Friday, May 31, 2013

BIG's Bjarke, Spontaneous Sorkin, Cruz, Feldman, Gil, Manaugh, Pleasure Seeker's, ChiScape, Bucky, FLW, Burnham, Soleri and much more - its the June Calendar!

Get your running shoes on:

a.  There are already over 60 great items on the June Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.
b.  Almost half of them take place in the first week of the month. I guess everyone is rushing towards that summer break

This weekend, there's an extraordinary series of events scheduled in conjunction with Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, the great new show at the Cultural Center that was originally mounted at the 2012 Venice Biennale.  There are workshops, panel discussions, curator talks, show-and-tell's. and barn raisings, with the large roster of participants including Teddy Cruz, Stephen Zacks, John Preus, Nathan John, Cathy Lang Ho, Iker Gil, Douglas Burnham, Robyn Paprocki, James Rojas, Robert Feldman, Michael Sorkin, and more.

And then MAS Content has BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley talking about Mines, Fruit, and Military Bases: A Year on the Road with Venue, Monday at Public Works on Damen. On Tuesday, AIA Chicago gives a look at the collaborative installation Grounds for Detroit, and Steve Pantazis, Nick Adams, Anna-Marie Panlilio and Ryan McRae are among the presenters at Pecha Kucha Chicago Volume #26 at Martyr's.

And if you're into sin, on Saturday the 1st at the Newberry Library, Paul Durica and Bill Savage talk about their new book, a reprint of the alternative guidebook to 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure's Seeker's Guide to the Paris of America.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Wednesday, lunchtime at CAF, Don Macica of the Chicago Sinfonietta gives a preview of ChiScape, a newly commissioned four-movement work by four different composers with each movement inspired by a different Chicago landmark: Crown Hall, the Pritzker Pavilion, Aqua, and the Modern Wing.  AIA Chicago has a presentation on Saving Buckminster Fuller's Dome Home in Carbondale, and Urban Land Institute Chicago presents this year's Urban Vision Awards at the Bridgeport Arts Center.

Thursday, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has Diane Dillon talking about Nature in the Work of Daniel H. Burnham and Frank Lloyd Wright at Fourth Presbyterian's Gratz Center, while over at the Cultural Center, Friends of Downtown has Greg Borzo discussing Chicago Cable Cars, and back at CAF, the Chicago Architectural Club unveils the winners of its 2013 Burnham Prize Competition, Next Stop: Designing Chicago BRT Stations.

And that's just the some of the events scheduled for June's first week.  (Did I mention CGT's presentation on Backyard Chickens?)

Move forward a week, and it's NeoCon, with keynotes from Bjarke Ingels, Michael Vanberbyl, Holly Hunt, and Lauren Rottet.  There's a reception for SET OFF, SAIC's Graduate Exhbition on Monday the 10th, and the announcement of SEAOI's 2013 Excellence in Structural Engineering Award winners at its annual banquet on Saturday the 8th.

More?  the Graham screening of Paolo Soleri: Beyond Form; Peter Copeland on Tobey Furniture at Second Presbyterian, Martin Adolfsson on Suburbia Gone Wild, the Wells Street Bridge Rehabilitation, Pamela Robertson on Common Cause: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright; Kristen Dean of the Foundation for Homan Square at CAF to talk about The ‘Original’ Sears Tower, this year's Illinois Statewide Preservation Conference, and much, much more.

I know we'll be adding still more stuff that we've missed, but for now, check out the over 60 great items already on the June Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thursday News Edition: AFH rebuilding Moore OK, Landmarking the Ashland Bridge, awards to Hartshorne, Gang

News and links recently received.  Please use the comments section to add your own rumors and gossip

Rebuilding Moore:  

Architecture for Humanity  is “working with local and regional construction professionals to begin
assessments and support rebuilding work after an F-4 tornado ripped through the heart of Moore, Oklahoma and surrounding communities.  Get more information and donate here.

Landmarking for Ashland Avenue Bridge?  

The Chicago Art Deco Society is drumming up public support for the landmarking of the 1937 Ashland Avenue Bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River, whose striking art deco sculpted bas relief panels, by Scippion Del Campo, each depict a personification of Chicago. Del Campo's also designed the reliefs for the now demolished Ogden Avenue viaduct.  A selection of these panels can be seen at the architecture garden at St. Ignatius . . . 

relief from Ogden Viaduct, now at St. Ignatius
relief from Ogden Viaduct, now at St. Ignatius
CADS says the bridge will be recommended for designation at the June 6th monthly meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

Hartshorne Plunkard wins AIA Illinois 2013 Honor Awards

Two projects by Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) have received top prizes at the 2013 Honor Awards presented by AIA Illinois. The evening’s highest project honor, the Louis Sullivan Award, went to Randolph Tower in Chicago. This adaptive reuse project successfully transformed the landmarked Steuben Club Building into a mixed-use residential community within the heart of Chicago’s Theater District.
HPA won a second award, the Crombie Taylor Honor Award, for the Hairpin Lofts and Hairpin Arts Center in Chicago.  The Crombie Taylor Award recognizes a project that, through preservation and restoration, has enhanced the natural and built environments of a community.
Baron von Steuben Refashioned - Randolph Tower: Restored Faux Gothic with a Candy Core
Would you walk a mile for a Camel?  Art Deco facade newly uncovered, quickly replaced.

Studio/Gang Architects  2013 National Design Award Winner

Cited in the category Architecture Design,  for how “each project resonates with its specific site and culture while addressing larger global themes such as urbanization, climate and sustainability.”  
Gang uses architecture as a medium of active response to contemporary issues and their impact on human experience. Each project resonates with its specific site and culture while addressing larger global themes such as urbanization, climate and sustainability. The firm’s projects range from tall buildings like the Aqua Tower, whose façade encourages building community in the vertical dimension, to the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, where 14 acres of biodiverse habitat are designed to double as stormwater infrastructure and engaging public space. 
The juried awards, now in their 14th year, are sponsored by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum , and will be presented at a gala in New York October 17th.
Aqua refreshes the Chicago skyscraper
Reimagining Urban Eden: Studio/Gang and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Moves and More

Water Specialist Peter Mulvaney has joined the Chicago office of SOM. Brininstool + Lynch, which has just unveiled a new rendering for its residential project at 1333 South Wabash in the South Loop, has moved its offices to 1144 West Washington.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Direct from Venice! Provocations for Chicago's Urban Future and Spontaneous Interventions, plus still more events for May!

Yeah, I know we're in the last three days of the month, but we're still adding great stuff to the May Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Today (Wednesday the 29th),  it's all about movement as DePaul's Chaddick Institute will be presenting a brown bag lunch with Jim Giblin, on A Railroad for the 21st Century:  The Illiana Rail
Bypass Concept.  5:30 p.m. at the Cultural Center, GOOD Chicago Studio is sponsoring a panel, Building the Future of Bus Rapid Transit in Chicago, with Ron Burke, Joseph Iacobucci, Steve Schlickman and Christopher Ziermann, with RedEye's CTA Reporter Tracy Swartz as moderator. Over at the Cliff Dwellers at 6:00 p.m., Friends of Downtown will be giving out their Best of Downtown 2012 Awards.  At 12:15 p.m. the CAF lecture on the Adaptive Reuse of the Viceroy Hotel, with Hume An and Jeff Bone, will also be streamed live here.

We should also mention that there are two new exhibitions open on either side of Randolph.  In the Expo 72 Gallery at - logically enough -  72 East Randolph, there's City Works: Provocations for Chicago's Urban Future, a collaborative effort by five teams whose members including David
Brown, Alexander Eisenschmidt, Studio/Gang Architects, Stanley Tigerman, and UrbanLab's Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen, which . . .
. . . re-envisions a series of urban environments that are typical for Chicago in order to examine alternatives to the way architecture engages the city . . . [a collaborative effort] determined to find potentials for spatial, material, programmatic, and organization invention within the city.  Curated by Eisenschmidt, the installation involves large urban models of proposals for Chicago as well as an encompassing panorama drawing of historical visionary projects for the city.  Over the duration of the exhibition, the models will travel throughout the gallery, visit the different parts of the city's visionary history, and, finally, come together to create a new collective city.
 Meanwhile, over in the Michigan Avenue galleries of the Chicago Cultural Center, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good features 84 urban interventions . . .
. . . initiated by architects, designers, planners, artists and everyday citizens that bring positive change to neighborhoods and cities in addition to a pop-up installation in Millennium Park. Chicago is the first destination of the installation, which served as the U.S. representation at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2012). The Chicago installation will recreate the lively exhibition design of
pull-down banners, created by Brooklyn design studio Freecell and Berkeley-based communication design firm M-A-D. The contents of the exhibition have been updated to include more recent and more local projects, more than a dozen from Chicago.

Organized by Cathy Lang Ho on behalf of the Institute for Urban Design, is devoted to the growing movement of architects, designers, artists, and everyday citizens acting on their own initiative to bring improvements to the urban realm, creating new opportunities and amenities for the public. The exhibition received over 178,000 visitors in Venice, and earned a Special Mention from the Golden Lion jury, the first time the United States has been honored in the history of the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Spontaneous Interventions will include a pop-up “outdoor living room” in Millennium Park, designed by Chicago-based MAS Studio, led by architect Iker Gil. The space will serve as an outpost for the exhibition and a venue for exhibition-related programs, including talks, panels, tours, workshops and more. The space will feature a colorful canopy and seating made of salvaged lumber by local artist/woodworker John Preus of Dilettante Studios.
Both of the shows are up for viewing now, and will have their official opening receptions Friday, the same evening the Graham Foundation has a reception with guests the ubiquitous Mr. Tigerman and Board President Hamza Walker to announce the Graham's 2013 Grants to Individuals.

S.I., as we initiates call it, will also be sponsoring an ambitious range of talks, workshops, curator walks, walking tours and symposia in conjunction with exhibition.  There are almost a dozen events this coming Saturday and Sunday, June 1st and 2nd, including but not limited to the participation of Teddy Cruz, Roberta Feldman, Michael Sorkin, James Rojas, Iker Gil, Robyn Paprocki, Douglas Burnham, Nathan John, John Preus, Stephen Zacks, Anne Guiney and others.  It's all on our June Calendar, coming soon, but if you can't wait, you can also check out all the details here.

Monday, May 27, 2013

How Do You Get to AMA Plaza? High-tech, decline, and revival at Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building

click images for larger view
The second of what now looks to be three parts.  Read Part One - Apotheosis of the Skyscraper: The Rise of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building 

The Cutting Edge Technology behind the IBM Building

Functionally, Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building was ahead of its time, and to a large degree, it was because of the client.   By the time construction began on its new Chicago Headquarters in 1969, IBM was booming.  Over the previous decade, its workforce had doubled to a quarter-million people, and sales had nearly quadrupled, to over $7 billion. With profits of nearly a billion dollars, there plenty of cash for a trophy tower like the one they hired Mies to design, which consolidated its 4,500 Chicago area employees from 15 different locations into one structure. 

After suffering criticism over how, in the glare of the sun, the almost floor-to-ceiling glass at the two towers of his path-breaking 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive heated up the apartments like ovens, Mies wondered aloud in who-will-rid-me-of-this-troublesome-priest fashion why someone didn't come up with a solution.  By the time IBM got going, they had.

At the IBM, the windows were bronzed-tinted both to color co-ordinate with the facade's bronze-anodized aluminum and to filter out UV rays.  Instead of the then standard single-glazed, metal
curtain wall, which leaked unwanted heat and cold into the interior, windows at the IBM were double-glazed, an insulating air pocket between the panes.  A plastic PVC thermal barrier was
photograph: Commission on Chicago
Landmarks Designation Report
inserted between the exterior and interior layers of the curtain wall, blocking the radiation of heat or cold along the metal.

One of the great enemies of all buildings is moisture.  Skyscrapers compounded the problem. As high winds rush along the facades, air pressure rises along the surface relative to the interior, forcing water through the countless tiny imperfect gaps.  At the IBM, the small holes were made  a deliberate part of the design, engineered into the curtain wall to direct the air to flow into the voids of the panels, equalizing  pressure and minimizing condensation.

The HVAC system, designed by co-architects and structural engineers C.F. Murphy, was equally innovative.  The IBM was all-electric, including the boilers.  Working with Carrier Corp., a state-of-the-art air conditioning system was developed that captured and recycled heat generated by workers and computers - including two full floors of mainframes in IBM's data center - and redirected it where needed.  A weather station on the roof and a series of monitors throughout the building streamed data to a central IBM 1800 series computer that continuously analyzed the feedback to optimize conditions floor-by-floor and space-by-space.  The series 1800 also ran the IBM's security system, described admiringly, if a bit anxiously, as ‘practically Orwellian.’

None of this came cheap.  “The building was . . . fairly expensive at that time,” recalls Dirk Lohan, who as Mie's grandson had come from Germany to Chicago in 1957 to work in his grandfather's office.  “I think it cost $33.00 a square foot.”  (The gold - bronze? - standard was Mies's Seagram Building in New York, which a decade earlier had come in at $45.00 per square foot.)  The curtain wall alone cost 35 to 50% more than typical single-glazed facades of the time.

It quickly paid off, however, especially after the 1973 Oil Embargo sent energy prices soaring.  In the three coldest months of the winter of 73-74, the IBM used 42% less energy to heat than the average of a sample of 13 comparable buildings.  The structure won the Federal Energy Commission's first Midwest Excellence Award for Energy Conservation.  The aluminum cladding proved much more durable than the painted steel of the Federal Center, which required expensive rehabs over the last decade.
In 2002,  the IBM found way to become more sustainable when Thermal Chicago Corporation constructed their P5 water plant under the plaza, a 15,000 ton capacity facility that's part of what's described as the ‘world's largest interconnected district cooling system’.  Thermal Chicago provides a constant supply of 34 degree water to over 45,000,000 square feet of space in 100 buildings, via a 14 mile system of pipes connected to five different plants throughout the Loop and River North.  Heat exchangers are used to transfer the cold from the Thermal Chicago system to the pipes of the water systems of the served buildings.  Unlike the other four plants, which cool water with ice generated in the middle-of-night when energy charges are at their lowest, the 1,600-ton Trane chillers in the P5 facility under IBM Plaza pull chilly water from the Chicago River.
map courtesy Thermal Chicago Corporation
The final working drawings for the IBM were finished in July of 1969.  The following August 17th, Mies van der Rohe died at Wesley Memorial Hospital, aged 83.  On October 22, 1971, the first of 2,100 IBM employees began to move into the new building.   Less than a year later, September 20, 1972, a band played and a fireboat shot streams of colored water as a large crowd that included IBM Chairman T. Vincent Learson and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley gathered on the plaza for the IBM Building's formal dedication and the unveiling of sculptor Marino Marini's bust of Mies, which remains on display in the lobby to this day.

IBM got away with not including the minimum of 402 parking spaces Chicago zoning required for a  new building the size of their's by developing a garage on a smaller site just across Kinzie to the north, originally purchased for a possible second future tower.   The resulting $3.5 million, 12-story IBM Self-Park, designed by architect George Shipporeit of Lake Point Tower fame, may be the perfect bustle - detached by a cross street. As we've written previously in The Ninotchka of River North, the structure, with its facade of closely-spaced strips of Corten steel, is reviled by many.  During the day it can look a bit monolithic.  At night however, when the Corten strips dissolve under the back-lighting into a delicate cage animated by the moving headlights, it becomes a stunning backdrop to the IBM.  As Mies hides structure behind an I-beamed curtain wall, Schipporeit reveals it framing voids of light.  To me, the artistry and the counterpoint makes this one of the most magical places in Chicago.

The Agony of Real Estate and the Years of Decline

In 1996, IBM sold the building to Blackstone Real Estate Advisors for $120 million.   In 2009, Blackstone turned around and sold it to Prime Group Realty Trust for $239 million.  Between then and now, Prime has been through a succession of actions  - some successful, some abortive, often accompanied by heated litigation - to sell, buy back or take back the company that make a fascinating story that's simply too dizzying to recount here.  Prime's continuing control of the IBM is the only constant.

At the dawn of the new Millennium, a negotiation between two of the new century's more energetic scoundrels saw Conrad Black, a/k/a Baron Black of Crossharbour,  a/k/a federal prisoner number 18330-424, capping his looting of the Sun-Times by selling its building to Donald Trump, who wasted little time in pulling it down to dust.
Chicago Sun-Times Building catching on fire during demolition
Suddenly, IBM tenants were facing the prospect of no longer gazing out their windows past the low-slung Sun-Times structure towards the gleaming, cream-colored elegance of the Wrigley Building, but into the rooms of and residences of the telescoping Trump International Hotel and Tower, soaring 40 stories and nearly 500 feet above the IBM's rooftop.  Before an office component was dropped from the Trump project, it was reported it was being marketed to IBM tenants by reminding them how the Trump would be blocking their views.
Gradually, IBM's presence at its namesake building declined.  In 2005, the last 700 employees relocated to the new Hyatt Center on Wacker, leaving behind 280,000 square feet of vacant space and a building now renamed after its address, 330 North Wabash.   Shortly thereafter, mega-law firm Jenner & Block, at 325,000 square feet 330's largest tenant, announced they would be leaving for a new skyscraper at 353 North Clark designed, ironically enough, by the firm of Dirk Lohan.  A deal with Mesirow Financial to become the IBM's new anchor tenant and assume naming rights also fell through when Mesirow decided instead to join Jenner & Block at 353 North Clark.

Prime Group, visions of doom dancing in their head, went through a succession of unsuccessful fixes.  First it toyed with selling off the building in pieces as office condos.   When that went nowhere, the plan became converting floors 3 through 14 into 275 condominiums, and switching more floors to residential as they became vacant.  When that went nowhere, Prime teamed up with Oxford Capital to turn the floors into a hotel.  In the fall of 2007, they launched an effort to get 330 North Wabash made an official Chicago landmark in order to qualify for the lucrative Class L  incentives, offering a partial 12 year holiday from property taxes.  Despite intimations from Landmarks Committee Chairman Alderman Anthony Beale that he would block designation until he received assurances that the hotel would be unionized, official designation was approved February 6, 2008, making 330 North the newest building in Chicago to ever become a landmark.

In March of 2008 it was announced that a joint venture between LaSalle Hotel Properties and Oxford Capital was paying $46 million to acquire floors 2 through 13 plus a portion of the first floor for a ‘super-luxury’335-room hotel, which they expected to spend $185 million in creating.

You have to wonder.  Was the name the partners chose for their joint venture - Modern Magic Hotel LLC - a kind of Freudian slip betraying their actual appraisal of their prospects?  Modern Magic wasted no time in getting to work on the building, removing beams to create two-story public spaces for the hotel.  It was a time of record occupancy and room rates, but Chicago's hospitality industry was already working feverishly to remedy that prosperity with 9,000 planned, under construction, or proposed new hotel rooms.  The hotel at 330 was already late to the party, and when the great crash came, the development was put on ice.

So, are you still with me on all this?  Anyway, that's how things stood until December of 2010, when Langham Hotels actually thought they could see the magic in Modern Magic, and bought out LaSalle and Oxford for $58.8 million, an $8 million loss from what the joint venture had already spent on the purchase and build-out.  Oxford retained a minority interest.
And within a year, everything was coming up roses at 330 North Wabash.  Law firm Latham & Watkins LLP announced they were leaving Willis Tower to take up 160,000 square feet at IBM 330 North Wabash, and another 100,000 square feet was leased by association management firm SmithBucklin, leaving the Equitable Building at 401 North Michigan.

Then, in December of last year, le bon temps really started to roulé, when the American Medical Association announced it would be abandoning its namesake 1990 skyscraper designed for them by noted Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to take up to 300,000 square feet at 330 North Wabash, encompassing much of the space Jenner & Block had left empty.  When they officially move in this coming September 3rd, the building will take on its third name:  AMA Plaza.

The AMA may be the frosting on the cake, but the starting point for the turnaround at IBM Plaza, 330 N. Wabash, AMA Plaza was the Langham.  That's another great story, and it will be the third and final - we promise - installment in this series. With lots of pictures.  We promise.  And if you're thinking this series is really, really long, remember that War and Peace, in the Pevear./Volokhonsky translation, comes in at 1,273 pages.

Next: The Apotheosis of the Skyscraper - How Mies's Spartan IBM Gained New Life by Going Soft

Read Also:

Part One -  Apotheosis of the Skyscraper:  The Rise of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Chicago

click images for larger view
See the largest flag ever to hang
in a department store.
Macy's proudly presents our
great flag in the main floor atrium,

At 5000 sq. feet, it's hard to miss
and impossible to forget!


See Also:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Apotheosis of the Skyscraper: The Rise of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building

click images for larger view
Destroy them.  Destroy them all.

Do you think glass box skyscrapers are the devil's spawn?  Do you just want to drive a stake through their Miesian heart?  Well, you may be in luck.  A  new report from ‘green’ consultants Terrapin Bright Green proposes demolishing and replacing pretty much every Manhattan skyscrapers erected from 1958 to 1973.  (Maybe keep a couple like Seagram and Lever House as souvenirs, charms on a cheap bracelet.) Terrapin says all those modernist towers constitute a lost generation, too energy inefficient to ever be made environmentally responsible.  And it must be true because they're not only ‘Green’ but ‘ Bright Green’.  They say you can replace all those buildings with 44% more square footage and expend 5% less energy.  Developers - not to mention architects contemplating those juicy replacement projects - are salivating.  And all that embedded energy that would be lost in the carnage?  Fuggaedaboutit!  It'll be recovered by the replacement buildings in just a decade-and-a-half.  Or maybe three.  Just in time for a new generation of hucksters to discover how all those structures the Terrapin report is shilling for harbor defects so offensive to public morals that they, too, must be consigned to the chopping block.

Given how Chicago seems increasingly to judge itself on how close we ape New York (see streets turned into canyons and forward-facing subway seats), is it only a matter of time before we can rid ourselves of all of our own Miesian towers?  Illinois Center?  Equitable and Metcalfe?  The Daley and Federal Centers? Dump 'em all in the lake and let 'em sink like Crown Hall in Stanley Tigerman's The Titanic.

Only don't expect the IBM, the Mies van der Rohe skyscraper now known by its address, 330 North Wabash, to be anywhere near the beginning of the line.  Not only, as we wrote previously, is it much more energy efficient by virtue of being one of the first curtain wall designs in Chicago to include a thermal break, the building is adapting to its times in ways previously unimagined.  Conceived as an office building, a large chunk of floors are in the finishing stages of conversion into the Langham Chicago hotel, set to open in July. (More in Part Two)

The story of the IBM is a case study of how the confluence of design, technology and real estate create a great skyscraper, and how it is used, abused and adapted it over time.

In the 1950's, no corporation said ‘modern’ more than IBM.  Making its Chicago home a 1913 building at 618 South Michigan, it replaced the Burnhamesque classical facade with a flashy glass curtain wall.  By the mid-60s, in the throes of explosive growth, IBM was looking both for more space and to make a architectural statement.
In 1967, the company entered negotiations to buy 1.5 acres at Wabash along the north bank of the
Chicago River.  It then hired the most famous architect in Chicago, Mies van der Rohe, for what would be his last skyscraper design.  When the 80-year-old Mies was taken to the location in his wheelchair, he gazed down at what was originally a crowded railyard and then an abject surface parking lot, and was said to have remarked “Where's the site?”

The challenges were many.  The site was pinched in at the center by the angled right-of-way of Wabash Avenue.  The IBM property had been acquired from Field Enterprises, then the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, which  in 1957 had opened a new headquarters building, designed by Naess and Murphy, just across the street. As part of the sale, the Sun-Times retained the right to use below-grade space on the southward portion of the IBM site as a storage facility for huge spindles of newsprint, making it impossible to address the river in any meaningful way.  The new building would also have to be constructed so as to not disturb the below-grade train tracks that brought in the newsprint.
photograph: The Chuckman Collection
To accommodate the part of Wabash avenue that cut into the site, Mies had originally come up with a very un-Miesian design, reduced at the center and wider to the north and south.  “We of course rebelled,” said architect Dirk Loan, Mies's grandson, who had come to work in his office.  “We said why don't we go and talk to the city about IBM acquiring it.  And in the end, they did.”  And so the tantalizing idea of a Mies ‘U-shaped’ building faded forgotten into history.  The standard central elevator core was, in the IBM, split into two to accommodate the rail tracks running beneath the building.  Along the river, a shear wall drops from the plaza to the river, with a desultory staircase leading downward close to the bridgehouse.
The building that Mies created tends to be ranked by historians in a category below New York City's Seagrams or 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive, but the IBM remains an urban masterwork, taking command of the site with grace and proportion - 275 feet by 125 feet by 695 feet high, set back from the river by a generous plaza. 
Mies liked to put his buildings on a plinth, but at the IBM, that plinth is almost mannerist, dictated by the strange surface conditions of downtown Chicago, where much of the city was raised up out of the muck over a century ago.  As it runs past the IBM, Wabash Avenue, like Michigan Avenue to east, is raised a full story above the natural level of the city, and it's flush with the IBM's ground floor.  State Street, however, to the IBM's west, starts off closer to natural level, and gradually rises up to meet the level of the State Street Bridge. 
At the IBM's south plaza, State Street is a few steps up from the street, but by the time it gets to the to the north edge of the building's site, it's a full level lower.  A grand granite staircase rises from street level up to the building's smaller north plaza. 

The story that the IBM was deliberately placed to block views of non-Miesian round towers of Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City from Michigan Avenue was countered by project director Bruno Conterato, who said the IBM's placement was designed to relate both to Marina City and the Sun-Times Building.  “By going well back on the site,” he told Inland Architect, “we in effect set up a line of three towers, since the Marina Towers are canted on their site, with the east structure farther north than the west one.”
The lobby floor is a soaring 26 feet high. “We could have attempted to alter the lobby's height,” said Conterato, “to achieve a perhaps more human scale, but that would have ruined the overall scale of the building.  It would have looked like a sawed-off building if we had designed a lobby less high.”

As in other Mies skyscrapers, the effect of that open, clear lobby is to ‘dematerialize’ the building.  The curtain wall stops at the lobby's ceiling.  The outer columns descend to the ground, forming an open arcade around the recessed, glass-enclosed lobby.  At night, the dark tower seems to float above a pillow of light.
The elevators are faced in travertine, with Conterato traveling to marble quarries near Rome to supervise the cutting of the stone so that the grain would match perfectly across the panels mounted in the lobby.  The same granite and gridlines of the lobby flooring extend under the glass and out onto the plazas in a continuous flow.  All standard Miesian touches.
Left: Federal Center; Right: IBM Building
There are a couple things, however, that are a bit different about the IBM.  The cladding is not the bronze of the Seagram or painted steel of the Federal Center, but bronze-anodized aluminum.   At the Federal Center, the window frames are recessed from the spandrels; at the IBM, it's the spandrels that are recessed and the window frames that are raised, providing a more articulated facade, especially when embroidered with snow.
Even so, the IBM could be said to be the apotheosis of the Miesian skyscraper.  It's perfectly autonomous - no bustle like at Seagrams or offset towers as at 860-880.  It's set on its own hill, like the Acropolis.  Although now hemmed in by the Trump Tower to the east, the open view along the river is inviolably powerful.  Base, shaft and capital (mechanical floor) all in one volume, a perfect grid both in plan and section.  Windows, taller than wide, in continuous ribbons between brawny spandrels that lock in the horizontal even as the trademark Mies i-Beam mullions, rising from top to bottom in unbroken sweep, proclaim the vertical like a hundred arrows pointing heavenward.
Has any other architect  - including even Louis himself - ever bested Mies in realizing Sulivan's vision of the tall building as ‘every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in shear exulation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.’?

NEXT:  The IBM Goes from Lost to Soft

Preview and Streetscene: Order and Improvisation

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Still working on new piece.  (tl;dr^-infinity - maybe I should just split it into two parts?)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

435: Way Cool, Even in Daylight

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Remember when I wrote about Streeterville's 435 North Park, across from the AMC River East,  being the ‘Coolest Construction Site in the City?’
Well, it still is, even as it's come out of the ground, and even in the daylight.
The site has so much surplus ground space that stuff that would have to been kept somewhere else with more constricted job sites is piling up like Citizen Kane's storeroom.
With rising sidewalks to the east and north doubling as visitor balconies, this is a great place to spend a brown bag lunch hour.
Some buildings are more interesting under construction than they'll ever be as a finished product.

Also Read:

Coolest Construction Site in the City?
Am I Boring You?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chicago Nightscene: Triple Crown

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To tide you over while I work on my latest TLDR . . .

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Travesty or Head Trip? Eifman Ballet's Rodin at the Auditorium just through Sunday - and the Chicago connection to Camille Claudel

photo Nikolay Krusser, courtesy Eifman ballet
What Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann is to film, Boris Eifman is to ballet.  Which is to say, over-the-top, and then some.  To state many critics despise Eifman's work would be an understatement. “Mr. Eifman flaunts all the worst clichés of psycho-sexo-bio-dance-drama with casual pride while he rushes headlong to commit a whole new set of artistic felonies,” sniffed New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay.  And then he got nasty.  Macaulay was writing about  Rodin, the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg production that's playing at the Auditorium just tonight (Saturday) and tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.  Since I have no taste - I liked Luhrmann's Great Gatsby as well - I recommend it.
It's a bit of a bait-and-switch.  Although the title is Rodin, the key subject is actually sculptress Camille Claudel, Rodin's lover and collaborator, who spent the last several decades of her life
institutionalized for mental illness.   Against a greatest-hits assortment of snippets (recorded) of nearly two dozen works by Ravel, Debussy, Massenet and Satie, Eifman charts Claudel's anguished art-making and descent into madness as part of a triangle including herself, Rodin, and Rodin's wife Rose. 

The set is centered by an angled geometric construction that repositions into various configurations, within a wall of light in various saturated colors, sometimes with smoke.  The scenes shift in time from the institutionalized Claudel back to her life as an artist and relationship with Rodin.  The music is often deployed ironally, as in the ecstatic final dance of Daphnis et Chloe used to depict Claudel's nightmare state.  There's also a Can-Can, and a scene that ends with two rustic women standing in a vat of grapes that puts you in mind of a I Love Lucy sketch.
photo Nikolay Krusser, courtesy Eifman ballet
Eifman has his defenders, with L.A. Times critic Lewis Segal describing his work - and Rodin in particular - as “virtually the only one totally in touch with the 21st century.”  And he means that in a good way.  Eifman's dancers are dedicated and accomplished.  And so if you, as a true balletomane, are bored or outraged by Rodin, I apologize, but I found Eifman's work not only swiftly entertaining, but at key moments, deeply moving.  You can think of art as an ethereal temple or a writhing animal outcry, but it only has meaning if you have both.  Snails and oysters.

There's actually a great Camille Caudel website (in French) where you can check out her often very powerful work, including the her bust of Rodin you see to the right.   “There is always something missing that bothers me,” she wrote in a letter to the artist.  Another interesting Claudel website can be found here.

There's a Chicago connection to Caudel, which we wrote about in 2010.  When sculptor Leon Hermant's  Louis Pasteur Monument, then located next to the Field Museum, was dedicated in 1928, the ceremony was attended by France's ambassador to the U.S.  That man was Paul Claudel, who fifteen years earlier had his sister Camille committed to the Montdevergues Asylum with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, only days after the death of their father, who had supported Camille and her work.  Despite persistent entreaties from the asylum's doctors that there was no justification in keeping her there, Paul Claudel abandoned Camille kept her imprisoned there for 30 years.  It was where she died, age 78, in 1943.  The family never claimed the body.

Read: The Pasteur Monument, or, Who do Dead Scientists always seem to get the Hot Babes?