Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chicago's Picasso, 10 Most Endangered, Year End Shows at UIC, IIT, Shanghai Tower - it's the May Calendar!

It's that whole flowers-after-the rain thing.  Even with things shutting down for the Memorial Day weekend, there's still over 40 items on the May Calendar of Chicago Architectural events.

It begins on Wednesday the 1st at the Art Institute, with a panel on Building Public Art and Public Spaces: The Chicago Picasso and its Legacy, featuring Stephanie D'Alessandro, Julie Burros, Fred C.T. Lo, Richard F. Tomlinson, Mark Sexton, Dan Peterman and curator Alison Fisher as moderator.

Preserving the Past/Making it New is this month's theme for the lunchtime lectures at CAF, with Preservation Chicago's Jonathan Fine talking about this year's Seven Most Threatened Buildings on the 1st, Susan Rabe on Milwaukee's St. Josaphat on the 8th, Landmarks Illinois' Lisa DiChiera discussing their 2013 list of Ten Most Endangered Historic Places, set to be unveiled this Tuesday,  Zurich Esposito talking about AIA/Chicago's Small Firm/Small Project Award winners on the 22nd, and Hume An and Jeff Bone discussing the rehab of the landmark Viceroy Hotel into the Harvest Common Apartments.

Also at the Art Institute, Jodi Magness lectures on Ancient Synagogues in the Land of Israel on Saturday, the 4th, while on the 9th there's a lecturer tour of the institution's own Art and Architecture from 1893 to today.

AIA/Chicago is offering a tour of SCB's Klarchek Information Commons at Loyola on Tuesday, the 7th, the same day SEAOI's May dinner meeting will hear presentations from the finalists for its annual Excellence in Structural Engineer Awards.

Christopher Kopp discusses Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Brazil on Thursday, the 9th, the same day that at AIA/Chicago, ZPD+A's James Damato and David Keller of the Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation will discuss efforts to create a memorial on the South Side site where thousands of Confederate prisoners died during the Civil War, and David Hartt and Karthik Pandian are in conversation with Hamza Walker at the Graham.

I'm afraid we missed the opening the SAIC student show in April, but the UIC School of Architecture opens its Year End Show on Saturday the 4th, and IIT College of Architecture has its Open House and Annual Exhibition of Student Work on Thursday, the 10th.

On Wednesday, the 15th, Carl Smith discusses his new book City Water, City Life at the Newberry, while film-title designer Karin Fong of Imaginary Forces is at Fullerton Hall for the Architecture and Design Society of the Art Institute.  This month's Landmarks Illinois Preservation Snapshots lecture, Thursday the 16th at the Cultural Center, features Nick Kalogeresis, Jean Guarino and Douglas E. Gilbert talking about The Architecture of River Forest at lunchtime, while in the evening at the Driehaus, Dr. Susan R. Braden discusses The Architecture of Leisure: The Florida Coast Resorts of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant.

And on Wednesday the 22nd, CTBUH is sponsoring a panel at CAF  on the Shanghai Tower, with Dennis Poon, Grant Uhlir and Christian Vol Holten.

I'm sure I'm leaving off stuff I'll be adding later, but even now, we've got over 40 great items, so check out all the details onThe May Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Retro Saturday: The Architects the Pritzker Dare Not See - Anne Tyng, Denise Scott Brown and Lu Wenyu

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Even as architects as diverse as Jeanne Gang and Zaha Hadid emerge us fully-empowered practitioners in the world of design, the barefoot and back-room status of female collaborators to famous alpha males stubbornly lingers.  
Last year, when architect Anne Tyng died, we wrote about how her collaboration with Louis Kahn on such early and innovative projects as the 1950's Philadelphia City Tower was deliberately effaced so as to humor the prejudices of the day and build up the brand.
Go back another half century, and you have the story of Marion Mahony, the woman whose striking renderings helped establish the reputation of Frank Lloyd Wright and with the conceptional drawings she created for her husband Walter Burley Griffin's clinched victory for their entry into an architectural competition for the design of Canberra, Australia's capital city.  But that's a story on its own, and we'll return to it next next.

More recently, two Harvard design students, Caroline James and Arielle Assouline-Lichten, have mounted a high profile petition drive to rectify the fact that Denise Scott Brown was left off the 1991 Pritzker Prize awarded to her personal and professional collaborator of 50 years, Robert Venturi.  As of yesterday, the petition has over 11,000 signatures from 88 countries, with a wide range of architects including Renzo Piano, Richard Meier, Herzog and deMeuron, Jeanne Gang, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Rafael Moneo.  (Bob Stern won't sign because he objects to the world “demand’, although he says he supports the general idea.)  Martha Thorne, executive director of Pritzker Prize, has pledged that the committee will take up the issue at their next session.  (If you're in Philadelphia this Sunday the 28th, you can hear Denise Scott Brown in conversation with William Menking.)
Which reminded us of the story we wrote on Robert Venturi's appearance at Crown Hall back in 2005.  At the end of the event both Venturi and Scott Brown were very gracious with their time in talking with students and signing copies of their books, but only Venturi spoke, giving an engaging talk on the different perspectives that he and Mies van der Rohe brought to architecture.
That, of course, was a very long time ago, but you still have to wonder whether we'll still be going through the same thing a few decades from now.  When Wang Shu won the Pritzker Prize in 2012, his wife and collaborator, architect Lu Wenyu, was not cited, although she co-founded their firm, Amateur Architecture Studio, and is reported to work in close partnership with her husband.  In Chicago appearances earlier this year, there seemed to be little interest in bringing Lu Wenyu into the discussions and her role appeared to be confined to unofficial photographer.

The Architects behind the Architects: Anne Tyng dies at 91
Marion Mahony: Frank Lloyd Wright's Right-Handed Woman
Bobbing for Mies - Robert Venturi at IIT

The Ring comes to South Kensington - from Ades to Zappa: death by great music at the 2013 London Proms

Attention grant makers:  Lynn Becker is pleased to announce he will be available to set up residency in London from July to September this year to create an introductory on-line overview of classical music through the hundreds of concerts of the 2013 BBC Proms, plus a new blog on London, architecture and urbanism.  Serious inquiries only.

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There's no shortage of fine things in Chicago this summer, at both Ravinia  (Little Match Girl Passion, Rachmaninoff Vespers, Britten's Burning Fiery Furnace, John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary) and the Grant Park Music Festival (new works by Norman and Chen, Alexander Nevsky, the Bruckner 2nd, Adams' Harmonium, the Britten War Requiem and Pink Martini), but there's nothing quite like the London Proms, founded in 1895 by Sir Henry Wood, the La Grand Bouffe of summer festivals.

 From July 12th through September 7th, hundreds of concerts will take place in multiple venues.  The core 92 concerts are in the 5,500 person-capacity Royal Albert Hall, where 1,400 standing room tickets are sold (at £5 !) on the day of each event.  This year, you have to bet the lines will often be huge, as The Proms are celebrating not only the centenary of Benjamin Britten, but also the bi-centenary of Richard Wagner, to be marked by a performance of the complete Ring conducted by Daniel Barenboim, with a cast including Bryn Terfel and Nina Stimme.  But why stop there?  There's also a Tristan from Semyon Bychov, a Tannhäuser under Mark Elder, and a Parsifal conducted by Mark Elder.  There are actually as many full-length Wagner Operas being performed at the Proms as there are at Bayreuth this year, with both locales sharing a single Siegfried, Lance Ryan.

The War Requiem, of course, is also part of the Proms retrospective, but there's also an exhaustive overview of Britten's complete works, including the Glyndebourne production of Billy Budd. Arvo Pärt's moving  Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten will also be performed.

Like any summer festival, there's a heavy rotation of the old reliable warhorses from Brahms to Tchaikovsky, but along with them is a truly astonishing breadth of music, with the local premiere of 13 works, and 18 world premieres, including both Thomas Ades Totentanz, and Frederic Rzewski's  Piano Concerto.
 Another program is devoted Stockahausen, and there are works by Gubaidulina, Pintscher, Górecki,  Penderecki, Frank Zappa's The Adventures of Greggery Peccary and Philip Glass's 10th Symphony.  There's even a period instrument (?!) performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, to observe the centenary of its slightly indecorous debut at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
Soloists? Uchida, Kennedy, Alison Balsom, Barry Douglas, Trifonov, Hough, Bostridge, Batiashvili, Antonacci, Midori, Jansen, Calleja, Cooper, Lewis, Bryan Ferry,  Lortie, Repin, and Serkin.

And the orchestras!  The Bavarian Radio Symphony, Palestine Strings , English Baroque Soloists, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, London Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Philharmonia Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic , Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Hallé.
More conductors: Noseda, Knusson, Jansons, Gardner, Gergiev, Dutoit, Davis,   Nézet-Séguin, Salonen, Jurowski, Petrenko, Vänskä, Xian Zhang, Maazel , Harding, Nott, Pappano and Wit.  The August 20th concert, with Ian Bostridge performing Britten's Les Illuminations, that was to be conducted by Colin Davis will now become a memorial for the great conductor.  For the first time in the Proms' history, a female conductor, Marin Alsop, will lead the Last Night of the Proms, this year featuring Joyce DiDonata.
Alsop also conducts the Brahms German Requiem with the Orchestra of the Enlightenment on August 17.

I know. And the best part?  Every concert is streamed live, and remains available for seven days after the event.   Get all the details on the Proms 2013 website.

Me, my offer still holds: send me to London and the Proms, July through September, and you'll get at least two great postings a day, on both the music and city.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New CTA L cars may last for 40 years: do we really want to spend them staring into someone's crotch?

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Yes, the picture above is a bit of an exaggeration.  The CTA isn't actually planning to relieve overcrowding by putting riders into harnesses and speeding them along conveyor belts, after eviscerating us to reduce load weight.  At least not publicly. The CTA is, however, ramping up its commitment to another rider-unfriendly ‘innovation.’

In a move to make Rachel Shteir feel more at home, the CTA is deep into the process of upgrading its fleet with new railcars that replace the (pun alert)long-standing forward-facing seats with the aisle-facing benches that have been the norm in New York City for over a century.

The new L car design is another lovely parting gift from the administration of Richard M. Daley. After purchasing zero new rolling stock since 1992, the CTA announced in 2006 that it would be purchasing 406 new rail cars at a cost of $577 million, with delivery to begin in 2009.
When the first new 5000 series cars actually began appearing in 2011 on the Pink, then the Green lines, they offered up smoother rides, ADA compliance, brighter lighting, security cameras, and nifty station maps where the dots representing the stations light up when a train approaches.  That didn't stop many riders from expressing strong negative reactions to the layout, to which the CTA responded with its usual raised middle finger.  The cars, it said, had been engineered to only accommodate aisle-facing seats - so shut up and take a seat, if you can find one.
In February, the CTA announced they were opening the bidding process to find a manufacturer for a new 7000 Series of "L" cars - 846 cars, at a cost of $2 billion.  As part of the process, the CTA has set up an on-line user survey, which you can access and take here.  ‘Do you prefer to sit or stand during your journey?’ it asks after getting past some preliminaries.  Then it's your preferred clinging strategy: pole, strap, seat back, or the person you apologize to after you use them to catch your fall.   Finally, it moves on to placement, starting with the old forward-facing seats, before moving on to 5000, mainly inward-facing seats.  14 screens of questions in all.

This is actually a lot more user input than the CTA has ever sought before. “This is the first design I am overseeing,” President Forrest Claypool  told the Trib's Jon Hilkevitch, “and we are going to do the type of research to get it right." Still, it's easy to fear the CTA is testing the waters for even more depressing changes, such as the painful-looking blue plastic benches pictured below . . .
Not that passenger comfort was ever Chicago transit's primary concern.  Charles Yerkes, the man who built the original L back in the 1890's,  once famously said, “The short-hauls and the people who hang on the straps are the people we make money out of.”  But not even Yerkes imagined he could get away with turning his riders away from the windows.  His original wooden cars established a basic layout that was still being followed in later decades . . .
Photo courtesy The Chuckman Collection
Those original cars offered 52 seats, a number that held pretty much steady for the better part of a century.  The new ones are down to 38.  By increasing standing room, the capacity of the cars is now estimated at 120 passengers, far above the CTA's own de-crowding goal of no more than 75 people per car.

There are, to be sure, a lot of people who think comfort is expecting way too much from the CTA. “If it gets you from point A to point B and you don’t end up dead when you’ve reached your destination then it’s done it’s job effectively,”  one vociferous defender of the new car design proclaimed.

Still, I think it's an issue worth raising. And I'm not alone. “I think as other modes of transportation become more comfortable, it’s a shame that the CTA is taking a step backwards with fewer seats. It reinforces the notion that transit is inherently uncomfortable,” Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development  told Carolyn Suhr of Medill Reports. At a time when we're trying to get more people to use mass transit, Chicago's ‘sell’ almost seems to come down to:  “The CTA - what other choice do you have?
photograph courtesy of The Chuckman Collection
Economics and logistics obviously have a major, quite possibly decisive role in this, but it's also about what kind of city we want Chicago to be.

New Yorkers pride themselves on taking in stride all manner of daily affronts and injuries that would send lesser urban dwellers fleeing to the suburbs like whipped dogs.  New York is so full of amazing things; it's just the price you have to pay.

Chicago has its own store of wonders.  If it doesn't match the Egyptian scale of New York, it also comes with a more relaxed idea of a city that can be vibrant and creative without so easily resigning itself to the kind of  ‘Little Murders’ dehumanizations that arise out of New York's staggering density.

For most of Chicago's history, the L was a great way to see the city.  For me, it was a daily, ever-changing classroom of the city's architecture and history.  Now, it's all about avoiding eye contact with the passengers sitting directly across from you, even as you enter into an intimate visual relationship with the crotches of those standing mere inches from your face.

The purpose of mass transit is to transport people, but the increasing dependence on subsidiary revenues often marginalizes the passenger. Are windows now just a surface to attach ads to, so that looking out is like viewing the world through cataracts?  Do trains exist for the passenger, or to provide advertisers an audience, even if it means leaving riders sometimes feeling as if they've been dropped into a vat of orange juice?
The designs that were the norm for the better part of a century carved small refuges of individual, private space within the uncaring anonymous enormity of the public realm.  There was almost a Noah's Ark vibe: two-by-two, husband and wife, mother and child, friends, lovers or your impromptu partner, just for the ride.  The oldest even had seats that pivoted direction, so a party of four could have its own facing space, chatting or perhaps playing a game of cards on the long trip into the city.  Now it's all about moving the widgets in and out with a minimum of friction.

You could make the argument that these are pretty petty complaints  You could observe that with our iPads and earbuds, we've already disengaged into our individual, virtual worlds.  But do we really need the CTA to reinforce this?  Chicago remains a city of marvels.  Is it unreasonable to want to be able to see them as they pass by?

In our Age of the Supply Chain, efficiency is the deity that brooks no appeal.  A train, after all, is nothing more than a machine to get us to where we want to go.  Yet it's also where we spend an hour or more of every working day.  When we look back on our lives, what carries the greater emotional weight: the destination or the journey?

Take the CTA survey here.

Today: Aesthetics and Culture of Healing; tomorrow, Leveraging Preservation - still more new events for April

Yes, even headed into the last week of the month, we're still adding new items to the April Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Today, Wednesday the 24th, Fred Foote of Walter Reed National Military Center, Mike Jager of Cedar Rapids Veterans Commission and architect Paul Alt will discuss The Healing Sanctuary: Aesthetics and Culture of Healing, at the Union League, where they will present prototype projects developed by architects and psychosocial design researchers.  Register by 3:00 p.m.  Lunchtime at CAF, there's also D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries will discuss Does Chicago Plan Anymore?

Tomorrow, Thursday, the 25th, Arquitectos membership meeting at the offices of AIA Chicago will include Matt Cole of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago discussing Leveraging Preservation and Cultural Programming to ReBuild Neighborhoods.

Below it or not, these represent less than half the events taking place over the next two days.  Check out everything still to come this month on the April Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chicago Under Construction

River Point
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Optima Chicago Center

Millennium Park (Doral) Plaza

AMLI River North

Hub Group Corporate Headquarters Oakbrook
Aloft Chicago City Center
111 West Wacker
 Hubbard Place
 Williams Jones College Preparatory High School
 Summit on the Lake
 15 East Huron

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Activated Virgin

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For a time, rumors circulated that it had all fallen through, the plan to convert the Art Deco Old Dearborn Bank Building at Wabash and Lake into a hotel.  It was all the way back in 2011 when Richard Branson had announced that the 27-story property would become a 250 room flagship in his Virgin Hotel chain, a $89.7 million project aided by $6.5 in property tax breaks from the building's designation as a national landmark.  Then - nothing.  Even after street scaffolding sealed off the building at beginning of this year, one hospitality website described the status as “crickets, not construction.”

Then, late last month, beams started to poke out from the windows six floors below the roof . . .
. . . and now, the entire top has blossomed into scaffolding, shrouded in red like a raw spring blossom . . .
photograph: Bob Johnson
As seen in photographs from our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson, crews of workman can now be seen on moveable platforms clinging to the facades, stripping away brick from the corners . . .
photograph: Bob Johnson
According to the Landmark Commission's usual superb report, Old Dearborn is one of only two office buildings - the other being the Paramount Building in New York City - designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, best known for ornate movie palaces like the Chicago and the Oriental.

The Old Dearborn Bank followed novelist Raymond Motley's famous line, “Live fast, die young, and have a good-looking corpse.”  The bank was founded in 1919 by the founder of Kraft cheese, boomed during the Roaring 20's, bought the lot at Wabash and Lake in 1925, spent $1.5 million on the new building, opened it in 1928, and was liquidated four years later.  The bank space became retail, while the office floors continued to cater to medical professionals and small businesses.

Flash forward to 2001, when an investor group paid $$9.5 million for the 186,000-square-foot building, and over the next decade let multiple deals worth as much as $22 million slip through their fingers.  Two separate hotel companies were interested at different times, and a third investor proposed converting the building to student housing.  In 2009, Old Dearborn, a/k/a/ 203 North Wabash went into foreclosure, and in 2010 the loan - and the property - was taken over Urban Street Group LLC.  By that time, as a result of the declining economy and non-renewal of leases to clear out tenants to make way for the anticipated residential conversion, occupancy had fallen to 38%.  Urban Street announced its attention to convert Old Dearborn to apartments, but just a year later, it sold the building to Virgin.

A super-slim 48 by 140 feet, Old Dearborn is today actually better suited to a hotel than to office tenants requiring larger floorplates.  The steel frame is expressed in piers of handsome brick that rise without horizontal interruption, emphasizing verticality in classic Chicago skyscraper style.
The facades are as restrained as a bank - until the animals get loose.  They're all over the place - massive strange birds, lions, griffins, human grotesques, dragons and . . . squirrels.  Lots of squirrels.
(As AIA/Chicago's Laurie Peterson has pointed out to me, squirrels - always burying their assets for later access - are a well-known symbol for banks.  They also figure prominently on such buildings as Halsey, McCormack and Helmer's Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower in Brooklyn.  Since the end of World War II a squirrel has featured prominently -if with increasing abstraction - in the logo of France's second largest bank, Groupe Caisse d'épargne.)

You can admire Old Dearborn's clean lines, but, ultimately, it's the over-the-top ornament that is the building's glory.
. . . did we mention ducks? . . .
The cast bronze spandrel panels appear to be in good shape . . .
. . . but no small number of the terra cotta spandrel panels were apparently damaged, and are now being removed . . .
The Landmarks Commission Permit Review specifications from April of 2012 dictate that replacement masonry “match the size, color, profile, finish and texture of the historic masonry . . . The terra cotta base of the building shall be cleaned with the gentlest means possible.”  There is no reference to preserving the original coffered ceiling, complete with still more plaster animals.  Described in the designation report as ‘severely damaged’, it was  hidden from view by a  drop ceiling long ago.
Lobby Stair, from the Landmarks Commission Designation Report
When Virgin announced it was getting into the hotel business via a new website back in 2010, its stated ambition was to acquire half a billion dollars in properties over the following three years. Chicago was somehow missing from the published list of “major urban markets” targeted for hotels serving travelers in the ‘creative class,’ yet its opening, now scheduled for the first quarter of 2014,  will be the new hotel chain's first. A second property in California remains an unconfirmed rumor.

Richard Branson was in Chicago this past January, touring the building and hitting the major sights - Rahm, the Pritzkers - while raising $800,000 for Branson's Virgin Unite foundation.  In a blog post, Branson wrote about talking to Emanuel on the importance of green energy.  There's also been discussion about making the hotel a high-tech mecca, but so far, few details. The original announcement in 2011 named John Buck as co-developer, but I could find nothing more than the original press release on Buck's website.
There's none of the usual promotional signage at the site with renderings and credits.  Who's doing the preservation work on the terra cotta?  Booth/Hansen has issued press releases announcing they are the architects for the project, but there doesn't appear to be any other mention of the project on their website.  Branson directed readers to watch Twitter under the #virginrumors hashtag for updates, but the latest Tweet, from February 1st, directs readers to a ‘Sneak Peak’ post on the Hotels of the Rich and Famous website that's mistakenly illustrated with photos from the lobby of a completely different property, the Jewelers Building on Wacker.

There's an Apple-like aura of mystery about what's actually going on with at 203 North.  For a project scheduled to come on line in less than a year, a promotional campaign - no matter how spare and controlled - is past due.  If you've got any good info, please pass it on.  We're just hoping Branson lights up the angry birds along the roof line.  All those great, weird animal ornaments are ready-made branding devices.