Summer term at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture is typically uneventful, but excitement recently percolated to the surface after a maintenance project uncovered a bit of history beside the school's home in S. R. Crown Hall. The existing building, widely regarded as one of Mies van der Rohe’s masterpieces, stands on the site of the former Mecca Flats (or Mecca Flat), a storied residential building that once stood at the intersection of 34th and State streets. As workers were digging a trench for a new condenser pipe along the west side of the building, they uncovered the tiled floor of the basement of the Mecca Flats, which revealed the building's design in bright and vivid colors. The Mecca Flats was built in 1892 and was expected to house visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. At that time State Street was a line of racial division with white residents to the east and African American residents to the west. The building’s location immediately west of State made it challenging to attract upper middle-class white tenants as originally intended, and in 1911 the owners of the building retracted their all-white tenant policy. Thereafter the building quickly became populated by African American tenants who were eager to rent sizable apartments in a relatively new and well-designed building. The building’s innovative design (by the Chicago architecture firm Edbrooke and Burnham, no relation to Daniel) featured a pair of quadruple-height skylit interior courts surrounded by stacked open corridors with ornately-detailed iron guardrails. Residents could enter the building directly through these interior courts, prompting the central space to become an extension of the street life along “the Stroll,” as the entertainment strip on State Street was known, and which by the 1920s had become a destination “jammed with black humanity” and brimming with jazz clubs and cabarets. The open interior also contributed to an atmosphere of irreverent social drama in which residents could observe each other’s comings and goings. The vibrancy of the building inspired musician Jimmy Blythe to write “Mecca Flats Blues” (1924) and, later on, Gwendolyn Brooks to write “In the Mecca,” (1968) a long narrative poem reflecting on the Black experience in the building’s later years. As the building fell into disrepair, IIT purchased the Mecca and spent 15 years fighting with residents and housing advocates who opposed the university’s plan to demolish the structure as part of the expanding campus. The Mecca was finally demolished in 1951. Knowledge of the design of the Mecca Flats was relatively limited because the building survived only in black and white photography. The recently exhumed tile reveals new information about the vibrancy of the building's color. For instance, because the uncovered basement tile matches the same pattern as the court flooring, it shows us more detail about what that distinctive court looked like, including the presence of a dazzling blue tile in the mix. Other rubble found in the dig site includes warm orangey-brown exterior facing brick that was concealed by a layer of grey pollution at the time of the building’s demolition. Aside from providing new information about the Mecca Flats’ design, this recent discovery is also a test case for the emerging field of urban archeology. Among other consultants, IIT approached Rebecca Graff, an assistant professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College working in this field, to help determine next steps for this new archeological site. The university is pursuing a recommendation to document the conditions as found, and to remove, reassemble, and preserve the tile. A selection will be installed on site at the Graham Resource Center in the basement of Crown Hall in a permanent exhibition. Others will be donated to national and local cultural institutions to be conserved and shared with future generations. The IIT College of Architecture invites the public to view these artifacts for the first time since their excavation at a program entitled Shared History: The Mecca Flat Revealed at IIT Architecture. The event will take place in S. R. Crown Hall on Tuesday, August 7, at 12:30pm. Part cultural and part educational, the event will include talks and readings with community leaders, local historians, authors, and members of IIT, and will provide an opportunity to share and reflect upon how the unearthed artifacts activate collective memory. Many thanks to Tim Samuelson, Chicago’s official cultural historian, for his insight and knowledge that contributed to this article.
Posts tagged with "Chicago":
“A lot of serious careers are reverting back to play.” So says Columbus, Indiana-based designer and Exhibit Columbus curator Jonathan Nesci, who is living up to his statement with an energetic new work on the roof of Chicago's West Loop Ace Hotel. After more than a decade of crafting objects inspired by modernist tropes, Nesci has created an architectural object you can climb into, sit in, and swing on while taking in the complex system of buildings curated within the long, linear view of the Chicago skyline. Nesci has created a crisp blue structural steel dome latticed at the bottom with matching woven rope, reminiscent both of jungle gyms and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Dome at the Chicago Cultural Center (“it was definitely in the soup” says Nesci). Nesci was looking not to create “just a sculpture or a pavilion, but something you can activate.” Situated within a lush, carefully tended rooftop prairie by Site Design Group, the Nesci Dome is the final key in the collaboration between the Ace Hotel and Volume Gallery, which has filled the Ace with artwork from Chicago-based designers. Nesci is a longtime collaborator with Volume Gallery, showing his work for the first time during the gallery's inaugural exhibition in 2010. Nesci’s grandfather, the owner of a concrete brick company in suburban Chicago, was a fan of objects designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects, and he would also show up each summer to dump a load of sand in the Nesci family driveway for the family's sandbox, encouraging an element of exploration in the young designer.
On the heels of the news that Elon Musk’s The Boring Company will dig a high-speed rail link from Chicago’s Loop to O’Hare International Airport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has kicked off an international competition to design O’Hare’s massive expansion plan. The city has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to potential lead architectural designers—available here—for what Mayor Emanuel has coined O’Hare 21. All of the proposed work falls under O’Hare’s Terminal Area Plan (TAP), a sprawling plan to modernize the airport with a new global terminal (OGT), global concourse (OGC), and Satellite Concourses One and Two. The $8.7 billion expansion plan of O’Hare is the first in nearly 25 years and will increase the total terminal coverage from 5.5 million to 8.9 million square feet. To get there, O’Hare’s aging Terminal 2 will be torn down and replaced with the new “O’Hare Global Terminal,” an updated terminal that can handle larger international planes. Terminals 1 and 3 will undergo renovation, and Terminal 5 will be expanded. The resultant global terminal would house both international and domestic flights from United and American Airlines, the first terminal in the country to do so. Passengers flying out of O’Hare eight years from now will also be met with dozens of new gates and a streamlined security system. “This is an opportunity to write the next chapter in Chicago’s legacy of architectural ingenuity,” said Mayor Emanuel, according to the Chicago Sun Times, “while sharing the iconic architecture and design Chicago is famous for with visitors from across the country and around the world.” The Chicago City Council has already approved $4 billion in loans to get the project rolling, which will eventually be paid back through higher landing fees and terminal rents for United and American. Interested firms have until August 9 to apply, and the City of Chicago Department of Aviation’s evaluation committee will recommend teams for the shortlist. Those invited back will be given the opportunity to answer the Request for Proposal, as well as a $50,000 stipend.
In 2004, Chicago watched historic Soldier Field become a toilet bowl. In 2019, Union Station will become a self-inked address stamper. During a public meeting on June 25, Chicago-based architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) unveiled plans to construct a seven-story glass addition to the 1925 Graham, Anderson, Probst & White train station in the West Loop. Along with Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties, SCB outlined the details of the proposal, including a hotel, apartments, an office complex, and retail. If implemented, Union Station would rise in height from 150 to 245 feet, with the proposed glass rectangle atop the existing office tour delivering 404 apartments. The multi-story main building, or headhouse, would become 330 hotel rooms. Along with landmarks review, the redevelopment will need both aldermanic and zoning approval before moving forward with what will be the first phase of changes for Union Station. A second phase will add an office skyscraper south of the headhouse, while a third phase will build an apartment tower over an existing train platform nearby. With Union Station in the middle of a $22 million skylight restoration, the plan released on June 25 deviates dramatically from the one outlined in the station’s 2012 master plan, calling for two new twelve story residential towers above the headhouse. Other aspects of the master plan have already been implemented, including the restoration of the grand staircase and the Burlington Room. Listed as a Chicago Landmark in 2002, the new plans for Union Station will also require a review by The Commission on Chicago Landmarks (CCL) before a permit is provided. While Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties, along with SCB, have been careful in their attempt to show that the addition will do no harm to the components of the building that make it architecturally significant, the addition reads as out of scale and context for the existing building. With the CCL charged to examine the appropriateness of proposed work on Chicago Landmarks in relation to the spirit of the Landmarks Ordinance, the plan as presented should be considered by the CCL as an adverse effect on a designated local landmark. If approved, the addition on Union Station could cause a paradigm shift in the way Chicago Landmarks are approached by potential developers, broadcasting a message that cultural and architectural resources are only of value if they are monetized to their fullest extent, and that the Landmarks Ordinance can soften in the face of economic motivators. The proposed addition is not only an imbalance in terms of design, it’s also condescending to the station itself, the architectural equivalent of a head patting, or worse. Ringing out like the 2004 renovation of Soldier Field (a project that curiously won an award for design excellence by the AIA the same year it was recommended to be stripped of its National Historic Landmark designation), this is new bullying old.
British artist Anish Kapoor has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the National Rifle Association over an advertisement featuring his iconic public sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Cloud Gate (2006). The video, titled “Freedom’s Safest Place,” is part of the NRA’s “The Violence of Lies” campaign, which features multiple series of videos claiming to expose supposed irrationalities of liberal arguments and ostensible media untruths. The videos are narrated by right-wing commentator Dana Loesch and populated with images of civil unrest and violent clashes of protestors and police set to dramatic music. Kapoor claims in his complaint that the video's entreaty to meet liberal “lies” with the “clenched fist of truth” by the pro-gun organization amounts to “a clear call to armed violence against liberals and the media.” The video features a brief black-and-white timelapse cutaway of people walking in front of the sculpture, which is popularly and affectionately known as “The Bean.” Kapoor had already spoken out against the ad in an open letter this past March, demanding that the “nightmarish” NRA remove any visual references to his work. Three months later and with no action taken, Kapoor has filed suit demanding that the NRA cease using his work to support their “despicable platform for promoting violence” and is seeking $150,000 plus attorney fees for each infringement, as well as a percentage of the money made through donations and membership sign-ups resulting from the offending ad.
Looking for a gift that truly shows you care? Give the gift of infrastructure! The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) has announced it is offering up one of its historic bascule bridges for free to any state, local or responsible entity willing to haul it away. Built in 1914 by the Ketler-Elliot Erection Company of Chicago, the Chicago Avenue Bridge spans the north branch of the river and is one of many pony truss style bascule bridges. The bridges’ leaves are suspended on axles underneath the street, with the counterweight hidden within a riverbank pit tucked behind a limestone enclosure. This type of bridge was developed in Chicago in 1900, with the first one constructed in 1902 still in operation at Cortland Street and the Chicago River. Bascule bridges opened easily and did not obstruct the river with a central pier, a must to accommodate a busy early 20th century waterway serving Chicago’s commercial route to the Mississippi River system. The bridge replacement is a component to proposed traffic improvements along Chicago Avenue in advance of the construction of One Chicago Square, a massive 869 residential structure proposed at State Street and Chicago Avenue. Designed by Goettsch Partners and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, One Chicago Square calls for two glassy towers atop a podium, the tallest of which tops out at 1,011 feet, making it what could be Chicago’s sixth tallest building. The future owner of the bridge assumes all costs for moving the bridge and maintaining historically significant features. The City of Chicago intends to replace the bridge with a modern concrete and steel structure this fall. Those interested must submit a proposal by July 13. Thus far, the CDOT has received no offers for the bridge. The bridge comes with a determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), which requires the City of Chicago to make a reasonable effort to offer the bridge up for restoration to interested parties. The gift includes the embedded counterweights and the two bridge houses.
Chicago’s beleaguered Cook County Hospital is slated for redevelopment after sitting idle for 16 years. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will transform the Chicago landmark into a dual-branded Hyatt House/Hyatt Place hotel, accompanied by medical office space and retail. Leading the project is the Civic Health Development Group (CHDG) along with Chicago-based developer John T. Murphy. Walsh Construction is the general contractor with Koo Architecture as the interior designers. According to Cook County, the development plan is valued at over $1 billion dollars. Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking on June 12, along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several Chicago alderman and Cook County commissioners, as well as Landmarks Illinois president and CEO Bonnie McDonald. “This beautiful historic building has sat empty and unused for far too long.” Preckwinkle said during the event. “This project creates historic and lasting urban transformation in the heart of our County.” With construction commencing immediately on the National Register of Historic Places-listed building, the project is expected to receive approximately $24 million in federal historic tax credits. Designed by Cook County architect Paul Gerhardt, the 1916 Beaux Arts hospital was constructed to provide medical care to Chicago’s exploding population of Eastern European immigrants. It was also a renowned teaching hospital, with doctors pioneering the practices of blood banking, sickle cell anemia care, and modern laboratory work. Later rear additions to the two-block-long brick and terracotta structure grew the Near West Side hospital to over 3,000 beds. With the building proposed for demolition a year before its closure, Landmarks Illinois added Cook County Hospital to its annual list of threatened buildings in 2001, then again in 2002, 2003, and 2005. A reuse study published by Landmarks Illinois in 2003 noted that Cook County had earmarked between $20 and $30 million for asbestos remediation alone prior to the proposed demolition. That same study also noted that in 1999, Cook County felt non-medical use of the hospital wouldn’t fit the character of the neighborhood. The new development is slated to open as soon as late 2019.
On August 31, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) gets a new home and a new name. The new Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) will make its debut once the space at 111 East Wacker, also known as One Illinois Center, opens to the public, a 25-year change from the organization's previous location in the 1904 Railway Exchange Building, designed by D.H. Burnham & Company. The new location gives CAF more symbolic and physical visibility from the commerce of North Michigan Avenue, as well as proximity to the dock for CAF’s popular river cruise highlighting the city's riverfront architecture. The 20,000-square-foot CAF space will be housed inside a 1970 structure designed by The Office of Mies van der Rohe. Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG) is at the helm of the design for a series of custom spaces for tour orientation, public programs and education, as well as nearly 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. AS+GG is working in partnership with museum design firm Gallagher & Associates. The new exhibits will be located on two floors. On the first floor, the popular Chicago Model will be expanded from 1,300 to 3,000 buildings, with an interactive light show to assist visitors in understanding Chicago’s growth as a frontier outpost and its rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as well as highlighting neighborhoods and significant architects across time. The second floor will be the home of the Skyscraper Gallery, featuring the Building Tall exhibit, to be filled with supersized models of skyscrapers around the world, including the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, the world’s tallest building slated for completion in 2020. Established in 1966, the CAF began as an advocacy organization to save the threatened 1887 John J. Glessner House, the only H.H. Richardson building in Chicago. Over time, the CAF pivoted from advocacy to education, offering lectures and architectural tours, as well as running Open House Chicago, an annual architecture festival that provides the public with free access to both iconic landmarks and unique neighborhood treasures.
Ahead of a formal announcement later today, the Chicago Tribune has confirmed that Elon Musk’s The Boring Company has been chosen to dig a high-speed train route from Chicago's Loop to O’Hare International Airport. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has selected Musk to build out an underground rail system from Block 37 in the Loop to O’Hare, potentially cutting the transit time from an hour by car or 40 minutes on the Blue Line down to 12 minutes each way. The route is part of the recently announced $8.5 billion O’Hare rehabilitation. Under Musk’s proposal, The Boring Company would dig two tunnels along an as-of-yet undetermined route under the city, and transport passengers in autonomously-driven pods that would “skate” on electrified rails. Each pod would carry up to 16 passengers, and Musk has promised that pods would leave each station every 30 seconds. The promotional video for the proposal seems nearly identical to the one Musk previewed in March for traveling to the LAX, except with different station names. While no timeline has been proposed yet, the Tribune reports that unnamed sources have cited the potential cost as under $1 billion. The Boring Company will be paying for the project out of pocket using revenue from advertisements, the $20 to $25 ticket costs, and selling merchandise on the trip itself. Boring will also fund the construction of a new station at O’Hare and finish the scuttled Block 37 station, and ownership of the tunnels themselves is currently an open question. Boring has pitched the system as being buried 30 to 60 feet underground with 12-foot-wide tunnels, but there are still serious feasibility hurdles that will need to be cleared before the project gets the go-ahead. The route still needs to be approved by Chicago’s City Council, and Boring technically hasn’t completed any full-scale route yet. While the company is building out a similar network of tunnels in L.A. and has received an exploratory permit for their D.C. to NYC hyperloop, the autonomous pods being proposed haven’t been tested in real-world conditions. Another concern is capacity; a 16-person pod stopping every 30 seconds means that the system would run at a capacity of about 1,900 passengers per hour. For comparison, the Blue Line, which Boring’s link is meant to compliment, likely handles twice as much hourly traffic for $5 each way.
Chicago-based illustrator Edie Fake’s colorful architectural drawings explore the concept of queer spaces. In his work, identity, gender, and sexuality are metaphorically depicted through architectural elements, both real and imagined. This series is currently on display at the Museum of Arts and Design as part of the Surface/Depth: The Decorative After Miriam Schapiro exhibition, on view through September 9.
At the tail end of Historic Preservation Month is what would have been Richard Stanley Nickel’s 90th birthday, on May 31. The storied historic preservationist’s legacy still looms large amongst architecture and historic preservation intelligentsia like no other practitioner living or dead. In Chicago, Richard Nickel’s hand seems to guide how the built environment is documented, gives a level of honesty to those that practice architectural salvage, and provides a saint-like martyr for traditional preservationists. No one interfacing with the Chicago School of Architecture–specifically the work of Louis Sullivan–is able to detach themselves from what Richard Nickel wrote or what he saw. Nickel has been studied and dissected in many ways before, but a new organization seeks to take a fresh, objective look at the raw body of his work. Bianca Bova is associate director of the Chicago Architecture Preservation Archive (CAPA), who, along with storied City of Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, is at the helm of the organization devoted to "the documentation and stewardship of materials" of early urban preservationists, specifically Nickel. “Richard Nickel is a moving target,” says Bova, “and CAPA is an open resource to help maintain his ongoing relevance.” CAPA is in the process of creating a full inventory of the collection, which is complementary to the contents of the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries architectural archive. While the Richard Nickel Archive includes negatives, photographs, contact sheets, architectural drawings and other effects, including Nickel’s personal library, CAPA’s collection comes from Richard Nickel’s friends, like Tim Samuelson, and architect John Vinci. It contains salvage, personal items, the working files of The Complete Architecture of Adler and Sullivan, and perhaps most importantly Nickel’s datebook, which Bova has poured over and determined that many of the individuals within it are “still around and have a lot to say.” Richard Nickel has long been presented as a tireless martyr, a preservationist willing to lay down his life. On April 13, 1972, Nickel left home early to salvage architectural fragments inside the Chicago Stock Exchange, an 1894 structure by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan slated for demolition after a lengthy advocacy campaign. Demolition halted after Nickel didn’t return home that evening. Friends and family continued to search for him for a week, only finding his briefcase and hardhat amongst the rubble. Once demolition resumed, a worker spotted what looked like a human shoulder, two floors beneath the Trading Room, in the Stock Exchange’s sub-basement. Richard Nickel had been crushed to death, but his body had remained intact. Debris and rubble, along with cold water seeping into the building had kept decomposition at bay. An autopsy later revealed that Richard Nickel had suffered from pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis, a result of breathing in 20 years of dust and airborne debris from salvage sites. Through the nature of his death, Richard Nickel’s legacy began to take on a cult-like status, a perspective that Bova feels Nickel would take issue with. “He was a good person, but not a saint.” The collections at CAPA, housed inside Mana Contemporary Chicago, strive to allow Nickel to speak for himself through primary source material. While CAPA may provide a 21st century answer to preservation, Bova is reserved when asked about how Richard Nickel might feel about the contemporary historic preservation movement, “I would never presume to speak for Richard.”
Obama Presidential Center breezes through planning and zoning hurdles, but continues to kindle community concern
The Obama Presidential Center (OPC) passed two substantial hurdles this month as the Chicago Planning Commission and Zoning Committees both voted in overwhelming support of the development. Amidst a seven-hour hearing of public comment coming from a variety of Chicago voices, broad strokes of the plan were given a “yay” vote from 15 of the 22 planning commission members on May 17. The Chicago City Council signed off on the $500 million project on May 22, passing various zoning approvals. The stage is now set for the construction of a 235-foot-tall building with cultural exhibit and office space, two additional cultural buildings, and an athletic and community center. The Planning Commission vote also includes a 450-car underground parking garage and clears the way for the Obama Foundation (OF) to close public right-of-ways. While these votes were expected to breeze through both the Planning Commission and Zoning Committees, departments within the City of Chicago had already created conditions that allow obstacles to be easily bypassed, from the rerouting and closing of streets to downplaying the effects the OPC will have on historical aspects of Jackson Park. While the agenda divided the vote into multiple components, all of the items were treated as one. Public comment during the May 17th Planning Commission meeting included statements from the Chicago History Museum, Preservation Chicago, Jackson Park Watch, The Woodlawn Organization, Chicago aldermen and tenured Chicago activists. The commission did not address the federal lawsuit filed on May 14 by Protect our Parks, Inc. that accused the Obama Foundation of an “institutional bait and switch,” claiming that the original purpose of the transfer of public park land to the OF, a non-government entity, was to house the official Obama Federal Library, to be administered by the U.S. National Records and Archives Administration. As the OPF will not house Barack Obama’s official documents, the suit claims, transfer of park land to a private entity violates the park district code. The Planning Commission also failed to address a community benefits agreement proposed by the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition (CBA), a group of organizations that includes the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Black Youth Project 100, and Friends of the Parks. Under the ordinance proposed by the CBA, the OPC, the University of Chicago, and the city would make targeted investments within a five-mile radius, including economic development, education, employment, housing, sustainability and transportation. At a community meeting held at McCormick Place last February, Barack Obama coolly responded to the call for a CBA: "The concern I have with community benefits agreements, in this situation, is it's not inclusive enough," Obama remarked. "I would then be siding with who? What particular organizations would end up speaking for everybody in that community?” Also present at the Planning Commission meeting were OPC architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, who are in the process of selecting materials for each of the structures that complement neighboring buildings like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a building of their own design on the campus of the University of Chicago. While neither Tsien nor Williams spoke during the hearing, Williams implied during a public meeting in February that the integrity of Jackson Park has already been compromised over time. Designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Jackson Park was the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is one of Chicago’s most valuable and significant pieces of public land. An archaeological evaluation performed as a part of the project’s federal compliance uncovered artifacts and ephemera from the World’s Columbian Exposition, as well as architectural materials relating to the fair’s buildings, many of which set the course for how Chicago would look going into the 20th century. Despite the importance of these findings for Chicago, both the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and the chief archaeologist for the Illinois Department of Transportation have determined the presence of these artifacts to be insignificant. It is expected that a federal review of above-ground resources will reach a similar conclusion-that the OPC project will not have an adverse effect on the historic landscape of Jackson Park or the surrounding historic districts and buildings. At the center of the opposition is a $175 million-dollar plan to overhaul and close multiple roads within and around Jackson Park, a critical component to the Tiger Woods-designed PGA golf course slated to open in 2020, a year behind the OPC. The golf course would combine the existing Jackson Park and South Shore courses and fragment the South Shore Nature Sanctuary in favor of unobstructed views of the Chicago skyline for golfers. While the OF has not stated they are in support of the golf course proposal, many board members of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, an organization in support of the plan, have ties with the Obama Foundation or Barack Obama himself.