Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Public Hearing tonight - Future of Fort Dearborn P.O. Site: Park or Megadevelopment?

According to a report in Crain's Chicago Business, the Postal Service, in the words of a quoted spokesman, is "beginning the process of exploring the options for leveraging the value of that property", that property being the Fort Dearborn Station post office facility, which takes up a full city block at Dearborn and Grand (and Clark and Ohio).

One of the features of the Chicago Central Area Plan issued in 2002 was to turn that block into a public park. That was before the heavy densification of River North had reached full flower, and last year's destruction of the areas only park space, the private park south of the AMA Building. Never has the need for open space and a central identifying park for River North more critical, but "leveraging the value" raises the spector of still another mega-project in the already overbuilt district. Crain's also quotes, however, 42nd ward Alderman Brendan Reilly as having encouraging discussions with the Postal Service about the park option. The key question: will the city step up to the bat on this, or as has become the depressing norm, will the Department of Planning and Development again forget about the Planning part of their name?

We'll have a lot more about this later.

For now, via BVictor1 at the skyscraperpage forum, here's the info: public hearing to be held tonight, January 30th, at 6:00 P.M. at the Post Office at 540 North Dearborn, 2nd floor. (I don't know how to get to the 2nd floor, either - hopefully there'll be signs.)

Reliance in Photos

This past fall, ArcSpace editor Kirsten Kiser made a pilgrimage to Chicago to check out the city's progress, and posted this excellent article on Burnham, Atwood and Shankland's 1895 Reliance Building, and its reincarnation in 1999 as the Hotel Burnham, beautifully restored by Antunovich Associates and Gunny Harboe, when he was at McClier. There's a wealth of both historic and new photographs, both exterior and interior. An added bonus are more photo's of Kiser's visits to Millennium Park, the Spertus Center and IIT campus. Read and see it all here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The 25 Simple Rules You Must Follow Before Publishing a Photo of Marina City

You may have seen our previous posts on the proclamations by the Marina Towers Condo Association that they have the right to forbid anyone from publishing photographs of Marina City who doesn't first get their permission and pay them tribute. Despite the absence of any substantive case law in support of their position, they declared the first amendment null and void.

That was delusional enough. Now they've published the actual "rules" on their website and there can no longer be any doubt: they've officially lost it. I dare you to read through any more a half-dozen of the 25 requirements (twenty-five requirements!) without beginning to laugh uncontrollably. In point of comparison: closing on a unit? Five requirements.

If you want to publish photographs of Marina City, here's all you have to do:
1. Give them your name, address and phone number.
2. Give the name, address and phone number of the person filling out the application, plus the name, address and phone number of any designated contact.
3. Profit or non-profit? Provide a copy of your business license.
4 What exactly do you want to do with the pictures?
5. Provide a mockup of how you intend to use the pictures.
6. "Identity each photograph or image which the applicant is seeking permission to use."
7. "Identify the target audience to which the media is directed."
8. The name, address and phone number of the person creating or maintaining the website.
9. Whatever other unspecified information the Association may later decides it wants.
10. Make a separate application for each web site or media type.
12. Pay a fee just for filing the application.
14. Swear you won't do anything that "will reflect negatively on or demean, the image or reputation of Marina Towers Condominium Association and condominium image."
17. Use a disclaimer, 14 point type minimum, which must read: "This site is not officially sponsored or endorsed by Marina Towers Condominium Association" or anything else the Association may think of later that it wants you to say.
24. "Applicant agrees to maintain insurance in such amounts as the Association deems appropriate and to name the Association as an additional insured."

As Anna Russell used to say as she related the plot of Wagner's Ring, "I'm not making this up, you know!"

Again, all of this just to use a photograph taken from a public way of a complex of buildings the Condo Association doesn't even own. (condo's take up only 40 of the towers 60 floors; all of the rest of Marina City is owned by someone else.)

Next to this, canonization is a streamlined process. The above, of course, is a selective Vulgate. The official version, three pages of delusional posturing, is, believe it or not, even funnier, approaching heights of absurdity Dada never even dreamed of. Download the complete document, pdf format, here.

Here's hoping they try to sue somebody. The exposure the board will receive, at escalating scale, (the media will eat it up) will grab all the attention their swollen ego's could ever desire. Just not the kind they're expecting.

Coming Soon

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Some of the cast of characters on a construction site, in this case the Wit hotel, now rising at State and Lake.

You loved her on Three's Company,
ladies and gentlemen,
let's give it up for: Joists de Wit

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Marina City In Its Cups

Via the indispensible Marina City Online website comes this ad for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau in which the twin towers of architect Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Marina City are rebuilt entirely out of a coffee cup resting atop each of twin 600-foot-high stacks of about 60 giant saucers. (or maybe they're just actual size serving platters from a Brazilian steakhouse.) It kinda gives you a feel for what Marina City might have looked like - minus the coffee cups - if it had been designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

It's the first of a series of ads created for the bureau by Chicago ad firm Downtown Partners, run by a guy whose computer I used to take care of, founding partner Jim Schmidt. In a positive review, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lewis Lazare reports that it's the first of six print executions, with others to tout the city's "ethnic diversity, its many festivals and its physical beauty, among other selling points." The Marina City ad seeks to underscore Chicago's claim to being "the culinary capital of America." I wonder if Ellis Levin tried to shake anybody down for royalties.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Preservation Chicago Unveils Chicago 7 '08 Monday, plus Tuesday Hearing on SOM Gunner's Mate Future

Chicago Seven, 2008 edition. Monday, January 28th, from 12:15 to 12:45 P.M., President Jonathan Fine and VP Mike Moran will unveil grass roots activist group Preservation Chicago's list of the city's most endangered historic places for 2008. According to organization's press release, "This year promises to be different indeed. Included among the list of threatened buildings and districts will be one unconventional entry that will virtually throw down the gauntlet and present a challenge to City Hall." The event will take place at the John Buck Lecture Hall, at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan.

Gunner's Mate's Fate. Tuesday, January 29th, from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M., the U.S. Department of the Navy will hold a public hearing to "examine in-depth all viable, practical and feasible options for utilization, including but not limited to: reuse, lease, rehabilitation, preservation banking, mothballing, disassembly and movement off base, disposal, and/or demolition of Building 521," the 1954 Gunner's Mate School at Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago, the first project Bruce Graham designed at the beginning of his long career at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

A facility to train navy gunners, what appears to be a standard glass box from the exterior is actually a building in a building, with a large concrete core built within the exterior glass shell to provide classrooms and space in which to practice firing off the weaponry. SOM has come up with several options for finding new uses for the building, ranging from retention to partial demolition of the inner core, with new internal glass walls. Drawings and sections of four of those proposals can be seen on the Docomomo-Chicago.Midwest website here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hyde Park Gangs Up on Solstice

Nineteenth century, meet the 21st. Just across from the Museum of Science and Industry, the last surviving structure from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition,
Solstice on the Park, a 26-story condo tower designed by Studio/Gang Architects is set to begin construction this coming summer (June 21st groundbreaking, anyone?)

The project has already won Chicago Plan Commission approval, and has reportedly also received a fairly warm reception from local community groups. (This is Hyde Park, after all.)

It will rise across Cornell Avenue from the 1923 Windermere House, a classic 1923 apartment hotel designed by Rapp & Rapp, the architectural firm best known for movie palaces like the Chicago and Uptown. The Windermere is owned by the Solstice's developer, Antheus Capital LLC, of New Jersey, which has become a major property owner in Hyde Park over the past few years.

The 145 unit project will sit in the center of a nearly two-acre site. The windows of its south facade will be tilted at a 71 degree angle, which, lest my more learned readers correct me [they have], is the angle of the sun at the moment of Chicago's summer winter summer solstice. Beyond the poetics, the angling maximizes light in the winter and minimizes glare and solar heat gain in the summer. As in Gang's design for the Ford Calumet Visitors Center, the angled glass, coupled with fritting, also helps reduce bird strikes, which is often a lethal side-effect of highly transparent glass that appears to the birds as an unbroken continuum of their flight path rather than a solid obstruction.

Load tests on Solstice's shear walls to the east and west identified areas where the concrete carried comparatively little force, allowing voids to be cut into walls. The voids get larger as the wall rises and carries less weight, that open up what would otherwise be rather monolithic forms. Antheus will be seeking LEED certification for the project, which will also pursue such niceties as recycling rainwater for lawn irrigation. (factoids courtesy of I am hydrogen's post on a November community meeting on skyscraper

The design continues to evolve, even from renderings dating from last November. In the rendering on the project's website, a rather heavy cornice has been added to the top of the building, and the voids in the shear walls have become more numerous, varied and complex.

A full page, full color ad ran in this past Sunday's Chicago Tribune, promising "prism-like geometry . . . Like nothing that has come before." They're not just condos: they're "intelligent highrise homes." $500k and up, 1,200 to 3,500 square feet. For the moment, however, Solstice, like the Chicago Spire late last year, is only soliciting inquiries. Actual unit sales are projected to begin in March.

And if the report by the Tribune's Jeanette Alameda is correct, Solstice will be bucking, not just the current economic uncertainties, but one of the basic tenets of traditional developer's strategy: there will be no one-bedrooms.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The El You Say

What is it with the editors of Chicago-based publications that makes them so insistent on mislabeling Chicago's elevated rail system as the "El"? It pops up again in the new Chicago Architect magazine in an interview with Carol Ross Barney. Repeated, heated arguments with my editors at the Chicago Reader has not slackened their own addiction.

I always assumed this must be some kind of New York affectation, but no. On the website of the MTA, which runs that city's elevated lines, you'll find instructions like this: "For service to Manhattan, transfer between the shuttle bus and L train"
Dennis McClendon, The Encyclopedia of Chicago: "Chicago's rapid transit system has been known as the 'L' since before the first line opened in 1892. "

Mike Royko: "You'd think he's been riding the L all his life."

Andrew Greeley: The Bishop and the Missing L Train
Let me quote from the website of the Chicago Transit Authority: "CTA’s train system is called the ‘L’, short for "elevated." And yet editors stubbornly cling to "El". If someone told them his name was Lynn, would they still insist on calling him Lynne, or Lin, perhaps even Linwood, or whatever else might strick their fancy?

Writers of Chicago unite! Fight the debasement of our language. You have nothing to lose but your means of living.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Newsbits: Driehaus Profiled, White House Redesigned, Internet Censored

Driehaus Profiled. The New York Times' Robert Sharoff has a great profile of Chicago's congenial anti-modernist, investment guru Richard Driehaus. “Modern architecture has become totally homogenized and uninteresting,” Driehaus is quoted as saying “One streetscape in Prague is worth all of Dubai, visually.” It's an observation that, knowing Dubai only through pictures, I might be inclined to agree with, but to call modern architecture "homogenized" is statement more of inattention than judgement. Bad architecture is homogenized, but to say work as radically different as Helmut Jahn, to Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and Peter Zumthor is all the same means you're not even looking. The article is accompanied by a slidehow of striking photographs by William Zabaren of the interiors of Driehaus's townhouse, which includes panels painted by Joseph Urban rescued from the ornate, but decidedly modernist Ziegfeld Theater. The Nickerson Mansion, pictured here, has been purchased to display Driehaus's art collection, and while it's official opening keeps getting delayed, initial accounts indicate the restoration of the 1883 house is nothing short of spectacular.

White House Redux - "The original White House design, by James Hoban," according to New York's Storefront for Art and Architecture "was the result of a competition held in 1792 . . . What if, instead of in 1792, that competition were to be held today?" Beginning March 1, the Storefront will begin accepting "renderings, collages, sketches, descriptions, poems, movies, animations, photographs or just about anything else" for a new competition to design the Presidential mansion. Registration fee is $20.00. Deadline for submissions is April 20th, with the announcement of winners in May - $5,000 first prize, $3,000 second, $1,500 third. Check it all out here.

AT&T Wants to Be Your Big Brother - Slate Magazine's Tim Wu's discusses AT&T's shilling for deploying new technologies towards "scanning every e-mail and download for outlawed content." He picks up on a New York Times posting by Brad Stone on a panel at this month's Consumer Electronics Show where AT&T talked about getting into bed with the R.I.A.A. and M.P.A.A. to filter every packet crossing the internet to ferret out copyrighted content. No matter that you're the one paying the bills the fill AT&T's coffers, they much rather treat you as a potential criminal, guilty until proven innocent.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Three on Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Drive

In 1885, when architect William Wilson Clay built the mansion for real estate developer D. Henry Hammer at 3656 south, it was called Grand Boulevard, a great, tree-lined urban processional of prominent houses. According to the AIA Guide to Chicago, it was laid out in 1869 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as one of two great boulevards (the other being Drexel Boulevard, a half mile to the east), to link Washington Park in Hyde Park, then a Chicago suburb, with the city proper.

When John T. Long designed the great Richardson Romanesque house of worship that opened a few blocks to the south in 1889, it was called the 41st Street Presbyterian Church.

Sometime into the new century, the street was renamed South Park Boulevard. As Afro-Americans came to comprise an increasing share of the neighborhood's population, it would come to be known as Bronzeville, and 41st Street Presbyterian became Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, whose membership would include Ida B. Wells, Congressman Oscar DePriest, and poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole sang there. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke there, as did W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King, Jr. Gravely endangered as recently as 2005, the church became a designated Chicago Landmark in 2007.

In 1968, the street was renamed once again, and today it's known as the Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Drive

Afro-Americans began to create their own history on the street. At Oakwood, there was the Ritz Hotel, home to the famed Grand Terrace Cafe, run by Al Capone, where, beginning in 1928, Earl "Fatha" Hines launched his own big band, which would play at the club for over a decade, moving in 1937 to a New Grand Terrace Cafe in the building on 35th in which the Sunset Cafe had just closed. That structure also still survives and is an official Chicago landmark. Today, although the club remains closed, the building has been converted to condo's.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plan Commission Shows Backbone - Will it Stick or Will it Farwell?

In something of a surprise, the Chicago Plan Commission had a rare show of independence last Thursday when it rejected a Chicago Department of Planning Development-backed proposal, that would have seen the embattled Congress Hotel add five stories above the Harrison Street side of the structure, and one story above the part along the landmarked Michigan Avenue street wall.

The action was not unlike the one last January when the Landmarks Commission rejected another Planning Department initiative to demolish the landmarked Farwell Building on North Michigan Avenue. Opponents won, not because they were in the majority, but because the proposal fell short of a majority. With commission member John Baird absent, the abstention of Ernst C. Wong was enough for the 4 to 3 vote in favor of demolition to fail, because it didn't get a majority vote of those in attendance. That should have been the end of it, but of course, this being Chicago, while preservationists get just shot one at making a building a landmark, developers get to keep re-voting as many times as necessary to get what they want.
The screws were applied to Commission members, and at a special meeting called the following March to reverse the original vote, Edward Torrez was the only commissioner not to fold like a piece of cheap cardboard.

Special meetings of the Commission are rarely, if ever, called to provide emergency protection to a building under immediate threat. They're more commonly a sign that the Commission has been summoned to fulfill its primary, if unwritten, role: to provide cover for a developer wanting to mutilate or demolish another Chicago landmark. There was fear that a hastily scheduled special January 31st session would involve the Commission rubber-stamping the gutting of the landmarked but financially troubled buildings of the Chicago Athletic Club, also a part of the Michigan Avenue street wall, possibly leaving it, a la Farwell, as little more than a facade. That meeting has now been cancelled, and we'll have to await the Commission's February 7th monthly session (the regular January meeting was also cancelled) to see what they have up their sleeve.

Back at the Plan Commission, the alteration of the Congress Hotel, for which Mayor Richard M. Daley has given highly vocal support, had four votes in its favor, and only one against, but because four other members in attendance abstained from voting (now there's a story for an investigative reporter to sink his or her teeth in), the measure failed to obtain the necessary majority.

Normally, you'd think this would be Farwell2 in the making - it shouldn't be too hard to muscle one or two of the abstainers to switch. The situation at the Congress may, however, prove a bit more complicated. There's the bitter, nearly five year-long labor dispute in which the hotel's management - alone among the city's major hotels - has refused to come to terms with striking workers, and the strong opposition of the 2nd ward's recently elected alderman, Robert Fioretti. Fioretti's concerns over the condition of the property were cited by the critical "no" vote, Nancy Pacher, the powerful COO of mega-manager U.S. Equities Realty.

It's doubtful this will be the end of it. Now the Commissioners will be in the unenviable position of having to decide who they're least afraid of offending: the Mayor, the alderman, or organized labor.

According to architectural historian Joseph M. Siry, the Congress debuted on May 1, 1893, opening day for the World's Columbian Exposition, whose hordes of visitors the hotel would help to house. It opened as the Auditorium Annex, to catch the overflow from the wildly successful Auditorium Hotel just across Congress Parkway. The original design by architect Clinton J. Warren was modified by Auditorium Building's architects Adler and Sullivan, brought in as consultants to make the new hotel better mesh visually with its 1886 neighbor. It's the same height as the Auditorium's main block, and is faced in the same Bedford limestone. In 1902, the original Congress Hotel, today the Congress's southern block, was constructed to a design of Holabird and Roche.

The Auditorium Hotel went belly-up in the 1920's; the Congress lives to this day as the Congress Plaza, a hotel of faded grandeur. Despite its prime location near Millennium Park, it offers, according to David Roeder and Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times, "the lowest rental rates downtown, sometimes as little as $79 a night." Pickets at the entrance, no extra charge.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chicago Architectural Club Members Show January 22; Roszak at Crown Hall, January 30th

Two new additions to the January calendar of architectural events:

Chicago Architectural Club Member's Show 2008
- Tuesday, January 22nd, 6:50 P.M., iSpace Gallery, 230 West Superior, 2nd floor. The CAC will kick off the new year by giving members the opportunity to present up to three 11 x 17 images of one of their projects, and to enter into a discussion of the project with the audience. More information, including the rules for presenters, on the CAC website.

Thomas Roszak at Crown Hall - the architect will deliver a lecture on his work at
Crown Hall, IIT, at 6:00 P.M. , Wednesday, January 30th. Current projects include Vetro on south Wells, and a new book, Glass House: A Family Home, a monograph on the house he built for himself, serving both as architect and general contractor.

You can check out the entire January calendar here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Calatrava's Chicago Spire : you loved the tower - now buy the soundtrack

What do the Song of the Dwarves and Santiago Calatrava's 2,000-foot-high tower have in common? Read all about it, and how you can now be among the elect group of people (1,200 in all) owning a home in the world's tallest residential building - and see lots more pictures - here.

Blinders Off - World's Largest (?) Tiffany Dome Going Natural

For over half a century, the great Tiffany glass dome over Preston Bradley Hall has been living a lie. All with the best of intentions, of course, but still . . .

What's claimed, at 38 feet in diameter and a thousand feet square, to be the largest Tiffany dome in the world was completed in 1897 as part of the new Chicago Public Library, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the firm that succeeded that of Henry Hobson Richardson after that architect's 1886 death. At the time, the entire cost of the library building was put at $2,000,000 but the Chicago Cultural Center, which has occupied the building since 1977, estimates that the dome, alone, has a current, inflation-adjusted value of $35,000,000.

The dome's designer was the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company's "chief mosaicist" Jacob A. Holzer (1858-1938), whose other Chicago commissions also include the stunning Tiffany mosaics that can still be seen in the lobby rotunda of Holabird and Roche's 1893 Marquette Building, as well as the 6,000 square foot Tiffany Dome at Marshall Field and Company - now Macy's - on State Street (pictured right), which also claims to be "the largest Tiffany dome in existence." Fight it out among yourselves.

Sometime in the 1940's, the Preston Bradley dome was covered over by a second outer copper dome to protect the 30,000 individual pieces of glass. The downside? The dome was now backlit rather than sunlit, "perfect" and artificial 24/7.

The Cultural Center has now undertaken to restore the Preston Bradley dome back to its original state. (According to the Cultural Center, a restoration of the dome's little brother, by Healy and Millet, over the Grand Army of the Republic rotunda on the north side of the building, is due to take place next year.)

In 2005, the oculus of each of the domes, (that of the Bradley features symbols of the Zodiac) was restored and uncovered under a new mini-skylight to test the process. Last December, the art glass panels of the Bradley dome were removed and replaced with Plexiglas replica's. Early this month, as you can see in these photographs from our correspondent Miguel Escanaba, workers began deconstructing the old outer dome, along with its concrete supports.

Measurements will be taken for the a new transparent skylight that will protect the restored glass, over 1,500 pieces of which were found to be cracked. Those pieces will be repaired, and all the glass pieces cleaned and brought back to their original color. The original cast iron frame, in 241 sections, that held them all in place will also be repaired and restored, and new backlighting installed. During that process, scheduled to take place April through June, Preston Bradley Hall will be closed off, but with the ongoing work on public view off the adjacent landings. The Cultural Center puts the cost of the project at $1.365 million, most of which is coming from the Central Loop TIF. You can follow the Cultural Center's reporting on the progress here.

If all goes well, the great dome at Preston Bradley Hall may, at times, be less bright, but it will be more alive. No longer addicted to bulbs, it will return once again to its original form as an ever-changing barometer of the variable affections of the sun.

Lecture Tonight: Chicago History through History Maps by noted Cartographer Dennis McClendon

A very late addition to the January calendar, noted cartographer Dennis McClendon will lecture tonight, Tuesday, January 15th, on Chicago History Through Historic Maps. McClendon, whose commissions at his company, Chicago Cartographics, have included work for the CTA, Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Chicago Architecture Foundation, among many others, will talk on how, according the lecture's description "historic maps of Chicago tell intriguing stories about the city's origins and development. Vanished creeks and woods, big projects never accomplished, forgotten ethnic groups and neighborhoods, mysterious subdivisions, abandoned industrial areas, vice districts and world's fairs, ghosts of railroad stations and streetcar lines and freight tunnels, are all reminders of a constantly changing Loop." The lecture will take at 7:00 P.M., with a reception at 6:30 P.M., in the fourth floor auditorium of East-West University, 816 South Michigan.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hubbard Street Dance at Crown Hall, among four new January events

An appearance by the Hubbard Street Dance Company at Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall on the IIT campus is among four new additions to the January Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events. The Sunday, January 27th program, INNOVATION. In dance AND in design…, will include works by Alejandro Cerrudo, Lucas Crandall and Brian Enos within design elements and spatial environments created by IIT students under the guidance of professor and architect Dirk Denison and HSDC's Jim Vincent. A preview, private performance will take place January 25th for members of the Mies van der Rohe Society (Concrete Level or better), plus IIT students, staff, faculty and HSDC guests.

Frank Lloyd Wright in the 21st Century. Coming up this Friday, January 18th Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation President Phil Allsopp will lecture on this topic at Unity Temple on (At least that's what the postcard I receive on the event says. The website of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, as of today, lists the event as taking place on Saturday, January 13th. You may want to call 708/383.8873 to make sure.)

ULI Chicago kicks off 2008 with a January 24th breakfast panel on The O'Hare Modernization Project, while the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has tentatively scheduled a special session on Thursday, January 31st, rumored to involve proposals for the endangered Chicago Athletic Association building at 12 South Michigan.

You can review all the remaining architecture events on the January calendar here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Simple Question about Baby Huey

Shameless demagogue, administrator by press conference, strategist of holding his breath until you turn blue, too lazy to work in the seat of state government, self-absorbed, self-deluded reincarnation of Elvis and Huey Long: has Illinois ever had a worse governor than Rod Blagojevich? Just asking.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Endgame for One of Chicago's Great Public Places?

The Chicago Daily News Building, Holabird and Root's elegant Art Deco skyscraper from 1929, was the first building constructed over railroad air rights. With its broad graceful plaza, it was the first project not to turn its back on the Chicago River, but to embrace it. Now the Daily News Building is threatened with being cast in the shadows, and its great plaza destroyed, by a new office tower reportedly being considered by billionaire developer Sam Zell. Read all about the building's history, endangered present, and future potential, here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hedrich Blessing Interiors at ArchiTech

This Friday marks the opening of Hedrich Blessing Interiors: Architectural Photography of the 1930's: Art Deco interiors photographed by Ken Hedrich at the ArchiTech gallery.

According to the announcement:
Hedrich Blessing was the the choice of the best architects and designers to document their creations. And like their famously cinematic exterior shots of the modern buildings that made them known the world over, HB's interior views often resembled movie sets.

The 1930s was the first full decade of business of the greatest architectural photography firm in America. Chicago's Hedrich Blessing was the firm chosen by the best architects and designers to document their creations. And like their famously cinematic exterior shots of the modern buildings that made them known the world over, HBs interior views often resembled movie sets.

Hollywood not only influenced the high design of the best decorators and interior architects, its lighting and staging were mimicked by the architectural photographers who were instrumental in communicating the look of "Art Deco" to the rest of the world.
Included above is Hedrich's 1930's photo of the ocean liner stage set of a lobby of architect William L. Pereira's Esquire on Oak Street, one of the most elegant movie palaces in Chicago. Usually booked with art films, it probably hosted the biggest crowds in its history when it was single exclusive venue for the first run of the surprise blockbuster Star Wars in 1977. It was still largely intact a decade later when its 1300 seat auditorium was carved up into a shoebox multiplex that was obsolete almost from the moment it opened. Closed since 2006, the Esquire today sits forlornly awaiting its impending demolition, the middle letters of its iconic vertical sign still glowing weakly, like a ghost fading into oblivion.

But I digress. ArchiTech's Hedrich show runs through Saturday, March 8th. ArchiTech is at 730 North Franklin, Suite 200, open Thursdays through Saturdays, noon to five, "or by chance or appointment."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

We're Not in Marlboro Country Anymore: Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will be Blood

This past Sunday's New York Times has a story by Dennis Lim on how composer Carter Burwell deploys quiet, natural sounds, and a Partchian assembly of unconventional instruments to create a largely subliminal "anti-score" (sixteen minutes of music total) to heighten the tension in the Coen brothers' latest opus, No Country for Old Men. It almost makes me want to see the film.

It brings up the old question of the intrusive film score, where every kiss gets a Wagnerian swelling, and every joke an insipidly jaunty cadence to let you know it's time to laugh. Puritan that I am, I used to consider the best film scores to be the ones that were almost invisible, that, like Burwell's, did their work almost subliminally.

And yet, it's not always so. Many of the greatest film scores are deeply intrusive. Think Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo, with its deliberate crib of Tristan for its story of obsessive love. Think The Godfather. Without Nino Rota's score, the film we've come to know wouldn't exist.

Rota's music is both intrusive and recessive. He often keeps the music at bay at the most dramatic moments. The scene where Michael Corleone assassinates a mob rival in a restaurant is accompanied only by a Burwell-like background of natural sounds, climaxing with the deafening screech of an unseen passing "L" train. It's only after the deed is done and the bodies hit the floor that Rota's score kicks in, at full blast, and not with a cadence of triumph but with a dark sense of doom being set into motion. The score serves as an often ironic commentator. Where traditional gangster movies used aggressive, driving music to hype the violence, Rota's score stands apart, the voice of an outside narrator: sad, mournful, even wistful. In counterpoint to the seductive catharsis of the brutality on screen, Rota's music intimates the consequences - loss, emptiness and longing.

Still another way is that of the remarkable new score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood for Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will be Blood. The extended opening sequence of this extraordinary claustrophobic epic of raw ambition in pioneer California is completely without dialogue, wide shots over spare, spiky music that permeates into the audience's psyche the character of the sparse, endless terrain: mysterious and unsettling, with a presence ripe with intimations both divine and demonic.

Among the several striking things about Greenwood's music is that it's accomplished, not with electronics, but almost entirely with strings. There's no brass or woodwinds, and no percussion save for a piano and the thwacking of bows. Greenwood draws on the work of avant garde classical composers of the 20th Century. According to Greenwood's Wikipedia profile, Oliver Messiaen's gigantic ''Turangalila'' Symphony is his "all time favourite piece of music." (Like Messiaen, Hermann in Vertigo, and Maurice Jarre in Lawrence, Greenwood has been drawn to the Ondes Martenot for his score for Blood.) Contemporary composer Arvo Pärt is another influence; his Fratres also shows up in Blood. You can't listen to the "Henry Plainview" track on the soundtrack without thinking of Gyorgy Ligeti's Atmospheres. The only conventional melody comes in a brief spurt of the Brahm's Violin Concerto, in the Anne-Sophie Mutter performance under Karajan, which in the context of the film becomes exultant and unsettling at the same time.

Out of all this, Greenwood creates his own distinctive, expressive and powerful language. There Will Be Blood is the most interesting film score I've heard in some time. It's out on CD, and you can download it on iTunes. Check out the score; check out the picture, one of the year's very best, going into wide release this coming Friday. You can read an extensive interview of Greenwood and Paul Thomas Andersen from Entertainment Week here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Marina City Curdles; Landmarks Commission Piddles

Nothing says Marina City better than rows of garage doors and bricked up facades.


Well, that's exactly what LaSalle Hotel Properties had in mind for its newest Marina City tenant, Dick's Last Resort. Read about the trashing of architect Bertrand Goldberg's masterpiece, the exchange of letters between the condo association and the developer, and the silence of a Chicago Landmarks Commission that seems more comfortable making lists of nice neighborhood firehouses than protecting the iconic buildings that have made Chicago architecture known and admired throughout the world here.

Goldberger, Future City Regional, additions to January calendar

Two late additions to the January calendar of architectural events:

(Sunday, January 27th) Paul Goldberger on Contemporary Jewish Architecture
4:00 - 5:30 P.M., Spertus Museum, 610 South Michigan,
$30.00, $25.00 for Spertus members, $10.00 for students

A lecture by New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, recently announced as the museum's first Weil fellow, a fellowship endowed by Spertus trustee Dennis Weil in memory of his mother, Jacqueline Weil Bloch. Information: on-line or call 312/322.1773

(Saturday, January 26th) Future City Regional Competition
8:30 A.M., judging begins, 3:00 awards ceremony, University of Illinois Chicago, URIC Student Center West, 828 South Wolcott

It's probably not too late to volunteer for this years competition, held inconjunction with National Engineers Week, Chicago engineering societies will be hosting a student design competition for area schools. The contest will require 7th, 8th grade students with the assistance of an engineer mentor, to design a future city with the aid of the award winning computer game, SimCity 3000 TM from Maxis. Participants will also write an essay on “Keeping Our City Infrastructure Healthy: Using Nanotechnology to Monitor City Structures and Systems.”

The competition will includeteams from 25 Chicago area schools. Dozens of Chicago area engineers (and architects) will review the Future City Models and listen to presentations as students present their Vision of the Future. Besides the models, students will be graded on their posters and essay. Awards will include“Most Livable City” offered by the Chicago Chapter of AIA, “The Most Innovative Structures” given by the Structural Engineers of Illinois, “The Best High-Rise Building” by the Chicago Committee on High-Rise Buildings, and several awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, including “Best Transportation System”, “Best Future City” and “Best Planned Zoning”. The Society for Marketing Professional Services will present an award the “Best Future City Promotion”.

Team members from the winning school will advance to the final judging in Washington, DC. during National Engineers Week, February 17-23, 2008. The winner of the national competition will receive a week's trip to Space Camp. Top teams from the Regional Competition will be honored at the Annual Chicagoland Engineers Benefit, February 22, 2008.

Information: on-line or call Don Wittmer at 312/930.9119 for info or to volunteer.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Architecture of Abandonment

The Victorians found ruins romantic, and so fell in love with them, that for their country estates, when they didn't exist, they would simply build some.

Those Victorians would probably risk heart failure if they confronted our own contemporary kind of ruins, the subject of an intriguing website, Abandoned But Not Forgotten, which offers photographs of abandoned buildings and sites that are a long way from classical picturesque. For some reason, there's an abundance of abandoned psychiatric hospitals in the collection, including several pages on the closed Manteno facilities, from which the above photograph, taken at the location in Morgan, Illinois, was taken. Another, snake-pit styled evocation of the mental hospital experience can be seen below.

35 of the 50 United States are represented, along with a host of foreign locales, including this abandoned town in Sanjr Taiwan.
Truth be told most of the photographs are of commonplace decay - empty cabinets, rusted patch panels, broken windows, littered floors - but even these can take on an unsettling power, as in the shot of a room in the plush sounding Elysium apartment complex, completely empty except for a brown carpet, green mattress, and a busted pink umbrella. An encyclopedic array of building types is represented, from humble to grandiose: homes, strip malls, big box stores, hotels, office buildings, amusement parks, forts, a counterculture barn, Xanadu, Florida's "home of the future" a future, apparently, that didn't quite pan out, and old railroad stations -in the case of the photo below, the grand vault of the Buffalo Central Terminal.

Bewarned, the web site runs a little funky and is likely to crap out on you for extended periods as you browse, but hang in there: you'll find an addictively fascinating look at the things we leave behind. Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Stunning" Burnham and Root San Francisco Chronicle Building restoration unveiled

"Stunning"is how San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King describes the restoration of the building Burnham and Root designed for that newspaper in 1890. This is what it originally looked like, in a historic postcard that appears on the Curbed SF website.

According to King, the four-story clock story, ballyhooed by the paper as "the only bronze one in the United States", lasted only to 1905, when it was set ablaze by skyrockets set off by supporters celebrating the re-election of Mayor Eugene Schmitz, who the Chronicle had opposed, as they paraded past its offices. The next year was even worse. The building survived the Great San Francisco earthquake, but a fire broke out in the top floor, sending the heavy typesetting equipment plunging all the way through to the basement.

In the 1960's, long after the Chronicle moved to a new location in 1924, the old building underwent a disfiguring "modernization" that saw Root's original facades covered over in aluminum and glass. Although I made a point of often visiting Burnham and Root's other San Francisco commission, the 1892 Mills Building, when I lived in the city for a few months in 1982, I can't recall ever even noticing their other treasure, buried beneath all that metal. You can see what that atrocity looked like, and the re-unveiling of Root's original Richardsonian entrance arch, in Curbed/SF's sequence of photos.

Ironically enough, the building is now the Ritz Carlton Club and Residences, fronting for a tower King calls "so uninspired it almost undoes the good work below." Sound familiar? It should, because another Ritz-Carlton Residences is pulling the same trick on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue, where the landmark 1920's Farwell Building is being demolished to provide a staging site for the construction of a new skyscraper for the Ritz-Carlton Residences, after which the flayed skin of the Farwell will be slapped onto a completely new building.