Saturday, December 27, 2014

With Pictures: Our Most Popular Stories of 2014

Well, it's that time again..  The long year is at a close, and, as always, it brings with it a contagion of end-of-the-year wrap-ups, to which we now add our review of Architecture in Chicago over the past twelve months.  But rather than make our own selection, we leave it to you, dear readers.  Counting up, here are the fifteen stories you read most often in 2014:
click images for larger view

15: 20 Feet High? How about 23 stories? The forgotten sign that Trumped Trump

14:  Heartbreak Hotel   The Short, Troubled History of the Elysian/Waldorf Chicago

13: OD'ed on Outrage: The Donald's Sign is Very Bad. The Circus of Distraction is Worse.

12: Side Lot Windfall The latest twist in the epic Wrigley Building Chronicles

11:  Mecca Flat Blues: Tim Samuelson's Triumphant Exhibition is a Time Machine to a Vanquished Architecture

10:  Scraping Off the Wrigley: Is This the Beginning of the End for the Chicago's Historic Central Manufacturing District?

9: Tarot to Tacos - Upscaling of State north of Viagra starts small, with velvet

8: Bertrand Goldberg's Walton Gardens: The history of Rush Street through the Eyes of A Single Building

7: Along Chicago's New Skyscraper Row: One Rises, One Descends, and One Just Spreads it Around

Urban Spectacle in Clout City: The Harriet Rees House's $8 million Move.

And for an alternative take on how Landmarks and the city bureaucracy make life a living hell for people without clout, read the harrowing story of David and Saana McClain, here.

5: Pour le Concret: Chicago's new Riverwalk Emerges

4: Say Goodbye to the 1896 George H. Phillips house

3: 111 West Wacker: Abandoned Building To Luxury Tower.

Sometimes with good timing and a bit of luck, a big risk pays off in a major way.  Just last week, only months after the building's opening, Related sold 111 West for a 300% profit.

2: Lump of Coal in Chicago Architecture's Holiday Stocking: Verizon lands with a Thud on the Mag Mile

. . . and now, our most read post (probably because it remained featured on our home page since it was published) . . .

1: Chicago: City of Light? Mayor Rahm Sees Luminous Future for his Town's Architecture

. . . and so it goes.  As we begin 2015, there's a heap of interesting things going on, and we're working to get around to writing on at least some of them.   Thank you for following us.  See you back in January, and have a great New Year!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's the Holidays: Time for Gaudi! Sagrada x 2 at the Gene Siskel Film Center

click images for larger view
Holiday traditions?  Sure, the Music Box's always kicks of the season with it's Sound of Music Sing-a-Long.  (And not to be outdone,  U of C's Doc Films has now launched their own Sing-a-Long-Alban-Berg's-Wozzeck.) But how many Christmas traditions revolve around architecture?  Not just in, but about it?

I know of at least one.  The Gene Siskel Film Center has made it it's own holiday tradition to show  Hiroshi Teshigahara's mesmerizing 1985 "cult" documentary, Antonio Gaudi from Saturday, December 20th through Tuesday, the 30th.
And this year, the Siskel is upping the ante with the local debut of Stefan Haupt's new (2012) documentary, Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation, which opens with 6:00 p.m. showing this Friday the 12th, with showings through Monday, December 29th.
Both films foncus on the ongoing construction of architect Antonio Gaudi's masterwork, Barcelona's Sagrida Famila.  While work began all the way back in 1882, it remains unfinished, and while a report several years ago speculated on a completion date of 2026 (the centennial of Gaudi being killed by a streetcar in 1926) or 2028, it remains unconfirmed.  Still, much has been done since Teshigahara's film came out nearly 30 years ago, as can be seen in the difference in the images of the structure between the two films.  A roof was finally over put in place in 2000 with the completion of vaulting over the nave.  Pope Benedict consecrated the church in 2010, but an arson-set fire in April of the next year set back the construction schedule even more.
As the work has progressed, controversy has mounted.  Back in 2008, a group of Catalan architects argued for a halt in the construction to preserve Gaudi's original vision, which many claim has been corrupted, moving further and further from Gaudi's original vision the closer it gets to completion.  It's become a cross between a holy site and a theme park, with 3 million tourists paying over €30 million to take the tour each year, a crush that will inevitably increase when Sagrida Famila's 550-foot-tall sixth tower, complete with elevator to wisk tourists to the top, is finished sometime in the future.
Haupt's film has been getting mixed reviews, but for any architecture buff it remains a must-see, telling many fascinating stories of both the building and the people working on it.  If nothing, seeing the images of the building in both films is the best way, other than in person, to experience Gaudi's grand, crazy work at something closer to the scale at which it can be fully appreciated.

The Gene Siskel Film Center is offering a discount for those buying tickets for both films.  Check out all the details and showtimes on the Siskel's website, Antonio Gaudi here, and Mystery of Creation here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Boom Town: Chicago Under Construction

Hilton Garden Inn on Wacker (click images for larger view)
Leavitt Street Bridge, 606 Bloomingdale Trail
Northwest Tower
Loyola Quinlan School of Business

200 North Michigan

Block 37 Residential Tower
150 North Riverside
former Mulligan school, after slight fire
River Point
Ability Institute of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
Chicago Motor Club hotel
Wolf Point West
Chicago Riverwalk

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Infinity, Chicago School Style

click images for larger view
Polemically, the second Chicago School of Architecture was based on steel, glass and the grid, a supply-chain cocktail of standardized units repeated and extruded to massive scale.  That key formula was central to Chicago's original subway, expressed in a continuous platform 3,500 feet long, at the time of its 1943 opening a world record.  That continuity was tempered by the supporting columns being painted in a different color for each of the three named stations, and physically sliced up for good when the Washington Station was closed for the construction of never-used connections to the never-opened Block 37 superstation.

Now, however, after a $10 million renovation that was completed this summer, Harrison, the next subway station to the south, has become a striking exercise in standardization, repetition, and extrusion.   In this CTA photograph of the station in its previous state, it's a functional if slightly grungy workaday vision, tan columns, and gray ceiling, mottled with age.
Harrison Street - before
In its freshly renovated state, however, the station, at least for the moment, has been transformed into a singular, Egyptian-scaled vision.  It all builds out of just a few basic elements - classic i-beam columns painted white, stretching, Avenue of Sphinxes-like, into infinity, down a seemingly endless platform, between identical white-metal light boxes, and supporting a great, rounded central vault bisected by a stream of rounded light fixtures and ringed with alternating stripes of light and shadow.

 It's worth a visit, before it starts getting beat up from use.  Go in an off-hour, and wait until almost all the people are gone.  This nearly surreal vision, bleached monochrome, abstracted of all details, is a haunting metaphor for our antiseptic mass-standardized, supply-chain world, beautiful and unsettling at the same time.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Chicago's Second Sun: Twelve Ways of Looking at a Ferris Wheel

click images for larger view
The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier hasn't been around all that long - less than a quarter century, and at 150 feet tall, it's a shrimp compared to George Washington Gale Ferris's 264-foot-high original at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.  It pales next to Las Vegas's High Roller Ferris Wheel, at 550 feet high now the world's tallest.
 Yet it's perfect fusion of minimalist Chicago-style engineering, of geometry, light and form . . .
. . . makes it one the city's most distinctive landmarks, a visual marker visible from the beaches to the north . . .
 . . .  and the windows of all the towers with a view of the pier . . .
By night, it's Chicago second sun.  By day, it's a giant, kinetic wireframe for a star that switches off each break of dawn, a flattened disk with a coin-like edge. It's an architecture of pure desire, with no other function than to thrill, entrance and awe.  It's the thing that flares out the emotion, entombed but latent, in all the more sensible constructions of the utilitarian city.

Just as there many ways to view the city below while ascending in one of the wheel's open passenger cars, there are many ways to see the Ferris Wheel, from far and near, through the tropical forest of the Pier's Winter garden . . .
Reflected like a sunburst in the shiny new elevator structure . . .
In slow reveal from below . . . 
 . . .  and in Full-up eye-poke mode. . .
The Navy Pier Ferris Wheel was part of a 1990's $200 million rehab that transformed the 3,300 foot-long, 1914 Charles Sumner Frost's designed Municipal Pier #2 . . .
Image courtesy the Chuckman Collection
  . . . into what is now Chicago's most popular tourist attraction.  Now owner McPier is in the midst of a new $155 million renovation, designed by James Corner Field Operations.  How well it will turn out is still to be seen, but the Ferris Wheel's new setting atop a grand Spanish-steps-style staircase is one of those rare, happy cases where the promise of the rendering . . .
. . .  may have even have been bettered in the constructed reality. . .