Thursday, August 06, 2009

Landmarks Commission Follows Script - Greases Skids for Reese Demolition

As could be expected, on Thursday the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, like Pontius Pilate, washed their hands of responsibility for the fate of the Bauhaus inspired buildings, designed in part by famed German architect Walter Gropius, which have the misfortune of residing on the former Michael Reese Hospital that Mayor Richard M. Daley wants obliterated so he can build an athletes' village for his 2016 Olympics. The Commission was responding to a nomination by activist and scholar Grahm Balkany of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition to place the campus on the National Register of Historic Places.

As reported by the Trib's Blair Kamin, the repulsion was accomplished with such sweet reason - who could object? The boundaries of the nominated district were "poorly drawn" and the individual structures subject to additions and alterations down through the years.

It seems to make sense, until you remember that just two years ago this same commission approved demolishing the landmark Farwell building and replacing it with a completely different building on which the old facades would be pasted, without the commission finding any "structural integrity" issues worth worrying about.

Those with the clout rewrite the rules to their benefit. In the Farwell case, it was a clouted developer basking in the very public favor of city hall. In the case of Michael Reese, it's the seemingly inexhaustible clout of the mayor, himself. So now "structural integrity", later additions to intact buildings, in most cases reversible, has become an immovable obstacle on which the commission justifies its inaction on Michael Reese.

And, of course, the Commission covers itself in the usual dishonest intimations of fair mindedness. Blair actually wrote the following sentence, apparently swallowing the kool-aid whole: "Despite the "no" vote, there was a glimmer of hope for the Gropius coalition when commission members and staff commented publicly that a revised plan might win their support." Both commissioners Phyllis Ellin and director Brian Goeken were quoted as speculating that that an unnamed someone might be able to put together a revised plan that would meet their approval.

Wait a second: as the prime protectors of Chicago's architectural legacy, isn't that their job?

Any third-string reporter could tell you what's really going on here:

1. No matter how important the best of the Michael Reese buildings are, the Commission, under the thumb of its parent, the former city planning and development department, has never had any intention of risking offending the mayor by doing anything to protect any of the modern Reese buildings.
2. Although the threat to the Bauhaus inspired architecture at Reese has been a very public issue since March, there is no evidence that the Commission has ever lifted a finger to consider this issue, despite the fact that all these buildings are in imminent peril of being lost forever.
3. It is only because of the nomination that Balkany filed with the National Register that the Commission was forced to take up the issue of Michael Reese.
4. There is no evidence that the Commission has any intention of moving a muscle to create the kind of alternative plan that would gain the acceptance Ellin and Goecken dangled before our eyes on Thursday.
5. The Commission will do nothing. If forced to do something, it will delay, knowing that if they hold off for just a few months, the campus will be demolished and all issues will be moot. Problem solved!

On a related note, also yesterday, the Sun-Times revealed that the city, in addition to borrowing $85 million to acquire the Michael Reese site, also intends to create a new TIF district that will siphon off at least $100 million in tax revenues from the surrounding neighborhood to co- finance the Olympic Village.

Mayor Daley's 2016 Olympics: the gift that keeps on taking.


Anonymous said...

Where were all the Michael Reese Campus lovers BEFORE the city purchased the site? That would have been a much better time to make a fuss. And exaggerating the input of Gropius himself - himself - in the designs of these buildings shows the same level of BS that Lynn Becker accuses the Mayor and the commission of having. MOST OF THESE BUILDINGS WERE NOT DESIGNED BY GROPIUS. His firm was hired as a consultant on these projects, not lead designer. It's pretty disturbing how the architecture firms actually responsible for the designs of these buildings are being ignored and overlooked. It's no wonder; their modest success wouldn't accomplish the goals of the special interest groups suddenly trying to save these buildings.
The city and that neighborhood deserves something better than what's left of the Michael Reese campus.

Anonymous said...

I worked at Michael Reese for 20 years. Long ago, it was a pleasant place to work, but the last 10 years were not so terrific. The buildings didn't serve their purposes well, they were also very run down. The landscape everyone romantically seems to recall, was not even safe. The poor placement of additions and alterations I guess ruined it a long time ago.
I was thrilled when I learned this would be the spot of the Olympic village. The buildings served their intended purpose long after they were useful. And turning them into places for people to live seems downright mean. This was a hospital, not a home. You couldn't pay me a million dollars to live in one of those buildings, even when they were nice.
Once again, it's the educated elite from IIT telling us what we need in our neighborhood. We need change and improvement after all this time. IIT should be more concerned about their own buildings. I imagine that of all the educated elite IIT people rallying to save these buildings, not one of them would be willing to live in them. They should mind their own business, rather than keeping progress from taking place. And criticizing the mayor for wanting the olympics in chicago is the biggest mystery of all. WHAT MAYOR WOULDN'T WANT THE OLYMPICS IN HIS CITY?
Nobody was complaining about Michael Reese before, except to say that it had become a slum on the lake. I was there and it wasn't the mayor's fault.

Lynn Becker said...

gee, two anti-Reese rants suddenly appearing within minutes of each other on a week old post. how spontaneous!

1. No, the mayor doesn't get to shut down all debate just because he buys something. There were no protests previous to the sale because before that time the buildings were not in danger.
2. Yes, Gropius was a consultant, but no, his involvement wasn't marginal. Only someone who hasn't seen - or doesn't want to - the voluminous evidence Grahm Balkany has uncovered on Gropius's involvement could still suggest otherwise. If you check my Reader story on Michael Reese, you will find full credit to the Chicago firms involved with the designs.
3. A "special interest" is not a group of public spirited citizens trying to save the city's architectural heritage. It's the usual band of rogue insiders looking to make a killing - supported by hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies - off the Olympics.
4. And again, if you let buildings rot, they will. If it was a pleasant place twenty years ago, the most important of those buildings, properly restored, can make the same contribution again.
5. In fact, hospitals can make excellent residential conversions. The historic St. Lukes Hospital in the South Loop converted to Trevi Square is a case in point.

Anonymous said...

Comparing the modern buildings at Michael Reese to the St. Lukes Trevi Square project as similarly suitable for conversion to residential use demonstrates an inadequate knowledge of architecture. The comparison is pointless. The buildings are nothing alike. The St. Lukes building was much more suitable for residential use because of its age, resulting in less remediation, and the proportions of its volumes. I agree with the previous entry: The Michael Reese buildings are not suitable for residential use. Dormitory use might be possible, but (for that use)probably not economically viable.

But what do I know...I'm just an architect with 20 years of licensed experience converting buildings, including hospitals, to alternative uses and you are a blogger with no background in architecture at all.

Keep grinding your axe.

Lynn Becker said...

20 years experience and a completely closed mind.

Anonymous said...

Even if Gropius shot them out his vagina who cares? The buildings are disgusting. So a few hack architects and architectural history profesors got boners we should stop REAL construction and architecture from happening? This is why profesors and most architects remain safely sheltered in academia where they cant mess things up too bad.

Lynn Becker said...

and that's why nihilistic hacks like yourself so often seem to find their bottomless greed (new construction! any construction! money! money! money! wonderful!) leading them into positions where they're indicted and imprisoned.

Anonymous said...

Lynn in one short paragraph you have assumed, without knowing me or my work ( I am an architect )that I am;

1. Greedy
2. Godless / souless
3. Unethical
4. Criminal

The only greedy, souless unethical and possibly criminal act I see is the interference of private property rights by a political action group whose motives may or may not be architecturaly related; More like personal mission to destroy all thats good and progresive for our city. If anyone is a nihlist its the naysayers and downers like yourself.

Lynn Becker said...

Assumptions? Well, let's parse your original post.

When you being by saying, "Even if Gropius shot them out his vagina who cares?", I can make make the assumptions:
1. you're a vulgarian
2. you're either:
a. incapable of a coherent metaphor
b. slightly creative but misogynist.
3. you're completely uninterested in civil discourse.

When you continue, "The buildings are disgusting", I can make the assumption that you are blind.

"So a few hack architects and architectural history profesors got boners",
1. see number 1 above.
2. you can't spell. (no superiority from me there)
3. you hold the very idea of an architectural heritage in contempt.

"we should stop REAL construction and architecture from happening?"
- since the only published preliminary designs were so banal that even SOM has disowned them, we can only assume you have no standards other than newness and that REAL construction is the kind that puts money in the right people's pockets.
"This is why profesors and most architects remain safely sheltered in academia where they cant mess things up too bad."
1. None of that there book-learnin' for you! You hold knowledge in disdain in favor of prejudices you don't even bother to justify.
2. You haven't looked around to see how badly the non-academics have screwed up the cityscape in pursuit of a quick buck.

You aren't Albert Hanna by any chance?