Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Can a Boombox Activate Chicago's Orphaned Public Plazas?

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Two years ago, the administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a Request for Proposals for the adoption of 49 underused public places owned by the city.  The parcels are all across the city, and range in size from 41,000 down to 436 square feet, with an average of 8,600.  Some, like the Nelson Algren Memorial at Polish Triangle, are long-established public squares.  Others are little more than space underneath the concrete pillars of a raised expressway.

The response was underwhelming. According to a January, 2014 update by Trib reporter John Byrne, there were only four RFP filings - two major billboard companies, Lamar Advertising and CBS Outdoor, and boutique architecture firms Latent Design and architect Carmen Vidal-Hallet's EcoVidal Design.   City officials indicated a decision on whether any of the entrants would be selected would be made within the year.
Katherine Darnstadt (left)
Instead, it wasn't until this past April that Emanuel introduced an ordinance to create the Make Way for People public plaza program, a public/private partnership to be managed by Latent Design, the firm founded by architect Katherine Darnstadt that already has a long history of public space interventions, from a Mini golf course installed in parking spots along Milwaukee Avenue, to 2013's Blah Blah Blob!, an inhabitable, brilliantly colored fabric tent that set up shop both at Union Station and a later Activate! event next to the Chicago Theater.

Under Activate! Chicago, ten locations are to be activated during the first year, which ends next summer, including at least one for each of five geographic regions into which the city was divided. Another twenty are to be activated in the final two years of the contract.  The initial budget is a measly $50,000.  To put that into perspective, the newly redeveloped Northerly Island came in at about $2.40 a square foot. Divided among the 12.4 acres of the 49 Peoples Plaza sites, that $5,000 comes out to about 9 cents a square foot.  The cost of the new Riverwalk calculates out to $1,163 per square foot.
Last Friday, Chicago First Lady Amy Rule assisted in the ribbon cutting for Boombox, the first major public plaza program installation. ("First Friday" Activate! events also took place at Jackson and Homan and at Englewood Plaza at 63rd Street.) 
The location was Wicker Park's Mautene Court.  According to a report by DNAInfo/Chicago's Alisa Hauser the plaza at 1260 North Milwaukee was created in the 1970's in what was formerly a staging area for the garment manufacturing industry that dominated the district earlier in the 20th century.  The 175 square-foot kiosk, heated and permitted for retail and food service, was constructed out of a stripped-down shipping container.

Boombox / Between Startup and Storefront from LATENT DESIGN on Vimeo.

Darnstadt said the container . . . 
. . . came from the south side of Chicago. The company we purchased it from cut down a standard 8x20 for us and removed all four sides and then shipped it to our warehouse for construction. We constructed the Boombox about 75% in a warehouse, then disassembled it to flatbed truck [it] to the site for final install. We cleared underpasses by only an inch. Literally. The Boombox weighs about 5,000 pounds and the exterior panels are the backside of good old cheap Hardie board [a cement board siding]. The pattern is the result of the dying process. 
Opening night featured a performance by dancers from the Joffrey Ballet.  Hauser reports Darnstadt herself made use of the kiosk for her own office, with the first tenant is scheduled to be a pop-up library.  Negotiations are ongoing for a retail tenant during the holiday shopping season.
Described as a "new platform for Nomadic retail", Boombox rents for $500 a week, with lease periods of two weeks to three months.  Mautene Court should prove an attractive location, nestled next to Tocco restaurant along the trendy Milwaukee retail strip that mixes empty storefronts with hip retailers, restaurants and theaters.

Read More:

McPlazas? Privatizing Chicago's Orphan Public Spaces

Enter the Blob: Activate! Union Station

Monday, September 21, 2015

David Adjaye and a few close artist friends' offer up inspired debate over Architectural Grad Student's provocative Question

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 The first Chicago Architecture Biennial doesn't begin until October 3rd, but already things are already heating up with events relating to the opening last Saturday of the Art Institute's blockbuster exhibition, Making Place: The Architecture of David AdjayeLast Wednesday, the Tanzanian born, Britain-based architect was in conversation with exhibition curator Zoë Ryan, and on Saturday, Adjaye  and Ryan were back for a panel discussion, The Art of Architecture - David Adjaye's Collaborations with Artists
Other participants included Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden, artists Lorna Simpson, Chris Ofili and Chicago's own Theaster Gates, and Okwui Enwezor, director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, which co-curated the exhibition.
Lorna Simpson
It was an engaging discussion, which we hope to draw upon when we write further on this dazzling show, but for now I wanted to concentrate on what happened at the end of the main program when  a student at the University of Washington in St. Louis asked a question that immediately caused the panelists to sit up and take notice.
A rush of energy spread throughout the room and fueled deeply engaged responses from each panelist, which began with issues of race, moved on to the questions of how a young person makes their mark in an indifferent world, and ending with a a spirited exchange on the origins of creativity. I'm sure for most of my readers, this is shear TLDR, but I found the discussion fascinating enough that I'm recounting it here in my imperfect transcription.

This is the question from which it all began:

“I look around at the audience here, very different from what I experience at home in St. Louis, especially as one of the only Afro-American males in the graduate program at Washington in Art and Architecture."

“Just don't give up,” responded Adjaye.

“Well, I'm glad you say that, because that's what my question is pertaining to, everyone on stage and everyone in the audience. How could you suggest and offer information to young people to help them stay guided on the path to achieving their goals? Defying the odds, creating spaces for themselves in communities where there is no Theaster Gates, where there is no Thelma Golden to stand there and have a community of people around her to show that it's possible. I've lived in St. Louis for maybe seventeen years and it's quite detrimental to live in an environment that's so segregated. "

"What could you guys share with us to let us know that we can do this? And I'm not just speaking for myself but also for other current graduate students here in the audience."
Theaster Gates, David Adjaye,Zoë Ryan
Adjaye: You know, I think - and I congratulate you on going into a profession where you don't see role models, and you don't see other professionals. That says a lot about who you are.

"You on the stage. I can see you on the stage. I get to travel to Chicago or to New York as a graduate chancellors fellow for the university , I'm paid to be there. But I want to be at home, also. How can I help my home a cultural center for black people to know that it's OK?

Okwui Enwezor: When David and I started at the Royal College, it wasn't like a sea of black people . (laughter)

Adjaye: FYI - and there were no people on the stage either.

Enwezor: If you need to do it, do it on your own. Don't look for your posse, do you know what I mean? Just get on with it.

Adjaye: What is so important is that you are becoming or want to become someone who works in the built environment. You don't know how much of a purpose that is. Okay, I know that it's difficult when you're doing it. It's always difficult when you're at the front of a surge. Think of yourself as the tip of a spear, and kind of make an opportunity - manifest yourself in your community. Actually start to do things. I mean Theaster was not always Theaster Gates. He was a guy, just doing things.

(at this point Gates got a big laugh from panel and audience alike as he stood and mimed the transition from a stooped, close-to-the-ground early Theaster Gates to the ultimate straight-postured, fully-evolved "Theaster Gates")

He became Theaster Gates. Because he did things that people recognized. So, you know, the models are there. The models are there.
Lorna Simpson, Theaster Gates, David Adjaye
Theaster Gates: You know, also, I think there's something interesting to me between what Chris is saying and what David is saying . One part of the "get on with it" is what Black Brits told me when I came to London when I was very young, kind of talking about the challenges of being black in the United States.

I think that in a way because black Brits came to London with a kind of autonomy, the question of blackness or blackness in relationship to a white Brit, that was never really the kind of anxiety. There were other things like, I just need work. So there's a way in which black anxiety that we deal with or black trauma that not everybody has that same kind of psychological load. How do you start to shake off some of that psychological load so that you can just kind of get on with it? But shaking off that psychological load is actually the complex part and I don't know if there's anyone that can help - there might be tactics that can help you shake off the psychological load , but if you're the only . . .

I'll give the example of black girls at the Art Institute who want to talk about hair and white faculty members who don't want to talk about black hair, So if you're in those situations where . . . your autonomy isn't empowering , your autonomy is constantly being a kind of barged in upon by an oppressive force, I think that in those moments , that's where strength lives. That's where you gird up and you're like - I'm gonna talk about hair. And never neglect the potential power of your colleagues no matter who they are. In fact, there's fuel all around you waiting to help propel the work and that fuel ain't racial fuel. It's just diesel.
Chris Ofili, Thelma Golden
Thelma Golden: . . . you're sitting on the stage, and there are a whole lot of first and onlies, right? And in a certain way, exceptionalizing like that gets a little boring after a while, right?  Because you do have to get on with it. But I also think that what you understand is that when you're looking for community, and you're looking for support, for your ideals, to not think of it in a localized way.

We've been talking today about collaboration, and the professional relationships, but on this stage there is this huge personal relationships that have crossed different cities. London to New York, or to Munich, to Trinidad, back to Chicago, and finding the idea of community as not being local. Of being able to understand your vision and your aspirations in this wider group of people, who . . .  are there to support the sort of individual efforts, but also what are the mutual efforts, and the mutual ideals that we all might have.

Enwezor: I think that what is very crucial for any . . .professional, you have to begin by asking yourself what kind of contribution you want to make in your discipline. Whatever it is, it's really about your discipline.  The reason I became interested in David's work is not because he's a fellow West African. I think it's important that you begin with how do you contribute to your discipline? And at the same time, to reflect on the fact that when you ask that question, it's going to be an uphill battle.  I think it's a battle between the context and yourself . . . you have to learn most simply to be a guest, but also to be a host. And that means there's a kind of give and take in that sense.  Because if you start becoming a host, you start beginning to invent a world, an ecology of possibility.

So maybe the point is that you shouldn't really stay in your neighborhood . You should venture out, in that sense. And I think that doesn't mean that you cannot return. But I think you have to start at that possibility of uprooting yourself.  You have to imagine [that] cosmopolitan idea. Because that's how ideas travel.  That is how you enter into broader conversations, that's how you gain the benefit of really bringing your own world into the conversation.
Okwui Enwezor, Chris Ofili
Chris Ofili: I think that David's managed to find a practice that allows him to explore himself, in relation to the world, in relation to his own industry, in relation to his own possibilities. So I refuse to separate person from the work. I think it's like taking the air out a balloon and expecting it to go up.

I think that David is who he is and I think that if people chose to see that as an affliction, that's their problem.

Enwezor: That's actually not what I mean. My interest is that on the very highest level of practice, I'm interested in David's work. This other connection is also central in understanding the depth of that practice.

Chris: Well, OK, it's not an argument, but actually I feel quite strongly about it than you that in trying to understand what the work is, the root is through the person,

Enwezor: Oh, absolutely.

Chris: And I think that what we're seeing unfolding in time is a person in the form of architecture. That's my - maybe because I'm close to David - but that's what I see. That's the way I view it. I'm not saying this to you, but I think that there's a theoretical approach that can see it other ways, and separate those parts, but I can't.

Enwezor: I think it's an interesting point.  Nevertheless I don't see David's practice purely from an autobiographical lens. And I tell you what, because for me it's very interesting in the discussion about his relationship to African abstraction.  David is looking at this storehouse of references that people are not using. And he said, if people are not going to use it, I am going to use it. And of course, that has to do with his relationship to a place but that recognition is not writing an essay that is only autobiographical. It's to say there is a cultural archive, that has depth, that has incredible complexity. That you can take this cultural archive and be able to read it in a way that emerges to become a universal language.
And this is what, I believe, if you look at the building in Washington [The National Museum of African History and Culture], from this kind of naturalistic form of the Yoruban column that ends up in this abstraction of the bronze Corona, [it] is magical. And I think what I see there is not David's personality. It's his intellectual distillation of this thing happening.

Chris: Then why would you want to separate the personality from the intellect? I don't see the point. (laughter)

Monday, September 07, 2015

For Labor Day: Hiding in Plain Sight - the Chicago Federation of Musician's Building

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[Update: May 2017].  Lisa Bertagnoli of Crain's Chicago Business reports that efforts  to maintain a museum in this space were suspended in 2016.

Many monuments of the labor movement can no longer be found.  That includes Solon Spencer Beman's Arcade Building in the company town of Pullman, now part of Chicago's far south side.  The photograph below is from the 1894 Pullman strike, called after the sleeping car company drastically cut wages while refusing to lower the rents it charged employees forced to live in the company-owned housing.  The Arcade is fronted by a cordon of National Guard troops called to break up the strike,  with a second cordon of observers waiting to see if actual shooting will break out.  The Arcade Building no longer exists, but not through any action of the workers.  It was left to rot, and was demolished in 1926.  President Grover Cleveland broke the strike with the U.S. Army, and signed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday six days later.
At the top of this post is a photograph is another, more modest building, another case of Chicago's labor history hiding in plain sight.  It was built in 1933 as headquarters for then-powerful Chicago Federation of Musicians, headed by James Petrillo of bandshell fame, who in the 1940's would  ban union members from making recordings.
The building was designed by architect Nelson Max Dunning, the Wisconsin-born architect, who, in partnership with his brother Hugh also designed such Chicago landmarks as the American Book Company on Cermak and the blue-roofed Furniture Mart (now the residential 680 North Lake Shore Drive).  The upper two floors are clad in limestone, the first in polished marble, with a bronze-framed entrance and a large recessed storefront.  Income from the store rental was designed to help finance the operation of the building.
The design includes restrained ornament at the roofline, and along the three tall second floor windows, a series of three carved stone reliefs . . .

Appropriately enough, for years the retail tenant was a record store, most prominently the Loop outlet of Rolling Stone records,  The building was auctioned off in 2010, and is now owned by the National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago the Chicago outpost of the National Museum of Health and Medicine  in Silver Spring Maryland,  founded in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum when Civil War field medical officers were asked to gather "specimens of morbid anatomy together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed" for the collection.

The Chicago museum, at least so far, has high ambitions and a low profile.  According to a a 2011 report by Lisa Bertagnoli in Crain's Chicago Business,  it's the brainchild of Chicago native Michael Doyle of Eolas Technologies, an inventor and patent troll who reportedly reached a $100 million settlement with Microsoft over patents that claimed to own the idea of an interactive internet.
image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
According to Bertagnoli, the Chicago museum had an ambitious $45 million fund-raising goal - seeded by $3 million from Doyle - with an April 15, 2015 opening date.  Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects came up with an innovative design concept for the building that promised . . . 
a new kind of museum that, in keeping with its purpose and theme, is itself a living organism, both metaphorically and in terms of sustainable energy generation. As they pass through the interactive interior spaces, visitors will uncover layer after layer of information about the human body. And like nutrients within a body, visitors will generate energy for the building via developing technologies such as a heel-strike system, which harvests the force produced by foot traffic. That power will then be visually expressed in various forms, on interior surfaces as well as on the building envelope. When the museum is lightly populated, for example, it will exude a quiet energy; when it’s buzzing with activity, it will visibly flicker and pulse with the physical presence of its occupants. 
Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
The design included a translucent graphic membrane wrapping around the buildings corner, and a new rooftop cafe.

April 15th has come and gone, and while the museum has hosted a number of events, the building remains very quiet.  None of the external enhancements are in evidence, and the interior is being shopped around as a private event space.  The website lists constricted hours three days a week "open to local businesses and local academic institutions".
Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
 The intended design would be a striking addition to a rather dull stretch of Washington Street.  All it needs is a lot of money, and a crew of skilled laborers to bring it into being.

Also for Labor Day:

 Hidden in Plain Sight: The Architecture of Chicago's Labor Movement

 Worker Spaces, In Fiction and Fact

The Architecture of Chicago's Unionville

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

What a Dump! Chicago Just Can't Stop Adding Real Estate

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As best as I can tell, not so much as an inch of Chicago's lakefront has any continuity to its original natural state, its shore was restlessly reshaped to meet the successive needs of explosively compounding metropolis.  Today, you'll find hardly a trace of original sand dune edge or the lowland marshes in which the stinky onions grew wild
Chicago Park District historian Julia Bachrach estimates that over the city's history, over 2,000 acres of new land has been added to the city's lakefront.  In places the today's shoreline is a full half mile east of where the first European explorers had found it.

This is the case with Fullerton Point, an outlet of land where Fullerton Parkway meets the lakefront.  It began its life late in the 19th century as Picnic Island, a tract of land bounded by the lake, the Lincoln Park lagoon to the west, and waterways connecting the two to both the north and south.
from This Haven of Rest and Health
In a time when tuberculosis was an often deadly disease, 1887 saw the creation of the Chicago Daily News Sanitarium, financed by fund drives mounted by the powerful  Chicago newspaper.  For a detailed - and richly illustrated story of the sanitarium, see Cynthia Matthew's This Haven of Rest and Health, published in the Spring 2000 edition of Chicago History, from which the above aerial shot of Picnic Island was taken.

The sanitarium was created to serve the children of Chicago tenements, providing a seasonal refuge from summer's heat and increased pollution.  The original building,  designed by Burnham and Root, was open to lake breezes and constructed on 150 concrete pylons.  A ramp connected it to the mainland, serving both to give its young patients the benefits of the fresh air and keeping them safely isolated from a population fearful of contagion.

In 1914, a larger replacement facility opened on Picnic Island,  Minus its perpendicular entrance wing, sheared off in a later park improvement, this is the structure that still exists today.  Designed by Dwight Perkins in the Prairie Style, with steel arches encased in brick, the facility has 250 basket cribs for babies, and nurseries and other rooms to support the care of older children.  It served more than 30,000 children every summer, until its 1939 closing.
During World War II, the building was used as a USO Center, and was later turned over to Theater on Lake, which has mounted productions in its often steamy, un-airconditioned space since 1952.  Exiled to other venues during the point's reconstruction, Theater on the Lake is scheduled to return a building that will now be fully air-conditioned.
Seen from the south, Fullerton Point provided a visual punctuation point to the lakefront promenade, its trees signaling the season through their change of color.
At the southeast corner of the point was a rough, tumble-of-rocks outcropping with spectacular clear views out to the lake and the city skyline to the south.

That was the past.  This is the future . . .
Since 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers has been in the process of completely rebuilding - and sanitizing - Chicago's lakefront as part of a $300 million shoreline protection project.  19 of the 23 segments of the 9.5 mile project have already been completed.  Last October, ground was broken on the $31.5 million Lake Shoreline Protection Project to expand and stabilize Fullerton Point.

The previous revetment was built between 1910 and 1931 out of wood piles filled with stones.  By the 1950's, the piles had begun to collapse, and record low water levels in 1964 exposed them to the air, accelerating the rot.

As much as a case of its seawalls crumbling, Fullerton Point had come to be seen as a traffic problem.  Increasing pedestrian, skate and bicycle traffic combined to create a choke point where the paths met Lake Shore Drive underpass at Fullerton Parkway.
The solution was to wrap the old point in a new point, adding 5.8 acres of parkland extending about a hundred feet south, allowing for a pair of paths that keep bicycle and foot traffic separate.   The result will be a new, 1,700-foot-long revetment.
This creation of more of Chicago is a spectacle in itself.
According to a report by John Greenfield on StreetsBlog Chicago, the piles are pounded up to 45 feet into the lake bed. Right now, an estuary of "milky turquoise" water - the color coming from sediment - awaits being filled up 80,000 cubic yards of rock and sand to create the new land.

The new seawall will extend the Army Corps infatuation with the stepped expressway school of lakefront promenade design.
Once Chicago's lakefront mostly looked like it does at Promontory Point . . .
While the Corps was hell-bent on making remodeling the lakefront in its cookie-cutter image, they hadn't counted on the orneriness of those contrarian Hyde Parkers, who have mounted a major battle against the generic designs of which The Corps is so fond.
The expressway lakefront, as smooth as a concrete contractor's bottom, continues its Sherman's march down the length of the Chicago lake shore, but Promontory Point is where the forward advance has slowed, if only for a moment.
It's all about efficiency.  The stepped designs are supposed to provide protection against Chicago's increasingly frequent and severe winter storms and the erosion threat they represent.  And to keep the traffic moving.  And there can be no question but that the relentlessly homogeneous promenade has its own beauty, as insipedness magnified to massive scale often does.
Still, you'd like to think that somewhere along Chicago's lakefront, there's still room for a poetic expression of the the rough nature out of which a great city grew.