Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicago's Children Museum "fundamentally misconceived" - Blair Kamin

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin this morning condemns the proposed move of the Chicago Children's Museum to Grant Park, and provides an cogent analysis of what makes it so bad.

Apparently, there's still another revision which, according to Kamin, reduces the size of the skylights to a maximum height of 16 feet, and in process slashes the amount of natural light coming in to the museum but a third. In contrast to the current museum, which offers generous views of the park outside Navy Pier, the new museum is devolving into what is being called the "cave" compromise, essentially an underground bunker, in an increasingly desperate attempt to circumvent the A. Montgomery Ward court decisions that protect Grant Park. If Kamin's article is any indication, the museum continues to withhold all renderings of the project except wide-angle drawings that minimize its impact and conceal the real experience of the structure as placed into the park.

Like almost all other observers (Mary Mitchell excepted), Kamin has come to realize that this battle is not about "the children." It's about power politics.

" . . . it becomes apparent," Kamin writes, "that the chosen site will benefit neither Grant Park nor the children who are the museum's reason for being."

"The lakefront and the children deserve better than a political compromise that is principally designed not to produce inspiring architecture, but to let the powerful mayor save face." Read it all here.


Anonymous said...

Has the issue been addressed as to how visitors to the park are to enjoy it during construction?

Anonymous said...

Great Article by Kamin. Hits all the salient points. Children (particularly under the age of 5) would be absolutely terrified to play in an underground bunker. As the article reiterates, Northerly Island is the best location.

Anonymous said...

Would anyone be opposed to renovating the pit of hell that is the cultural center into the Children's Museum? Or at least adding a Chuck E. Cheese or something.

Anonymous said...

No, Side. The Chucky Cheese will be built on Navy Pier alongside Daley's Casino, so that the poor people will have a place their kids can play while wasting money.

Anonymous said...


You betray your hyprocrisy in your statements. The only ground you have to stand on is the "open, free and clear" and NOT the over utilization of our parks (rasicm? no, elitism, yes).

Now, please tell me how the universally acclaimed Millenium Park with the Harris Theater concrete entrance pavilion and huge flyloft does not already set a precedence? So, CCM is NOT setting a precedence.

Finally, please name one significant urban park in the world that does not contain significant cultural institutions? Guess what? There isn't one and none of these I believe is in danger of being paved over as your fear-mongering within this blog (to increase hits?) is implying will be the inevitable result of replacing a deceprit undergourn fieldhouse with an undergroun children's museum.

Oh, and by the way, museums, like department stores, generally avoid windows in order to control and maximize the exhibit space.

Anonymous said...

Jack, the only hypocracy I see is in your comments. here are some world class parks that are without museums: How about the gigantic bois du bologne in paris? does it have a museum? Nope, don't think so. But it does have a kids playground and tennis courts, and a lake for boat renting. Is there anything in parc monceau? no buildings whatsoever. Just a kids playlot and puppeteer. What about hyde park or kensington park or kew gardens in london? any museums there? of course not!! just beautiful green gardens.. My understand is that Millennium park is a brand new park - built over an old railroad yard. It's quite differently zoned than grant park. Grant park has been around for eons. There is a historic precedence and it is protected under the law. I would hope You would respect that, Jack. p.s. this website is awesome. terrific articles and commentary.

Anonymous said...

Have you all ever considered that the reason the museum doesn't come out and say exactly what other locations they considered is to avoid the comments from idiots like you? Where, or where, fair Mr. Lynn Becker, do you see condemnation from Blair Kamin (the same critic who wrote last week that he supported the museum's plan)? Why must people put Chuck-e-cheese in the same sentence as the children's museum -- to be funny? When we're talking about children -- it's not. I just don't get all of you -- most of all you, Lynn. Why are you so angry?

Lynn Becker said...


so, let me get this straight: keeping a park open and available to everyone in Chicago - and the world - absolutely free is elitist, but turning a chunk of the park over to a private institution with an $8.00 admission charge is not?

Yes the Harris Theatre did set a precedent, and so will the CCM. The mayor is very clear about this, and has said repeatedly that a park full of buildings is his idea of open, clear and free. There has never been a major construction east of Columbus. The CCM will open the door.

If museums generally avoid windows, why does the current CCM have any number of them overlooking the park outside?

Blair didn't endorse the museum last week, he speculated on how such a project might, under certain circumstances, work. After thinking the matter out fully, he decided it couldn't.

Why am I so angry? Not so much angry as outraged by the mayor and CCM's blatant deception and abuse of power:
1. The museum has deliberately and constantly withheld renderings of its building that show exactly how it would be experienced from the park.
2. The CCM and its supporters hijacked a community meeting, forcing the invited area residents into outer corridors, and then indulged itself in a grand display of hurt feelings when those area residents didn't take it laying down and got angry.
3. The CCM and the mayor has, again and again, attempted to portray the fight against the museum's land grab as powered by racism.
4. The mayor knowingly continued to charge alderman Brendan Reilly with saying the park wasn't a place for children even after his own press secretary acknowledged that no such statement was ever made.
5. The mayor has cynically exploited the race card in an attempt to gut the A. Montgomery Ward protections of Grant Park and make sure he can build in the Park at will, which will be especially significant if Chicago lands the 2016 Olympics.
6. Perhaps most repugnant is how the mayor, the CCM, and many of its supporters use "the children" as a baseball bat to clobber the opposition and silence dissent, even as they burrow those same children into an underground bunker.

Chicago is a tough politics town, and one should never be shocked at how brazen tactics can become, especially when the Mayor sees his monopoly of power challenged in any meaningful way. It's just that gutter politics and a Chicago museum would normally be an oxymoron, not a grand alliance.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, I am with you on overall decision (I strongly believe a park can be just a park. My thoughts are just thoughts and would be curious about your reaction. 1) Didn't the children's museum put up drawings on their site and show them at all the 10 community meetings? 2) As a former member, the museum is not a private institution -- it's a not non-profit 501cs instition similar to every other museum. I fear that without our team getting their facts straight, they have yet another reason to call us stupid. 3) I have to be honest as someone who was at the meeting and actually did get a seat -- there were racial undertones. No, it certainly wasn't everyone and it's absurd to label our entire neighborhood racists. Some of the people said grossly innappropriate things in passing to friends/neighbors and some a bit more publicly. Examples -- a woman who lives in my building who went up to every african american wearing a museum button and said -- you clearly don't live here, where are you from? Someone who asked my if I thought the musuem paid mcdonalds employees to pretend to support the museum! The behavior displayed that night -- both publicly and privately -- would have me questioning all of the same issues the mayor has rightly or wrongly brought to the city's attention.

I say this not to stir up debate -- I strongly support the open free and clear concept -- i share this to make sure that everyone understand the undertones, complications, and issues at hand.

Anonymous said...

"museums, like department stores, generally avoid windows in order to control and maximize the exhibit space"

I'm glad you don't design museums, because you obviously know nothing about current trends in art museum design, or any other type of museum for that matter. Natural light, and the technology of bringing natural light into spaces, has been a motivating factor in breaking the stone boxes of the early to mid 1900s. Renzo Piano has made a fortune designing many museums with his customized light-filtering louvre systems. Rafael Moneo's museums also use natural light in interesting ways. Richard Rogers' Centre Georges Pompidou is virtually wrapped in glass and steel.

Anonymous said...

Joyce. Just to clarify things, I was at the meeting and was lucky to get a seat too. (since most seats were hijacked by CCM). I was seated between two CCM board members. I AM SORRY TO INFORM YOU but, The CCM board members were making loud, accusatory and racial inspired, inflammatory innuendoes towards CCM opponents. I would call their tactic "baiting." For example: I most definitely listened as CCM board members were asking people around them (who were against CCM) if they wanted to keep the "riff raff" out of their park. And other such innappropriate comments of the same flavor. Additional tasteless comments by CCM board members were directed at young children during the meeting. these children were holding signs and were not supporting a museum in the park. Board members ordered them to put down the signs and said they were poorly behaved. Blah, blah, blah. according to myself and many other witnesses, CCM board members are 100% guilty of inappropriate and inflammatory behavior during the meeting. Also, I believe the museum made over 1 million in profits last year. They are a private entity and they are "for profit". but they get a tax exemption with the 501(c)3. You might want to look into the different types of tax exempt organizations. I don't think you understand that making a profit is paramount to their agenda. They have costs and expenses to cover. this is a business! Lastly, I agree 100% with every point that Lynn has made in his articles and comments. There is a depth of thought and an honesty which is so rare in the media these days. Thank you Lynn for the outstanding coverage of this issue. And for so bravely and courageously defending yourself from these detractors. Great job!

Lynn Becker said...


thanks for your very reasoned questions. if all the discussion about the museum were on your level, we'd be in a much better place. Let me try to address your questions:
1. I only saw the renderings presented at the September 10th meeting, but I'd like to think they were presented at all. The community groups are part of, but only a small part of "the public." Especially with the mayor and the museum and its supporters seeking, (quite rightly, actually) to frame this as a city-wide issue, it's incumbent on the museum to let everyone in the city see the renderings. Usually, sponsors/developers have a pride in their new buildings and want to show them off in all their aspects. The fact that CCM is hiding all but wide angle sections or bird's eye views from the wider public doesn't say much for their confidence in theirs.
2. The museum is a private institution, just like most museums, as you say. This makes it different from other attractions in the park, such as the Pritzker Pavilion, Crown Fountain, Gehry BP Bridge, and Cloud Gate, which are publicly owned. The importance of this distinction is that those attractions are free to the public; museums, except for the free days, are not. As Eric Zorn, who appears to be the only writer at the Tribune supporting the CCM's building, has noted, the A. Montgomery Ward mandates that Grant Park remain "Open, free and clear" does not refer to being free of charge, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't remain, on its own, an important principle whose precedent should not be lightly tossed aside.
3.The woman you describe matches the description of the woman Father Pfleger says came up to him and Dorothy Brown, in Mary Mitchell's recent column in the Sun-Times, says came up to her. The woman and her views are clearly repellent, but you have to give her credit for her industry. She seems to have buttonholed every museum supporter that has ever talked to the media.

Movements attract all kinds of people, and undoubtedly there are people in neighborhood who see the fight against the museum as a fight against the wrong kind of people. The mayor and the museum have latched on to these people like they were manna from heaven. In the mayor's case, he has used them to characterize all opponents of the museum. In Gigi Pritzker's case, she's been slightly more subtle, saying they are the loudest voices, controlling the movement.

I'm sorry, but the only time I've heard those voices are through the museum's supporters talks to the press. They are not a part of legitimate museum opponents, who repudiate them.

The editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. Crain's Chicago Business's Greg Hinz. Neil Steinberg, Mark Brown, Mark Konkol, and a growing array of other observers and groups have gone on record as opposing the museum's land grab, yet the mayor and the CCM would have you believe that the madwoman of the New East Side and her small band of haters are running the show. This is the politics of the smear, used to divert attention from a discussion of the real issues surrounding the museum's proposed move, which the museum knows it can't win.

Anonymous said...

Ok, Robert:

I have designed museums (I am an architect) and "avoiding windows" is NOT the same as avoiding natural light. The architects you mentioned have all designed museums that while having an abundance of natural light, also have very few if any windows. By the way, this is not a "current trend" but has been practiced throughout modernism. Think of the Kimball.


You are indeed angry and you are generating red herrings by accusing the CCM of hiding the drawings. Why, for example, have you not posted all of the drawings available on the web on your site? Where are the sections of the latest proposed design?

"There has never been a major construction east of Columbus." Huh? The vast Monroe Street Parking Garage (which was built significantly above the grade of the park at Monroe Street) and the Daley Bi are not 'major'?

Remember the whole reason this site became such an issue is because Daley backed down from universal opposition to planting the CCM at the ne corner of Columbus and Monroe. He backed down because many of the people who support the CCM at Daley Bi strongly opposed the ne corner solution - a clear indication that the fear-mongering of paving over the park is just that.

The bottom line is, all of the 'new eastside' opposition is not sprouting from the 'free and clear' camp, it is sprouting from 'we don't want thousands of kids trampling through 'our' park'. THIS is indeed elitism, even if only a few combine it with rasicm as well.

Clearly, any objective viewer would have to agree that at a minimum, the Ron Krueck design is very arguably a huge aesthetic improvement to the current conditions.

So, Lynn, that just leaves you with 'precedence'. As you agreed, the precedence has already been set - and as I previously pointed out, the precedence of the larger professional community blocking an attempt to put an entirely new structure that threatened not to be significantly underground has also been set as well.

So, why don't you do your job, and focus on the architectural merits or shortcomings of the design. Don't have enough renderings? Well, I'm all for the CCM releasing all they have, but the least you could do is post what already has been released (i.e. the sections)

Lynn Becker said...

1. I did post both the aerial view and the section on my original article on the museum. So much for red herrings. If the CCM releases ALL renderings, I'll gladly republish every one of them.
2. I'm talking about above grade, populated construction, not infrastructure. The parking garage raised the entire site on an even plane, it didn't place above-grade construction within that plane. (Although, as you say, that in itself, has created problems - not insurmountable - with connecting Daley Bicentennial with the park to the south, which is at a lower level.)
3. Krueck and Sexton have done herculean work in trying to turn the CCM's sow's ear into some kind of architectural silk purse, but it still doesn't work. Their new Spertus Museum is, quite arguably, a great building, but if it were built in Grant Park it wouldn't be an improvement, but an unacceptable intrusion on the sanctity of the park.
4. Precedence is everything here. Daley is quite clear. Read his statements. He thinks the A. Montgomery Ward mandates are bunk, and he's using the museum battle to codify the precedent that he has the power to build anything he wants in the park, without check or limit. I take him at his word here.
5. Here's a modest proposal. Forget the New East Side residents. Let's assume, for the point of your bogus arguments, that they are, every last one, nothing more than a bunch of child-hating, racist NIMBY's. Opposition to the CCM's land grab is CITYWIDE, and growing. The editorial boards of both dailies, plus every one of their columnists who's written on the topic, except Eric Zorn for the Trib and Mary Mitchell for the Sun-Times. Plus Greg Hinz at Crain's Chicago Business. Letters to the editor have been overwhelmingly against the museum, and if you feel like charging that the dailies are just censoring supportive letters, remember that a poll of the Sun-Times readership overwhelming rejected the argument that the fight against the museum was racist. WTTW's viewer poll was overwhelming against the museum's move. Let's concentrate on that, not picking off the neighborhood residents that you find such an easy target.
6. Thanks for the career advice but, no, not unlike Blair Kamin, I have no intention of restricting my discussion to sideshow design critiques, nor follow CCM board advisor Suzanne Muchin's injunction in a recent letter to the Trib, "Let's all try to think and live responsibly," when, in both cases that would conveniently translate into staying silent and supine so CCM's noxious campaign can proceed unquestioned and unimpeded.

Anonymous said...

This is what I don't understand:
If we focus on the architecture, as you request, what I understand the latest Krueck proposal to be (please see latest "wide-angle" section (whatever that is) which, I believe is one of the best ways to understand a building that is mostly underground), the only things above ground would indeed be the skylights which can easily be compared quite favorably to the Crown Fountain, the Bunkingham Fountain Pavilions, the Excelon Millennium Park pavilions, the Peristyle, the Harris Theater, the Pritzker Pavilion, the Petrillo Band Shell, and the CPD maintenance yard on south Columbus. How would the addition of these sculptural glass constructions be any more detrimental? Could they possible add interest, not unlike all of the huge outdoor sculptures currently being exhibited in the park?
As far as you using a public television poll and all of the media as an example of overwhelming opposition to CCM in Grant Park, do you really expect me to believe that any of that is indicative of how a typical Chicagoan feels on this issue? That is absurd….and elitist.
And, finally, back to precedence. Why did you not acknowledge my analysis of precedence to date regarding Grant Park construction both for and against?

Anonymous said...

Lynn, terrific articles and great replies to the posts. Let's have a great Chicago Children's Museum.

To do that, let's build it elsewhere. It can then rise from the ground as a true building...a building that makes an architectural statement and interacts with the outside world. Heck, it can even have some windows.

Call me crazy, but I think that kids would like looking out a few windows...just as adults certainly do.

Anonymous said...

Jack. I am certainly enjoying the dialog between you and Lynn Becker. However, Jack, you are "projecting" and are coming across as the angry one. In addition to not wanting to allow a free "land grab" of grant park, one of the reasons I am against the project is because I don't want provide the pritzkers a complimentary $50 million piece of protected parkland so they can have a gigantic 100,000 square facility to host political fundraisers, gala events, parties and other soirees. That is their "elitest" agenda. It would create a massive disturbance of the neighborhood, would cause traffic and blockage of thoroughfares by trucks bearing equipment, food and catering supplies, and would be an unfair avenue for ripping off the public for personal gain and glory. The museum would close at 5pm, but after that, it's open for party time until the wee hours of the morning. Do I want to see a gorgeous public park turned into Pritzker's ballroom? certainly not. The children's museum is certainly a veil for the real proposed. usage of the building.

Anonymous said...

Keep it green -- you are nuts. Stick to the issues and not to your la-la land of pritzker parties that don't exsist at the museum now and won't exsist their later. If you can give ONE concrete example of one of these supposed parties, I'll eat my shoe.

Petra Lynn said...

Part of what makes Chicago such an attractive and beautiful city is that it has managed to preserve lake front access and scenic views for all to enjoy. I think it imperative to maintain this policy regardless of either who or what agency wants change. I would include Northerly Island in this case, too. NO construction of any kind east of Columbus--for ever. Period, end of story.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

That's a good point about not attacking the Pritzkers. We should be arguing the merits of the plan, not accusing the Pritzkers of anything.

That "Pritzker parties" comment, in my book, is an unnecessary wisecrack that detracts from the real issue. Bottom line: Built it elsewhere and stick to the merits of the case.

Eric Frost said...

"do you really expect me to believe that any of that is indicative of how a typical Chicagoan feels on this issue?"

I work in the suburbs and every co-worker or friend I've met with recently has said something like "oh I heard about that" and "why would they put it in Grant Park?" (or that our mayor is a jerk and why does he keep getting re-elected).

Here is the petition for those in favor of keeping the Museum out of Grant Park --
Save Grant Park Petition
Read the comments.

Anonymous said...

Hey eric, thanks for the additional irrelevant info.

Why does Daley keep getting reelected? Because he enjoys the overwhelming support of the citizens of Chicago (eric, the suburbs don't get to vote for mayor, or where to put the CCM for that matter, thank God)

Lynn Becker said...

add suburbanites to Jack's growing list of non-persons whose opinions are irrelevant.

(not quite sure yet if they belong to Jack's "everybody's angry but me" list, but will keep you posted.)

How strange that when Bob O'Neill and the mayor's minions try to sell the museum, Grant Park is a world-class park that belongs to everyone, but when it comes to counting opinions, not so much.

The mayor received 575,000 votes in 1989; 325,000 earlier this year. Add "overwhelmingly support" to things that aren't what they used to be.

Eric Frost said...

"Chuck E. Cheese vs. the Squirrels and Rabbits", I'm sure someone could make a headline out of that which could also reference whack-a-mole.

Our family regularly takes long walks around the downtown area on weekends, about two or three miles in each direction is about our reach, and our typical destination is other neighborhood parks.

None has the draw of the Daley Bi playground, it is truly a very unique place and a city-wide park. From my observation, the Daley Bi Park is probably as much if not more used by people outside the immediate neighborhood.

It would be shame to have it overrun..

I've only been to Central Park a few times, but it seems there are many more nooks and crannies, Daley Bi in Chicago is the only one in Grant Park. Let's keep it this way.