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Conversation Starter

The issue you hold in your hands represents The Architect’s Newspaper making its largest foray into the Midwest yet. It comes as Chicagoans reflect on the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro. However disappointing the decision, it represents a watershed moment for the design community to articulate a vision for the city going forward.

Two potentially transformative projects are underway or on the boards: the redevelopment of the old Michael Reese Hospital campus, which would provide a crucial link from downtown to the South Loop to the South Side; and the Circle Line, which could better integrate a divided city, ease business and recreational commutes, and allow for higher densities and economic growth with less dependence on the automobile.

The redevelopment of the Michael Reese campus offers tremendous economic and cultural potential. Given the modernist heritage on the site, that potential comes with an obligation for greatness. Rather than selling it off to the highest bidder, the city should develop a fine-grained, binding master plan. The site could be divided into smaller development plots, which, given the continued tightness of the credit market, could help speed activity at the campus. Other sites could be held for a time and used for temporary activities like concerts or farmer’s markets. Retention and redevelopment of some of the Gropius buildings could become a model for adaptive reuse of modernist structures, bolstering the South Side’s unmatched collection of midcentury masterworks. Density bonuses could be given to developers who solicit designs through competitions.

Architects are among those most qualified to offer solutions, and, as citizens and professionals, we in the design community have a role to play in holding the city accountable for the future of this publicly owned site.

The Circle Line plan is even more important and is at a much earlier stage of development. By linking all the El lines, the Circle Line would activate the entire system, which in its current spoke-and-axle configuration is too rigid for many trips. It would also encourage dense, urban development in the near South and West sides, supporting the vitality of Downtown. Public hearings began quietly in late September. This is a project to follow and cheer, and it would be fitting to get it off the ground in this year, the Burnham Centennial.

As we launch AN in February of 2010, we aim to foster and enrich the civic and professional conversation, independent of any organization or interest group. As with our East and West editions, our goal is to reflect the aspirations of the region’s architects, provide a forum for debate, and most of all, be consistently informative and useful to our readers. Show us your support by subscribing today. Since the paper is free for architects and architectural designers, there’s no reason not to! Fill out the form on page 29 or sign up at www.archpaper.com. And while you’re waiting for your first print issue to arrive in February, follow us online for news, features, and opinion from the East and West coasts, as well as weekly new stories and blog posts from the Midwest.

Let’s start the conversation. Send your comments, questions, gripes, or praise to Midwesteditor@archpaper.com.

 

 

A version of this article appeared in AN 01_10.14.2009_MW.

When the Party's Over

After three decades of dereliction, Philip Johnsonns New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park got a recall from limbo on September 15, when state preservation officials unanimously voted to add it to the state and national registers of historic places. The listing will help secure sorely needed funds for rehabilitation, possibly paving the way to reopen the cityys most prominent midcentury ruin. Against the backdrop of the 2016 Olympics frenzy, however, this Worldds Fair relic reminds us that long after the champagne corks and confetti are swept away, whatts left is often a legacy of boosterism and empty rhetoric rather than a viable urban future.

Completed in 1964 as one of the few architectural high points of the Worldds Fair, Johnsonns pavilion was an undeniable hit: More than six million people passed through the ensemble, which centered upon the Tent of Tomorrow,, a colorful plastic canopy pitched atop the worldds largest cable suspension roof. Below was the famous terrazzo map of New York State, based on a Texaco road atlassnow wrapped in chain-link and subject to advancing deteriorationnwhile above soared three observation towers topping out at more than 200 feet and reached by Sky Streakk elevators (now sadly inoperable). Then there was the Theaterama, the only part of the complex to have been reborn following a 1993 renovation and, this year, a $23 million expansion for the Queens Theatre in the Park. Upon the fairrs opening, no less than Ada Louise Huxtable deemed the pavilion a runaway success, day or night,, adding: This is carnivall with class..

To its credit, the Parks Department, which owns the structure, supported the historic register listing to help rescue the pavilion. (The complex is also under review as a potential city landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, though no timeline has been set for a decision.) But three decades of neglect is plainly visible to millions roaring past on the Long Island Expressway. Indeed, state officials took the exceptional step of declaring the pavilion a fragile and short-lived resource,, since it does not meet the standard listing criteria of being at least 50 years old.

Todayys Olympiad hopefuls pepper their bid books with talk of long-range planning and catalytic regeneration, but as the world gears up for another quadrennial extravaganza, consider those skeletal towers in Queens. In New Yorkkwhose own Olympic bid, of course, succumbed to rancorous debate over a white-elephant West Side stadiummwe cannt even bother to fix up a work meant to celebrate, in the words of the fairrs theme, Manns achievement on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe..

By turns pathetic and hopeful, the fate of Johnsonns monument rests now in the hands of citizen-preservationists. On October 24, Columbia Universityys Preservation Alumni are sponsoring a volunteer workday to hack back invasive species that have colonized the pavilion, pitching in to salvage its former glory (call the Parks Department at 718-760-6677 for details). Under the tattered Tent of Tomorrow, you too can help conservators collect fragments of the grand terrazzo road map, bits of which vanish with every passing day.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrong-headed. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country.

In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world. These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.30.2009_CA.

Bait & Balance

In spite of all the acreage they have to offer, the biggest building sites in New York have cultivated more cynicism than anything else. And when the developer Forest City Ratner swapped an ambitious Frank Gehry basketball arena at Atlantic Yards for a pedestrian design by Ellerbe Becket, even the most jaded cried foul. And so it seemed almost poetically appropriate that Bruce Ratner’s next step would be to try and re-insinuate himself into the public’s graces by mesmerizing us with a sinuous, snake-like wrap by SHoP Architects, the architectural equivalent of indie film stars.

Critics have charged Ratner with a classic case of bait-and-switch, but even under the new lineup, the arena’s prospects look dim. Ellerbe Becket is still on board, leaving many to wonder how meaningfully SHoP can reshape the design. And recently the city’s Independent Budget Office reported that the basketball arena stood to be a $40 million net loss to the city over 30 years, even as city subsidies to the project have ballooned to more than $772 million. Somewhere in the shuffle the original idea of a carefully orchestrated ensemble of great buildings well-knit into the community has been sidelined.

Together with the cringe-making face-off between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority at ground zero, it is all too clear that ambitious public/private partnerships are currently beyond this generation’s skill set: Developers mistrust government’s staying power to see a project through to the finish; the public wants its voice heard, values mirrored, and vanities appeased; and officials just want to pose for the cameras at the groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting. It’s a recipe for dwindling expectations.

And from up close, it is downright painful to watch architects jerked around like some Manchurian Candidate’s puppets. Would more regulation help ease along the process and prevent eleventh-hour surprises? Is mandated accountability in order? Developer, architect, planner, and now professor Vishaan Chakrabarti, formerly of the Related Companies and recently named director of an expanded real estate development program at Columbia University, thinks not.

In a telephone interview, Chakrabarti said, “New York is a tricky place. It’s not a beauty-contest city like San Francisco. We don’t regulate design. And the reason has to do with our attitude about art. Most New Yorkers understand that along with some good art comes lots of bad art.” He also noted that in New York you can’t get away with bait-and-switch tactics more than once, or you’ll get a reputation. “People have long memories in this town,” he told me.

Chakrabarti’s very long view, so accepting of the mediocre and confident that the truly artful will rise above and endure, sounds more wise than cynical. Goethe described architecture as frozen music, an expression that suggests not only majesty and inevitability, but also motion so slow as to be invisible. Perhaps rather than try to force these gigantic projects into instant being, we should allow them to evolve more glacially like great performance pieces, with equally lasting consequences.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrongheaded. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country. In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world.

These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.

California Dreamin'

In a recent New York Times article, Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that the New York Five—Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, and John Hejduk—rose to prominence in the 1970s when New York “was beginning to close itself off to innovative architecture.” Though the critic allows that New York could then still claim to be the country’s center of architectural thought, he suggests that the Five created out of that era’s vibrant culture “the last heroic period in New York architecture.”

In his story, titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More,” Ouroussoff goes on to reassert—with very little evidence—an often repeated claim. In the subsequent decades, he writes, “The country’s creative energy shifted westward, to Los Angeles, whose vibrant mix of urban grit and nature, abundance of relatively cheap land and lack of confining historical traditions allowed architects to experiment with a freedom that had become virtually impossible in New York.” California’s supposed freedom produced architects like Michael Maltzan, Kevin Daly, and Chris Genik, a cadre of talent, Ouroussoff says, with “no real equivalent in New York.”

However important these architects may be—clearly, like many other LA architects of their generation, they do impressive work—to suggest that New York has no comparable talent is absurd. Ouroussoff, long an admirer of Southern California architecture, turns even an article on the New York Five into an exercise in promoting LA’s “creative energy” and decrying New York’s dearth of “innovative architecture.” His claim that the most important contemporary works to rise in New York over the past decade were designed not by New Yorkers but by Angelenos (Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), a Japanese woman (Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA), and a Frenchman (Nouvel) might actually be seen as a vote for the city’s confidence, strength, and openness—not something to be condemned.

But more consequentially, using a discussion of the New York Five to argue that the city has closed itself off to innovative architecture is simply wrongheaded. For example, when the New York Five first appeared in 1967 at an Arthur Drexler–curated exhibition at MoMA, they had just emerged from East Coast universities and built only a few private houses. It was New York’s architecture media infrastructure (magazines, publishers, museums, galleries, and critics) that created the group, and it is frankly still without parallel in this country. In addition, the educational institutions in New York’s East Coast orbit, from whence came the Five, were and are still the most important in the world.

These institutions educate and support architects with teaching positions at the highest level—including nearly every LA architect of any importance. Due in part to this unrivaled critical mass, the level of discourse, critique, and even experiment in New York can hardly be called staid. The type of architectural thinking that produced plans for the High Line and Fresh Kills landfill, to name only two recent New York projects, could only have come out of the East Coast architecture hopper.

The Times article concludes that in New York, “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities. Politicians will have to embrace the cosmopolitanism that was once the city’s core identity.” Yet a recent trip to Los Angeles to look at the city’s new high schools, including Coop Himmelb(l)au’s new Central Los Angeles High School, makes it seem that it is the politicians in that city that have something to learn.

They are creating gigantic new school buildings that despite their acclaimed architecture are as misguided about the direction of urban education toward small, intimate learning environments as anything in recent memory. In fact, it is in New York where design-savvy administrators like David Burney at the DDC and Janette Sadik-Khan at the DOT are creating new models of cosmopolitanism right under the nose of those who want to believe that “nothing has come out of New York in decades.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.