at the Preservation Onions, where Landmarks Illinois will select the most rank preservation fiasco. (Unfortunately, there's no shortage of candidates.) And, as they say, much, much more. Synchronize your calendar and check it all out here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Toy Futures, plus Lego Sins of My Youth

Are Lego's mightier than the bulldozer?

ArtAsiaPacific magazine and the People's Architecture Foundation have handed each of a selected group of Asia's leading architects a white-bricks-only Lego set (who selected the pieces - Richard Meier?) with which to create models intended to be "exhibited and auctioned to raise awareness about architectural preservation in Asia . . . The project engages concepts of creativity through play and issues of urbanism, new design and heritage awareness that affect architects in a region undergoing dramatic change and development. " See some of the models and read all about it, here.

And while your at it, you can check out my own Lego juvenilia here, and leave your caustic and derisive comments here. I can take it . . . I think.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4th Tryptich

Wrigley Building
IBM Building
Grant Park, July 4th eve

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Do Chicago Architects Still Matter?

The Architectural Record has just published its list of the top 150 architecture firms, ranked by revenue, and it would appear that Chicago's stake as a major player in American and world architecture is going the way of that whole "hog butcher to the world" thing.

At the top of the list is Gensler, with over a half a billion dollars in 2006 revenues. Although Gensler has a major presence in Chicago, its headquarters city is elsewhere, San Francisco, just like two other major firms that we tend to think of as Chicago operations, Perkins + Will (5th place, $268.3 million), number five on the list, but based in Atlanta, and - right behind- Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, (6th place, $195 million) which, as recent management changes have made abundantly clear, is essentially run as just another outpost of the New York mothership.

The biggest Chicago-based firm is VOA Associates limping in at 64th place, with $38.74 million in revenues, followed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz (72nd, $37.2 million); OWP/P (86th, $29.72 mil), A Epstein and Sons (104th, $25.1 million), and Teng Affiliated Companies (104), (129th, $19 million).

When you break it out by city, according by my quick, rough analysis, San Francisco again comes out on top, with over $1 billion in revenues spread between 6 firms, followed by New York ($759 million, 13 firms), Atlanta ($600.million, 8 firms) and Dallas ($412 million, 3 firms).

And where does Chicago rank? How about eleventh, with $168 million dollars in revenue, and 5 listed firms, behind such rivals as Houston, Seattle, Irvine, and, as ID'd by Carl Sandburg:
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: "Omaha."
OK, OK, I understand the difference between quantity and quality. I know most of the stuff from the hyper successful firms is more likely to set an accountant's heart aflutter than those of critics or general public, but still, there's something to be said for being in the arena, and AR's list reminds us that, whatever the power of our architectural legacy, and with Chicago's current crop of extraordinarily talented younger architects still largely shut out of major new commissions, our pretensions to current importance tend not to travel much beyond the six-county area.

By the way, the award for best name has to go to Looney Ricks Kiss, which is a highly successful firm in Memphis - and not, need I warn my more salaciously-inclined readers, a contemporary variation of the Venus Butterfly.

Chicago under Construction

MOMO, Booth/Hansen, architects
600 North Fairbanks, Helmut Jahn, Architect
Dualing cores - Waterview, foreground, 300 North LaSalle, background
Trump Tower, Adrian Smith, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
300 North LaSalle, Pickard Chilton, architects
Aqua Stonehenge, Studio/Gang, architects

Monday, July 02, 2007

Theater Historian Joseph DuciBella Dies

We were sorry to learn from James Pierce that Joseph DuciBella, ASID, died last Friday, June 29th at the age of 62, after a prolonged battle with cancer. To describe his achievements, I'm going to quote from an excellent obituary in the Friends of the Uptown newsletter, and I want to thank Pierce also for the portrait of Mr. DuciBella and photo of him leading a tour in the gloriously restored [Ford] Oriental Theater:

“Known internationally for being a founding member (1969) and longtime Chicago-area director of Theatre Historical Society of America, DuciBella was an accomplished designer of theatre, office, residential and commercial interiors. A Chicago Academy of Fine Arts graduate, he operated an independent interior design firm for 24 years. During that time, he was the designer of choice for Classic Cinemas, of Downers Grove, Ill., an independent, family-owned company of more than 80 screens in the region. DuciBella led the renovations of two of Classic Cinemas' most historic theatres, the Tivoli Theatre, in Downers Grove, Ill., and the Lake Theatre, Oak Park, Ill.”

“A passionate researcher and storyteller of Chicago history, he had the unique ability to weave with words the complex religious, ethnic, labor, political and architectural histories of Chicago into near-epic tales – neighborhood by
neighborhood, block by block, and theatre to theatre. He was most recently featured in the documentary film Uptown: Portrait of a Palace, which gave a glimpse of his knowledge about the challenges of historic theatre renovation and reuse.”

“DuciBella was a frequent speaker and informed tour guide for events and symposia related to architecture and historic preservation – particularly theatre buildings. He rallied enthusiasm and anticipation for decades for his comprehensive book, "The Theatres of Chicago," that has not yet been published. However, he published articles and lectured on theatre design history extensively for more than 30 years.”

“A quiet but methodical activist, DuciBella worked steadily in many historic preservation efforts in Chicago, including support of the Wicker Park (neighborhood) historic district, the Chicago Theatre, the Oriental Theatre, the Uptown Theatre, the Congress Theatre and St. James Cathedral. He was the proud owner of a National Register home in Wicker Park, in which had been a tenant. He out-stayed the other boarders, bought the building and restored it over time to its original Victorian beauty.”

“Born on April 17, 1945, DuciBella grew up in a tough, working-class Italian neighborhood on Chicago's West Side. That’s where he was first enchanted by the interiors of the Marbro and Paradise theatres of the Balaban & Katz chain. While a student, Joe worked for B&K in many of its theatres, including the Marbro and Uptown theatres. Of his favorite "movie palaces" in Chicago, only the Chicago and the Uptown theatres remain. The Chicago Theatre was saved with his help and remodeled for live shows in 1986. The Uptown Theatre has been closed and "endangered" since 1981. DuciBella was active as a volunteer in the continuing "Friends of the Uptown" effort since 1979 – even before the theatre closed to the public.”

Arrangements for a memorial are pending.