Monday, July 27, 2015

MCA's Sewer Pipe Tower Prelude to the Chicago Architectural Biennial

click images for larger view
The first Chicago Architecture Biennial doesn't begin until October 3rd, but the Museum of Contemporary Art has just launched its own pre-emptive strike on the broad plaza fronting its severe Josef Paul Kleihues-designed facade.  It comes in the form of a fifth annual MCA Chicago Plaza Project, featuring three works by Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha.  MCA chief curator Michael Darling told the Chicago Reader's Ionit Behar that he and da Cunha had the Biennial in mind when planning the installation. "There are amazing architectural possibilities for these things," beginning with with the possibility of passersby initially mistaking the plaza for a construction site.
Set on one of the high plinths on either side of the grand staircase is da Cunha's 2013 Mix (Americana), an actual cement mixer.  Removed from its truck and painted white, blue and red, it resembles a space capsule.  Viewers can peer into its open end and watch the play of light, from another opening on top, on the mixer's interior.

At the north end of the plaza, there's Biscuit, a concrete disk, set on an angle and standing on edge.  A cross between yin yang symbol and Tinkertoy connector, its recesses beckon for inhabitation . . .
A photo posted by Alicia_SoSweet (@acat415) on

The clear centerpiece, however, is Figurehead, made from sewer pipe.  Usually visible only while waiting to be planted . . .
. . . and thereafter largely buried from view . . .
. . . the three sections of pipe at MCA have been assembled by da Cunha to form a 30-foot-high tower.  Like Marcel Duchamp, da Cunha is known for creating art from everyday objects - everything from pop bottles, to beach towels, to the heads of mops, and the concrete pipe used in Figurehead is said to be locally grown.   As with Biscuit, the pieces making up Figurehead are not solid but pierced with large openings.  The bottom-most section has an inward contour, making it seem like the base for a goblet spire.
This permeability changes the perception of the tower as you move around it.  From one perspective, it almost seems to be a support pillar for the similarly irregular-formed Lurie Children's Hospital . . .

You can step inside Figurehead, and as you look up, the openings might make you think of a fragmented, prehistoric version of a James Turrell Skyspace . . .
Step outside Figurehead and it becomes a framing device . . .
. . . or echoes a shadow where a young woman can find shade in which to sleep . . .
While daCunha's Plaza Project has - as far as I can tell - no formal connection with this fall's event, we can only hope the Biennial's programs will manage to be just as engaging.

Read More:

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

Doug Garofalo's MCA Makeover

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Perkins+Will Dumps Mies; Heads to Wrigley

Perkins+Will, Chicago's largest architecture firm, with over $400 million in revenue, announced this morning that they're switching from one architectural icon to another.  Early next year, they'll be vacating their long-time home at Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building, now known as AMA Plaza, for new offices in the recently refurbished Wrigley Building, the classically-styled  that's been a floodlit icon at  the foot of North Michigan Avenue and the River since its opening in the 1920's.  Perkins+Will, established in 1935  has been at the IBM since 1992, when it announced it was moving its 330 employees into nearly 50,000 square feet of space.  The firm currently occupies the 35th and 36th floor at IBM/330, the last skyscraper designed by Mies before his death in 1969.

In making the move, the firm will be trading in Miesian minimalism for the ornately ornamented, glazed terra-cotta grandeur of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White's design, the first tower built north of the Chicago River.  The annex opened in 1924.  The original 425-foot-high south tower, completed in 1921, is dominated by the 20-foot-high clock at its apex.

After being acquired by Mars Candy, Wrigley sold their landmark building and in 2012 moved its last employees to the company's research facility on Goose Island.  The complex has undergone a major rehabilitation, including a rehab of the plaza between the two buildings that has seen the opening of a two-level story Walgreen's, Peet's Coffee, and, most recently, a two-story Ghiradelli Chocolate store opening along the plaza.

Perkins+Will will occupy over 60,000 square feet in the "top floors" of the north tower annex, configured into open-space offices, with employees also having access to a new rooftop terrace.  The firm moved up from fifth position on Architectural Record's just-published list of top U.S. architects, with its revenue approximately 2/3 domestic and 1/3 international.

Full text of this morning's press release after the break.

The Wrigley Building Chronicles 

Update: Side Lot Windfall lastest twist in the epic Wrigley Building Chronicles

Four Buildings and a Funeral - Wrigley: The Architecture that Remains after a Great Company Dies.
Plaza of the Americas to get renovation: Wrigley next, please, please.
Plaza of the Americas rehab:  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Wrigley Building Plaza:  Where Perfect People meet the Rest of Us
 The $2 Million bargain: The Grandeur of the Wrigley Building Plaza restored
The Realtors Dream - Does the Plaza of the Americas Have a Future?
An Affectionate Last Look at a Building Not Worth Saving: Wreckers descend on the Downtown Court Club