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.


Anonymous said...

I like it. I like it a lot.

Of course, the small Departments in City Hall tend to be out-muscled by the larger Departments (I know because I worked in City Hall until this fall). At least now they have DPD to siphon funding if they need it.

Also, would removing the staff from DPD's control remove the staff from DPD's influence? The City Council would have to build a very careful moat of oversight.

In any event it couldn't be worse than what we have now. I say go for it.

What we really need is a downtown alderman willing to go out on a limb for Landmark preservation, but still willing to reasonably increase downtown density. A Super-Alderman. A supalderman!

Anonymous said...

I gave up liking anything about Marina City after the House of Blues moved in, but my disinterest goes back farther than that.

As a former architecture student, the ONLY reason we ever studied it in school was for three reasons:

1. an exercise in formal urban planning of the 60s and 70s (think New York's Harrison) as a city unto itself

2. an innovative use of structural concrete

3. the disconnect between the pedestrian versus the automobile.

At no point was this near-Brutalist monstrosity ever sold to us as something to be emulated or rarefied as a beautiful piece of architecture. The gazillion hideously exposed parking garage floors accomplished that. We used to joke in class that it was a big "screw-you" to the rest of the city at a time no one cared about living downtown.

Goldberg's challenge of using the circle in an orthogonal world might have been ground-breaking at the time, but the interest is short-lived, especially when you get up close and see, or even live, in one of those pie shapes.

Lynn Becker said...

I would submit your's is a distinctly minority view, Robert, but don't give up hope; there could be a lucrative future for you as a design consultant testifying on behalf of landmarking opponents in the hearings.

I'm afraid I find Marina more beautiful than brutalist. Now that people aren't just buying cars in black, brown and white, I think the garage is a great amenity, a colorful crazy quilt of urban theater, as opposed to most garages which try to hide the cars as if they were a large herd of crazy relatives to be kept hidden in the basement.

But you've raised an interesting point, and at some stage when I have more time I need to lay out in an article exactly why, apart from its urban planning and construction innovations - which, by the way, are more than enough to secure it's importance - Marina City is a great set of buildings.

Anonymous said...

its not hard to explain why marina city is such an important building; it is important because it is so beautiful that on a crisp winter night it can stop you dead in your tracks. A perfect balance between asthetic excellence and strucutural novelty. Beyond that it has become a symbol of the city just as much as the picasso and the water tower, it is part of our identity. I know this sounds sappy, and I usually leave snark comments on blogs like this, but this just breaks my heart.

Anonymous said...

Dick's Last Resort's architect is Kurtz Associates from Des Plaines. Their portfolio highlights their work designing gas stations. Rest easy Bertrand, Marina City is in good hands!

Anonymous said...

Have you forgotten that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks was "independent" until the early 90s? As a result, it had no tools other than saying "no," which in this city often got overruled. Some of us were dubious when it came into DPD, but it gave Landmarks a seat at the table for discussions, and gave them some staff support and money to do public education and other things besides just designating landmarks (saying "no").

The Class L designations should be viewed as lagniappe, buildings that wouldn't otherwise get protected. The number of buildings protected since 1993 is something like seven times the number protected in the 33 years prior to that.

As for Marina City, it isn't a Chicago Landmark. It was studied in 1990, but the old "independent" commission never acted on the recommendation. The 50-year rule is a bit of a hurdle, as is owner consent for the multiowner project. I don't remember whether the condo association objected or not, but how do you think the current condo association would feel about being landmarked? Why would you expect a formal response from Landmarks when Marina City isn't under their protection?

Anonymous said...

A fun tidbit of Marina Towers politics... Several years ago, the cash-strapped condo board made a agreement with the commerical owners to never seek or support landmark status for the complex. Smart move no?

Lynn Becker said...

The 50 year rule shouldn't be an insurmountable hurdle, especially considering the newer IBM Building just across the street is undergoing landmark designation right now.

I would have to suggest that bringing Landmarks into CDP may have been a deal with the devil. The "seat at the table" seems to have resulted less in more power than increasing subservience to the a DPD that is more about development than planning, and often seems in the back pocket of connected developers.

The covenant that bars the Condo Association from seeking landmark status does not restrict condo owners and tenants from speaking out as individuals. Nor should the Commission be only a passive observer waiting for someone else to recommend protecting the city's most integral architectural treasures. Anything less is simply the Natarus rule, where the only things landmarked are buildings that are not threatened because the owner cares enough to seek landmarking, while the buildings most in need protection get none because the owners who want to mutilate or demolish them oppose it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the jab, Lynn. I forgot that you're the "majority" for everything architectural (and sometimes theatre and music), so I apologize for not following your dictate of your majority opinion.

I never mentioned that Marina City wasn't important, nor did I write that it should be modified as adaptive reuse or destroyed. I wrote that we studied it in the larger context of 1960s architecture and the loosening of Modernism's rigid edge.

Since I am not nearly as old as you and come to Chicago having lived in many cities far more car-based than Chicago will hopefully ever become, I judge Marina City on its "all for everyone" merits, which for its time was significant and necessary. While the complex of buildings should be studied, the towers' iconic shapes become barely more than just that--sculptural theatrics.

Lynn Becker said...

Robert, since I'm a perpetual outsider I would never claim to be the voice of any majority. Whenever I find people agreeing with me, I see it as a sign I need to reassess my position.

I do have to say, though, that your comments on Marina are refreshing specifically because there not the kind of judgment I usually encounter elsewhere. The common wisdom, for better or worse, treats Marina somewhat more kindly.

In terms of "sculptural theatrics" I do have to mention one very practical benefit of the shape. While a lot people find the pie-shaped configuration of the apartments uncomfortable, the round shape has the advantage of maximizing the perimeter, giving the widest possible expanse of windows and the highly marketable views that they provide, plus what are possibly the largest balconies in the city. The way those rounding balconies thread continuously along the perimeter also, I think, provide a much superior design solution to the way rectangular balconies so often look like a precarious appendage dangling off the side of the building rather than being an intrinsic part of the building, itself.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Lynn, those balconies are an interesting contrast to the standard rectangular balconies seen elsewhere. As for the pie-shapes: while my friends say Marina City interior vertices aren’t too noticeable except for the bathrooms, it will be interesting to see how people bond with the Chicago Spire interiors.

My biggest problem with Marina, and this may fall into other aesthetics beside architectural beauty, is that the balconies only work when seen as a whole either from afar, or in close detail but never straight on. Seen straight on, the aluminum millwork, mullions, cheap suburban screen doors, gas grills and patio furniture/whatever might as well be from Calcutta.

And then there is the custom (and constant) maintenance of the special concrete shapes, both exterior columns and balconies. Chicago’s freeze and thaw season reeks havoc on the lovely forms, especially the totally exposed garage decks. One wonders what might have been had Goldberg (and builder) designed a normal, enclosed parking garage, preferably below grade where cars belong. To me, putting 20-something decks of exposed, single-stall parking above the Chicago River and calling the entire project great architecture is a challenge. Interesting? Yes. Sitting in an office building with a window facing directly into the rear ends of parked cars on ramps? Horrible.

Anonymous said...

I believe Bertrand's stated reason for the parking podium was to raise the apartments above the din of the city. Underground parking is not feasable... the space under the buildings was left open for the marina and was further constrained by an active railroad line.

Anonymous said...

Department of Planning and Development has now decided to reconsider the construction permit application for Dick's Last Resort. Since the block is designated a PUD the DPD is technically required to review any major changes. They didn't until their attention was drawn to the subject by the Illinois Landmark Commission. Out-of-town and out-of-sight LaSalle Hotels started construction without a permit. They also failed to submit the drawings for review to the Chicago Architectural Foundation as promised. Will DPD hold public hearings? Why would the IBM Building be landmarked and not Marina City?

Anonymous said...

Technically the cash-strapped board that signed away their rights to campaign for landmark status only signed away the rights of that board and future boards. They could not legally sign off on the rights of the individual owners. Any individual owner CAN campaign and petition for landmark status. Let's see if the outrageous plans and illegal work activity are enough to spur that type of action.