Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yeah, it's all good clean fun until the thing breaks loose from its moorings and starts stomping through the center of the city

Sculptor Anish Kapoor may have designed the iconic Cloud Gate for Millennium Park in Chicago, but even with all his time here the whole "less is more" thing clearly never quite took hold.

Above is Kapoor's latest creation. 377 feet tall - higher than the Statue of Liberty, pedestal and all. What it lacks in height, compared, inevitably, to the Eiffel Tower, it makes up for in audacity. A "continuous looping lattice of tubular steel," designed with the connivance of super-engineer and regular Kapoor collaborator Cecil Balmond, it's to be the symbol of the 2012 London Olympics. (Can we begin a pool now on whether it gets finished in time?) It will stand next to the Populous/Peter Cook Olympic stadium and close enough to Zaha Hadid's sweeping Aquatic Center to poke it in the eye. Kapoor said his work represents the dynamism of a city coming out a recession.

A steal (steel?) at $29,000,000, most of the funding - and the 1,400 tons of steel - will come from Lakshmi Mittal, founder/CEO of global steelmaker ArcelorMittal, whose personal net worth of somewhere around $19 billion should come in handy when the cost overruns come calling.

Branding is already in place. The creature's name? The ArcelorMittal Orbit. Attorneys for Mars Candy's Wrigley division are said to be launching a lawsuit against the developers both for trademark infringement and violating a patent awarded the company in 2001 for the process of "creating elongated, twisting structures through the interaction of chewing gum and masticating teeth." View towards the apex of The ArcelorMittal Orbit, where giant insects from outer space will be lured and made harmless. (all images courtesy ARUP)
700 brave souls an hour will be able to ascend to the observation deck, which will also include a restaurant, a walkway, and a special viewing ledge where on alternate Tuesdays at 11:00 a.m., as part of the campaign to reduce the city's budget deficit, visitors paying an additional £5 will have the opportunity to watch London mayor Boris Johnson's hair frolic in the high winds.

When asked for a reaction to the project, a spokesman for the Pigeon's Guild of Greater London Excepting Hammersmith and Fulham declined immediate comment, but admitted to being "intrigued by the possibilities". Despite the reputation of Balmond's firm ARUP for cutting-edge engineering, London bookmakers this morning were still posting 3-to-1 odds in favor of the Lord Nelson column beating the crap out of The Orbit should a direct confrontation transpire.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chicago Streetscene: Connors Park Pollock

(click for larger view)

Live in John Wellborn Root's house: just $3,250,000!

This is the 1887 house that architect John Wellborn Root built for himself on Astor Street in Potter Palmer's then new Gold Coast. It is less than 19 feet wide. This is the house where he lived, and the house where, on a blustery January evening, he hosted a reception for the illustrious team of architectural superstars, the pride of both Chicago and the East Coast, who would design the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

This is where he insisted on seeing his guests to their carriages in the bitter cold, and where he died, only days later, from pneumonia. And this is the house where, just down the stairs from the bedroom where Root's body was already growing cold, in a state of shock from his partner's passing, Daniel Burnham agitatedly paced like a wounded lion, muttering to himself
I have worked. I have schemed and dreamed to make us the greatest architects in the world. I have made him see it and kept him at it—and now he dies—Damn! Damn! Damn!
In the Fall of 2006, the house changed hands for $1,950,000. A year later, it was again on the market with a price tag of $4,500,000. Now Prudential Rubloff is offering to you for a measly tariff of $3,250,000.

You can see purchase information, and photo's of the current interior, on the realtor's website here. You can read our previous history of the house here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Twisting in the Wind

In the midst of a stiff breeze, Fred and Ginger spin atop the new Greenway Self Park, as their compatriots in the alcoves below remain strangely unmoved.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Have you heard the one about SANAA winning the Pritzker?

Unless you've been on the dark side of the moon all day (and probably even there, unless you've got AT&T), you've no doubt heard by now that Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the duo who make up SANAA, have been awarded the 2010 Pritzker Prize. Apparently, despite what Joe Rosa and Bob Somol told you, Europeans don't have a monopoly on path breaking architecture. (And if you compare SANAA's Serpentine Pavilion from last year to the wildly dysfunctional Hadid Burnham Pavilion in Millennium Park, you can see the kind of quality we could have insisted on, but didn't.)

In an interview with designboom, Sejima resisted citing specific architectural influences, while Nishizawa named the holy trinity of Mies, Le Corbu and Neimeyer, "These are an unforgettable 'trio' for me." Seijima talks about "our interest now is more how to organise ‘a program’ within a building - the layout of rooms and how people move inside. but also how to keep a relationship between the ‘program’ and the outside and then how the outside fits to the surroundings. in each project we have different requirements and the site is different, we try to find our way.," and this appears to be very clear in their recent projects.

There will be an orgy of pontification now that the award has been announced. As I'm seldom let out of the house, I've yet to experience any of SANAA's work firsthand, so I'll restrict myself to couple of cursory observations. . .

The first thing that strikes me about Sejima and Nishizawa's work is how, at the same time, they embrace and subvert that Miesian legacy. (Apologies in advance for the music in these videos - turn down your volume now.)

At roofline and plinth of the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, the building is a rounded square that defines the basic container, but in between, there doesn't appear to be a single right angle. SANAA addresses individual programs in a series of mostly discrete spaces that can be rectangular, circular or elliptical,. They float within a thin - as little as a meter - ether of separation, and a long snaking foyer and forking exhibition space. The use of glass walls both for the perimeter and the interior, combined with several open air galleries, mediate between transparent, reflective, and opaque. In place of Miesian universal space, you have the specificity of full partitioning, but with an "almost nothing" twist.

The second thing that struck me by looking at the official SANAA photos included in the Pritzker Prize press kit is the emphasis they place on how their work appears in context - not just the context of adjacent structures, but in the wide-angle context of the surrounding community. It's in no way a literal contextualism, a mimicking of surrounding elements, but a more intuitive sense of place. In the case of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in lower Manhattan, the stacked boxes seem a witty riff on the city's congestion and early wedding cake skyscrapers. In the case of the museum in Toledo, a medium density city, it's providing a graceful, low-rise anchor to the mix of parking lots, midrises and even taller trees all around it.

Sejima and Nishizawa will receive their award May 17th on Ellis Island, where they'll be held in protective custody until they can be vetted by the DHS.

A side note of this year's award is that the Pritzker Prize website, since its inception up to a year or so ago an abomination of bad design that seemed to be mocking the prize's mission, is now a pretty professional job, including putting up the press kits as those so-trendy on-line magazines where you actually see and hear (loudly) the pages being turned. (Although there are still rough edges like badly wrapping values in one of the drop-down menus.)

You can also visit the SANAA website, which is Mies minimalist to the extreme - a single page with just six lines of text, consisting entirely of contact information.
portrait photo by Takashi Okamoto, building photographs by Hisao Suzuki,
courtesy SANAA

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What price saving the Rosenwald? $100 million?

Natalie Moore of Chicago Public Radio is reporting that plans for rescuing the historic Rosenwald Apartments on 47th, commissioned by 3rd ward alderman Pat Dowell from the Urban Land Institute, call for a mix of residential and retail, with an optimum price tag of $100,000,000, and a scaled down version, price unrevealed. Dowell told Moore that a scattering of interest from developers has yet to evolve into any concrete plans.

Read our 2009 piece on the 447 unit complex, once an urban showcase, but boarded up and vacant for years, here.

(Dot) Dashing Tower

Keep staring at the above photo and it will start messing with your head.

Balconies are the grand jest of residential towers. Developers know they need them to help push the units. Developers also know that once the sale is made, residents rarely set foot on them - you're more likely to see bicycles on them than people. Perkins + Will's Ralph Johnson has a new take on condo tower balconies, and it's made the new 235 West Van Buren one of the most distinctive presences in the South Loop skyline. Read all about - and see all the photo's - here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture - world premiere April 8th

On April 8th, this year's Full Frame documentary film festival in Durham, North Carolina will offer the official world premiere of Mark Richard Smith's new documentary, Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture.

Earlier this month, the film had a preview that filled both theaters of the Gene Siskel Film Center. Smith has created a clear, streamlined narrative that eloquently captures the triumphs, tragedies and conflicts of Sullivan's work, life, and thought.

For those who have read any of the biographies of Sullivan, the film covers familiar ground. At a question and answer session after the Chicago screening, Smith, soeaking not just as the director, but as a gay man, himself, responded to a question asking why the film didn't deal with the issue of Sullivan's sexuality . . .
It's a tricky area because like everything connected with his personal life, which is rather vague, in a lot of ways, I as a filmmaker was really limited in what I could really assert without derailing the story, which for me was all about his work and his aesthetic reaction to the world around him. Which I think when you really get down to it doesn't have a lot to do with your sexuality. Your sexuality, the conflicts you have made, draw you to a certain kind of expression , a certain vehemence about it. This is really the first time anyone has treated Sullivan in his entirety as an artist.

The film includes extensive interview segments with Sullivanistas such as preservationist Gunny Harboe, biographer Robert Twombly, authors Lauren Weingarden and Joseph M. Siry, (whose The Chicago Auditorium Building is the Tolstoyan epic of architecture and social forces converging and exploding in late 19th century Chicago), and Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, whose long-awaiting show on Louis Sullivan is rumored to be opening in June.

The original score was described by its composer, Michael McLean as a "very eclectic score, it was very fun to write." McLean demonstrated the workings of the score at the Gene Siskel's piano, saying that, just like one of Sullivan's heroes, Richard Wagner, he used leitmotivs. "There's one melody in here that was the one that's the young Louis Sullivan, and as he gets older, he's disillusioned, he's bitter, you can take that melody as young man and turn it into . . . " and here McLean played the audience the same theme, now tinged with the unresolved sadness of the minor mode. "No one thinks of that intellectually, but it affects you at a very deep emotional level and that's what Louis Sullivan's architecture and ornamentation does."

The otherwise capable score includes one major miscalculation. As the camera reveals Adler and Sullivan's astonishing Auditorium Theater, the soundtrack bursts forth with Siegfried's Funeral March, music that screams "look how impressive this is!" with a feudal morbidity and heavy-handed sense of doom that is the very antithesis of Sullivan's graceful triumph.

As with Judith Paine McBrien's fine documentary from last year, Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City, one of the pleasures of the film is to rediscover all of those graphics and photographs we've seen, faded and murky, in books down through the years, cleaned and polished to a pristine condition that makes them things of newborn wonder.

Other than director Smith, the real star of Louis Sullivan is cinematographer Peter Biagi, whose camera glides over and through the architecture and ornament as if making love to it. Using special cranes and just plain skill, Biagi gives the audience what, short of experiencing it first hand, is possibly the most complete expression of the stunning beauty that arose out of Sullivan's fertile imagination. This is a film worth watching for, to see it in a theater, where the scale of the images brings you closer to what encountering the work is really like.

Ultimately, only a great novel could do Louis Sullivan full justice, one that took full advantage of authoritative license to try to get a handle on the great architect's inner life. Mark Richard Smith, in concentrating on the work and the public record, has perhaps done the next best thing: tell a story that is, at once, inspiring, tragic and moving, propelled by art whose inimitable quality and unique achievement has kept the story of its creator - and the questions he raised - compelling down to this very day.

Mark Richard Smith talks about the challenges of filming Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for an American Architecture and the decision to use a female voice to read from Sullivan's writings.

Tunnel Vision

Earlier this month, as reported by the Art Daily Newsletter, London residents had a last chance to tour what was described at its opening, over a century and half ago, as The Eighth Wonder of the World: the 1,300 foot tunnel beneath the Thames, using revolutionary new tunneling technology developed by French-born engineer Marc Isambard Bruneil. The Thames Tunnel took over 40 years to finish, and created a sensation. A week after its opening, more than half of London, including Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and the poet Byron had paid a penny a piece to stroll along its gaslight arches.
Completed at a cost of £634,000, (one 1843 pound would be worth about 44 today), it never turned a profit. even as it remained a popular attraction, with the spectacular entry pavilion you see above, and later additions of a shopping arcade, pipe organ, theater, fortune tellers and dancing monkeys - "all sorts of contrivances to get your money," in the words of a contemporary observer. It also became known as a favorite prostitute's haunt and a good place to get mugged. In 1865, it was purchased by the East London Railway, and eventually became part of the London Underground. It is scheduled to again serve the East London extension later this year.

As we approach April's fool day, the contemporary illustrations of the tunnel are so fantastical that you'd be forgiven if you thought it was a urban legend. But it wasn't.
There were several great tunnels dug under the Chicago river, including the one at LaSalle Street, whose cross section is depicted above.  The first, 1,600 feet long, under Washington street, opened in 1869; the second, 1890 feet under LaSalle, opened in 1871 at a cost of $566,000, just in time to serve as a major lifeline to the frenzied crowds fleeing the Chicago fire after the wooden bridges had burned and collapsed.

Originally designed for pedestrians and private vehicles, they were turned over to the cable car companies, run by the ultimately infamous Charles T. Yerkes, in a midnight vote at a July, 1886 session of the Chicago City Council, that was euphemistically described by the New York Times as "prolonged and exciting."

There was no Vrdolyak or Burke, or Dick Mell jumping up on a table, but local papers intimated that boodle was flowing freely to aldermen in Yerkes 'pocket. The annual rental fee of $20,000 was cut in half by an ordinance pushed by that era's representative from the Cullerton family, providing a $10,000 credit reimbursing Yerkes for the cost of paving and lighting the tunnel. The Chicago Daily News described the original ordinance as "having been amended so as to practically make the tunnel a present to Mr. Yerkes."

Cable car service in the tunnel continued until 1906. Originally the tunnel was 18 feet below the riverbed, but when the Chicago river was reversed, the dredging of the river exposed the tunnel's top. A wide, deeper replacement was manufactured on Goose Island out of steel plate, floated down the river and lowering into a trench in the riverbed. Completed in 1912, it now served the city's streetcars. It remained in use until 1939, when it was walled up as the Dearborn Street subway was constructed.
photos of the 1911-12 reconstruction: Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum, from the Library of Congress American Memory collection.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Chemical Reaction, Buy Design and Ida B. Wells - 3 more March events

It's never too late, apparently, to expand this month's calendar of architectural events in Chicago.

Tomorrow, March 20th at 3;oo p.m. at Columbia College, the Grant Park Advisory Council will be co-sponsoring a screening of A Chemical Reaction, a documentary about the elimination of lawn pesticides beginning in one Canadian community. This Wednesday, March 24th, at 6:00 p.m, at Conaway Center at Columbia College, the National Public Housing Museum will be sponsoring a panel discussion on the life of Ida B. Wells with journalists Clarence Page, Barbara Reynolds, David Protess, Thandi Chimurenga and Megan Cottrell. It's the first of a series of programs on some of the women after whom the Chicago projects were named. Then on Thursday the 25th, at noon in the Lower Core of Crown Hall, at IIT, John M. Genovese and David Piper of the shopping center powerhouse Macerich will present a lecture, Buy Design, on the design of retail spaces.

Amazingly, there are still 20 events left in March, including David Hovey, Jr at IIT on Monday, Kengo Kuma on Tuesday at 1:00, with Alice Rawsthorn in conversation with Zoë Ryan at Fullerton Hall for the Architecture and Design Society of the Art Institute at 6:00, the Park Avenue Armory's consulting curator Nina Gray at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum on Wednesday, the 24th, with Richard Cahan and Michael Williams talking about their new book on Edgar Miller later that evening at the Glessner House Museum, Riddle Mies This, Mies's birthday party at Crown Hall on Thursday, the 25th, and Arthur Miller talking about his new book on Walter Frazier at a CAF lunchtime lecture on the 31st.

Check out all the great events still to come in March here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MAS Studio wins Architecture for Humanity Chicago's street furniture competition

MAS Studio has won Architecture for Humanity Chicago's Street Furniture competition. Their entry, Cut.Join.Play "wowed the judges" from the School of the Art Institute.

Honorable mentions were given to Brenna Martin, for Rocking Stable, shown below, and Ross Atkin and Isabel Lizardi with Seeded.AFH Chicago also announced that they're entering a partnership with Archeworks to actually fabricate and install MAS Studio's entry as part of the school's +space initiative.

You can see more images from the winning entries and finalists - as well as, eventually, all of the entries - on AFH Chicago's website here.
MAS Studio has also just published the latest version of its quarterly journal, MAS Context. Titled MAS Context University Works, it "elates some of the most promising architecture work developed in universities around the world during the recent academic years" and can be viewed and downloaded here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Return of the Emerald City: Chicago dyes the river Green for St. Patrick's Day, 2010

No more teaser; here's the real thing. We've added video of some really neat stuff to our almost annual account of how Chicago goes slightly nuts for St. Patrick's Day, spreading green-river-mania to locals and visitors alike. This year, the emerald carpet was joined by fog and mist to give an almost magical aura to the city's architecture. Check out the video and all the great photo's here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

St. Pat Chicago Green River Preview

It's a drizzly, foggy Saturday in Chicago, but that didn't stop us from rolling out one of the city's great urban traditions: the dyeing of the Chicago River emerald green. Here's a heads-up to watch for our full report on Monday. It'll be full of great photos and video, but for now, here's just a few samples.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celebrating the Oracle of Aachen: Riddle Mies This, plus David Hovey, Jr., Kengo Kuma, Nina Gray and Beautiful City - more great March events

How sad it is to contemplate that the life of Mies van der Rohe was cut short before he could appear on a contemporary TV game show. Deal or No Deal with Herbert Greenwald. Jeopardy with Walter Gropius ("Artist-Obsessed Consorts" for $1,000, please Alex), and Philip Johnson, simply making up answers and conning the judges. Dancing With the Contractors. Dr. Phil, with Edith Farnsworth. Not to mention guest shots on drama's such as The House Whisperer, CSI: Moisture Inundation, and The Metalist.

On Thursday, March 25th, to honor what would have been the architect's 124th birthday, the Mies van der Rohe Society will work to remedy this tragic omission with Riddle Mies This, their annual benefit, promising "an evening of cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and . . . a rousing round of trivia, hosted by WTTW's Geoffrey Baer, with a roster of trivialists including Lee Bey, Kevin Harrington, Edward Keegan, Edward Lifson, Donna Robertson and Edward Windhorst, and "guest experts" Dirk Lohan and Franz Schulze.

It's one of a number of great new additions added to the March calendar. Also at IIT, David Hovey, Jr. will be lecturing on The New Meccano Set: The Development of the DCHGlobal Building System on the 22nd, and Kengo Kuma will talking about recent work on the 23rd. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, in the Nickerson Mansion, kicks off its inaugural lecture series, The House Beautiful: Magnificent Interiors of the Gilded Age, with a March 25th lecture, Living in Style: The Development of the Interior Decorator in the Gilded Age by Nina Gray, Independent Curator and Consulting Curator for New York's Park Avenue Armory. On March 15th, the Hafele America Showroom will host a seminar on Interior Glazing, while the Peter Hales lecture at UIC, also originally set for the 15th, has been rescheduled to April 5th.

Overall, there are over 30 events still to come on the March calendar. Check them all out here.

And then there's Beautiful City, a new play about - well, let's let them tell it:
(A) darkly comic fable about architects, urban developers, crime families, law enforcement, and even a witch, all fighting for the soul and vision of a city. Set in an urban landscape ripe for redevelopment, the parable blends off-kilter characters, fast-paced storytelling, and stinging social satire in a tale of greed, corruption, and civic responsibility.

Beautiful City centers around Tony Raft, a developer from an organized crime family (yeah, right, like that could happen), and his vision for the city - one that includes a hermetically sealed live/shop/work mall connected by exclusive underground tunnels to shield the well-heeled from the truth of poverty and despair. The only problem is not everyone shares his vision. His prized architect Paul contracts a mysterious illness and is missing in action. His mother, Mary, the head of the mob family considers his vision a distracting waste of energy and money. Low-level street thug Rolly is stealing from him. Gina Mae, a witch, vows to fight against the corruption of her city. And detective Dian tries to maintain a semblance of order and control in the city.

Written by George F. Walker, one of Canada’s most prolific and celebrated playwrights, the play premiered at the Factory Theatre in Toronto in 1987 and is part of a trilogy of Walker plays about the changing urban landscape.
Theater Mir is presenting the play at Chicago DCA Theater's Storefront Theater at 66 E. Randolph, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm and Sunday afternoons at 3 pm, through April 3rd. $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors, and $15 for students. More information on-line.

Welfare Queen

When, in 2006, a developer announced plans to rehab Vitzhum & Burns Steuben Club Building at 188 W. Randolph, an $8 million dollars contribution from the massive Central Loop TIF was going to kick in about 10% of the $79 million cost.

Flash forward to today. The project cost has soared to $145 million, but the cash cow Central Loop TIF was finally allowed to expire in 2008. No TIF? No problem! According to a report by Alby Gallun in Crain's Chicago Business, the city created still another TIF, specifically to shove another $24 million of city money into the project, for a grand total of $32 million in TIF funds - representing over 22% of the current cost estimate, more than doubling the city's involvement.

But wait - there's more! The project is also getting $40 million dollars in tax-exempt bonds from the state, plus $37 million in tax credits. You, lucky taxpayer, kick in almost half of the project cost and the private developer gets the building. Socialism, Chicago style.

When Draconian cutbacks are effecting everything in Chicago from the CTA, to the schools, to 4th of July Fireworks, the city is diverting another $26 million in tax revenues to an economically unsustainable development. In any other city, this would be a front page scandal. In Chicago, the City of Sheep, it merits barely a shrug of the shoulders.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bruce Graham dies at 84.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that legendary architect Bruce Graham of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill died Saturday at his Florida home. Graham shared authorship of the iconic Inland Steel Building with Walter Netsch, and went on to create, in partnership with engineer Fazlur Khan, two of Chicago's greatest skyscrapers, the uber-romantic Hancock Center, and the Sears - now Willis - Tower, for decades the tallest building in the world. You can read - or skim - the 333-page oral history that Graham gave to Betty J. Blum for the Art Institute of Chicago here.

Si monumentum requiris circumspice

Friday, March 05, 2010

on H-edge, on Danzer! Cecil Balmond's Solid Void goes Element-al in Tokyo

via ArchNewsNow and the Dezeen website, we bring you their story on the latest version of engineer/architect Cecil Balmond's roving exhibition exploring architecture, form, and geometry, Element, at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. It looks like many of the old favorites of Solid Void, mounted at Graham Foundation a while back, are still around, reconceived in installation, to which have been added photographs and text from Balmond's latest book, also named Element, in which, like a hog ferrets out truffles, he discovers and depicts the deep patterns behind the world's beauty. Read what we wrote about Balmond, his remarkable work and thought, and his Chicago exhibition here.