Posts tagged with "Chicago":

Placeholder Alt Text

Remembering Louis Sullivan, Seed-Germ Savant

There’s been no shortage of worthy architectural documentaries in recent years, but you’ll want to make room on your DVD rack for the latest look at a major American figure: Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. Recently given its New York premiere courtesy of the good people at Docomomo New York/Tri-State, this touching and tragic film offers a portrait of the man who perhaps more than anyone aspired to create an American style of architecture, yet was left behind by a nation on the cusp of a century that Sullivan himself did much to define. First-time director Mark Richard Smith frames Sullivan’s story as a battle between the architect's original vision—one explicitly crafted as an expression of American democracy—and historicist styles imported from Europe that would sweep the nation in the late 19th century. The latter are embodied by Sullivan’s Chicago archrival Daniel Burnham, whose triumph at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893—where the sprawling White City was an ode to Beaux-Arts classicism—drove the nail in the coffin of modern experimentation, and, as Sullivan bitterly remarked, was the place where “architecture died.” Even for devotees of Sullivan’s astonishing output, the details of his life are not well known, and the film puts his career in the context of a Chicago surging from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, the “Katrina of its day” that created huge opportunities for architects. Into this boom stepped Dankmar Adler, a renowned acoustician but lackluster designer who saw just the creative spark his firm needed in a young Louis Sullivan. Adler & Sullivan would design landmarks such as Chicago’s Auditorium of 1889, taking cues from H.H. Richardson’s brawny Romanesque but leavening it with Sullivan’s unusual decorative programs. When Frank Lloyd Wright joined the team as chief draftsman, one of the great ensembles in architecture was born. (The firm’s work is chronicled in the recent Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, another must-have volume for Chicago architecture aficionados.) The film, itself just released on DVD, taps experts like City University’s Robert Twombly and Chicago historian Tim Samuelson to add depth to Sullivan’s story, including the major innovations marked by his early skyscrapers. Of seven tall buildings he managed to complete, five are left, and the influence those few structures would have on American architecture, with their emphasis on verticality and functional design, is the architect’s last word over his historicist contemporaries. It wasn’t the later Mies or Corb, of course, but Sullivan who coined the phrase that would define the century to come: “form ever follows function.” Nearly all of Sullivan’s major surviving buildings are gorgeously photographed here, with close-up pans across the upper reaches of Buffalo’s Guaranty Building and inside the Auditorium, for example, revealing ornamental details hardly visible from below. Among the discoveries of his late career is a string of one-off bank buildings in small midwestern towns that are delicate masterpieces made by a man who knew history had left him for dead. Chronicling the last years of Sullivan’s life, during which the destitute designer was forced to sell his personal effects at auction, the film pauses over a devastating note inscribed on a drawing made as Sullivan sat in borrowed quarters to compose a primer on ornament. As if reaching back to the inspirational wellspring of his youth, Sullivan writes: “Remember the seed-germ.” For the architecture-obsessed, this is spine-tingling stuff. Louis Sullivan may not pack the psychodrama of Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect, but its close focus on the buildings themselves makes it equally affecting. By the end of this journey through the rafters and across the cornices of a great architect’s career, you feel the film’s sweeping subtitle—the struggle for American architecture—just about hits the mark.
Placeholder Alt Text

Feel Wright at Home in Chicago's Riverside

A sprawling Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece could be yours for a cool three mil.  Curbed Chicago digs up the listing for Chi-town's Coonley House in the historic Riverside neighborhood.  The original clients apparently buttered up Wright, who, flattered, gave the house extra attention to detail. With five bedrooms and five baths spread out over 6,000 square feet, the prairie-style Coonley House is a far cry from Wright's Usonian houses.  The grounds are lavishly landscaped and include lilly-padded-pond overlooked by original leaded-glass windows. The Coonley House, 1908-1912, has been lovingly restored including a 50-foot mural in the living room and the original Jens Jensen landscape. Call this Frank Lloyd Wright classic home for just $2.89 million.
Placeholder Alt Text

Daley Out. Rahm In?

The Sun-Times broke the story that, after much deliberation, Mayor Richard M. Daley has decided not to run for reelection. Daley has been in office since 1989, so his impact has been vast, especially on the city's built environment. From planting thousands of trees and promoting green roofs and LEED construction, to building magaprojects like Millenium Park and championing development like the new Trump Tower, Daley's vision shaped the architecture and urbanism Chicago, as well as the city's identity, arguably more directly than any other mayor in the country. With less than six months before the election, those interested in replacing Daley will have to work fast. President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, generated considerable buzz earlier in the year when he said he'd like to be mayor someday. He quickly qualified that he would not challenged Daley. No word yet on his intentions following Daley's announcement. While Emanuel is known to be a strong armed character, his views on design and the built environment are unclear at the point. Whoever becomes mayor, Daley's shadow will be a long one.
Placeholder Alt Text

Expedited Boarding in the Loop?

Mayor Daley has announced a plan for a high speed rail line linking O'Hare to the Loop and has appointed a 17 member panel to look into the project. According to the Sun-Times, though, he has a major caveat: the line should be entirely privately financed and run with no city or government money of any kind. He gave this ultimatum to the panel of prominent business and civic leaders. The line would connect O'Hare to the currently unfinished station under Block 37. Is such a plan feasible? The mayor thinks so. “There’s already interest by private investment funds, foreign investment funds,” Daley said, according to the Sun-Times. “They’ve come to see me, I’ll be very frank, talking about this. That’s exciting.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Lagrange out to Pasture?

Crain's reports that prominent Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange is throwing in the towel at the barely ripe age of 69. Not only his he closing up shop--at an as yet undisclosed date--he's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “Retiring, (there would be) a lot of liabilities are on my back. I can’t just walk away,” Lagrange told Crain's. “Chapter 11 gives you a chance to plan ahead, organize and close in a decent way.” While the AIA may be forcasting a brighter 2011, Lagrange, best known for designing high end condos, doesn't see the market bouncing back for another five years. While he might be in a gloomy mood now, my hunch is that Chapter 11 won't be the final chapter in his career.
Placeholder Alt Text

Ebert Gives Modernism Two Thumbs Down

Everyone may be a critic, but none moreso than Roger Ebert. While film has long been the Chicagoan's preferred medium, he has increasingly cast his eyes and pen elsewhere on his Sun-Times blog (begun after a bout of thyroid cancer). Yesterday, he fixed his attention—and mostly scorn—on modern architecture. It's a highly opinionated piece, one in which Ebert openly admits his increasingly "reactionary" preferences:
It was not always so. My first girlfriend when I moved to Chicago was Tal Gilat, an architect from Israel. She was an admirer of Mies. Together we explored his campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. She showed me his four adjacent apartment buildings on Lake Shore Drive and said they looked as new today as when they were built. It is now 40 years later, and they still look that new. Then I was impressed. Now I think of it as the problem. They will never grow old. They will never speak of history. No naive eye will look at them and think they represent the past. They seem helplessly captive of the present.
Ebert goes on to bemoan the loss of character in Chicago and beyond, in buildings new and old. "Remember a deli, with its neon signs, its daily prices, its sausages and cheeses and displays of pop and wine in the window. Now it has been defaced and replaced by this branch of the Bank of America, which was not even conceived for this site, but offers as little glass and metal as it possibly can, devoid of any ornamentation at all." Yet this seems much more like a problem with capitalism than architecture, not to mention that the latter has always been a product of the former, a reality of both the most grandiose and spare buildings. There's long passages applauding Sullivan—and defaming Mies for denuding him, as Ebert sees it. With all this praise for the past, is there anything he does like? Never having watched much Ebert ourselves, we always got the sense he was rather conventional. What does he think about Jean Gang's Aqua or the compelling work of Krueck+Sexton? Surely it can't all be bad, much as Ebert seems to be remembering the past a little too fondly, as there has been the good and the bad throughout history, architectural and otherwise. Over at the LA Times there's a poll asking readers what they think of Ebert's arguments. About a little more than a third say he's being too simplistic, while the same amount find him to be right on the money. Whatever said you take (and we think we can guess what that is) it's still a thoughtful, if disagreeable piece, and well worth reading.
Placeholder Alt Text

At Home With Jeanne Gang

The undulating balconies of Aqua have become one of the most recognized and talked about additions to the Chicago skyline. Less attention has been paid to the handsome townhouses, called "Parkhomes," in the building's base. Magellan, the developers, are trying to right that balance and drum up interest amid the still sluggish downtown condo market by enlisting Studio Gang to fit out the interior of one of the units. The six 3,200 square foot Parkhomes, have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a two car garage, a rarity for condos in the immediate vicinity of the central business district. Gang worked with the Brazilian company Florense to furnish the apartments. Works by local artists hang on the walls (available for purchase, naturally). The units, priced from $1.6 million, face Lakeshore East Park, and have access to all of Aqua's amenities, including the 80,000 square foot roof deck.
Placeholder Alt Text

Walmart, Wages War in Chicago (Guess Who Won)

After years of trying to land a second Walmart in Chicago, the world's largest retailer succeeded in a big way yesterday when the City Council unanimously endorsed a Supercenter on the Far South Side, the anchor of a 270-acre mixed-use development. While only a few months ago the outcome of that store seemed uncertain, it all broke last week, when the unions reached a tentative agreement with Walmart to pay $8.75 an hour in its stores, more than the current minimum wage but less than was initially sought. On top of that, the retailer has cast doubt on whether a surefire deal has been set. Meanwhile, the city is bracing for the prospect of dozens of stores, through a deal arranged by Mayor Richard Daley, both a bane and a boon as it could mean an investment of $1 billion though also a costly one if it undercuts current retailers. The Sun-Times' incomparable Fran Spielman spells it all out for us:
An Olympic dream denied, with no other job- and revenue-generator on the horizon. Aldermen weary of being squeezed from both sides. A retailing behemoth thwarted in other cities desperate to advance its urban strategy. All of those factors--and a site change to a Far South Side ward whose alderman is more popular than his Chatham colleague--helped to bring the long-running Wal-Mart saga to a successful conclusion. But the six-year battle over Wal-Mart's plan to expand its foothold in the Chicago market ultimately came to a close because it was too big to pass up and because the world's largest retailer blinked.
How an agreement for 21 stores is considered blinking is news to us, even if Walmart has made wage agreements (or not!) for the first time in its history. With this one settled, how long before Brooklyn is next?
Placeholder Alt Text

Eavesdrop MW 03

CROWNING PORKOPOLIS

What’s the cliché? You can dress up a pig but it’s still a pig? I can’t remember. Some terrible former governor, who will not be named, used the line a lot. Anyway! The Great American Tower, the newest addition to Cincinnati’s skyline, was recently topped off with a giant tiara inspired by Diana, Princess of Wales. The glitzy tower could be the ugliest building in the Midwest. It’s a toss-up as to whether the Royal Family will add this to its rather lengthy list of regal embarrassments—oh Fergie!—or delight in the ghastly tribute. After all, the tower will be the tallest in the city, surpassing the Carew Tower, which reigned supreme since 1930 with its beautiful art deco interiors. The tiara’s (and building’s) design cred go to Gyo Obata, the “O” of HOK. Eavesdrop wonders why Gyo did not look to local royalty, like former mayor Jerry Springer. A skyscraper inspired by guests throwing chairs at one another could be interesting!

PARTY IN THE POMO PHIL-JO LIBRARY

Shannon Stratton, executive director of threewalls, the contemporary art incubator and gallery, kindly invited Eavesdrop to their annual party and silent auction being held in Philip Johnson’s postmodern office building 190 South LaSalle. The so-strange-it-was-fab event, themed “Office Romance,” took place in the Library, a nutso 40th-floor Cambridge-inspired law library and event space whose stacks are overlit with 80s-tastic green fluorescent bulbs. Among the guests donning faux-cigarettes befitting the Mad Men-meets-Bret Easton Ellis vibe, Eavesdrop stumbled into architects Dirk Denison and David Harris Salkin (a graduate of Tulane’s School of Architecture and URBANbuild). We were grateful for the company, but perhaps we got too comfortable and had one too many Manhattans. The silent art auction was suddenly irresistible, and brought out a competitiveness in Eavesdrop previously only seen during rounds of mini-golf. We walked away with a large-format photograph by the Swiss-born artist Selina Trepp. Shannon, you can send a thank-you note to Eavesdrop, c/o AN.

Send thank-you notes, castle moats, and old billy goats to midwesteavesdrop@archpaper.com.

Placeholder Alt Text

Eavesdrop MW 02

DANCING WITH STARCHITECTS Eavesdrop got all flustered when the Chicago Dancing Festival, an annual event celebrating American dance, announced the theme for its August 27 event: “The Dancing Skyline.” Could this be like Dancing with the Stars or a Pilobolus-like pile of dancers recreating buildings from Chicago’s iconic skyline? Probably neither, as the festival’s website simply describes it as “a lecture and demonstration focused on themes of architecture and dance.” Still, we would have paid good money to see Jeanne Gang paired with the likes of Jay Franke of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company prancing off against Helmut Jahn and Fabrice Calmels of the Joffrey Ballet. A gossip columnist can dream! CURATOR SHUFFLE Ever since AN broke the news that Joseph Rosa is leaving the Art Institute’s architecture and design department to direct the University of Michigan Art Museum, speculation has abounded about who will replace him. The AIC says design curator Zoe Ryan is in the running, but Eavesdrop guesses she’s pretty happy building the museum’s new design collection. Others have pointed to Brooke Hodge, previously of LA MOCA, but might her interests overlap too much with Ryan’s? Oh, and another Ryan, first name Raymund, the architecture curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, could well be in the running. Then there’s John Zukowsky, the former AIC curator, who is conveniently back in town. Seems unlikely. What about Elizabeth Smith, the former chief curator at the MCA? She’s had a longstanding interest in architecture and wrote a wonderful and much lusted after book on the Case Study Houses. Eavesdrop hears that Trustee John H. Bryan, who endowed the chair, holds the key to the kingdom. Send season tickets, croquet wickets, and rusty spigots to midwesteavesdrop@archpaper.com.
Placeholder Alt Text

Eavesdrop Takes Artopolis (Eats Out of Garbage Can?)

Chicago may be better known for NeoCon--that’s the design show, not right-wing political philosophy--but the contemporary and modern art equivalent, Artropolis, appears to be holding ground with another solid run at the Merchandise Mart over the last weekend. Artropolis, the Midwest‘s answer to Art Basel, is comprised of three fairs: Art Chicago; NEXT, an invitational exhibition of emerging art; and the International Antiques Fair. AN’s Midwest Eavesdrop took a spin around the preview party to peep who turned out for the free booze and what was showing at the fairs.   Kavi Gupta and his namesake gallery were positioned front and center with work by a sampling of his artists, including Susan Gilescontorted-architecture-as-sculptures and Tony Tasset. Both artists were included in the large-scale works displayed inside and out of the Mart’s first floor. Liz Nielsen, director of the Swimming Pool Project Space curated the Goffo section of NEXT, including an interesting architectural model of the International Space Station. Daniel Baird’s model depicts the Station rebuilt to scale on Earth and left to decay. Back at the bar, Eavesdrop spotted Justin Cooper, who is included in the current show Production Site at the Museum of Contemporary Art and David Csicsko the artist and designer who created the mosaics installed at the recently renovated Belmont L station. Was it performance art or hipster desperation? But the unexpected highlight of the evening was the distribution of leftover Dominoes pizza outside of the Mart at the end of the party. Free booze, drunken art students, and garbage bag pizza nicely juxtaposed with the well-heeled climbing into their limos.
Placeholder Alt Text

Waffling on Walmart

The story surrounding plans for a new Walmart on Chicago's Far South Side keeps changing faster than the retailer's prices. Last week we noticed that its attempts to break into Brooklyn were eerily similar to those in the Windy City, though we failed to mention how the linchpin of the current argument, that no one would dare locate in Pullman, does not hold true in East New York, as the Gateway Center already has a Target and a few other big box stores. But according to the Chicago Reader, that may not be the case in Pullman either. The paper did the unthinkable and—gasp!—called up the other retailers who the local alderman said he contacted, including IKEA, Dominick's, and Jewel-Osco, to confirm that they had turned Alderman Anthony Beale down. None said that was the case, though a few said they could neither confirm nor deny. Walmart, however, remains undeterred, and the Sun-Times reports it has even gone to the unprecedented step of setting up a meeting with local labor leaders to try and broker a last minute deal that will save its plans for a South Side development from being scuttled yet again.