Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Extruded Seashell on Southport

click images for larger view
 “People Spots” are part of the Chicago Department of Transportation's “Make Way for People” program, designed to “creative public spaces that cultivate community and culture in Chicago's neighborhoods through placemaking.”  The first installation, last year along the 2,900 block of North Lincoln, was a fairly conservative affair, a deck spreading from the curb along several parking spots offering a cafe-like seating area of green chairs and tables, demarcated from the street by a series of planters.

The new People Spot is a bit more radical, a sculpted, continuous bench taking over several parking spots along the 3500 of North Southport.  According to a report by Serena Dal of DNAinfo Chicago,  both People Spots are the work by dSpace Studio, with a total project cost for Southport around $75,000.  It appears to be especially popular with kids, more adventurous than older coffee sippers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wim de Wit, Ilianna Kwaske, Placemaking, Emotions and Planning, Pop-ups, Pruitt-Igoe, and an Ancient Roman architect in a modern Japanese bathhouse - it's the August calendar!

It takes more than those 60-degree dog days of summer to shut down Chicago.  We've got nearly thirty great items for you this month on the August Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

The month starts fast and furious on Thursday, August 1st with a Gallery Tour of the Architecture of the Art Institute, the opening reception of the Pop-Up Gallery show of AIA Chicago's 2013 Small Project Awards, an AIA Chicago tour of the Chicago Family Health Center in Pullman, and a session on Placemaking: Reimagining the Urban Environment at the Chicago Center for Green Technology.

You say you like the movies?  We've got your mini-film festival right here, with a showing on July 31 and another in August of the Korean romance hit, Architecture 101 at the Cultural Center, which will also host two showings of Thermae Romae, in Japanese (and Latin!) about Lucius, an architect in imperial Rome, who suddenly finds himself in a present-day Japanese public bath, where he learns things about the spa culture that he takes back to him when he returns to ancient Rome.  Complications and hilarity reportedly ensue. 

Should your tastes be less light-hearted, you can turn to tragedy when the Graham offers a screening of the documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History.

Other highlights this month include Dr. Ilianna Kwaske talking about Behind Closed Doors: The Psychology of our Domestic Spaces at the Museum of Contemporary Art, while the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art offers a panel discussion, Design Education at the Institute of Design with alumni from the institution founded by Moholy-Nagy in 1946.

There'll be not just one, but two Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust lectures, with Wim de Wit at the Pritzker Auditorium at Holabird and Roche's Monroe Building talking about An Architectural Love Affair: Dutch Modernists and The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and David Bagnall discussing From Artistic to the Prairie Home: Domestic Interiors of Chicago's Gilded Age at Fourth Presbyterians Gratz Center, site of CAF's  Behind-the-Scenes: Divine Design with Gensler Architects, Fourth Presbyterian Church.

Later this month, the German American Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring a Smart City Business Conference at a yet to be disclosed location, while at APA Chicago, the UIC's Charles Hoch will discuss Emotions and Planning.  Bring your own blue blanket to calm yourself down.

Bargaining, Anxiety, Anger, Acceptance and Anticipation - you'll experience all five stages as you maneuver your way through the delights of the August Calendar of Chicago Architectural Events.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

1,600 Years of Sleeping with Strangers: The University Dormitory, from Ancient India to Future University of Chicago - Part One: Nalanda

rendering: Studio/Gang Architects - click images for larger view
 Last Tuesday, the University of Chicago unveiled its North Campus Residence Hall and Dining Commons.  The $148 million project, designed by architect Jeanne Gang of Studio/Gang and scheduled to completed in 2016, addresses the world just beyond the university's campus in a very different way.

We'll get to that design in the third and last part of this series.  To begin, however, we're going to take a look at India's Nalanda, often cited as the world's first university with dormitories.  Thanks go out to my good friend Jyoti Srivastava, who has given me permission to use the photographs you see here, taken earlier this month.  You can see her entire Nalanda photoset here.
© Jyoti Svrivastava - all rights reserved
Dormī - to sleep, tōrium - a place. From the Latin dormitorium, the word dormitory dates only from the 15th century, centuries after the first great European universities were founded.   More than half a millennium before Oxford, or Cambridge, or the Sorbonne, however; there were the dormitories at Nalanda, in Bihar in Northern India.

नालंदा. In Sanskrit, nalam means lotus, symbol of knowledge.  Da means giver. Beginning in the 5th century A.D., a succession of Gupta emperors began the development at Nalanda, 88 kilometres southeast of Patna, of a series of monasteries that would become a great seat of learning. Much of what became Tibetan Buddhism originated from the teachers and traditions of Nalanda.  The scope of the curriculum was universal- not only Buddhist and Hindu studies, but science, astronomy, medicine medicine, and foreign philosophies.   Subjects were both studied and thrown open to discussion and investigation. Universal/university.
© Jyoti Svrivastava - all rights reserved
Those seeking to study at Nalanda were stopped by the keeper of the gate and quizzed on their knowledge of both the old and new books.   Like Harvard and other elite universities today, only a small number of applicants - as few as 2 out of 10 - gained admittance to Nalanda.  Also as at today's elite schools, Nalanda attracted scholars from far-away lands - Tibet, China, Greece and Persia.  To be able to say you studied at Nalanda opened doors throughout the world.  Nalanda was both an evangelizing force for Buddhism throughout Asia, and a powerful mechanism for intellectual exchange.  The mathematician Ayrabhatta, sometimes credited with originating the concept of zero, is speculated to have been an early leader of Nalanda University.

From its early beginnings - none of the original buildings appear to have survived - Nalanda evolved as a planned community.  The Chinese monk Xuanzang, who spent 17 years in India, wrote a portrait of Nalanda in the 7th century as a complex surrounded by a brick wall, and having eight separate halls, each with a large courtyard surrounded by a continuous veranda fronting small, 10 x 10 cells for the monks, often with a small adjacent niche for storing documents.  Monks slept on stone platform beds.
© Jyoti Svrivastava - all rights reserved
Some of courtyards functioned as lecture halls, with a speaker's platform on the lower level, large enough to let the lecturer spread out manuscripts around him. And occasionally some sandwiches.

Xuanzang wrote of . . .
richly adorned towers and fairy-like turrets . . . dragon-like projections and colored eaves, carved and ornamented pearl-red pillars, richly adorned balustrades and roofs covered with tiles that reflect the light in a thousand shades.
The individual four-story college structures were set within landscaped gardens and mango groves.  Red-flowered shrubs contrasted with the blue lotus flowers floating on pools that ran throughout the complex.  Mynahs, peacocks and other birds could be found on the grounds.
© Jyoti Svrivastava - all rights reserved
Nalanda was a technology center for terra cotta, which was used extensively throughout the complex, along with carved granite columns.  Wood was used to construct the upper stories of the college
image: Wikipedia
structures.  Floors and pavements were laid upon a layer of lime concrete.  The omnipresent well-baked red brick, made with mud and local produce such as rice, barley, or cow dung, has proved to be especially durable.  Broken bricks were mixed with lime to create the stucco used for the ornamental images.  In later years, bronze spires and accents were added to the towers.

By the time Muslim invaders from Turkey overran India in the 12th century, Buddhism was already in the throes of a long decline.  In 1193, an army under Bakhtiyar Khiji, seeking to expunge India of Buddhist influence, sacked and burned Narandal, including the great library, which is thought to have held hundreds of thousands of texts, each wrapped in cloth and carefully placed on metal stacks.  It was said that at the center of the immense library complex the nine-story tower known as the Ratnadadhi - Ocean of Gems, for its richly bejeweled and gilded surfaces that glowed in the glint of the sun - burned for weeks, the smoke from the destroyed manuscripts hovering over nearby hills like a lingering ghost.
© Jyoti Svrivastava - all rights reserved
After some abortive revivals, Nalanda largely disappeared from memory, even its very name, to be replaced by the name Bargaon.  It wasn't until 1860 that archaeologist Alexander Cunningham again identified Bargaon as the site of historic Nalanda.   Meaningful excavation didn't begin until 1915, but by 1982, remains of six major temples and eleven monasteries were revealed.  Work is ongoing.

In 2006, a consortium of nations including India, Singapore, China and Japan announced plans to create a new 450-acre Nalanda International University at Rajgir, 10 kilometres from the historic site.  The new Nalanda was officially established in 2010, with Nobel-Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen as it's first chancellor.  Its seven schools will include religious, historical, scientific and business studies.
In May of this year, Vastu Shilpa Consultants - the firm founded by 85-year old architect Balkrishna Doshi, who worked with Le Corbusier in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad  -won out over seven other finalists, and 79 initial entries, in an architectural competition for the design of the new campus, which is to be modeled after the principles of ancient Nalanda.

The design is intended to be zero-energy and zero-pollution.  Automobiles are to be banned. Mechanical air conditioning is to be replaced with a natural Devap system to cool and dehumidify outside air.  In old Nalanda, brick walls, in many places six-feet-thick (the same as at the base of John Wellborn Root's 1891 Monadnock Building in Chicago) kept heat out of the rooms.  In new Nalanda, double-skin facades will provide similar insulation.  The new library will be housed not in a tower, but under a great dome.  A pond will be dug and the mud from the excavation used for making bricks as part of a program of local sourcing.  Lily pads will, as in ancient Nalanda, float on the pond. Solar cells will be erected above it to provide electricity.  The new campus, scheduled to come on-line in 2014, will initially accommodate  2,500 student and 500 teachers, and eventually expand to 7,000 inhabitants.

Next:   A Century of Dormitories on the University of Chicago campus

Friday, July 26, 2013

Skate/Pinball/Astroturf/Text/Balloon/Blob/High Five Union Station - vote for your favorite Activate Union Station contest entry through July 31

click images for larger view
You have only until Wednesday, July 31st to cast your vote for the two winners of the Metropolitan Planning Council's Activate Union Station placemaking contest
The 25 plans in competition can be viewed here.   Their scope is limited by the $5,000 prize that will be both their reward and their entire budget for bringing their vision to fruition.  The ideas range from skating on fake ice in the Great Hall, to turning into a pinball parlor, to filling it with astroturf and a giant blob, to projecting your text messages for all to see (Anthony Weiner need not apply).
While most entries concentrate on the Great Hall, a few actually address the other two spaces included in the competition, from placing sculptural forms and sensor-activated loudspeakers along the great columned Canal Street arcade, to making it a game arcade, or festooning it in red balloons and fabric.
The third designated space, the Fifth Third Center plaza along the river, will apparently have to rename unactivated, at least for now, as now the entries used it.
You can only vote once (wait a second - isn't this Chicago?), for your two favorites, and your vote won't decide the winner, but will be taken into account by the judges who will make the final selection (oh, okay, that sounds more like Chicago, then.)  The two winners will be announced Monday, August 5th, and their installations are scheduled to be in place from August 24th to September 2nd.

See all the 25 entries, and cast your vote - here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dumped at the Side of the Highway: Father Marquette's Strange Monument

click images for larger view
The light was good yesterday so I went back to the abandoned Santa Fe Grain Elevator I wrote about a few days ago to take some more pictures from the Damen Avenue side.

After picking up some Panama bananas . . .
. . . I made my way up the vertiginous Damen Avenue bridge, where my view of the Grain Elevator was mostly blocked by large trees overhanging the sidewalk. I stopped to take a picture from an open spot, when suddenly the huge tree right behind me collapsed out of view.  Fortunately,  it was not the end of the world, but a crew far below chopping down trees that were crowding the bridge.  A first class operation all the way, their wood chipper was a Vermeer.
No sign of Peter Stormare, though.

It was at the entrance to the bridge that I encountered  this bas-relief monument to Father Marquette by Hermon Atkins MacNeill . . .
According to a post by John R. Schmidt on his WBEZ blog,  15,000 school kids petitioned to have a monument erected to the Chicago explorer, and mayor Big Bill Thompson obliged in 1930.  Why here?  Well, the supposition is that is that this is where Marquette lived as one of the city's earliest European residents during the winter of 1674-75.  It must have been a much more attractive location when it was just him and the Native-Americans.  One of the trees on the relief looks a lot like the one that got chopped down yesterday.

The monument's plaque contains two curiosities.   The first is the inclusion of swastikas, before the globally historic symbol was eternally tainted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.  The second is that Jacques Marquette becomes, on the plaque, "James".
If Father Marquette came back today, what would say about what we've made of his former homestead? Add in the graffiti, the chipped concrete, the abandonment all around it, and there's something forlorn and unsettling about this ghost of a vanished world, this outhouse-shaped bunker, clinging, like a condemned mistake, to a thin edge of sidewalk, against the unyielding stream of cars and tractor trailers racing past in loud, oblivious menace. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chicago Under Construction: Earl Shapiro Hall, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

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The Studio/Gang Campus North Residence Hall?  We're working on it.  So, for today, here's some late-afternoon shots of the new Earl Shapiro Hall at 5800 South Stony Island, undergoing the finishing touches for a fall opening.
The new building is part of an expansion of the University of Chicago's Laboratory Schools, founded by educator John Dewey in 1896.
The structure carries the name of Earl Shapiro, grandson of the Russian immigrant who, from a 1911 beginning making ice cream cones, went on to found Maryland Cup and its Sweetheart brand.  Earl Shapiro's contribution was to push the company into plastic dinnerware.  A long-time local philanthropist, he died in 2008, the same year his family gave $10 million to the Laboratory Schools.
The 117,000 square-foot design is by Valerio Dewalt Train, with FGM Architects as architects-of-record, Rubinos and Mesia as structural engineers (with ARUP), and Mikyoung Kim Design as landscape designers.  
With no room to expand on its original 59th street campus, the Laboratory School is splitting off nursery school, kindergarten and first and second grade classes and moving them to the new building.  According to the U of C . . .
. . . Earl Shapiro Hall has been planned to optimize the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, an educational model [in which] the learning environment is meant to be another teach, stimulating natural curiosity and providing room for independent action.
The cantilevered porte-cochere offers views across Jackson Park towards the dome of the Museum of Science and Industry.  The new building is projected to support an increase in Lab School enrollment from 1,750 to 2,050 students.
image courtesy The Chuckman Collection
Shapiro Hall was constructed on the site of Schmidt, Garden and Martin's Hyde Park Hospital, built in 1914 by the Illinois Central Railroad both as a public facility and to provide free care to its employees (friggin' socialists).  The IC sold the building in 1973, and it was bought by Doctors Hospital in 1992.  After racking up $60 million in debt, the hospital was closed without warning in May of 2000, and, after a abortive plan to replace it with a hotel, was purchased by the University of Chicago for $10 million in 2006.  It was demolished in 2011.
Also scheduled to open this fall is the $5.1 million, 13,000 square foot Child Care Center East child care center, just south of Shapiro Hall, designed by Wheeler Kearns Architects, with MIG landscape architects.  It will serve 124 children from six weeks to five years.  Wrapping around Shapiro Hall to the south and west, it resembles a series of cottages, and features a folding green roof, tree bark siding, and a play area enclosed with 400 tons of massive, multi-colored glacial boulders.

Read More:

University of Chicago Laboratory Schools: Outlook - Future of Education

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Should See the Rest of Her! (Or: What's With all the Giant Heads?) Amanda Ross-Ho at MCA

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First this was Indira Freitas Johnson's Ten Thousand Ripples placing a hundred Buddha heads at locations throughout Chicago and suburbs . . . 
Then there were the 35 giant Chia heads situated along Michigan Avenue for the Plant Green Ideas project.  (Check out our photo-essay.)
Now, in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art,  Chicago's Great Noggin' War of 013 has been joined, the ante raised.

Last year at this time, Los Angeles-based, Chicago-born artist Amanda Ross-Ho was really into Teeny Tiny Women.  This summer, she's graduated up to one really ginormous head.  
Yesterday Ross-Ho was in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art, checking out the final touches  on The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things, the latest installation in the museum's Chicago Plaza Project.

The centerpiece of Ross Ho's Illuminated Things is a 15-foot-high mannequin head, balanced
between perfect Corbusian forms - a cube and a sphere - on the two high platforms on either side of MCA's great stair.  Although the most individual of this summer's cranial endeavors, ILLUMINATED THINGS has a generic derivation.  
How we see and experience the world is reflected through the use of cameras . . . THE CHARACTER AND SHAPE OF ILLUMINATED THINGS . . . considers this relationship between photography and the act of looking . . . The exhibition is titled after a chapter in an instructional handbook published in 1980 called How to Control and Use Photographic Lighting, which includes several images of a still life composed of three objects - a cube, a sphere, and a mannequins head.  The manual demonstrates how light affects the appearance of objects in a photograph.  For her MCA Chicago Plaza Project, Ross-Ho faithfully re-creates this still life at a monolithic scale, alongside a large scale sculpture of a calibration card, the guide that is used to adjust color during the final printing process.  By including the card- which is actually cropped out of finished photographs - Ross-Ho presents an image that is self-consciously “contaminated.”
Recently I came across an article proclaiming the death of photography as a process of selected moments from reality's infinity of moments.  With the development of technology like Google Glass, so the argument goes, we edge away from capturing what Cartier-Bresson famously referred to as the “decisive moment”, towards recording our lives in a continuous, unbroken stream.  Hierarchies of value are abolished.   You dip into the recorded stream at random.  No moment has more value than any other.  On one level, it's a far closer approximation of the unbroken stream of consciousness (but very different from memory).  On another, it also follows the compulsion of the supply-chain economy to turn everything possible into a commodity.
MCA's webpage refers to Ross-Ho's project as “Updating Joseph Beuys's famous declaration ‘Everyone is an artist,’” a statement that revelations in a new book on how Beuys manipulated his own biography is giving a new layer of meaning.

Ross-Ho's Illuminated Things entices a visitor to the MCA plaza to use their camera to create their own version of the piece as its details change in emphasis with the changing of the light and perspective of the viewer.  She's encouraging people to share their photographs through social media using the hashtag #iluminated things, and to email them directly to her.

So grab your camera and explore. Insinuate.  Contaminate away.

THE CHARACTER AND SHAPE OF ILLUMINATED THINGS will be dedicated July 23, and runs through November 23, 2013

Read More:

From Cows to Chia's on Parade: Giant Heads of Plant Green Ideas Comes to Michigan Avenue

An Interview with Amanda Ross-Ho  (Elad Lassry, Bombsite)

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Power of Uselessness: The History - and Potential - of Chicago's massive Santa Fe Grain Elevator

Sometimes something can be so spectacularly useless that it endures.  And in enduring, it begs to be re-invented.
Such is the case with the Santa Fe Railroad Grain Elevator.  It stands on its own peninsula, jutting out into the South Branch of the Chicago River, along Damen, just north of 29th street, a tight set of 35 grain silos, 80 feet high, plus an even taller elevator
contemporary drawing from 1911 book by Milo Smith Ketchum
Joseph Dart was said to have invented the modern grain elevator in Buffalo, New York in 1842, as the city, mediating between the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal, was becoming the grain shipping capital of the United States, using steam power to transfer the grain from boats to tall silos at speed of a thousand bushels an hour.  As bigger, more ambitious elevators were constructed throughout the city, their unornamented, frankly industrial form drew admiring attention from a generation of European architects including Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier.

photograph: Digital Collection, New York Public Library, Wikipedia
With the growth of the railroads, boom-town Chicago, Nature's Metropolis, became the king of grain elevators.  The building type became the Great Pyramids of a new supply chain of industrialized agriculture, made possible by the McCormick Reaper and the standardized system of grading wheat introduced by the Chicago Board of Trade in 1857, allowing crops of a similar quality from a multitude of different farmers to be combined by grade for shipping, storage and trading.  In a single decade, the grain processed in Chicago increased by a factor of 25, to over 50 million bushels a year.  By 1871, Chicago's grain elevators had a combined capacity of nearly 12 million bushels.  Before the towers of Sullivan or Burnham, they were the city's first skyscrapers, and the site of the great elevators at the mouth of the Chicago River engulfed in flames must have been one of the more apocalyptic visions of the Great Fire.
from Harper's Weekly, October 28, 1871
Afterwards, 10-story-high elevators arose along the river right across from Wolf Point.  By 1893, the capacity of Chicago elevators had risen to over 32 million bushels.

While grain in itself isn't especially combustible, grain dust and oxygen form a volatile mix, and elevator explosions were the result.  The complex along Damen owes its existence to just such an explosion.  Its predecessor elevator, along the river a bit to the east at 27th and Wood, was a  five-story, 400 feet wide and 175 feet long frame structure covered in corrugated sheet iron.  Its 60 bins could hold a million and a half bushels.  In September of 1905, a spontaneous combustion at the top of one of the wheat bins had the elevator engulfed in flames before the first fire truck even arrived.  The elevator was destroyed at a loss of $300,000 for the building and another $500,000 for the 845,000 bushels of overly-toasted grain - staggering sums for that time.

A new elevator, designed by  John S. Metcalf,  was built the next year to the west, at the Damen Avenue location.  In addition to the 35 storage silos with a capacity of one million bushels, there was the tall elevator, a long-vanished 165-foot-high smokestack, and a powerhouse whose boilers drew filtered water from the river to generate the 1,500 horsepower of steam and electricity that powered the elevator's operations.  There was room for 60 rail cars on site, and another 300 a short distance away.
photograph: Library of Congress
In 1928, the State of Illinois had acquired the elevator and its 20 acre tract in exchange for 29 acres of the abandoned Illinois and Michigan canal, and was leasing it to the Stratton Grain Company when in December of 1932 another explosion, killing 3 workers, destroyed the massive workhouse and 200,000 bushels of grain.  The following June, drawing on $200,000 in insurance proceeds, work began on a replacement elevator, of completely fireproof, reinforced concrete construction, that would double capacity to 800,000 bushels.

It opened the next year, even as another disastrous fire destroyed the Rosenbaum elevator on Goose Island, and 1.6 million bushels of with it.  It was one a succession of fires that cut the city's capacity by 8.5 million bushels.  Spurred by lower wage costs elsewhere, Chicago's status as the country's largest grain storage center was over.  The city's capacity of 50 million bushels was little more than half Minneapolis's 90 million.  It was also exceeded by Kansas City's 60 million, and matched by Duluth, Superior and Buffalo.  Too bad Chicago, the city of architectural innovation, never got around to putting up one of Frei Otto's tensile silos from 1959 . . .

Today, in Buffalo and elsewhere, huge, abandoned grain elevators litter the country.  Some have been converted to other use.
photograph: Dcamp314, Wikipedia
A 36-silo elevator in Ohio was bought by the University of Akron in 1975 and converted to Akron Quaker Square, complete with a Crowne Plaza Hotel.  The hotel closed earlier this year, and it's being converted to student housing.  Architect Riccardo Bofill converted the 30 silos of a turn-of-the-century cement factory in Sant Just Desvern , Spain into the headquarters of his firm Taller de Arquitectura. (thanks to MAS Context for the tip.) In Marseille in France, C and T architects converted an abandoned grain silo into an opera house.  Perhaps the most ambitious conversion has been in Baltimore, where twelve of the original silos of a massive 1923 Baltimore and Ohio grain elevator were incorporated into Silo Point, a luxury residential complex with 228 condominiums.
The Santa Fe Grain Elevator has been inactive since  a massive explosion and fire in 1977, the same year there was a disastrous explosion at the Garvey Grain Elevator at 93rd and the Calumet River, a half-million-dollar fire that claimed the lives of two workers.

As related in a article by New City's David Witter, the State of Illinois recently held an auction to try to offload the property, but no buyer came forward with the minimum $17 million price. A spokesperson for the Rick Levin auction house told Witter the ask is now down to $11 million.
Still, the Santa Fe Grain Elevator remains a commanding presence in the skyline of Canalport, an area in the throes of the usual post-industrial stress.  Across the slip to east, a $100 million, 330,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art printing print built by the Chicago Sun-Times in 1999 was closed in 2011, and remains empty.  (According to a report by Ryan Ori of Crain's, a deal to convert it into a $1 billion data center fell through late in July.)Wrapping around it is the Canalport Riverwalk Park, a largely undiscovered gem completed in the 1990's on the peninsula just east of the one on which the Santa Fe Grain Elevator stands.
A few blocks east, on the other side of Ashland, is the 28th and Eleanor site designated for a new boat house designed by Studio/Gang.  To the river's north, the giant Fisk Generating Station shut down last August after sprinkling its Pilsen neighborhood with the toxic coal-burning by-products for over a century.  Down Ashland at the Stevenson, a large abandoned factory . . . .
was recently demolished, leaving another massive empty site . . .
(Those last stubs of structure are gone now, as well.)
The day I walked the Canalport River Walk, a couple of fishermen watched their lines while, on the opposite bank of the river, a boatyard lowered vessels into the water, next to two cranes moving product in a scrap yard, as next door, trucks of fruits and vegetables moved in and out of the two-story building that's the new home to much of the produce exchange that was previously at Fugard and Knapp's 1924 South Water Market on Racine, which was converted in the first decade of the new century into University Commons, an 800+ unit residential complex.

And then, as you turn the corner on the River Walk, you're faced with this . . .
Abjectly noble, ruined and tattooed.  Fantasy Island for the Steampunk set.
photograph: Library of Congress
Elsewhere, abandoned elevators have been used as massive canvasses.  In Omaha, a grain elevator  was turned over to local artists  to create and install images on 26, 80-foot high silo's.

In a number of cities, grain elevators have been used as giant screens for spectacular video projections, most notably in Quebec City, where  noted stage designer Robert Lepage and his production company Ex Machina transformed the city's Burge grain silos into The Image Mill, an 1,800 foot-wide projection that was so popular during its 2008 debut that it's been revived every summer since.

The Image Mill / Le Moulin à Images from SAGA on Vimeo.

A similar, if less ambitious program also took place at one of Buffalo's elevators, part of the city's general waterfront revival . . .

If Chicago can set its river on fire, as Redmoon Theater is scheduled to do in October of 2014 . . .

. . . surely we can light up another city marvel far more in need of attention.  In these days of budget cuts and school closings, such an idea might seem almost decadent, but when times get tough, you can't just hunker down, you have to push forward.  One of Chicago's great architectural artifacts is now so much crumbling junk.  Could we make it a canvas for its own historical narrative, in a way that helps find it a new relevance, even as it helps spur economic revival?

More photos, after the break . . .