Thursday, September 30, 2010

China National Day Celebration, Daley Plaza

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This just in: Moon over Chicago not blue cheese, but blotchy, half-nibbled ritz cracker

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chicago Streetscene: Cavern of the Bridge

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It's Louis Sullivan month! plus Kamin, Samuelson, Vinci, CTBUH, a tribute to Bruce Graham, Julie Snow and much more - the October Architectural Calendar!

How the hell did this happen?  It's not even November yet, and we're putting up our October Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.  (I promise I won't let it happen again.

I'm sure I'll be adding things I've overlooked, but we've already got over fifty great events:  a tribute to the late architect Bruce Graham on the 14th, a symposium on the development of Dearborn Park, AIA Chicago's 55th annual Designight, the Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Awards, and Penelope Davis on The Propagandistic Functions of Public Monuments in Rome.

What's shaping up as the Louis Sullivan year continues with an October 8th Art Institute symposium, From Fragment to Photograph—Interpreting Louis Sullivan's Architecture, with Richard Cahan, Jeffrey Plank, Tim Samuelson, John Vinci, Alison Fisher and Elizabeth Siegel, plus the Glessner House Museum is sponsoring two gallery talks of the Cultural Center's great exhibition, Louis Sullivan's Idea, with co-curator Tim Samuelson, while back at the Art Institute on the 12th, curators Siegel and Fisher offer a guided walk through their Sullivan show, Looking after Louis Sullivan: Photographs, Drawings, and Fragments.  And on the 13th, again at CAF, there's a screening on Mark Richard Smith's new documentary Louis Sullivan:  The Struggle for American Architecture.

On the 21st, The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat sponsors a free Tall Buildings Symposium at IIT, with presentations by William Pedersen and Ysrael A. Seinuk, and on each of this years four award winning projects.  On the 5th, the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois will hear Brian McElhatten of SOM talk about their zero energy Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, while CAF's Greg Dreicer will discuss their spectacular 320-square-foot Model City of Chicago for Friends of Downtown on the 7th.

You want books?  Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin discusses his new book, Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age on the 7th at CAF, where on the 20th, Alice Sparberg Alexiou discusses her book, The Flatiron Building: Chicago’s Gift to New York.  At IIT on the 18th, Dana Buntrock discusses the subject of her book, Materials and Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Architecture: Tradition and Today.

But wait - there's more!  Much, much more.  Bill Becker, the Rosa Parks homes, CNU's 4th annual Illinois conference, Landmarks Illinois's Lisa DiChiera, the Rosa Parks apartments, the Baha'i Temple, a Bridgeport pub crawl, Julie Snow,  Ian Bogle, and, just in time for Halloween, Clarence Hatzfeld haunting the Park District's Julia Bachrach. And yet, there's still more.

Check all the over fifty events on October calendar here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Can Mary Zimmerman solve the Candide Problem?

Despite an artistic pedigree that included composer Leonard Bernstein, playwright Lillian Hellman, poet Richard Wilbur, director Tyrone Guthrie, singer/actress Barbara Cook, and dabbling by the likes of Dorothy Parker and James Agee, the musical Candide was considered a flop when it premiered on Broadway in 1956, closing after just 73 performances.

It's a testimony to the brilliance of Bernstein's music that Candide became the musical that refused to die.  In 1974, legendary director Harold Prince created a stripped-down,  boisterous restaging, with a new book by Hugh Wheeler, additional music by Bernstein, and new and revised lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, that was such a smash Off-Broadway that it transferred to the Great White Way and ran 741 performances.  Prince also staged a 1994 production at Chicago's Lyric Opera production that featured Elizabeth Futral  as Cunegonde.

The downside of the success was that subsequent productions have veered increasingly into the realm of burlesque, culminating in a 2004 semi-staged version with the New York Philharmonic where such brilliant performers as Thomas Allen and Kristen Chenoweth were reduced to acting in an "aren't we being funny" manner so arch that it made you want to throw up. 

Now, Chicago director Mary Zimmerman has thrown out everything and written a new book for her production of Candide at the Goodman, which has been in previews and opens, I think, tonight.
I'm scheduled to see it on Thursday, and I expect to be writing a lot more about it after that, but for now, here's some links to excellent stories by the Sun-Times' Heidi Weiss and New City's Dennis Polkow.  You can also access the Goodman's own program for the new production, which provides a very fine overview of Candide's history, and an interview with Zimmerman on her approach to this classic yet troubled work of American theatre, which is scheduled to run at the Goodman through October 31.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What WTTW didn't want you to see: Samuel Mockbee Rural Studio documentary at Gene Siskel this weekend

The documentary Citizen Architect: Sam Mockbee and the Spirit of The Rural Studio had its broadcast debut on PBS August 23rd, but not on Chicago's WTTW.  I'm not sure they ever ran it - probably no room amidst all the rebroadcasts of Change Your Brain and Celtic Thunder.

This weekend, however, you'll have three chances to catch the film at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Friday the 24th at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday the 26th at 3:15 and 4:45 p.m. Also included on the program is the 17 minute film Robin Hood Gardens (Or Every Brutalist Structure For Itself), on Alison and Peter Smithson's now doomed 1972 London housing development both hailed as a masterpiece and assailed as an eyesore.

Not to be outdone, Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, 2nd floor, is presenting Chicago Architecture in Motion, Saturday, September 25th at 8:00 p.m. The seven short films including Equitable Building: Time Lapse from the 1960's, Beverly Willis's Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Conrad O. Nelson's traversal of Halsted Street, from 1934.

Who's buried in John Logan's Monument? Superb new website catalogues Chicago Parks' Fountains, Monuments and Sculptures

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OK, let's get past the bad stuff first. The web design sucks. In fact, there really isn't any web design, just a library of dead-end pdf's. No hyperlinks, no works by artist, name or subject, no sorting chronological or geographic. And if you don't know which park the work you want to learn about is in, be prepared to start clicking through a list of 67 until you find the right one.

All that said, the new Chicago Park District Guide to Fountains, Monuments and Sculptures, now on-line after several years of research and work under the direction of Park District historian Julia Bachrach, is an amazing new resource. There's a PDF for each work - as I surfed through them all, Safari actually gave up, saying I had exceeded the maximum amount of open windows. The works and their histories are described in an informed, fact-packed text, and illustrated with both contemporary photographs by Park District photographers, and historical shots from the holdings of the Chicago History Museum.

To get back to our initial question, there's actually no one buried in the Augustus Saint-Gaudens/Alexander Phimister Proctor John Alexander Logan Monument east of Michigan Avenue at 9th street, although originally the rising hill beneath the sculpture was intended to be the final resting place for Logan and his wife. I never knew it was designed to be a tomb. Did you?

I've also always wondered where those big carved stones scattered on the site of the late, decrepit 12th street Metra Station were from. Now I know they're from Bradford L Gilbert's 1893 Central Station, with its great arched-ceiling waiting room and tall tower that personified the might of the Illinois Central, until the decline of rail travel led to its demolition in the 1970's.

And did you know that the Columbus Statue in Arrigo Park at Loomis and Polk is actually the sculpture Moses Ezekiel created for above the entrance of W.W. Boyington's 1893 Columbus Memorial Building, which soared 240 feet into the air at the corner of State and Washington where Old Navy's stubby store now stands. Did you know the forty-foot-high columns at the Cancer Survivor's Garden came from Henry Ives Cobb's domed 1905 Federal Courthouse on Dearborn, replaced by Mies van Der Rohe's Post Office and Kluczynski Building?

Or that the Tribune's Robert McCormick's $600 contribution in 1906 paid for half the cost of the Washington Square fountain that now bears his name, part of a series of improvements designed by Jens Jensen?  Or that in addition to our Standing Lincoln and Seated Lincoln sculptures, there was once also a Leaning Lincoln statue in Kennedy Park,  until the Women's Christian Temperance Union forced its removal?

Delving into the Chicago Park District Guide to Fountains, Monuments and Sculptures is like opening a bag of potato chips - you have one, then another, then another . . .  but it's a lot more nourishing. This is an absolutely superb compendium of images and information about Chicago's rich storehouse of public art, a seminal resource for historians, and an addictively entertaining read for the rest of us. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jens Jensen vs Michael van Valkenburgh: Park Designer Deathmatch! September 29th.

On one level, it's not really a fair fight, since Jens Jensen, though he lived to 91, has actually been been dead since 1951, but Jensen's legacy and idea's remain very much alive, so why not put them up against those of one of the today's most prominent park designers?
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This Thursday, September 23rd,  there will be a 7:00 p.m. screening of a new documentary, Jens Jensen: Harmonious World, at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 North Central Park.

Jensen was actually born September 13th in dat ole Dybbøl, Denmark, coming to the United States in 1884, but at 6:00 p.m., on Wednesday, September 29th, there'll be a 150th birthday blowout at the Jensen-designed Humboldt Park Boathouse, 1359 N. Sacramento.  Park District Historian Julia S. Bachrach will lecture on Humboldt Park: Jens Jensen's Living Laboratory, and BauerLatoza prinicipal and Commission on Chicago Landmarks member Edward Torrez will talk on The Boathouse Then and Now, and his firm's Driehaus-award-winning 2002 restoration.
Meanwhile, across town the same evening, also at 6:00 p.m., Michael Van Valkenburgh, who has been chosen to design the renovation of North Grant Park, will kick off the IIT College of Architecture's fall lecture series by discussing Recent Parks and Projects in the Public Realm.

It would have been great to hear these two men square off against each other - where's Dr. Brown's DeLorean when you need it?  - but unless you're able to teleport yourself, you're going to have to chose just one.  Both events are free and open to the public

And a reminder that this Saturday, September 25th is  Preservation Chicago's fall benefit at the spectacularly restored Sears Power House, now Charles H. Shaw Technology Center, including a silent auction for such goodies as 5 days/4 nights at a luxury Californian Tower Home, Power House Photos by Darris Lee Harris, Laura Lombardi Jewelry, and an original negative of a Richard Nickel photo of ornament from Louis Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott building.

These events are among two dozen still to come in the last nine days of this month.  Check out all the details in the September Calendar of Chicago architectural events.

Barn and Board: Halvorson and Partners, Studio/Gang Wood Design Awards

WoodWorks, an associations of North American wood associations, has recognized two Chicago firms in their 2010 North-Central Wood Design Awards.
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Halvorson & Partners receiving an Engineering award for its work reconstructing a 1913 round barn into a home for the Bolingbrook Farm Museum. "The structural system included a plywood reinforced shear wall core within the original center silo and custom scissor roof trusses able to adequately support snow loads and resist wind forces. The final reconstructed structure captures the essence of the original round barn."
Studio/Gang received an Innovative Design award for its Peoples Gas Education Pavilion at the new Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk. The strcuture was "inspired by the tortoise shell, [and] consist of a series of pre-fabricated pods inter-connected to give global curvature to the surface."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gary Comer College Prep, John Ronan Architects

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It started in 2006 with the opening of the Gary Comer Youth Center/South Shore Drill Team building in the Grand Crossing neighborhood where the late Lands' End founder grew up.  Designed by John Ronan Architects, it deployed a strong profile and vibrant blocks of color to create an instant landmark.
The perforated metal fencing that enclosed the parade grounds and parking lot of the Youth Center became a long horizontal root down South Chicago Avenue that has now blossomed into a screen around the entrance of a second building, also designed by Ronan, for the new $20 million, 42,000 square foot  Gary Comer College Prep charter school, which opened earlier this month. 
Beneath the screen, the base of the building to the south and north, and bracketing the two-story, glass enclosed lobby to the east, are aluminum panels in a bright chartreuse, providing a solid foundation and counterpoint to the corrugated steel siding that makes up the balance of the facades.
The chartreuse is also used for the window and door frames on the west elevation, as well as for the vertical metal mesh fencing panels that curve around a small sustainable gateway park on the corner, proclaiming the neighborhood's name in large, free-standing letters along the top.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Muti Era Begins

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Conductor Riccardo Muti kicked off his tenure as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony this evening with a free concert in Millennium Park.  The crowd, estimated by police to be slightly under 2 billion people, filled the seating area and lawn of Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion and spilled over to concourses north to Randolph, south to Monroe, and on to coterminous areas of Indiana and Wisconsin.   The photograph you see here was taken from the roof of a Mazda dealership in Hobart.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An epic journey and the architectural book of the year: The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan

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"Can you see anything?"
"Yes . . . wonderful things"
Howard Carter to Lord Carnavon, as he glimpsed for the first time the wonders of Tutankhamen's tomb.

We tried to give architect Louis Sullivan a fitting celebration on the 150th anniversary of his birth, but  kind of made a botch of it. 2006 will be best remembered as the year we burned down three of his handful of surviving buildings.

What 2006 wasn't, 2010 is shaping up to be. First two exhibitions: a very fine one, Looking after Louis Sullivan, with photographs by John Szarkowski, Aaron Siskind and Richard Nickel along with architectural fragments and drawings by Sullivan, at the Art Institute, and a truly extraordinary show, Louis Sullivan's Idea, at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Now, we have a landmark publication, The Complete Architecture of Adler and Sullivan. If you love Sullivan, or Chicago architecture, or just architecture, you will have to have this book.

The Complete Architecture draws on the vast holdings of The Richard Nickel Committee and Archive, which is the conservator of work of the great Chicago photographer. It began, in the early 1950's, as Nickel's student project, to photograph all of Adler & Sullivan's surviving work.  It soon became the obsession of Nickel's life.

Even after the student project concluded, Nickel pressed on, making his work and discoveries the subject of a master's thesis. In 1956, his teacher, Aaron Siskind, signed a contract with Horizon Press for a photographic monograph on Adler & Sullivan's work. Nickel was enlisted, to his surprise (dammti, he was a photographer, Jim, not a writer!) to compose the text.

How was I to write about Sullivan with only a meagerly art history and architecture training and no writing experience? As I think about it now, I feel perfectly justified in not having the text ready.

Nickel continued to write, create new photographs, and salvage ornament. He interviewed Frank Lloyd Wright, Dankmar Adler, and many others.  He enter a long correspondence about the book with publisher Ben Raeburn, but the writer's block continued, right up until Nickel's untimely death in 1972, crushed in the rubble of a great masterpiece, The Chicago Stock Exchange Building, as it was being wantonly demolished to construct a generic office tower of stupefying mediocrity.

There is far more to this story, which I hope, in my usual last words, to "be writing more about soon."  For now, I want to introduce you to this remarkable book, a labor of love nurtured, if you consult the acknowledgements pages, by a "who's who" of Chicago architecture, above all guiding light, architect John Vinci, a close Nickel friend who oversaw the reconstruction of the Stock Exchange's great trading room at the Art Institute, Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, who continued Nickel's research, and Ward Miller  who, as Executive Director of the Richard Nickel Committee, has spent the last five years bringing this book to reality.

The Complete Architecture includes a catalogue raisonné of every project Adler and Sullivan worked on, both in partnership and apart - built, unbuilt, renovations and refutations of projects in which their participation was rumored.  John Vinci has contributed six especially valuable essays on the work, its influences, its history and techniques

Ultimately, however, as Nickel knew from the start, this is not a book about reading, but about seeing.  In it's nearly 500 pages, there are over 800 images.  Some have been seen before.  Most have not, and many are a revelation.  The book was produced by Meridian Printing, known for the high quality of their art books, including the photographs of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.  Ward Miller talks of spending many long, 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. days at the company's plant in East Greenwich, Connecticut, supervising the reproduction of all 815 images, to come as close as possible to the quality of silver gelatin prints.

In this book, all the well known masterpieces - the Stock Exchange, the Wainwright, the Auditorium the Schiller - are represented, often with striking new views: the mosaic flooring of the Schiller, an ad for its opening.  The true glory of The Complete Works, however, may be rescuing less prominent works from the footnotes: the Dooley Block in Salt Lake City, the John Borden house, the Mayer Warehouse, the Gage (Revell) building . . .

. . . in detail and in color.  That's another revelation, the color plates in the book.  Black and white photographs are, inevitably, an abstraction of the subject.  Buildings we've grown accustomed to only seeing in black and white gain an additional dimension in color.  Black and white entombs; color is  the breath of life.  You feel like you can reach in and touch time, experience it, not as a recalled memory, but as a visceral immersion in the moment.  The photograph of the interior of the destroyed K.A.M. Temple/Pilgrim Baptist Church, shown at the top of this post, is in itself worth the price of the book. (I should note, also, that all of the images you see here are my own crude scans and fall far short of the quality of the reproductions in the actual book.)

The detail is often stunning.  You not only see the John D. Allen & Sons department store in Clinton, Iowa through the usual exterior views, you see the selling floor and - in color - experience the true impact of the polychromatic ornament.  We see the National Farmer's Bank not just in the usual view that seems like as a neutron bomb has hit the area and taken out all the people, but with a full house of bankers and their customers breathing life and energy into the great interior.
Through multiple views, you can feel the draw of Sullivan's beloved Ocean Springs cottages, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  A view of the interior is so completely and specifically detailed, you feel as if if you stared long enough, you'd see the great architect popping back into the room.
Let me be clear:  The Complete Architecture is a work that will quickly become an essential resource for every architectural scholar, an amazing compendium of data.  But as I thumbed through the pages, again and again, the impact transcended the mere documentary, into the realm of shear emotion. Here is a profoundly moving  portrait of a life - two lives - through trial, triumph and tragic decline.  Here is the whole picture of a man: the masterpieces, the experiments, the eccentricities, the huge, soaring forms, the intricate, obsessive detail.  For Louis Sullivan, this book, better than any biography,  is an epic journey of the progress of a soul, battling to assert itself in the tumultuous, indifferent stream of life, struggling to capture in a bottle, in the mask of architecture, the very essence of what it is to be alive.

The Complete Work of Adler & Sullivan is scheduled to be published later this month.  Amazingly, the price of the book is only $95.00.  The print run is limited, so I would order your copy now, which you can do directly by calling the Richard Nickel Committee at 773-528-1300.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Transfigured Night: Randolph Street Skyline honors Fallen Police Officers

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They compose one of the world's largest Lite-Brite sets, using the pixels of their windows to spell out the names of Chicago sport teams to celebrate a championship season.

Tuesday night, the lights along Randolph took on a more somber meaning, as they became part of the annual remembrance of Chicago police officers killed in the line of duty.  At the Gold Star Families Memorial and Park, on the east side of Soldier Field, a new bronze statue was unveiled to honor the sacrifice of officers who have suffered catastrophic injuries.  Candles were lit to symbolize the grief suffered by the families.  A picture of each of the 550 fallen officers was held by a police cadet, while their names were read aloud.

Along Randolph, as you can see in the spectacular photograph at the top of this taken by our correspondent Bob Johnson, both the Prudential and Aon buildings bore the initials, "CPD", while the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Building carried two numbers, badge numbers: 14767, belonging to Officer Thor Soderberg, shot and killed in an apparent robbery attempt on July 7th, and 13970, belonging to Officer Michael R. Bailey, who was shot and killed July 18th, a month from retirement,  attempting to stop a robbery in front of his home.

The blazing lights of the city, it's true, can drown out the stars.  Yet, on an evening like this, they are the beacon that refutes the black void of night.

Dan Pitera at Archeworks on the 21st, Peter Bohlin tonight, new Songs about Buildings and Moods Saturday

A new addition to the September calendar, architect Dan Pitera of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center will lecture on More People, More Programs, More Geographies to kick off Archeworks fall lecture series, September 21 at 6:00.  That same evening, architect Jacques Ferrier will lecture at the Alliance Alliance Française of Chicago.

Also some reminders: Peter Bohlin lectures tonight, September 16th, on The Nature of Circumstance at the Renaissance Chicago for AIA/Chicago, while authors Stuart Cohen and Susan Benjamin talk about their book, The Great Houses of Chicago, at the Driehaus Museum.  And this Saturday, September 18th, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m,  Accessible Contemporary Music presents Songs about Buildings and Moods, where new works by six Chicago composers will be played in the works that inspired them, including the Burnham and Root's Monadnock, Holabird and Roche's Marquette, the Bertoia Sculpture, the Tiffany Dome at the Cultural Center, and Studio/Gang's Aqua.  Fair warning:I'm scheduled to be one of the tour guides for this event.

There are still dozen of great events to go on the September calendar.  Check them all out here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Buck Pocket Park (with City Bucks) opens at Randolph and Franklin

The dedication looks generous . . .
. . . until you realize that it's more appropriate than you might suspect, since it is you, dear taxpayer, that kicked in $7 million - courtesy of one of the city's many TIF slush funds - towards the $20 million cost for the new park recently opened at Randolph and Franklin.
The park eliminates a rather rough end wall, shown above, to the spectacular arcade along the Randolph street side of Goettsch Partner's 45 story skyscraper, 155 N. Wacker.  The city demolished three buildings where the 9,600 square-foot park now stands, including the 1870's Showmen's League Building that, for over half a century, was home to Harry Heftman and his hot dogs.   According to the original agreement, the park should now be turned back to the city "in perpetuity", with John Buck agreeing to provide ongoing maintenance.
 Right now the park seems a not entirely successful match for 155 and it's arcade.  The arcade's walkway is mirrored by a long, fairly boring strip of empty lawn in the park, bordered on each side by already mature maple trees that line up outside the line of the pillars on the periphery of the arcade. At the moment, they seem to be almost dwarfed by the arcade's soaring height, but if the trees are sugar maples - as I think they may be - this will eventually change, as these typically grow to 70 feet or higher.
What won't change, however, is the way there seems to be - at least to my eye - an uncomfortable visual disconnect between how the components of the arcade and those of the park relate to each other.  The visual focal point through the arcade seems to be, not to the park, but through it, to the completely mundane Walgreen's building across Franklin, and the ugly parking garage behind that.

A new wall created to hide an alley driveway creates a space that is, in itself, incredibly ugly. 
The more interesting component of the park is how it relates to what was a party wall, previously concealed behind the demolished buildings.
This is as rough as the former end wall, but without the painted brick and faded Window Shades sign.  The openings for the arched windows, some bricked up, some closed with abject concrete block, and others  - at least for now - with wooden slats, along with the exposed fire escapes, provide a visual rhythm, a strong contrast and an gritty, muscular backdrop to the park's carefully manicured greenery.
In this photograph from our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson, we see the park is already a major hit on a sunny afternoon.
What is missing is any relationship to the history of the site, through naming or artifact, giving the park a bit of an anonymous feel. What about adding one or more of the elephants that were on the Showman's League building. maybe on that uber ugly back wall . . .
 . . . or giving the "Randolph Pocket Park" a name that recognizes its history:  Showman's League Park, or, better yet, name it after Harry Heftman, who provided the spot the kind of real character that it's currently lacking.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Je R'appel le Wit - or walking a city block: straight down

This is where you start . . .
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and there is where you're heading . . .
. . . until you finally get here.  Everybody applauds, they steady you on your feet, and you get to start breathing again.
About 100 hearty souls took this year's edition of Skyline Plunge! Chicago, rappelling down the 27 stories of theWit Hotel - the one the with the chartreuse thunderbolt - designed by architect Jackie Koo.  In its second year, the event was expected to raise over $100,000 for lung disease research, benefiting the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

I think the organizers may be missing a beat here.  Next year, they should rent out rooms along the plunge route as performance space, allowing less adventurous participants to take pictures, put on a performance or flash the plungers.  Think Redmoon meets spider man/woman.
Here's one participants journey from the heavens down to terra firm . . .