Thursday, September 29, 2011

Farewell, My Friend

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Herringbone floods and the hidden potential of an overlooked Chicago gem

A couple of year's ago, Hyde Park's Sam Guard had tipped me off about an impending change at the upper-level outdoor plaza at Illinois Center. The basic plan for Illinois Center had been designed by Mies van der Rohe, as well as the first building, One Illinois Center, completed in 1970, the year after Mies' death. The paving design followed the grid of the buildings . . .
 click images for larger view
and, as you can see, it had been allowed to deteriorate over time.  Add to the mix that moisture was reported to be seeping into the level below, required a resurfacing of the plaza. At the time I was talking with Sam Guard, the new plan had already become visible in the driveways, resurfaced in a darker, simpler interlocking pattern of squares and rectangles . . .
I didn't get much a response when I asked Illinois Center about their plans in 2009.  Nothing seemed to be happening, so I moved on to other things, but a recent visit revealed that it's now the plaza's turn.  The original geometric paving is being replaced by a continuous carpet of herringbone, with lighter pavers of exposed-aggregate Chicago-style concrete . . .
It's not a tragedy, but it's certainly a disconnect from the design of the buildings.  As I've written before in regards to Buckingham Fountain, I'm not a fan of these massive undifferentiated carpets.  What might be distinctive in smaller implementations, or as a composite in a more detailed general design, becomes numbingly generic when slathered across a huge surface like ketchup on a bad burger.  It may be cheaper to maintain, but it's just plain lazy.  At the Miesian Illinois Center, the endless herringbone is like wearing sneakers with black tie. I know it's done, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea.

Which is too bad, because in my mind, the upper plaza at Illinois Center is one of Chicago's unrealized gems.  It's been described as cramped and windswept, but I don't find it cramped at all, nor, whenever I visit, especially windswept.  It may not be the greatest place to be on a freezing winter day, but the same could be said for just about any downtown plaza under those conditions.  On a warmer day,  and especially at night, the way you see the buildings slide past each other as you traverse the plaza is quite beautiful.
I love the way the plaza plays off the modernist towers to the east and south to a shear western wall made up of the raw backsides of the older Michigan avenue structures.  The mature landscaping is also quite attractive, small plantings, flowers.  I love especially the tall trees, delicate green leaves and brown trunks rising in counterpoint to synthetic black of the monolithic towers.
Illinois Center, of course, became the poster child for the revolt against modernism, its towers the epitome of the repetitive black box, it's concourse a low-ceiling second tier shopping mall with the charm stripped away.  It didn't help that the complex was twice removed from the rest of the city, both stuck behind older structures like the Art Deco 333 North Michigan and the neo-classical Republic Insurance Building, and its office lobby's raised up a level above Michigan Avenue.

That raised plaza, however, has now become the bridge to the massive residential development to the east.  Until you get to the sunken park of Lake Shore East, it's all on the same level of the Illinois Center plaza.

Two things are missing to make the plaza a real asset. First off, the kind of amenities that make a plaza a destination.  Changing this needn't be an ordeal  A few kiosks, and maybe a discreet dumbwaiter structure that would allow the broad expanse overlooking the Chicago river . . .
to become a dining plaza during the warmer months.

The second is a way to end Illinois Center's isolation from the Mag Mile, a link to draw up people from Michigan Avenue. In 2008, the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Urban Land Institute Chicago chapter floating a proposal for creating a Chicago equivalent of Rome's Spanish Steps to mediate between Michigan Avenue and the plaza.
Nothing came of it, and now the gracious stairway entrance off of South Water . . .
 . . . has been sealed off, as has, last time I checked,  the stair from East Wacker.  Hopefully, this is temporary, and they'll return in good condition.

To me the most intriguing possibility lies in a small gap between the buildings on Michigan Avenue . . .
It's not wide enough to create a Spanish Steps style grandeur, but, replacing the existing fire escapes, it's just wide enough to create something so visually arresting that it would pique the interests of the passersby to see just where that funky staircase led.  The Chicago Loop Alliance has been instrumental in bringing art back downtown.  Sponsorship of an architectural competition for the design of that stairway could both eliminate an unsightly scar on the Mag Mile and provide the needed bridge between Illinois Center and the rest of the city.

Memo to Tom Friedman: No one wants your damn memos

TO: Tom Friedman (oh, sorry, Thomas L Friedman)

Go away.  You seem to be the last person to realize that you are a pompous, self-satisfied idiot who doesn't have a clue.  The Iraq war - you are the guy who thought it was a great idea, right?  Letting GM die and destroying the jobs of hundreds of thousands of employees so they can all go work for Tesla - that was your idea, am I not correct? And you're still at, writing a memo to Barack Obama about how simple it would be to fix all our problems if only he would listen to your simple advice.  As Mencken famously said, "neat, plausible, and wrong." Except maybe not the plausible part. See Hendrik Hertzberg if you need it explained to you.  You're not helping.  Go away.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dead Lumber Magnate restores Bourgeois Hands for Jane Addams Memorial

 click images for larger view
In 1996, for a new park just west of Navy Pier and north of the Ohio Street Beach dedicated to the legendary Jane Addams, the great sculptor Louise Bourgeois created a memorial, Helping Hands, comprised of six rough-hewn granite stones topped by carved marble hands . . .

Bourgeois's leap of faith was not rewarded.  According to Chicago Park District historian Julia Bachrach, Bourgeois's sculpture "did not fare well in that location. It was exposed to the intense winds of Lake Michigan. It was in a heavily used area. It was in a low setting with poor sight lines. It not only deteriorated, but the art work was also the victim of severe vandalism." As reported by The Reader's Martha Bayne and Jeff Huebner, the sculpture was attacked at least twice - with the fingers on one of the hands chopped off as if they belonged to someone who had failed to pay back a juice loan.  The Art Institute, which bankrolled the sculpture, and the Park District, which placed it, threw in the towel and removed the piece to a Park District warehouse.
"Fortunately," continued Bachrach at rededication of the artwork this past Saturday, "this sculpture was the gift of the Ferguson fund of the Art Institute. As Chicagoans we are so lucky that lumber merchant Benjamin Franklin Ferguson decided to establish a $1 million endowment for the installation and perpetual care of public art in our city more than a century ago." Ferguson's largess, valued in the tens of millions in today's dollars, funded 20 individual works, from Lorado Taft's Fountain of Time, to the Henry Hering monumental reliefs on the Michigan Avenue bridge, Henry Moore's Nuclear Energy at the U of C, and Isamu Noguchi fountain along Columbus Drive, which has fallen into a state of neglect where even its owner, the Art Institute, appears to have forgotten it's there.  (You can find photographs and full descriptions of all the Ferguson Fund commissions on Jyoti Srivastava excellent Public Art in Chicago website, here.)

"In 2006," says Bachrach," the Ferguson fund covered the cost of moving the artwork, sending the damaged pieces back to Louise Bourgeois so that they could be recreated by the artist, who was then in her 90's. The other pieces went into storage. For several years, "the project was tied up in good old political bureaucracy"
Bachrach credits Park District President Bryan Traubert for suggesting, "why don't we find an alternative location with Chicago parks so that we can return the artwork to its rightful place in the public sphere?" "The timing was excellent, " remarked Bachrach, "because the City of Chicago had recently transferred ownership of the Chicago Women's Park and Gardens to the Park District. Mimi McKay is the landscape architect who originally designed Chicago Women's Park for the city and she very graciously helped us identify the location for the installation and advised us on some of the landscape issues." 
So the sculpture is back, relocated to just the north of the Clarke House Museum, at 1827 South Indiana, fronting on the Prairie Avenue historic district.  Chicago's oldest house, it's celebrating its 175th anniversary this week with an all-day symposium this Wednesday, September 28th, and a Family Day, Saturday October 1st offering free mini-tours, folk music, period fashion and other events.  (More information here.).
Naomi Beckwith, Julia Bachrach
Saturday's event also offered remarks from Glessner House's William Tyre, 2nd ward alderman Robert Fioretti, and Museum of Contemporary Art curator Naomi Beckwith, who compared Bourgeois's more human take on surrealism than that of the flamboyant Salvador Dali.  "She didn't choose," said Beckwith, "to make a monument that was a large scale sculpture. It wasn't a sort of a real figuration of Jane Addams, a picture of her, as you would normally see. But it was about these hands that Jane so beautifully spoke about, as a symbol.  And all these hands as you can see are reaching out and touching, and they're so delicate, and so warm, and so for Bourgeois this idea of surrealism was about the inner life of what you could love and what you feel inside."
As someone whose early childhood was marked by nightmares of disembodied hands emerging from the baseboard to grab and hold me, I'm probably not the best person to critique Bourgeois's sculpture.  Far more interesting to hear from Jane Addams . . .
. . . whose person and spirit were ably recreated on Saturday by artist and activist Jan Lisa Huttner, portraying Addams, and reading an excerpt from her memoir, Twenty Years at Hull House, in which she recalled a visit to a London slum where she witnessed the desperately hungry poor thrust out their hands to grab their winnings in a regular Sunday auction of rotting fruit and vegetables.
Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand, this oldest tool with which man has dug his way from savagery and with which he is constantly groping forward.

I have never since been able to see a number of hands help upward, even when they are moving rhythmical in a calisthenic exercise, or when they belong to a class of chubby children who wave them in eager response to a teacher's query, without a certain revival of this memory, a clutching at the heart reminiscent of the despair and resentment which seized me then.
If you want to see more, here's an execrably shot video of excerpts from Saturday's ceremonies, complete with  vertigo-inducing camera movement and thumbs and fingers over the lens.  It might be better if you just listen. (I really have to take the time to teach myself how to shoot extended videos on my Canon T2i.)  Suitably, for a monument whose history and substance carries ambiguities between hope and despair, the day oscillated between a persistent drear drizzle and short bursts of blue sky and  bright sunlight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jeanne Gang before Aqua (and being name a MacArthur genius) - an early portrait.

"I was always fascinated with how pieces came together . . . When we make form, we’re thinking about how can we make the identity fluctuate."
When Studio/Gang architect Jeanne Gang was announced as the winner of one of this year'$500,000 MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" fellowships, I was reminded that just a week or two ago, I had come across a profile I had written, based on several interviews with Gang, back in 2004, as her career as an architect was just getting started. Among many things, she talks about growing up in Boone County, giant Pink Sea Snails, Rem Koolhaas, Marilyn Monroe and several of her early projects, including the Starlight Theater in Rockford, the Marble Curtain, the Chinese American Service League, and the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, among others.
 I don't think it's been published before, but you can read the complete profile - with photos - here.

Jeanne Gang awarded 2011 MacArthur Genius Grant

 click images for larger view
Officially, they're called MacArthur Fellowships, but unofficially, they've come to be known as the "Genius Grants", $500,000 over five years, no strings attached.  This year, among the 22 recipients who've just received "one call out of the blue", as the MacArthur Foundation describes it (do I see a licensing deal for a TV series in its future?) was Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, whose work ranging from the new Columbia College Media Center, to the Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk, and the already iconic Aqua tower has been remaking the profile of the city.
It was a good day for Gang.  Earlier, as reported by the Trib's Blair Kamin, she was named one of two architects, along with Chris Lee, who will work with IIT students to design four new $4 million boathouses, assisted by a $1 million EPA grant, announced by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as keystones in his efforts to increase recreational usage of the city's river.  Now if he can only jump start getting the funding to build Studio Gang's Ford Calumet Environmental Center, which has the same potential to make that neighborhood a recreational and tourist magnet.
Studio Gang also has a new website, designed by Bruce Mau Design.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"The Cartridge" Snaps into the Chicago Skyline

click images for larger view
It's already the most distinctive addition to the Chicago Skyline since Trump Tower: VOA's new baby-blue, LEED-green, 479-foot-tall dorm building for Roosevelt University.  It's scheduled to be completed in time for the winter semester in January of next year, and if that seems kind of close for comfort, keep in mind it didn't even begin to rise from the ground until last November.
It didn't reach the height of the next-door Adler & Sullivan Auditorium tower until this March.  In May, it was here, but as late as the beginning of June, it still looked like this.
After watching it go up, I finally realize what it's wafer-thin, notched profile reminds me of: one of those ink-jet cartridges - the magenta one, to be specific - that snaps into your personal printer.  Hence the nickname, "The Cartridge" for the way it snaps into the skyline between the fire-engine red CNA Building and the limestone tower of the Auditorium. 

The view from the north, as it rises behind the landmark Michigan Avenue streetwall, grabs red checkmarks from the reflections of the CNA into the windows of its tall bustle like a grid-like study of color and form.
To the south, we now have a year-round, patriotic red, white and blue trifecta, if not in that order, in which the upward punch of the proud Auditorium tower more than holds its own.


click images for larger view

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chicago Streetscene: Red Louis

click image for larger view

Late Notice: Ward Miller discusses The Architecture of Adler and Sullivan today at 2

Today, Sunday, September 18th, the Chicago Jewish Historical Society will be hosting a talk by Ward Miller, Executive Director of the Rickel Nickel Committee and co-author of the book, The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, focusing on Dankmar Adler and his connection to the Chicago Jewish community.  The event will take place in Room 320-26 of Roosevelt University's Auditorium Building, 430 South Michigan at 2:00 p.m., followed by a social hour with kosher refreshments.  Admission is free and open to the public.  For more information, call 312/663-5634.

Monday, September 12, 2011

October's spectacular openhousechicago needs a few good men and women (800, actually, but who's counting, and what a view!)

Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill Architecture (click images for larger view)
Architecture, no matter the focus on exterior form, is not a wrapper, but an environment. And while we usually experience architecture by walking by or standing in front of it, on October 15th and 16th, you can soak it in, both inside and out.  The Chicago Architecture Foundation's extraordinary event, openhousechicago, will let visitors enter into some of the city's most distinctive and compelling interiors.

And they need your help.  Jump to the bottom of the post for more info, but first let me show you some of the wonder with which you'll surround yourself.

Some of the 126 buildings, from Rogers Park to Hyde Park, Garfield Park, downtown and all points in between,  are "walk-by" only, but the vast majority offer rare opportunities to experience some of Chicago's greatest spaces.  You can tour online, with photographs, the full roster of locations here, but among the highlights are the architectural office of Goettsch Partners, Perkins+Will, Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill, and VOA Associates.  There's Corpus Christ Church . . .
. . . the 1897 Grant Memorial AME Church, Dankmar Adler's last commission, the 1899 Isaiah Temple (now Ebeneezer Missionary Baptist church),The Chicago Motor Club and its 29-foot wide John Warner Norton mural, a historic courtroom at 26th and California, the Del Prado Hotel, Frank Lloyd Wright's Emil Bach house, and the interior of the auditorium space at the Abraham Lincoln Center, the Art Noveau murals of the Fine Arts Building, the spectacular Sears Roebuck Power House that is now the Power House High School . . .
.  . . an empty floor of the Inland Steel building, Alfred Caldwell's rooftop garden at Lake Point Tower . . .
 . . . the Martinez Funeral Home, Meyers Ace Hardware (the former Sunset Cafe where Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Earl 'Fatha' Hines played in the 1920's), the 1912 Monroe Building and new Pritzker Military Library, the private pool of Jens Jensen's Park Castle apartment building . . .
 . . . KAM Temple/Rainbow PUSH, the Art Moderne 2nd Federal Savings . . .
. . . Krueck and Sexton's Spertus Institute, the Gustavus F. Swift mansion . . .
. . . the Michigan Room overlooking Millennium Park in the University Club, Helmut Jahn's South Campus Chiller Plant at U of C, the 1893 Samuel Karpen mansion (now Welcome Inn Manor).

You get the idea.

As you might imagine, covering 126 sites all across the city, takes a lot of volunteers . . .
In order to make this weekend a success, we need many volunteers to play a variety of roles. Volunteering for OHC is simple and the benefits are pretty great.  We're looking for volunteers to provide visitor welcoming assistance at all OHC2011 sites. Volunteers will also help control admission to sites and track visitor attendance. You can volunteer for one 4 hour shift on either Saturday or Sunday, or both. Either way, volunteers receive a commemorative shirt, a discount at the CAF shop, a free walking tour pass and priority access to all OHC 2011 sites.
You can get more information on how you can volunteer here,  or contact openhousechicago's volunteer coordinator, Patrick Miner, via email.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Save Prentice Outreach, Design on the Edge, architects. Doing other things, Margaret Iannelli at the new DePaul Art Museum - News Notes from all Over

via Blair Kamin comes a report in Architect Magazine that Donna Robertson is resigning as Dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, effective May 31, 2012.

click images or larger view
Preservation Chicago is holding a Save Prentice Outreach Day, Saturday, September 17th.
We're hitting the streets on September 17th to Save Prentice!    Join Preservation Chicago and other members of the Save Prentice Coalition for a Save Prentice Outreach Day on Saturday, September 17, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Michigan Avenue between Adams and Monroe streets.  We will be passing out flyers and urging  citizens to take action to save Prentice.

RSVP by Thursday, September 15th or call us at 773 334 8800.  The first 25 attendees to arrive will receive a free "SAVE PRENTICE!" t-shirt.
Chicago Women in Architecture is looking for financial sponsors for a new exhibition it is curating, architects. Doing Other Things, or a.Dot that will showcase the artwork of more than 50 architects and artists and is scheduled to open October 6 at Ross Barney Architects, 10 West Hubbard.   More information can be found on-line, and the deadline for printing is September 23rd.

In addition to the two major exhibitions, Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention, and Inside Marina City: A Project by Iker Gil and E.G. Larsson, both opening at the Art Institute this Saturday the 17th, next Friday, September 23rd, the Chicago Architecture Foundation will be opening Design on the Edge: Chicago Architects Reimagine Neighborhoods, a collaboration with Stanley Tigerman and architects Darryl Crosby, Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen, Jeanne Gang, the late Douglas Garofalo and Xavier Vendrell, Patricia Saldana Natke, John Ronan, and SOM's Ross Wimer.

And Saturday, September 17th also sees the opening of the Antunovich Associates' new DePaul Art Museum at 935 West Fullerton, just next to the Fullerton "L" stop, with an exhibition Re:Chicago, which surveys "the careers and artistic reputations of Chicago artists over more than a century," from today's Nick Cave to yesterday's Margaret Iannelli, the talented - and deeply troubled - graphic designer whose work was overshadowed by her more famous husband.

The Grant Park Conservancy  will be holding a meeting Thursday, September 15th, at 6:30 at Daley Bicentennial Fieldhouse, 337 East Randolph, on the East Monroe Garage reconstruction project that will close the Fieldhouse during the day beginning on the 16th.  Also to be discussed are repairs to Grant Park after this year's Lollapalooza.