Sunday, October 30, 2011

November Calendar, devoid of Turkeys: Zils, Gang, Goldberg, Jahn, Dimenberg, Pond (x2), Gruen, CTBUH - nearly 50 great events

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Even though I know we'll be adding more, there's already nearly 50 great items on the November Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

It begins on Tuesday the 1st, with Arturo Vittori at Columbia College, continues on Tuesday at CAF, with Kate Keleman's curator talk for Design on the Edge, and Alexander Eisenschmidt on Chicago's unbuilt visionary projects, and Sheila Kennedy at IIT, and then explodes on Thursday the 3rd with no fewer than eight events, including John Ronan talking about his new home for Poetry Foundation for Friends of Downtown, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat's star-studded 10th Annual Best Tall Buildings Awards Symposium at IIT, Stuart Cohen discussing Howard Van Doren Shaw's residential designs at Second Presbyterian Church, and the release of Jeanne Gang's new book, Reverse Effect, on possibilities for the Chicago river at the fundraiser for the Natural Resources Defense Council that also includes a one-time-only performance of Carpocalypse! by a troupe from Second City.

On Tuesday, November 8th, there'll be a lecture by great structural engineer John Zils at CAF, where on Wednesday the 9th, Art Institute architecture curator Alison Fisher will talk about The Houses and Housing of Bertrand Goldberg, in conjunction with the museum's blockbuster retrospective on the architect. On Friday, the 11th, a group of architects discussing Irish Architecture Now goes up against Helmut Jahn lecturing at the Instituto Cervantes, and Ed Dimendberg, author of Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity at UIC, where RSAUD's Roger Sherman lectures on the 14th.

Want more? How about Dale Gyure lecturing on the work of Minoru Yamasaki on the 13th at the architects North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, a reception for Stanley Tigerman at AIA Chicago on  the 14th marking the publication of not one but two new books, Tom Jacobs of Krueck + Sexton talking about their net zero environmental impact building for the GSA in Miramar, Florida on th1 15th, and Terry Tatum discussing the work of Irving and Allen Pond at Glessner House on the 16th. Dennis McClendon talks about movable bridges for Landmarks Illinois at the Cultural Center, while Jeanne Gang is back discussing her new book at the Harold L. Washington Library, with the month ending on the November 30th with Greg Peerbolte discussing the new book on Victor Gruen and Randhurst center at CAF.

Even with things shut down for the Thanksgiving holiday week, things are jumping, and we've only scratched the surface. Check out everything on the November 2011 Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

The Epic Journey of Otto Klemperer

It's 2:00 a.m.; I should have been asleep hours ago.  Instead, thanks to Opera Chic, I've been watching this documentary from which I couldn't turn away, on the life of conductor Otto Klemperer, a man who had Gustav Mahler as a mentor, a man who was at forefront of the explosion of musical and theatrical creativity of the Weimar Republic, a man who was run out of Europe by the Nazi's, run out of Budapest by the Communists, and out of America by the McCarthyites; a man who survived both a brain tumor and setting himself on fire, a man who in later half of his life left a first impression of frailty unto death, but who was making orchestral magic until only a few years before he died, age 88.  And that's not counting the things the documentary left out - Klemperer's recurring mental illness, his ceaseless womanizing, his erratic and often abusive behavior.  Like Steve Jobs, he inspired terror and devotion, and his life and career was like an exposition on the 20th century, its music, from Mahler to Pierre Boulez, and its turbulent history.  Much of that story is told in his own voice, at times breaking out into an amazingly robust near-giggle laugh that seems to say that,  for all the torment, he thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Understatement on Huron, Enameled in Blood-Red Nail Polish.

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Nestled in blandness between a 1907 neoclassical apartment house and the lumpen-Gothic parking podium of Lagrange's Pinnacle like a swift poke in the eye, it's the new three level, 16,000 square-foot home of Ikram, the high-end Chicago clothier best known as a fashion destination for First Lady Michelle Obama.
Described in one account as designed by Mario Aranda and built by Oak Park's Aria Group, the building's style is cubist orientalism, with a red-lacquer-like facade punctuated by huge circles of doors and windows and a keyhole entrance into an open courtyard.  (And how many Gold Coast shops have their own courtyards these days?)  The form is severe; the appliqué delirious.  It's like a really funky Lego set.
This is the kind of place that has its own art gallery, the kind of place where it's considered vulgar for the manikins to be anything but minimally clothed.
It's the kind of place where this is the only sign.
It's the kind of place where if you don't already know where you are, you probably don't belong there.
Whether it's true or not that the bold design was meant to compensate for Ikram Goldman's reputed shrinking-violet personality, there's certainly nothing quite like it.  And if you forget your morning coffee, you can always walk by to make sure you arrive at work fully awake.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How a Bunch of Blockheads restored Chicago's last complete Wood-paved Alley

A great city scales.  While it makes its mark most often at the mega end of the scale - Willis Tower, O'Hare, Millennium Park - it doesn't really work unless it bores down to the small detail of a single block.
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An example of which can be seen in the photo above, taken in 2007, of Chicago's last complete wood block alley, located between State and Astor, just south of the Cardinal's mansion and coach house on North Avenue.  It was built between October 29 and November 23rd of 1909, when wood paving was still an  option for city streets and alleys, including in the Loop.  Wood blocks treated with creosote, a coal-tar derivative that kept out moisture, were created in batches of up to 30,000,  and could be had for $4.74 per square yard.  In the city of London in only one year, just one company laid down 370,000 square yards of wood paving, including in such major locations as Leicester Square.

All of Chicago's wood-paved streets are long gone.  The alley off of Astor was placed on the National Register in 2002.  The registration form contains an exhaustive history of both the alley and of the rise and fall of wood pavers.
At the time of the 1871 Chicago Fire, 37 of the city's  61 miles of improved streets were paved with wood.  Although the paving was said to have fueled the fire, an 1872 report concluded, "The wooden block pavement, although considerably damaged on all the streets where it was laid, withstood the fire much better than was expected."  By 1891, 62% of Chicago's 774 miles of improved streets were paved with wood.  Although the use of stone for paving was judged superior and longer-lasting, wood endured because it was a plentiful and it was cheap - it could be had at about 1/3 of the cost of stone.  Over time, however, as Chicago exhausted the forests of the Midwest, the price of lumber increased, and by the time the Astor alley was created, the use of wood for paving was already in steep decline.  By 1934, the cost of a wood paved street was actually higher than than of asphalt, and only 400 yards of creosote pavers were deployed that year.  To put that in current perspective, Chicago currently has 1,900 miles of public alleys, with 3,500 acres of surfacing.

Restoring the alley off Astor became a long-term project, championed by former 43rd ward alderman Vi Daley, and Maureen O'Brien and the Gold Coast Neighbors of Chicago.  Their cause was taken up Chicago Department of Transportation Project Director of Streetscape and Sustainable Design Janet Attarian, who with co-workers and compatriots formed the band of "Blockheads" who taught themselves everything there was to know of the snares and challenges of wood paving in the 21st century.

At this Saturday's ribbon-cutting ceremony,  Attarian gave a fascinating account of the long, laborious process of figuring out how to restore a wood paved alley, which you can see in the video below, starting at about 1:50 in.  "Where do I get wood blocks? Well, nobody's making wood blocks.  No one's installing wood blocks."

The alley is 18 feet wide, and 919 square yards, with blocks that are four inches deep, by four inches wide and in sizes of 6, 8 and 10 inches in length.  The original pavers were cedar blocks, treated with creosote, set in tar and gravel.  To her surprise, Attarian found that the original base was of concrete, "not in that bad a shape concrete"

Attarian found only one company, Kaswell Flooring Systems in Massachusetts, still making the wooden blocks, but not for exterior use.  (Check out their website for a wealth of great historical information on the use of wood paving.) Today, wood blocks are used as distinctive elements for interior design, and on factory floors, where they absorb grease.  But when Attarian tested the blocks, they shrank and distorted within months.  Making them usable by treating them with creosote was out.  As a known carcinogen, it's now a banned substance.  And the type of old-growth cedar used originally is no longer available.

After a long search - for a while the only alternative seemed to be a wood found in virgin rain forest - she found the ideal replacement wood: black locust,  an "incredibly hard, incredibly stable wood that doesn't absorb moisture very well or very quickly . . . it turns out that it's sort of a scrap wood down in Pennsylvania - invasive weed trees."  So the supplier of the black locust was put in touch with the manufacturer to create the new pavers.
The entrance section of the alley off of State Parkway is now the "piece of the historical alley that we salvaged and sort of concentrated . . . the wood is exceptionally beautiful."
The new alley of black locust pavers stretches to Astor. As opposed to the original tar and gravel, the new pavers are set in sand.  Unlike the original alley, the restoration includes concrete bands to help keep the pavers in place.  The pavers use the heart wood cores of the trees, making for striking patterns.
The original cost of the alley was $3,346.96 in 1909 dollars.  According to the price list that the City of Chicago distributes to alderman, the cost of repaving a block of alley with concrete is $95,000.  Non-concrete paving goes for $26,500 for the first block and $37,500 for each subsequent block.  To repave to adhere to the city's Green Alley initiative, which replaces expensive storm sewer connections with a permeable paving that allows water to soak into the soil or infiltration basins, and uses a light, reflective surface to reflect solar heat, the cost per block is $125,000. According to an article in Skyline, the cost for restoring the Astor Street alley was $400,000, paid for out of an alderman's annual allotment of $1.35 million for ward projects they select.

Is it worth it?  In these days of budget cuts and layoffs, with libraries cutting hours, and police and fire stations consolidating, it's tempting to say no, but down that sackcloth-and-ashes path lies a dull, dead city, where beauty becomes an extravagance, and living, a bargain-basement slog.  If everyone did their job right, the beautiful wood alley off of Astor could last another 100 years, and $4,000 per annum seems a reasonable price to to secure this irreplaceable part of Chicago history.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sometimes, architectural traditions aren't really worth continuing: Northwestern's OCP

In a presentation to SOAR this summer, this is actually how Northwestern described the design for it's new 25-story, $344 million Outpatient Care Pavilion, to be built at Fairbanks and Erie . . . .
"The OCP is a campus building continuing the architectural tradition of Feinberg, Galter and Prentice . . . "
Could they set the bar any lower?

This is the new Rush Presbyterian Hospital, designed by Perkins+Will, and the adjacent Midwest Orthopaedics building . . .
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This is the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca's new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital . . .
. . . and this is Northwestern's new OCP . . .
Can anyone explain the logic of this design?  Why, on the Erie and Fairbanks elevations shown above, the precast concrete piers or fins are rendered as being continuous, while on Ontario street . . .
the concrete piers start, and then stop, and then the curtain wall is all steel-and-glass, and then it stops, and then the piers start again, and then they stop again, and then its steel and glass again, and then it's a steel penthouse like the top of a cheap medicine bottle.  And what's the deal with those metal louvers like hanging chads that cover over half the windows between the piers?  If they're venting the parking garage, why are they on only some of the parking floors?  Could there be any more graceless way to do this?
Could a design be any more jumbled and incoherent? If it were a patient, attention-deficit-disorder would be the easy diagnosis.  I suppose you could try to pass it off as a kind of Mannerist Modern, but I'm not sure even that would wash.

As someone who was recently there for an outpatient procedure,  I can attest that Northwestern's medical credentials are top drawer.  It's now embarked on a campaign to establish itself as a world-class institution, on the level of the Cleveland and Mayo Clinics.  So why does it insist on presenting itself through buildings whose profiles are relentlessly indifferent, so generic and forgettable?
And why is it so hell-bent on destroying the only truly distinctive work of architecture on its campus, Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Virtual Facadectomy: On October 26, Grant Park Advisory talks 618 S. Michigan, unveils plans for North Grant Park

What's thinner than a facadectomy, that dubious "preservation" process that strips off the facade of a soon-to-be demolished building and slaps it onto a new structure?  How about a fritectomy?

It's part of the plan for a new facade at 618 South Michigan, a topic on the agenda of the next Grant Park Advisory Council meeting, to be held Wednesday, October 26, 2011 , 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the 8th floor meeting room of the Chicago Park District Headquarters, a/k/a Harry Weese's Time-Life Building, 541 North Fairbanks (enter on Ohio).

The major item at the meeting will be Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates' presentation of the revised plans for North Grant Park/Daley Bicentennial Plaza.  In May of 2010, Van Valkenburgh gave a presentation of his views of park planning even as the Park District's Gia Biagi mandated than any plans would have to accommodate a new building for the Chicago Children's Museum, the pet project of movie producer Gigi Pritzker that a flailing and exhausted Mayor Richard M. Daley tried to ram into the park while vilifying as racists and child-haters anyone who dared oppose it.  Flash forward to today: Daley is gone, Pritzker is gone.  The opponents prevailed.  A stake has been driven into the project's heart, and the Museum is negotiating to continue at Navy Pier and expand its presence.  Will this give Valkenburgh more freedom to come up with something spectacular,  like his new Brooklyn Bridge Park, which balances playlots with a salt marsh?
But back to 618 South Michigan.  It looks like the original intrusion of modernist structure into the 600 block of the neo-classical Michigan Avenue streetwall, anchored by Marshall & Fox's Blackstone Hotel at the south, and the Harvester building to the north, with the Blum's Vogue building, constructed by Florence Ziegfeld, Sr., in between.  Actually, however, as related in an excellent post on John D. Cramer's great HPRES-ist blog, 618 South Michigan was actually built in 1913, designed by architects Zimmerman, Saxe, & McBride with a Burnham-esque classical buff terra cotta facade.  That facade survived into the 1950's, but when IBM took over the building, a new Miesian steel-and-glass curtain wall replaced it, designed by Shayman & Salk, a more suitable visual expression for one of the corporate powerhouses of mid-century modernism.
In 1974, the Spertus Institute took over the building, and added that monolithic entrance wall unbeloved by many.  In 2007, the Institute moved again, to a spectacular new building by Krueck & Sexton that has quickly become one of Chicago's architectural icons. Two years before the opening, the Spertus sold 76,000 square-foot 618 South for $8 million to Columbia College, which already owned both the Harvester and Blum's Vogue buildings.

For Columbia, which has a sterling record of purchasing, retrofitting and restoring vintage buildings throughout the South Loop,  Gensler has been engaged in an Urban Campus Repositioning "to rethink the way its 16 buildings fit into this burgeoning South Loop neighborhood."  But what of 618 South? Unlike most of Columbia's other structures, 618 South Michigan's original facade, long gone, couldn't be restored, only recreated, an inauthentic process.  So what is Gensler going to do?  First, they're going to replace the 1950's curtain wall with a new curtain wall, but on the glass they're going to etch a fritting that will evoke the terra cotta original.

That kind of applied imagery is very Venturi, and not unknown.  Cramer cites its use by Herzog & DeMeuron on their 1998 Fachhochschule Eberswalde library, where Thomas Ruff transferred images onto what became a photographic concrete facade.  Looking at the redesign of 618 South in this image from the invaluable website, it's hard to make a judgement of how it'll work out.
The fritting is described as "suggesting" the image of the original facade.  If it's too abstracted, will it be too insubstantial to register?  Still, the idea of this kind of layering, of intimating the past without denying the present, creating a tension of simultaneity, makes me look forward to seeing how it will all turn out.  And it doesn't -well, a future generation gets to take it apart and put it together still again - maybe they'll rename it "The Face Lift Building".

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bring Back the Airport in the Lake!: Aerotropolis discussed October 24, unknown Mies this Wednesday - new October events

According to Kenan Institute director John D. Kasarda, Korea's Songdo City is the new Eden, a "Smart City" in which the government of South Korean filled in nearly six square miles of tidal wetlands on a migratory bird flight path and turned them over to developers as a tabula rasa to create from scratch a massive city "built by companies for companies."
It's super green, and hyper-wired, and if the full-press PR blitz touting its wonders reminds you of the initial euphoria over George Pullman's 19th century versions of the perfect company town on Chicago's south side, you're not alone.  But don't worry yourself; resistance is futile.  In the time-honored tradition of academics who have found their own version of the future and can imagine no other, Kasarda sees the model of Songdo City as our future "whether we like it or not."

Kasarda, author of Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next, will be discussing his work at an October 24th event sponsored by the Chaddick Institute.

It's one of two events just added to the October Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events. This Wednesday, October 19th, at Crown Hall, 11:30 a.m. IIT, Carsten Krohn will be discussing The unknown Mies, the "crypto-classical" houses of the architect's early career.

There are still over three dozen events to come this month. Check them all out on the October 2011 Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Inside the Chicago Motor Club: a preview of openhousechicago, October 15 and 16, a celebration of architecture giving access to 130 sites, many rarely open to the public

It started with OpenHouse London, almost twenty years ago, a weekend of public access to great spaces that are usually private and inaccessible.  By this year's edition, which took place just last month, they were  up to "700 buildings of all kinds opening their doors to everyone - all for free," and estimates of the number of participants is edging up towards a quarter million years.

"I don't think we'll be quite as big this year," said Bastiaan Bouma of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, "but we have ambitions to be just as large as London."  Bouma was talking about openhousechicago - he's managing director - which is bringing what's now an international program to Chicago this Saturday and Sunday, October 15th and 16th. opening up over a hundred locations, most rarely, if ever, open to the public.
And not just downtown.  Bouma estimated that about 40 of buildings are in or around the Loop, with another 90 spread out across the city, from Loyola on the far north, to the square-mile U.S. Steel site on the far south.  It's an opportunity to showcase not just the usual suspects downtown, but to introduce people to the Chicago's lesser-known jewels in the outlying neighborhoods, many of which have now been doubled-battered, first by the tsunami of foreclosures, and now with banks turning increasingly to demolition as the best way to cut their losses.
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Tours are grouped into five diverse neighborhoods, each with their own tour hub.  In Bronzeville, its K2 Architects' Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center on Greenwood just north of 47th, in Rogers Park, the Warren Park fieldhouse, etc.  Participants are responsible for getting themselves to the neighborhood, but once there, "hop on-hop off" shuttles will be available to move them from site to site.  Most, however, are within walking distance of each other, and, as Bouma suggested, the bicycle may be the ideal way of navigating the festival.
We've written about this fantastic festival before.  The great, keep-sake quality guide that ran in the Thursday Trib should also be available at many of the event sites, but even better is the very top-notch openhousechicago website, which is packed with information, great photographs, and maps - it even lets you create your own itinerary. 

Victoria Thornton, who founded the original Open House in London and has led the growth of the Open House Worldwide into what is now a dozen cities, from New York (also this weekend) to Helsinki to Tel Aviv, was on hand yesterday at the press launch for the Chicago edition at the long-shuttered Chicago Motor Club building on east Wacker.
The 17-story story 1928 skyscraper by Holabird & Root was picked up at auction this past June for $9.700,000 by Aries Capital, whose Chairman and CEO Neil Freeman was also on hand Thursday.  Aries has been involved in projects from the Whitehall Hotel in Chicago to the renovation of the century-old Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans.  In Chicago, they're pairing up with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, whose portfolio includes the renovation of the former Chicago and Northwestern Power House west of the river, and the former Goldblatt's store in Uptown.
Yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Time's David Roeder reported Aries estimates the cost of bringing the Motor Club building back up to speed as a hotel as somewhere between $42 to $62 million.  As a hotel, the Motor Club has at least one great advantage: sitting just to the east of Harry Weese's Seventeenth Church of Christ Scientist, it offers great, largely unobstructed views down the river to the west.
We didn't get a chance to sample those views on Thursday, but did get to see the three-story, light-filled lobby.
Even with the current peeling paint and cracked glass, it's splendor endures in the Art Deco ornament and chandeliers, and a northern wall largely covered by John Warner Norton's massive mural depicting an abstracted map of the United States.
This Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16, you can check out the Motor Club lobby for yourself, as well as over 130 other sites, from churches, to swimming pools, to architects offices, mansions, shops, and everything in between, including a truly rare chance to climb to the top of the original Sears Tower.
Get your walking shoes and check out the full list of choices for openhousechicago.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Navy Pier, strangely popular: Zaha and Ronan, Mayne and Krueck & Sexton, Rem and Ross Barney - among 50 teams vying to win the redesign

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Apparently, when it comes to architects and designers, nobody doesn't like Navy Pier, which announced today that 50+ design teams have responded to an invitation to vie for the chance to redesign the popular tourist attraction.
The international search for designers of a new “Pierscape” represents the first step in implementation of the Centennial Vision planning framework for redevelopment of the Pier as it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016. Navy Pier Inc. (NPI) and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) jointly approved the planning framework shortly before NPI took over management of the Pier July 1 under a 25-year lease from MPEA.

The request for qualifications and design proposals sent out on September 1 asked for multi-disciplinary teams “to reimagine the public spaces at Navy Pier.” And based on the number and quality of the firms responding, imagination won’t be in short supply, said a key advisor to NPI in its search.
The list is a who's-who of architects and their teams, both from Chicago - John Ronan, Ross Barney, Krueck & Sexton, Booth Hansen, Xavier Vendrell Studio,  Perkins+Will, Lohan Anderson, and Epstein, among others - and internationally: OMA, Morphosis, Frederic Schwartz, Kengo Kuma, Rafael Viñoly, Safdie Architects, SOM, UNStudio, Weiss/Manfredi and Zaha Hadid, among others.
Many of the non-Chicago teams include Chicago partners: Christy Webber with AECOM, Bruce Mau with James Corner (and with Booth Hansen), Goettsch Partners with Ingenhoven, Solomon Cordwell Buenz with Machado and Silvetti, David Woodhouse with Miraelles Tagliabue, Destafano Partners with Rios Clementi Hale,  Brininstool Kerwin+Lynch with ShoP Architects, and Studio Blue with STOSS Landscpe  Zoe Ryan and Thirst  shows up as part of the !melk team, versus Robert Somol with UNSTudio, and Sarah Herda with Xavier Vendrell.  Throughout the mix, there are also names like Michael Maltzan, Adjaye Associates, Hoerr Schaudt, Hood Design, Atelier Ten, Foster+Partners (with Epstein), Theaster Gates, and Arup, pretty much all over the place.

You can see the full list here.
The next step in the selection process will be to choose approximately 10 teams that will be asked to submit additional information about their team members, Haemmerle said. Then, approximately five design teams will be asked to submit design proposals and participate in oral interviews with Navy Pier. Final selection of a design team or teams that will work on the Pierscape is anticipated in February 2012.
Such an assemblage of talent, but how much vision can a bureaucracy tolerate?  Will the ultimate result be the next Millennium Park, or a giant mouse - a tweaked tourist trap?