Detroit’s Packard Plant pedestrian bridge collapsed Wednesday following an ice storm, creating despair among the city’s historians who had hoped to see it restored and resignation among local photographers, urban explorers and city admirers who anticipated the collapse. The Packard Plant has been undergoing a massive restoration in recent years, going from one of Detroit’s most photographed pieces of “ruin porn” to a possible symbol of its resurgence. But the bridge collapse Wednesday just reminded people on social media and local news outlets of the challenges of renovating structures that have long been neglected. Detroit Free Press that the ice storm combined with warming temperatures throughout the day Wednesday were the pedestrian bridge’s final straw. According to an Arte Express spokesman, the city owns the building at 1539 E. Grand Blvd. that connects to the bridge, and the bridge is jointly owned by the city and Arte Express.
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Battle of Hastings Pier
Hastings Pier, winner of the 2017 Stirling Prize, is at the center of heated public battle
A 147-year-old piece of seaside infrastructure in Hastings, England, is at the center of a nationwide controversy now known as the “Battle of Hastings Pier.” According to The Guardian, Sheikh Abid Gulzar, the new owner of the 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize–winning Hastings Pier, closed the beloved public space last month without notice until March. Locals are livid. The historic structure, which underwent a massive renovation in 2016 by Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects (dRMM), is a Victorian-age wooden pier built in 1872. It’s endured a fraught history since its opening and survived multiple fires, the latest of which nearly destroyed the 300-yard pier in 2010. Through the U.K.’s Heritage Lottery Fund and £14.5 million in public donations, dRMM brought it back to life. A representative from the Friends of Hastings Pier (FoHP) said because local residents invested their own money in the pier’s construction, they deserve more transparency from Gulzar about its future. According to a December 29th post on the Hastings Pier Facebook page, Gulzar decided to shut down access to the pier in order to begin much-needed repairs and improvements. To the public, the pier’s closure is seen as the latest offense by the wealthy hotelier and businessman, whose nickname, “Goldfinger", alludes to the gold-clad cars he drives around London and the gold rings he sports on each finger. Gulzar recently installed a series of golden fiberglass animals on the pier and announced plans to build an on-site amusement park. Protests have broken out over Gulzar's acts, and locals continue to fume over the fact that Gulzar purchased the pier in June for a mere £60,000—a sliver of the millions it took to rehabilitate and restabilize the structure.
#Hastings citizens queued up to go on Hastings pier.#DWP minister & Local MP Amber Rudd attended the protest with the owner @bheardmedia asked questions...https://t.co/R97wuJZX4Z@HastingsInPress@hastingsonline @guardian pic.twitter.com/iChi47lGEo — bheardmedia (@bheardmedia) January 12, 2019It’s unclear what will happen next. A spokesman for Gulzar told The Guardian that essential repairs are currently underway on Hastings Pier and it could reopen in mid-February. In recent months, Gulzar has complained about an increase in theft and vandalism as a cause for concern, and repeatedly expressed his commitment to keeping the pier safe. On January 12, he met with local residents and the city council to discuss support in speeding up construction projects on site in order to ensure an earlier opening date.
The Senate starts its search for a new Architect of the Capitol
Know any architects looking for an extremely high-profile government job? Okay, so maybe not everyone wants to work for the federal government right now (thanks, 31-day government shutdown). Nevertheless, the search for a new Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is officially underway, reports Roll Call. Anyone who seeks to fill the position will be responsible for overseeing a multitude of preservation and maintenance projects on the Capitol’s campus. A few of those include the $752 million renewal of the Cannon House Office Building, the oldest structure on site, as well as updates to the Beaux Arts–style Russell Senate Office Building, also built over a century ago. The AOC will also be in charge of rehabilitating the Senate Underground Garage and Senate Park, both under construction through 2020, as well as overseeing the continued facade work on the Capitol Building itself. Not only that, he or she will manage all upgrades and maintenance to the Capitol Visitor Center, the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Botanic Garden, and the Capitol Grounds. That’s 18.4 million square feet of federal facilities including 190 structures and 580 acres of landscape sprawled across Capitol Hill. Did we mention it’s full-time? The position is a 10-year term, currently held by Stephen T. Ayers. Nominated in 2010 by President Obama, Ayers oversaw the three-year, $59.5 million restoration of the Capitol Dome, which wrapped up in 2016. Ayers announced his retirement in late November and is leaving behind over $1 billion of deferred maintenance work and a $733 million budget for the new AOC to takeover. The hunt for a new leader is being spearheaded by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, a 14-person group that includes the Speaker of the House, the President pro tempore, the majority and minority leaders from both chambers, the chairs and ranking members of the House Administration and Senate Rules Committees, as well as the Appropriations Committee members from both chambers. The group is working with an executive search firm to find three candidates to recommend to President Trump. Once the president makes his pick, the Senate must officially confirm his or her appointment. The confirmed nominee will become the 12th Architect of the Capitol in U.S. history. Several past officeholders were actually not registered architects, which still isn’t a requirement to fill the position.
The Plight of White Over Concrete
Bertrand Goldberg's brutalist River City building gets controversial paint job
Preservationists are up in arms over a paint job made by the new owners of Bertrand Goldberg’s brutalist River City condominium in Chicago. Crews are currently brightening the exposed concrete walls that line the building’s soaring atrium to a stark shade of white. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, some consider it an act of vandalism. Built in 1986, the iconic mixed-use building features a serpentine design and a lightly undulating facade full of arcing windows. Its 10-story atrium is lit by thinly ribbed glass openings on the roof. The structure is situated in the city’s South Loop neighborhood and hovers over the Chicago River on a series of plinths, making it accessible by boat. Though it's not a landmarked building, it's a staple of Goldberg’s Chicago architecture and impressive to many. Its textured grey tones are enhanced by daylight, but its new owners want to create an even more modern feel to attract residents, hence the new white color. Last month, the property was co-purchased by its new ownership, a group of real estate investors, for $90.5 million. The sale marked the largest condominium deconversion in Chicago history, According to The Real Deal, it took two years of negotiations to sort out the deal so that the owners could transform the 449-unit complex into a fully renovated rental apartment building. Painting the atrium is step one towards that goal. Well-known local critic Lee Bey told Crain’s the decision is “a shame,” and that the building’s expression is best understood within its curved walls. “It really is a significant change to a space that Goldberg thought out very carefully,” he said. “He brings this curvilinear ‘street’ inside the building, with the sun coming in from above. He thought of it as a street in Paris.” Under its new ownership, River City is set to receive an updated lobby, a new fitness center, co-working spaces, and communal areas. The existing 250,000 square feet of office and retail space will also be upgraded.
Following the release of an updated scheme for 550 Madison in December of last year, Snøhetta once again went in front of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), this time for a Certificate of Appropriateness. The changes to the postmodern, Philip Johnson and John Burgee–designed skyscraper (now a New York landmark) are much more modest than the Snøhetta design that sparked the ire of preservationists back in 2017. Under the revised plan presented to the LPC on January 15, only six percent of the 1984 AT&T Building’s original facade would be changed. That includes a new row of windows on the western side (the rear) of the tower’s base and infilling the two large arches to accommodate the new elevator shaft locations in the lobby and the relocated doors to the rear passage. At the LPC meeting, Snøhetta, along with representatives of 550 Madison’s owners, Chelsfield America, Olayan America, and minority partner RXR Realty, described their design philosophy for the scheme: “Preserve and revitalize the landmarked tower, restore the original site design intent, improve on multiple alterations at the base, increase and enliven the public space." The glass-enclosure added to the building’s rear plaza in the 1994 renovation by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman would be stripped and replaced with a lightweight and open-ended Y-shaped steel-and-glass canopy. The quarter-circle glass canopy and attached annex were original to Johnson and Burgee’s design, but enclosing the open-air walkway meant that catwalks and a ductwork system had to be installed to ventilate the space. Snøhetta claimed that by removing the annex building and extending the canopy to the tower’s neighbor, along with opening the rear row of enclosed colonnades, the firm could increase the amount of available outdoor public space to 21,300 square feet from the current 4,500 square feet. That’s up from the original open-air breezeway scheme from 1984 as well, which only included 20,500 square feet—and that’s including the unenclosed colonnades that served as the building’s privately-owned public space (POPS). The new garden would be arranged according to a program that heavily invokes circles, a motif that, as Snøhetta noted, Johnson returned to again and again throughout his career. At the building’s Madison Avenue–facing front entrance to the east, the design team elaborated on their plan to replace the heavily-mullioned windows added to enclose the flat arches by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman. At the direction of Sony, which was headquartered in the building from 1992 to 2013, the columns were enclosed to create street-level retail spaces—something that AT&T fought against vehemently during the tower’s design process. While 550 Madison’s ownership team won’t be opening up the colonnade POPS and transforming it into a public space again, they’ve instead proposed replacing the windows in the flat arches with much larger panes. The new windows, which would only be divided into a three-by-four grid with two-inch-thick bronzed mullions, would be set back five feet from the front of the arches, unlike the current windows, which sit flush with the sidewalk. Public testimony presented before the commissioners was mixed but trended favorably. Representatives speaking on behalf of Robert A.M. Stern, Barry Bergdoll, Richard Rodgers, Signe Nielsen, Alan Ritchie (who worked on the original project with Philip Johnson in the 1970s), Claire Weisz and Mark Yoes, Elizabeth Diller, and others presented letters of support for the new proposal. Johnson Burgee wasn’t available to speak, but he contributed a letter of support for the plan as well. Many of the speakers addressed that upon its opening in 1984, the AT&T Building’s arched public space was dark and underutilized, and that Johnson was a proponent of adaptive reuse. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, who had previously testified his support for the 550 Madison team’s changes to the building (and its landmarking), also spoke, but this time disclosed that he had been working as an outside consultant on the project. Goldberger had drawn criticism after an article in The Real Deal revealed his role, and that he subsequently had not revealed his ties to the tower’s management team prior to testifying. Speaking to AN, Goldberger admitted that he had made a mistake in not disclosing his involvement sooner but stood by his criticism of the building’s underutilized public space as having remained consistent throughout his career. His role in the project, he said, is that of a historian and someone who has intimate knowledge of the building. The praise wasn’t unanimous. Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo’s U.S. chapter, criticized the new windows on Madison Avenue as they would allegedly stray even further from the tower’s original design intent and create a false sense of openness for an enclosed area. Concerns were also raised over the replacement of Johnson’s original articulated paving in favor of a simplified circular plan. Preservationist Theodore Grunewald spoke to the need to preserve 550 Madison’s “forest of columns” design and the relationship of void-to-solid between the cavernous underside and upper mass of the tower. Ultimately, the commission adjourned without making a decision. They needed time to consider the new scheme and accompanying testimony, and more importantly, lacked the number of commissioners required for a quorum. The LPC will reconvene and discuss the matter again at a future date. The entire presentation shown at the January 15 meeting is available here.
The Beauty and Beast of Brutalism
Boston's brutalist City Hall turns 50 this year, prepares for big renovation
For decades, Boston’s brutalist City Hall has been a heated point of debate among locals. Is it beautiful or is it ugly? Does it spark city pride or is it a dark spot among Boston’s vast array of historic architecture? Though widely praised when built in 1968, the now notorious, nine-story, 515,000-square-foot structure sits like an underutilized behemoth at the core of the downtown Government Center district. Many Bostonians are tired of it. Its commanding facade and dysfunctional interior layout are neither conducive to daily inspiration nor workplace productivity, some complain. But others see it as an enduring symbol of the early brutalist movement—an icon. Regardless of its aesthetics, the building’s biggest issues can no longer be ignored. Leading up to Boston City Hall’s official 50th anniversary this year, the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture has instigated small changes and proposed other sweeping updates to the building, originally designed by Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles, that could potentially bring it into the 21st-century era of civic and office architecture. In a comprehensive report conducted through the city’s Public Facilities Department, a multi-pronged planning process to introduce both design and operational improvements to the structure has already begun. The big ideas are outlined in the Boston City Hall and Plaza Study, completed in 2017 in collaboration with Boston-based Utile Architecture + Planning and Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects. It makes the case for a top-to-bottom reorganization of the administrative and public service needs of City Hall and its 7-acre plaza through improved design. In order to engage both employees and civilians, the dark, precast concrete building needs to both open up to the community and provide more space for work. Circulation patterns need to be updated, wayfinding needs to be implemented, building systems and infrastructure should be upgraded, and accessibility should be top of mind, according to the report. In recent years, various government departments have moved out of City Hall due to spatial constraints. Utile aims to restructure the upper floors of the building and introduce shared spaces that can be used by different teams. Large-scale meeting rooms and public spaces will remain on the lower floors while the lobby will serve as a welcoming, secure, and light-filled entry for visitors and employees. Along with interior improvements, the project scope includes repairing the sprawling, brick plaza that surrounds City Hall and introducing a stormwater management system to the landscape. It will also feature new seating and infrastructure, as well as larger programming areas for sports celebrations and concerts, to make the plaza the next great civic hub for the city. Minor changes to the facilities, including a handful of pilot projects like the new exterior lighting system as well as the Boston Winter Market, started in 2016. Urgent repairs will continue over the next four years and major renovation work on the interior is expected to begin in 2020.
Don’t count out Louis Kahn’s floating concert hall just yet. The 42-year-old Point Counterpoint II has found a new life in Florida, only a year after fears were raised that the boat might have to be scuttled. Although the speed of the 195-foot-long, 38-foot-wide boat tops out at a measly six to eight knots, the seagoing vessel has still managed to perform all over the world. The Point Counterpoint II lies flat, a stark departure from Kahn’s distinctive use of striking geometric forms in his buildings, but also includes a hydraulic-powered steel cover capable of rising 25 feet into the air, topping the barge with a center stage. The American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO), founded in 1957 by Robert Austin Boudreau, has called Kahn’s maritime arts center home since 1976. Kahn and Boudreau were personal friends and discussed replacing the first Point Counterpoint (a repurposed barge incapable of independent movement) throughout the 1960s. The resulting Point Counterpoint II, designed by Kahn, eventually set sail in 1976 for a 76-city tour as excitement for the Bicentennial was reaching a fever pitch—two years after Kahn’s death in 1974. By AWSO’s 2017 tour, 91-year-old Boudreau had been looking to step down as director for some time, and without a successor lined up, he put the boat on the market. Following a bidding war to lure the boat to a new permanent home between the city of Kingston in upstate New York and a private entity in Florida, the concert hall went to the latter and has since been brought to Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County. Boudreau blames the high cost of towing the boat up to the Great Lakes to get to Kingston in part for his selection of the Florida bidder, claiming that it would have cost over a $100,000 to comply with the Coast Guard’s regulations. In Boudreau’s view, if the boat isn’t serving the community, it might as well be scrapped. That’s part of the reason that Point Counterpoint II will become a center for music education for local children, including those from Pahokee, one of the poorest communities in Florida. For Boudreau, who grew up on a chicken farm in Massachusetts during the Great Depression, a music scholarship was his ticket to college, and now he hopes to guide hundreds of students out of poverty and into college through music in much the same way. But maintaining the educational programming aboard Point Counterpoint II will require fundraising. This year, Boudreau has pledged $50,000 from his own pocket to kickstart an endowment. He acknowledges that he won’t be around forever, and so the maestro is looking to raise $1 million to make sure that Point Counterpoint II will continue to live on as a public institution.
Just Observing Now
United States withdraws from UNESCO (again)
As of January 1, 2019, the United States has officially withdrawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one of the world’s best-known global cultural heritage and preservation organizations. The withdrawal was first announced in October 2017 after UNESCO recognized the old city of Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian World Heritage Site amid fierce resistance from the United States and Israel. The old city of Hebron is home to, among other relics and cultural sites, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a sacred religious site known as the Cave of Machpelah to Jews and as the Sanctuary of Abraham to Muslims. At the time, the United States and Israel complained that the UN was engaging in “anti-Israeli bias” stemming from the recognition of Palestine as a member state of the UN in 2011. Previously, the UN had criticized Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, according to Al Jazeera. When the UN elevated Palestine to membership status in 2011–during the Obama administration—the United States stopped paying its membership dues to UNESCO in protest. By 2017 the past-due fees had grown to $570 million, The Washington Post reported, and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to initiate the process of formal withdrawal from the organization. As of 2019, the outstanding balance due to UNESCO has risen above $600 million. Following the withdrawal, Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said, “At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations leading these issues.” The current episode marks the second time the United States has left UNESCO, following President Ronald Reagan’s withdrawal from the group in 1984 in an effort to thwart the recognition of Soviet historical sites. The United States rejoined the group in 2002 under President George W. Bush following the attacks of 9/11 amid a push to boost international solidarity by the U.S. The United States now hopes it can participate as an “observer state” on “non-politicized issues,” including the protection of World Heritage sites. The body is due to take up this new role for the United States when it next meets in April 2019.
Safdie in the High Desert
Moshe Safdie to give keynote lecture at 2019 Modernism Week
Moshe Safdie, the global architect behind iconic projects such as the Habitat 67 prefabricated housing complex in Montreal and many others, will be giving a keynote presentation at the 2019 Modernism Week symposium in Palm Springs, California. Safdie’s over-50-year-long career began at the age of 26 when he was commissioned to build a version of a McGill University thesis project in Montreal. Built in conjunction with the city’s Expo 67 world's fair, the 146-unit garden apartment complex envisioned a way of melding suburban and urban housing typologies that catapulted the architect onto the world stage. Safdie Architects has realized over 75 buildings in the years since, including the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore that is made up of three 55-story towers topped by a massive elevated park. Safdie is also responsible for Sky Habitat Singapore, a dramatic 590-unit condominium complex organized as a pair of stepped and interlinked towers studded with projecting balconies. Safdie’s office is set to complete three key projects this year, including the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore, the Altair Residences in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the massive mixed-use project Raffles City Chongqing in Chongqing, China. For the latter project, the architect has designed a series of six tapered towers that rise up to 1,450 feet in height and are connected by a 1/4-mile-long conservatory raised more than 800 feet off the ground. Safdie’s keynote lecture in Palm Springs is scheduled for February 16 at the Annenberg Theater in the Palm Springs Art Museum. For more information on the lecture, see the event page here.
Tearing Down the House
San Francisco orders historic Neutra home be rebuilt after being torn down
Preservationists in Twin Peaks, San Francisco, were aghast this past December when it came to light that much of a 1935 home designed by Richard Neutra had been illegally demolished months prior. Owner Ross Johnston had purchased the 1,300-square-foot 49 Hopkins Avenue—also known as the Largent House—for $1.7 million with plans to replace it with a 4,000-square-foot mega-mansion in 2017. Only the home’s garage door and frame still stand today, but on December 13, the City Planning Commission unanimously ruled that Johnston must build an exact replica of the house, as well as a plaque detailing the building’s history. The Largent House was one of only five buildings designed by Neutra in San Francisco. The two-story, whitewashed-concrete-block and redwood-timber building made ample use of glass bricks to let in natural light and included a greenhouse-like glass topper to enclose an indoor pool. The plague of illegal demolitions by San Franciscan homeowners hoping to build big or flip the property is widespread, and punitive repercussions are rare. The city is in the middle of a housing crisis, and when faced with the option of forbidding offenders from building on the demoed lot, the Planning Commission has let homeowners off the hook. Not this time. Johnson applied for a demolition permit and permission to build his new house two months after the home was razed, arguing that a fire in 1968 and remodels throughout the 1980s and ’90s had removed the home’s architectural significance. Rather than flipping the plot of land, Johnson claims that he was only building something that could accommodate his six-person family and that the demo was undertaken for safety and quality of life reasons. The Planning Commission disagreed, and in a 5-0 vote, ordered Johnson to rebuild the Largent House. Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards hopes that the move, along with the recently proposed Housing Preservation and Expansion Reform Act, which harshly penalizes illegal demolitions, would help curb speculation in the housing market. “The fact that it was a unanimous vote should send a message to everyone that is playing fast and loose that the game is over,” Peskin told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We want to preserve iconic, historic structures, but even more important, we want to protect our reservoir of more affordable housing stock. You want a 1,300-square-foot house to be worth what a 1,300-square-foot house is worth, rather than a mega-mansion.” Unfortunately, this isn’t a shocking story in 2018, as a number of architecturally significant homes, including a Venturi Scott Brown–designed house in Pittsburgh, faced under-the-radar demolitions and renovations.
"Lina Bardi, only today I have been able to visit your museum. It's very beautiful. The best and most beautiful museum I know." Oscar Niemeyer’s letter to Lina, which reminds us that the most renowned Brazilian architect was actually exiled from his own country between 1967 and 1980, was written after he visited MASP for the first time on October 16, 1987, actually nineteen years after the museum opening. Intriguingly enough, this brief letter is a part of a kind of pop-up exhibition at the Instituto Bardi-Casa de Vidro to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the museum. Jointly with the exhibition, a seminar involving several international Lina scholars—including Zeuler R. Lima, Olivia de Oliveira, Barry Bergdoll, and others—as well as Lina’s former collaborators Marcelo Ferraz and Marcelo Suzuki, has been organized by MASP. A holistic outcome of the joint work by architect Lina Bo with her husband, director Pietro Bardi—whom the historiographical recovery is urgent by now on, after the international success finally achieved by sometimes even mythologized Lina—MASP is a masterpiece developed through a series of experimental articulations, starting from the so-called MASP Sete de Abril, installed by Bo & Bardi since 1947 in the Diários Associados newspaper headquarter. Among MASP references, it is worth mentioning the Museums without limits conceptual framework by Pietro (1946), later continued by Lina in 1951. Officially begun in 1957, the MASP project waved up and down through phases across a series of significantly exciting side-works carried on between 1959 to 1964, when Lina met Afro-Brasil in Salvador de Bahia, to finally develop a pioneering research beyond Eurocentric Modernism. Sponsored by media tycoon Assis Chateaubriand, MASP was conceived to be the most important art museum—for Art to mean Western Art—in Latin America. Within a military-run Brazil, MASP opened on November 7, 1968, by the hands of the greatest heir of colonialism, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, on the occasion of her official visit to Brasil; this happened in the closest eminence of the dictatorship, for the AI-5 (Institutional Act no.5) issuing several human rights restrictions dating December 13, 1968. Today one can still perceive the strong contrast between the suspended box along the Paulista Avenue—unanimously recognized as an International Modernist legacy—and the immersive interior landscape, for the glass easels' groundbreaking display to mix artworks and visitors into an innovative “democratic” environment. This latter may even evoke the “un-linear timeline” of which Lina wrote, arguably a critical link with artworks belonging to the other side of the Ocean. The remarkable visual connection between the inner museum display and the city outside is one more of Lina’s valuable contributions to shift from the modernist “white box” museum that was starting to be code-designed at that time, and to a new site-specific perspective. Technically, thanks to the collaboration of engineer José Carlos Figueiredo Ferraz, MASP consists of a prestressed (reinforced) concrete structure—as for instance in the Morandi Bridge of Genoa (Italy) but, unlike that, today carefully monitored thanks to the "Keeping It Modern" project granted by Getty Foundation. It is reasonably no coincidence that—behind the title borrowed from a famous song by Gilberto Gil—the exhibition "Infinito vão [Infinite Span] - 90 years of architecture in Brazil" presently at Casa dell'Architettura of Matosinhos in Portugal, today recognizes the MASP public space with a 70-meter span invented by migrants couple Bo & Bardi as a crucial issue belonging to Brazilian architecture DNA. While a new book—actually authored by Daniele Pisani—is announced to unveil some new issues about MASP, it is time to see whether the hope for Brazilian museums to become centers for the promotion of democratic values—according to a written side-thought by curator Fernanda Brenner after visiting a MASP exhibition—will turn real after recent elections brought one more far-right fellow to run the country in Brazil. MASP International Seminar conferences available online:
Chicago aims to preserve the vernacular architecture in its largest Mexican-American community
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has approved a preliminary designation for a dense array of hundreds of late 19th-century vernacular buildings in the heart of Pilsen, a working-class Hispanic community on Chicago’s near southwest side. The district, to be one of the city’s largest, is only a component of a plan seeking to broaden notions of preservation in Chicago, and it aims to protect culture and affordability in Pilsen and neighboring Little Village along with the historic built environment. The Pilsen and Little Village Preservation Strategy is meant to strengthen affordability requirements, provide new housing resources for existing residents, enact an industrial modernization agenda, and improve public and open space. These initiatives are an attempt to steer Pilsen and Little Village away from the type of development that displaces existing residents and threatens the nature of neighborhoods as seen along the 606, a 2.7-mile linear park completed in 2015 that has changed the character of Humboldt Park and neighboring Logan Square, as well as Wicker Park and Bucktown. The measures follow an ordinance in November that cleared the way for Chicago to purchase four miles of an abandoned rail right-of-way currently owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company for the Paseo, a linear pedestrian and bike trail first proposed in 2006. Unlike the 606, Chicago intends to follow a more careful path forward with the Paseo, taking steps to ensure that park planning will not take precedence over neighborhood-wide concerns of affordability and developer-driven teardowns. The Pilsen Historic District will intersect the Paseo at Sangamon Street, the far east end of the district. According to a report released by Cities, the International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning, monthly rent on tracts bordering the 606 increased by $201 from 2010 to 2016, double the average citywide increase of $102. During that same census period, the share of non-Hispanic whites in the population increased by 4.83 percent. The median household income of people living on property bordering the 606 jumped by $14,682, compared to a citywide $3,557. In addition to taking a proactive approach to new public space, the strategy also responds to pressure from developers looking to capitalize on the neighborhood Forbes named one of the “12 Coolest Neighborhoods around the World" because of its "streets lined with hip galleries and walls decorated with colorful murals dating from the 1970s." A strong sense of Mexican pride is articulated through the adornment of the built environment with vibrant murals, many using pre-Columbian motifs and portraits of both icons and contemporary activists to express the diasporic identity of the community. These colorful murals are at risk as buildings are bought, sold, and rehabbed, as was the case of the iconic Casa Aztlán mural that was painted over in 2017. A real estate panel targeting developers titled “Chicago’s Emerging Neighborhoods: The Rise of Pilsen, Uptown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park” is scheduled for December 12, and promises to show developers how to reposition assets in “boom” neighborhoods and capitalize on the halo effect of institutional investment. As reported by Block Club Chicago, the event faced criticism on social media, leading to a softening of the tone of the marketing materials and the addition of language addressing affordability. Included in the preservation plan is a five-year Affordable Requirement Ordinance (ARO) pilot program that will increase required affordability requirements for large residential projects that require a zoning change within a 7.2-mile area of Pilsen and Little Village. The bulk of the proposed historic district and the Paseo lies inside the ARO pilot program area. The program will up the affordable housing requirements for new developments with ten or more units from 10 percent to 20 percent, with provisions to increase the number of family size units via financial incentives. Like the citywide ordinance, developers will have to pay an in-lieu fee if they choose not to provide on-site units. Within the pilot program area, the fee jumps from $100,000 to $150,000 per unit. Working in tandem with the ARO pilot, the Chicago Community Land Trust will provide reduced property taxes in exchange for long-term affordability, with the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, the recipient of the in-lieu fees, providing rental subsidies. Through a multi-year community-based process, the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development is looking to modernize the Little Village Industrial Corridor as an employment center while improving economic, environmental, and social conditions. The industrial corridor runs along the Stevenson Expressway roughly from Cicero to Western and provides manufacturing jobs to Little Village residents. Concurrently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the local historic district designation will protect the physical manifestation of over a century of immigration in Pilsen, a complex patchwork of worker’s cottages, commercial buildings, houses of worship, churches, and schools, most of which were constructed from 1870 to 1910 by Czech and Bohemian immigrants. Mexican-Americans became the predominant ethnic group in the mid-20th century, creating a network of ultra-local activism that forged coalitions between working class people across Chicago. Designation of the district unlocks multiple financial incentives for commercial and residential properties, including the 20% Federal Historic Tax Credit and the 25% State Historic Tax Credit, as well as Class L Property Tax Incentives and Preservation Easement Donations.