Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ricardo Legorreta, who brought back the sun to the U of C's Gothic gray, dies at 80

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A brief obituary here.  A sampling of his work here.  My photoessay on the Max Palevsky Residential Commons at the University of Chicago here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

INOMA Holiday Party/Benefit on Thursday

Never too late to add to the December Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.  The Illinois Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects is having its annual holiday party, tomorrow, December 29th, from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. at the Roosevelt Square Sales Center, 1200 West Roosevelt.  $10.00 of every ticket goes towards their scholarship fund.  More information here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Garrett Popcorn: Harmless Addiction or Quest for Global Domination?

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You laugh.  Okay, so answer me this:  Did you know there are as many Garrett Popcorn shops in Singapore as there are in Chicago?  Or that there are two outlets in KL, where the Petronas Towers overtook the Sears Tower as world's tallest building?  And that now there's two outlets in Dubai, where, in turn, the Burj Khalifa supplanted Petronas as world's tallest?  Do you see a pattern emerging?

Did you know there's major trafficking of Garrett popcorn from Dubai into Kuwait?  Can another outlet territory - and a new tall building champion - be far behind?  Did you know the word "Garrett" has been banned from the Internet in the People's Republic of China, with all searches redirected to the web site of Xiào's House of Tasty Kernels, West Nanjing Road?

It's just popcorn, you say.  Yeah, right.  That's why at every Garrett Popcorn Shop, including its newest outlet on West Jackson in Chicago, pictured above, the smell of CaramelCrisp® lures shoppers, lawyers, judges, FBI moles and unindicted co-conspirators into a common thread of humanity that, no matter the weather, queues down the street to infinity, much like the line of appliance installers in the Monty Python new gas cooker sketch.

Dancing with Filamentosa: Tristan d'Estree Sterk AIA Chicago's Dubin Young Architect for 2011

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When, at the turn of the 20th century, Louis Sullivan talked about an "organic" architecture, it was largely a poetic conceit.
 Despite their rich ornament, their greenest feature was probably the  windows that opened and closed, which, like the central atriums of the large "donut" office buildings of the same time, allowed for natural lighting and ventilation.

As modern architecture involved at mid-century, even that feature was thrown in the trash bin, replaced by sealed glass boxes with huge floorplates and glazed facades that leaked heat in the winter and sucked up solar gain in the summer, all compensated for by pumping in btu-guzzling air conditioning and forced air in that lost era of "cheap" energy.

Now, energy is anything but cheap, and architects strive towards "zero energy" structures that produce as much as energy as they use.  Are we on the verge of a truly "organic" architecture, where buildings respond to their dynamic environments the same way trees and plants do?

On December 9th, the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded its 2011 Dubin Family Young Architect Award to Tristan d’Estree Sterk, founder of ORAMBRA, The Office for Robotic Architectural Media and The Bureau for Responsive Architecture.

Sterk's investigations address how such a "Responsive Architecture" could reduce energy consumption in all regions of the U.S. by more than 30%.  At a forum sponsored by The Economist, posted to YouTube, Sterk said such an architecture . . .
. . . requires systems that change color, change the color of skins, change the degree of insulation and also change shape.  . . . Color can provide smaller savings, in the order of 2%, permeability or openings and closings can provide around 8%, and shape change of buildings can provide in the order of 25 to 30% . . . shape change builds upon [Buckminster] Fuller's understanding of tensegrity to produce a new structure called an actuated tensegrity structure . . .soft shells that can change color, that can gently change shape, that have an optimized thermal mass, but they're very lightweight.  And all of this is achievable if we take a different view of what architecture might be . . . We're no longer thinking of buildings as static creations that are built of "dumb" material.  These are systems that rely on control, and sensor input, and actuators
Sterk's projects includes a Prairie House: House for A Fashion Pattern Maker and Fiber Artist that was the winner of a 2011 AIA Chicago Design Excellence Award.   And while sculptor Kenneth Snelson, whose pioneering work on tensegrity structures inspired Buckminster Fuller, denied that such structures could scale up to massive size, Sterk created the concept of Filamentosa - ultralight, tensegrity skyscrapers, which ORAMBRA has imaged rising amidst the classic Chicago skyline.

At the end of the YouTube presentation, Sterk shows a video demonstrating the structure's flexibility.  Assuring his audience that the towers wouldn't actually move as radically as in the video, Sterk still added, "If you wanted to dance with a building, this might be one of those buildings."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas 2011 in a Square Mile of Chicago

with the worst audio track on YouTube!
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the 30th anniversary of its closing, Andy Pierce reminds us what's so magical about the Uptown Theatre

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Today, December 19th, marks the 30th anniversary of the day Chicago's famed Uptown Theatre closed its doors.  By the time I got around to it in the 1960's, the 4,300 seat former movie palace designed by Rapp & Rapp was past its prime.  Apart from the John Frankenheimer masterpiece, The Train, most of the films I saw there were unmemorable - The Ballad of Josie?  The Dave Clark Five in Having a Wild Weekend? - but I was always blown away by the grandeur, beauty, and sheer scale of the place.

 Since its closing, the Uptown has suffered the indignities of being owned by some of the city's most infamous slumlords, leaks, floods, freezes, neglect and decay.  In 2008, it was acquired by Jam Productions, which already books the Riviera across the street.  Last October, representatives from JAM, mayor Rahm Emanuel's office and freshman Chicago alderman Harry Osterman and James Cappleman met to discuss how a revived Uptown could anchor a new vision for an Uptown Entertainment Center.

In 2006, the price tag bandied about for fully restoring the Uptown was $30 to $40 million.  Today, it's more like $70 million.  If hope is to be had, it might be found in the examples of two New York City theaters, the 1929, 2800 seat Beacon, designed by Walter Ahlschalger, which withstood bad times and attempts to "improve" it into a disco to emerge as a beloved and active concert venue, despite being far from the Mid- Manhattan Theatre district.  Even more striking is the comparison to the 3,200 seat Loew's Kings Theater in Brooklyn, designed by the fame Chicago movie palace architects Rapp & Rapp, left to rot ever since it's 1977 closing.  Like the Uptown, those who cherished the theater battled to keep it alive for revival, and their efforts were rewarded in a project, launched last year for a 2014 completion, to restore the Loew's Kings to its former glory as the centerpiece of the renewal of the Flatbush shopping district.  The city of New York has committed $50 million to the project's expected $70 million cost.

This week's edition of Time Out Chicago has an excellent article by Andy Pierce, one of the people most instrumental in Friends of the Uptown. who have been tireless in championing saving the theater.  We're privileged to have Andy provide us his overview of the history, importance and future potential of the Uptown . . .

What makes a theater a movie palace?
At some point, almost any surviving vintage theater is referred to by fans or reporters as a “movie palace.”
photograph: Theatre Historical Society of America
 The long-closed Uptown Theater, 4816 N. Broadway, is truly an early example of the very large movie palaces of the mid-to-late 1920s. It is also one of the last great movie palaces to not yet be restored, renovated, radically altered or demolished.
Chicago’s remaining open and operating movie palaces -- used for live performances -- are the Riviera, Chicago, Congress and Oriental theaters. The Central Park has survived as a church since 1971 and the restored New Regal (originally Avalon) has been closed intermittently since 2003. [Note: Our Palace Theater was not a movie palace. Rather, it was built for Big-Time Orpheum Vaudeville.] 

Arguably the most profitable themed entertainment of the day, Balaban & Katz “presentation houses,” such as the Uptown, featured continuous performance of three or more shows daily; stage shows with themes, costumes and sets planned in consideration of the feature film; a full orchestra rising and falling on multiple stage lifts, with a conductor at the helm of projector speeds and tempos to keep on schedule and massive theatre organs to accompany the orchestra and provide the aural environments and voices for the early and yet-still-silent stars of the screen. 

In B&K’s deluxe presentation houses such as the Uptown, a system of colored cove lights controlled the accent lighting of the auditorium such that the audience was entirely encapsulated in the mood of the moment on screen; for example yellow for sunrise, red for war, blue for night, purple for love. 

Most of America’s movie palaces carried a Neo-Classical theme cohesively throughout their public spaces and were lavishly decorated not only with plaster relief but also with fanciful polychrome paint schemes, damask, drapes, elaborate chandeliers, antique oil paintings, marble sculpture groups and fountains. Patron comfort and service were augmented in the Uptown for example with amenities such as hat racks beneath seats, a parcel check, luxurious men’s and women’s lounges and a fanciful playroom with storybook themes for children. 

Grand entrance lobbies gave standees a place to wait behind ropes while the previous audience exited through other lobbies and ambulatories. A full, working stage with scenery, a theater pipe organ, and multiple thousands of seats in floor, mezzanine and balcony areas completed the movie palace formula over tens of thousands of square feet of real estate. 

By Popular Demand
Closed 30 Years, the Uptown is Ready for Revival 

Baptized in oil, labor and love, friends of Chicago’s historic Uptown Theater, 4816 N. Broadway, are recognizing a peculiar anniversary for one of the world’s largest and most lavish surviving movie palaces today, Monday, Dec. 19, with a letter-writing campaign. Please see the Uptown Theatre, Chicago, Facebook page for details: 
photograph:  Theatre Historical Society of America

While the Uptown has been closed for 30 of its 86 years, demolition by neglect was held at bay largely through the work of volunteers who kept the theater graffiti free as high as they could reach, who stoked her shopworn boiler and who kept the landmark interior as dry as possible, using patches upon patches of hydraulic cement to seal cracks in steel roof drains that had been pushed open by ice. Uptown’s 12 different roof surfaces drain through this system of pipes. The failure of this system in the arctic winters of the early 1980s allowed water to damage to some interior areas of ornate plaster ceilings and walls.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Door to the Heart: Bertrand Goldberg Reflections - the things he kept, the things he made (Open House This Saturday, 12/17)

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This Saturday, December 17th, The Arts Club of Chicago, 201 East Ontario, will have a rare Saturday opening for a public Open House of its exhibition Bertrand Goldberg: Reflections, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with gallery talks at 11, 1 and 3.
In an oral history conducted by the Art Institute's Betty Blum, architect Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) talked about how he should have known more about his mother's life, "but her life was, like most mothers, always so close to mine that I thought that was the only life she ever had."

Our relationship with buildings is like that.  Apart from a small number that we actually watch growing up from the ground, we experience a building as a done deal.  As far as our personal everyday experience is concerned, it's always been there, always will be there.  And never could have been anything else. 
Yet, architecture is more than what's left over after the making is done.  Like all art, it is not just a product, but a process, and in being an essentially practical art - art for use - it engages the society in which it's created more deeply than any other art form.

Nowhere is this complex, anything-can-happen process better captured than in the exhibition,  Bertrand Goldberg: Reflections,  at The Arts Club  of Chicago through February 8 of 2012.
Reflections stands in the shadow of Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention, the long-awaited blockbuster retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago that runs through January 15 and draws on the museum's extensive Goldberg collection and archives, bequeathed to the museum by the architect. The show is spectacular and encyclopedic, beautifully designed by John Ronan and Cheryl Towle Weese, with a great, catalog edited by curator Zoë Ryan, richly illustrated and including a series of thoughtful and informative essays.  No question about it: if you care about architecture, it's a must-see show, which I hope to write about more before it closes.

As you walk through the wedge-shaped galleries with their mirrored gateways,  you feel the sweep of history, from Goldberg's 1938 North Pole Ice Cream stand, with its roof suspended from cables hung form a tall mast, to his last great vision, River City, from the 1980's.  Even as you observe the projects evolve, each individual stage looks inevitable and immutable.

In a small adjoining gallery, however, you get what's usually missing from exhibitions such as these: a sense of a building as it's experienced and lived through time.  Inside Marina City: A Project by Iker Gil and Andreas E.G. Larsson examines Goldberg's most famous creation by going beyond the abstract to see the architecture as it is experienced and transformed by its residents.  While in the big show next door, the photographs tend to hew black-and-white, Inside Marina City explodes with color.  In place of the snow-white, abstracted form of the Goldberg's pie-shaped wedges, we see those spaces animated through habitation, with glimpses of how dozens of Marina City residents have taken that basic container and made it their own.  Some of the views appear to extend all the way back to original tile bathrooms and pink-cabineted kitchens.
 Others are almost surrealistically traditional.  Some are classically minimalist . . .
Others seem to be stage sets of our contemporary hyper-virtual world, as in a shot of a studio crammed to the gills with gadgets, bare-metal shelving and a digital designers desktop abutting the balcony window wall, soaking up the light.  The exposed gearworks inside a modern machine for living.
Inside Marina City defines a work of architecture by carrying from its point of creation forward into tine.  Bertrand Goldberg: Reflections, like the Art Institute's Architecture of Innovation, moves in the opposite direction, going back to the beginning and moving sequentially to the end to define a lifetime of work.  Reflections adds another dimension.  In addition to renderings and drawings, it draws heavily on Goldberg's "personal collection of art and artifacts."

Don't expect to find smoking guns -"Aha, that's where Marina City came from!" - but where a traditional exhibition makes you a passive observer of a fait accompli progression, Reflections invites you to bring your own imagination to connecting the dots between the things Goldberg collected and the meaning behind the work he created. 

No two observers will the see the connections the same way, but to me it begins with a late, chalk-on-paper work by Paul Klee, Kindes statt (childlike state), that is unlike anything else I've seen from that artist: a borderless membrane of cells in green, gold and rust, given depth with a chiaroscuro texturing, separated by a irregular grid of thin charcoal lines that angle, bend, branch and insinuate small pods into larger cells.  Klee pulls on the collapsed regularity of Miesian geometry until the grid dissolves and blossoms into an organic web of asymmetric spaces that flood with color, pulse with pattern.   The impression is not one of fragility, but of a mysterious, timeless strength, like  moss clinging to a rock, observing the millenia pass by.

The artwork reminds us that early in his life, Goldberg had a knack of being in the right place at the right time, traveling to Germany in 1932 to apprentice in the offices of Mies van der Rohe and study at the illustrious Bauhaus with such teachers as Wassily Kandinsky and Josef Alberts.  Paul Klee taught there, as well.  Goldberg was in Berlin when the Reichstag burned. He heard Le Corbusier lecture at the Arts Club in 1935.  In 1937, he accompanied Mies van der Rohe and helped translate for the famous visit to Frank Lloyd Wright in Taliesen.  It was all preparation for when Goldberg would break free of the what he called the "Right Angle Club" to create a new modernist alternative in such works as Marina City, the Hilliard Homes, and Prentice Hospital.
Reflections is like a time capsule, filled with  wonderful things, the collected and the created in equal measure.  The exhibition, designed by architects John Vinci and Geoffrey Goldberg, Bertrand's son,  subdivides the Arts Club's main gallery in two, as part of creating several intimate spaces for the show.  You enter into a room filled mostly with sculptures by artists with which Goldberg had a long relationship, including an untitled bronze sculpture by Pietro Consagra which seems almost like a premonition of Marina City's twin towers crossed with Magritte's Sirens.

The small catalogue places the objects of the exhibition photographed in their original context, such as in the kitchen Goldberg designed for his mother-in-law Lillian Florsheim, including rounded metal appliance "garages", a spice rack made out of baking tins, and an amazingly complicated winch, made out of perforated stainless steel and metal engine parts, that allowed Florsheim to adjust the height and angle of a large lighting fixture near the ceiling.  Its drill-like crank, detached and displayed to the side, has the aura of a Medieval torture device.  (Geoffrey Goldberg told me that once Florsheim got the light in the desired position, she never moved it again.)

Free from a chronological structure, the objects in the exhibition offer up striking juxtapositions, such as in the corner where a working drawing for the Ronchamp-like theater for Marina City is next to a drawing of swirling ornament for a recreation of the Belle Époques splendor of Maxim's de Paris in the basement of Goldberg's strikingly modernist Astor Tower, next to a collage of a color field design for a Jack-in-the-Box(!) drive-in, next to a beautiful cut-away rendering of the architect's design for the Unicel Plywood Freight Car.

There's a selection of photographs taken by the architect, including a shot of Mies's iconic 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive apartments over which Goldberg places an arbitrary frame that challenges the geometric "perfection" of the offset box-like towers.  The great thing about the photographs is that they're not the usual shots that look like a neutron bomb went off, leaving the buildings but getting rid of the messy humanity.  In one Goldberg photo . . .
. . . the rooftop of Le Corbusier's  Unité d'habitation is framed and defined  by the people using it.  The man who fills and spills out of the frame to the left defines the foreground, just as the women vigorously walking towards the building defines the mid-distance. The bold, rounded patterns of her dress seem to grab the essence of the rounded concrete corner and spits it back against the unyielding rectilinearity of the facade.

In the Art Institute, there's a study of circles Goldberg did while studying with Josef Albers at the Bauhaus.  A quarter of century later, when Goldberg got the commission from Michael Todd to reimage Howard Crane's classically styled Harris Theater as a high-glamour showplace suitable for showing Todd's spectacularly successful Around the World in Eighty Days, Goldberg collaborated with Albers on a unique design for the theater's doors.  According to Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson, Albers had a succession of circles sandblasted at varying depths into the glass panels of the doors.  The aluminum doors bore concealed neon tubes all along the inside perimeter of the frames.  When the light from the tubes hit the glass, it became visible only on the sandblasted surfaces, creating the appearance of "glowing circles of light" floating on the glass.
photo: Hedrich Blessing Archive at the Chicago History Museum
Unfortunately, that glass no longer exists, but a section of the ceiling lighting Goldberg created for the Michael Todd, lovingly restored, rows of small round bulbs in counterpoint to the circles in the doors, has a prominent place at the Arts Club exhibition.
photo: Hedrich Blessing Archive at the Chicago History Museum
There's also a selection of furniture designed by Goldberg.  A menu from Maxim's.  A Clavilux, championed by no less than Leopold Stokowski as generating "a new art of color in form and motion" moving toward a day when art could be "pure spirit."  Two pairs of suspenders, one gold, one rainbow, some primitive sculpture, a monkey's skull.  Add up all the wonderful array of objects in Reflections and they spell - well, no, not "Rosebud" - but "Bud" (Goldberg), a man of unending curiosity and creativity, who wrote all the way back in 1967 . . .
Dynamic space is not an architecture of grids, of walls, of modular intervals of structure and form.  This is rather an architecture of forces, of energies, of movements of spaces.  This is an architecture regulated by time, volume, and change.  These are spaces which will be built from materials have have living plasticity, like the human body.  Cells of space, forming a structure as they combine together, will have a spatial biology
Walton-Seneca Building, 1977 (unbuilt)

Bertrand Goldberg was ahead of both the curve and his time in seeing what architecture could become.  Reflections is as close as you're likely be able to get inside this restless, ambitious, and relentlessly creative spirit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gene Summers dies at 83

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The Trib's Blair Kamin has a good overview of the life of architect Gene Summers, who has died at 83.  Summers worked with Mies van der Rohe on such projects as the Seagram Building and Chicago's Federal Center, going on to create the strikingly modernist McCormick Place after the dreadful original burned to the ground, and served as Dean as the College of Architecture at IIT.  Read it here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Rookery: How to Get Lit without Getting Drunk With It

Click images for larger view. (And, yes, I need to buy a wider angle lens)
While we could always use a few more - I'm thinking especially thinking of 333 North Michigan, a gateway sentinel to the Loop (how about it, Rocky Wirtz?) - Chicago has no shortage of lit-up landmarks, with the blazing Wrigley Building the clarion princess of them all.  Floodlighting is the usual method of choice, but with increasing awareness of energy use, more subtle methods are now also coming in play.

Exhibit one might be Burnham and Root's 1888 Rookery Building at 209 South LaSalle, one of the glories of Chicago architecture.  On November 30th, a new exterior lighting system was switched on, designed by Jean Sundin and Enrique Peiniger of New York-based Office for Visual Interaction.

You can see the designers talk about the project for the John-Buck managed building in the promotional video below.  Sundin calls it "beautifully illuminated with very low energy",  a claimed total of 2304 watts.  (In contrast, the Wrigley building uses well over a hundred 1,000 metal halide lamps to get its knock-you-out-glow.)

The fixtures, from Austrian company Zumtobel, were hand crafted specifically for the Rookery.  "Nothing touches the building," says Sundin.  The brackets extend from the sills and rest on structure rather than attaching to it.  "The light fixture [is] not even two inches high and it's a little bigger than an index card.  This made the microsize fixture really vanish invisibly into the architectural detailing"

The red terra cotta that makes the Rookery so distinctive in daylight tended to make the building become something of a looming glob at night, punctuated by light coming from rectangular and often arched windows of isolated offices burning the post-5 p.m. oil.  There's something to be said for the organic and dynamic qualities of such improvisational lighting, but OVI's new lighting plan is subtle enough to preserve that kind of variance while still giving the Rookery a gentle visual pulse in the urban nightscape.