Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gummy Passage: Why Landmarking the Wrigley needs to consider its elegant plaza

 click images for larger view

This Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will consider bestowing official landmark status on the Wrigley Building, the gleaming cream terra cotta pair of towers that are one of the crown jewels of Chicago architecture.  Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the two linked buildings - the main structure completed in 1921, the annex in 1924 - ended nearly a century serving as the high-profile headquarters of the Chicago gum maker last summer when the company, now a subsidiary of global candy behemoth Mars, announced it was dumping 100 Chicago area employees, and pulling out of the Wrigley Building, shifting the last 250 workers to its research center in the ritzy confines of Goose Island.

In September, a deal was finalized to sell the structure for $33 million to an investor group led by BDT Capital Partners.  Earlier this month, the new owners announced their intentions to redevelop the buildings, and now the first new business on Thursday's Landmarks agenda is preliminary landmark designation for the Wrigley.  The second agenda item is a recommendation to the City Council to approve a Class L Property Tax Incentive that would substantially reduce taxes on the building for the next 12 years, in exchange for renovations that would equal at least 50% of the complex's value.

While the actual terms of the ordinance had not been posted on the Commission's website as this is being written, it's reasonable to suppose that it will protect all exteriors facing Michigan, the river, and on the west facades.  What is not clear is how the ordinance will address - if it all - the exterior of the two buildings facing the wide plaza between them.
As we wrote about in this photo essay, in August of 2010, the Mars subsidiary undertook a bargain-basement renovation of the plaza that saw, on the plus side, the removal of a dilapidated fountain and planters, versus, on the minus side, leaving behind an ugly motley of paving, and the installation of new generic and cheap-looking storefronts on the annex side of the plaza that gashed an ugly scar across the elegant terra cotta ornament of the historic facades.
For decades, the Wrigley Building restaurant, which had, itself, grafted a modernist entrance onto the annex's plaza facade, was a prime lunchtime destination.  Now, according to a report in Crain's Chicago Business, the new owners are planning to bring a restaurant of the same quality back to the plaza, along with additional retail.  The way Crain's describes it - "The shops will be built out into the plaza with entrances from the outside" - is fairly ambiguous.  Does it mean new storefronts and entrances will be added to the current facades, or that there will be new construction extending behind the current exterior walls?

In either case, the landmarks ordinance for the building needs to be written to protect the Wrigley Building plaza from further insensitive assaults on its distinctive architecture.  We've already seen, in the Mars renovation, how not to do it, but there are any number of ways to do it correctly, and the ordinance should make sure the new owners, whose hearts seem to be in the right place, are encouraged to adopt one of them in meeting their own needs.
The quality of the plaza has become even more important as it is now the Michigan avenue gateway to River North, leading in to the broad expanse of the Trump Tower promenade, which terminates visually in the shimmering short-and-tall backdrop of the illuminated Trump Tower parking ramp and Goettsch Partners elegant 353 North Clark office tower, disgorging pedestrians into two different pathways leading to either to Marina City or the IBM Building at 330 North Wabash.  Right now, the shopworn Wrigley Plaza is clearly the poor sister to the newer Trump promenade, even after Trump Management trashed Hoerr Schaudt's distinctive landscaping for a cheaper and more generic alternative.

Outside of the landmarking process, there needs to be more planning between Trump and Wrigley management in helping the plaza and promenade realize its full potential as a vibrant civic amenity.  In this case, the Wrigley could actually take the lead.  Imagine, on a warm summer day, people taking a break from their workday or shopping watching the world go by as they sit at a Wrigley Plaza table enjoying a leisurely meal or sipping coffee.  It's a large space, and a lot can be done with it, both with permanent retail installations, and with event programming throughout the year.
The spectacular Trump Riverwalk offers up an even larger space, but a lot more disappointment.  In the over two years since its opening, none of the retail on its terraces has been leased, so on most days, even in great weather, the huge complex can seem almost depopulated.  No one's suggesting turning it into a carnival (the way that huge O'Briens restaurant on the opposite side of the river sucks up all but the perimeter of the riverwalk is another example not to be emulated), but maybe Trump should explore some loss-leader incentives to get the momentum going.  The Wrigley landmarking and plaza development, done right, could be the spark that leads the Wrigley-Trump promenade and riverwalk to overcome its current, largely unrealized status to attain its full potential as one of Chicago's great urban treasures.

The monthly meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks takes place Thursday, February 2, in City Hall chambers, room 201-A, 121 North LaSalle, at 12:45 p.m.  It is open to the public.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Urban Degreening: Garden Gateway to Back Door Stonefest

 click images for larger view
In memory of the AMA Building Park,  the last real green space in River North,  a gift from John Buck that survived nearly two decades before the Daley administration and Lori Healy rebuffed offers from Buck and refused a lift a finger to save it.   Relive its destruction here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

North Grant Park at Block 37, Archeworks Mid-Year Design, McCurry's Distillations, Urculo and Bruder - still more for January

Still more for January Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events:

click images for larger view
The latest revisions for North Grant Park, a/k/a/ Daley Bicentennial Plaza, will be on display for the next week in the lower level pedway of Block 37.  Today, Wednesday, January 25th, buy a soft pretzel and hear the Park District and landscape architect Michael van Valkenburgh present where the still evolving plans are now.

For tomorrow, Thursday the 26th, we wrote yesterday about the lecture by Thomas Heatherwick at IIT.  Also Thursday, 6:00 p.m. at Access Living, Archeworks presents it's Mid-Year Design Review, including the projects Sustainable Food Through Design Innovation, and the Cermak Creative Industries District.

And a reminder that today, Wednesday, 5:30 - 7:00 p.m., there's a reception at Poliform showroom for Margaret McCurry and her new book Distillations: The Architecture of Margaret McCurry, and at 6:00 p.m. at the Graham, there's a lecture by Madrid-based architect Luis Urculo.  The month closes out Friday the 27th with Will Bruder at Crown Hall.

Check it out:  There's still over a dozen great events to come on the January 2012 Chicago Architecture Calendar.

Monday, January 23, 2012

today's daVinci or merely the future of British Architecture? Thomas Heatherwick at Crown Hall this Thursday

click images for larger view
It was the architectural sensation of Shanghai 2010 Expo - the Seed Cathedral, the UK Pavilion designed by Thomas Heatherwick 
a 20-metre high building, constructed from 60,000 transparent 7.5-metre long optical strands, each of which has embedded within its tip a seed. The interior is silent and illuminated only by the daylight that has filtered past each seed through each optical hair.
In August of that year, roaming scholar Edward Lifson had a great piece in Metropolis on the Seed Cathedral, including a Q&A with Heatherwick, of London's Heatherwick Studio, who says that the project brief was "exactly the same brief that every other designer of every other pavilion has been given.".  Lifson's article shows how what they got was anything but ordinary.  Don't miss Lifson's end photograph, which is super-cool.  Make up your narrative (but the one combining languorous eroticism and Sunkist jellies is already taken.)

In a last-minute coup, the School of Architecture at IIT is bringing Thomas Heatherwick to Crown Hall this Thursday, January 26th, for a 6:00 p.m.,  lecture, Current Work, in which we expect the architect will talk about such spectacular projects as the London drawbridge that doesn't just rise up, Chicago bascule fashion, but actually bends back and curls up into a ball.
 There's also a streamlined resign of the classic London red double-decker bus, and this . . .
. . .  Bleigiessen, the spectacular piece pictured above, in the 8-story atrium of the London Headquarters of The Wellcome Trust.  Bleigiessen refers to a German/Austrian New Year's tradition is which small amounts of lead are melted in a spoon over a candle and then dropped into a bowl of cold water, where they quickly harden into shapes that are then read, like tea leaves, to foretell a person's future for the coming year.  Heatherwick and his associates repeated this process to create over four hundred "extraordinary and complex forms in a fraction of a second."  Finally they came up with a single final form as the building block for the installation . . .
142,000 glass spheres suspended on 27,000 high tensile steel wires; 15 tonnes of glass and just under a million metres of wire. The spheres, made in Poland in a spectacle lens factory, were the result of a collaboration with Flux Glass, their shifting colour and brightness coming from a layer of dichroic film set between the two hemispherical lenses that make up each sphere.
Something like this could be perfect for the tall Macy's atrium not covered in Tiffany - are you listening, Terry Lundgren?

Heatherwick has been called everything from the daVinci of our time, to the man who could be "the future of British, if not world, architecture."   No pressure there.

In the current edition of Intelligent Life, there's a great profile of architect, The Designer Who Makes Buildings,  by Bryan Appleyard - the same guy who hinted at Heatherwick as architecture's savior. Heatherwick's entrance?
Finally, a dark, curly-haired, slightly bearded man appears with a wide-open, ecstatic expression, a bit like Harpo Marx when playing the harp.
An ecstatic Harpo Marx?  Can Crown Hall's minimalist sobriety endure such subversion?  Will it dissolve into a mist?  Beams of metal in spontaneous meltdown, reborn as a galaxy of shimmering spheres?  Stop by Thursday at 6:00 and find out for yourself.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A winter's tale: stitch embroidery on a Miesian grid

This is what the curtain wall of the Mies van der Rohe designed IBM Building (aka 330 North Wabash) looks like normally . . .
click images for larger view
. . . a monochrome grid of strip windows, spandrels and soaring I-beam mullions. 

But throughout the city, winter - cold, and, more specifically, snow - changes the acoustic.  Newly fallen, it turns sidewalks to sand . . .
 . . . and. multiplying the light, transforms night into a strange cousin of dusk . . .
And on the classic glass tower on Wabash, there was a small, subtle subversion.  Thin sills of snow formed on the spandrels, creating a new visual tension by bringing forward the horizontal elements to break the accustomed dominance of the verticals . . .
One day, a day we hope will not be too distant, sun and blue sky will return, to again animate the glass boxes with color, in backdrop and reflection.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Today's Chaddick Institute Beyond Burnham event Re-envisioning Navy Pier cancelled

They will try to reschedule.  Someone told me it's snowing outside.  (Wait 'til it's snowing inside - then you'll really be freaked.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Spectatorium (Pocket Guide to Hell), Global Cities, the Reopening of Mies' Villa Tugendhat - still more events for January

Still more new items for  the January 2012 Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events

We've got two new exhibitions opening this Friday at the Gallery 400 at UIC.   

Global Cities  Model Worlds "explores the spatial and social impacts of 'mega events' such as the Olympics and Word's Fairs, and the means by which their host metropolises work to secure their position as "global cities."
click images for larger view
The World Finder: Pocket Guide to Hell, explores the story of Steele MacKaye and his plan to build the "Spectatorium" at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a massive display of the spittoon-ridden era's compulsion for spitting.  No, wait.  That was the Expectoratorium.  The Spectatorium, in contrast, was to be "the world's largest theater," hosting an epic depicting Columbus' voyage to America in four Wagnerian acts, complete with an ocean with real water and a cast of thousands.  I'm hearing it didn't go exactly as planned.

There's an opening reception for both shows, which run through March 3rd, this Friday, January 20th from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Another addition, Celebration of the Reopening of the Villa Tugendhat: Mies Here and There, is an all-day symposium on Mies van der Rohe's famous house .  It takes place this Saturday, January 21st,  in the auditorium of the Rem Koolhaas-designed Campus Center at IIT.  The free event will include talks from architect Iveta Cerna and Chairman Ivo Hammer of the Tugendhat House International Committee, as well as from Dirk Lohan and Professor Petr Pelcak of the School of Architecture, Brno University of Technology.  Tugendhat is also the focus of two other programs this Thursday, the 19th, with Pelcak lecturing on The Architecture of Brono Functionalism, 1919-1939 at noon at AIA Chicago,  and Hammer and Cerna talking on Mies Here and There - Restoration of the Villa Tugendhat, Czech Republic, at the Chicago Architecture Foundation at 6:00 p.m.

Also on Saturday the 21st, there's the Future City 2012 Chicago Regional Finals at Student Center East, UIC.  On Thursday,  the 19th,  Edward W. Wolner discusses his excellent new book, Henry Ives Cobb's Chicago, for Landmarks Illinois at the Cultural Center at 12:15, and Tom Beeby talks on Connecting with the Past: The Harold Washington Memorial Library Center, for ICA&A Chicago-Midwest at the Driehaus Museum/Nickerson Mansion at 6:00 p.m.

Check it out.  There are still nearly three dozen great programs to come on the January 2012 Chicago Calendar of Architectural Events

History Discarded, History Preserved - the different fate of two Chicago churches associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 1960's, Chicago was one of the major battlegrounds in the struggle for civil rights led by Martin Luther King, Jr.  He preached at churches throughout the city, including St. Sabina and Mount Pisgah.  In 1966, Dr. King came to Chicago to organize against the discriminatory housing policies of the administration of Mayor Richard J. Daley.  He moved into an apartment in a three-flat at 1550 South Hamlin, in the city's Lawndale neighborhood, to dramatize the issue.
 Only a few blocks away was the Friendship Baptist Church, which had moved into their new home at 3411 West Douglas Boulevard, the former Anshe Kenesseth Israel synagogue designed in 1913 by the architectural firm of Aroner and Somers.  It was one of the few churches to welcome Dr. King.  Most black ministers had willingly aligned themselves with Daley's all-powerful political machine.  According to the  book, Black Churches and Local Politics, "With the silent opposition of Daley-backed ministers and the sanctions that Daley had at his disposal to punish activist clergy, church-based resources were ineffective in mobilizing Chicago blacks. " The book quotes one of those ministers who dared to defy Daley, Reverend Clay Evans of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, "Many ministers who were with us had to back off because they didn't want their buildings to be condemned or given citations for electrical work, faulty plumbing, or fire code violations."  Reverend Dr. Shelvin Jerome Hall, the long-time pastor of New Friendship Baptist, was one of the few who stood up to power, opening up his church to King.

The three-flat where Dr. King lived was damaged in the riots that followed his 1968 assassination and were demolished.  For decades the site remained a vacant lot, but last spring, new housing was finally built there, designed by Johnson and Lee Architects.  In 1983, Friendship Baptist moved to a new church they had constructed for themselves at 5200 West Jackson, beginning a long period of decline for the Douglas Park building,
Just in time for Christmas, the City of Chicago's Department of Buildings declared the historic structure on Douglas Boulevard - vacant and deteriorating for several years - "in imminent danger of collapse" and the Law Department has issued an emergency demolition order.  Activists have begun a petition drive to stay the demolition.  Last week, Lee Bey created this post about the church, with great photographs.  Preservation Chicago listed the building as one of its 2011 Seven Most Endangered, and you can find their report, from which the above pair of photographs was taken, here.
 Although Dr. King's experience there was contentious - at a famous meeting, he was challenged by the newly emerging Black Power militants - at Liberty Baptist Church, at 49th and South Boulevard, unlike Shepherd's Temple, has endured.  Unlike so many Afro-American churches, which found their homes in houses of worship abandoned by fleeing whites, this striking building, designed by architect William N. Alderman, with its own kind of distinctive modernism, was built specifically for the congregation.  Dedicated in 1956, it remains a handsome presence on what has now been renamed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Drive, and down through the decades it has been central to the civil rights struggle in Chicago.
You you can read all about it in this article from last January, Modern Struggles, Modern Design, Dr. King and the story of Liberty Baptist Church. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

ArchitectureChicago Plus Cancelled: SNOW!

click images for larger view
All pending posts have been sent to the sidelines.  The city of Chicago reels shudders experiences acute disappointment as the city is pounded riled slightly tickled with an inundation heavy blanket dusting of the season's first major snow.  Mothers weep and newscasters rail as they battle bravely withstand stoically try to not look bored as blinding sheets sustained downfalls disassociated flakes combine with gale force winds chilly gusts annoying puffs of air to send Loop traffic towards a standstill increased travel times competitive hydroplaning, leaving the paralyzed crippled oblivious city a winter wonderland  silent ghost town sidewalk cocktail of slush and crud, with just a dash of dog urine. (at least I hope it's dog urine.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Mummy of River North: Chicago has gone New Hotel Crazy (Just not at LaSalle and Huron)

Update, April of 2012: Construction is about to restart to complete the project and remove The Mummy's bandages.  Read all about it here
click images for larger view
It didn't take much.  Just a good uptick from the dismal post-crash occupancy rates, and we've got new hotels coming out of our ears.  Richard Branson is converting the Rapp & Rapp designed 203 North Wabash into a 250 room Virgin Hotel (hopefully, non-virgins will also be admitted.)  Aries Capital is looking to make the Art Deco Chicago Motor Club Building into a hotel.  As of last July, plans were still in place to make a dozen floors of Mies van der Rohe's IBM building into a Langham Hotel.  And just last week, the Sun-Times David Roeder was reporting a hotel conversion may also be in the future of the London Guarantee Building at Wacker and Michigan.  And then there's those three new River North hotels under construction with 600 rooms that we discussed yesterday.

But just a few blocks away, there it is, just as it has been since 2008, when the money ran out and construction stopped: the Staybridge Suites Hotel at 127 West Huron.  The handsome, sculpted design, by Valerio Dewalt Train, made use of innovative staggered truss framing for a lighter weight structure.  Ironically, the other advantage of staggered truss is speed of construction.
 So the steel frame went up quickly.  And then it sat there, awaiting its purpose.
After a while, the frame gets covered with protective fabric.  Over time, the fabric comes loose, and flaps in the wind.  Then it gets secured again.  Rinse and repeat.
Last year, a group led by Oxford Capital, which converted the former Hotel Wacker right next door into the Hotel Felix, and led an abortive attempt to put a hotel into the IBM before passing it on to Langham, took over the construction loan on the Staybridge.  That was last June.  That news item remains the most recent on the Oxford Capital Group website, linking to a no longer available article in Crain's.
Not much seems to be going on at the moment.  The sheeting - ghost armor - seems secure for now.  It seems like every developer has a hotel deal going.  Why is everyone spooked by Staybridge?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Chicago Under Construction: Going Aloft by Holding Back the Earth

click images for larger view
The battle to save the 19th century building at Clark and Illinois most recently home to North Bank was over before it began, as was the abortive attempt by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to create a River North landmark district, which, like Bertrand Goldberg's endangered Prentice Hospital, appeared as an agenda item, and then was dropped before the meeting and never seen again.
So, the North Bank building bit the dust last October to make way for a 600+ room three hotel complex - a Hyatt Place, Fairfield Inn and Starwood Aloft - taking up the L-shaped half-block bounded by Clark, Grand and Illinois.  It's all a little early, so a lot of the current effort is just in holding up the retaining walls while excavation and foundation work take place.
Eventually, the North Bank corner will look like this . . .
and the whole thing like this . . .
And if you're less than thrilled about the quality, you obviously haven't seen what's going up just a block to the south . . .