Chicago’s long-salient architecture non-profit, the Chicago Architecture Center, formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation, has swapped out its old digs at the Railway Exchange Building for a high-visibility space just steps from the south end of Michigan Avenue. With the fresh location in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 111 East Wacker Drive, the Center's new home sits just ashore of where the world-famous architecture boat tour has launched since 1983. Designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture with exhibit designer Gallagher & Associates, the Center's spaces are designed to expand and contract with current and future exhibits, but also across Chicago’s long and continued dialogue with architecture and design. The Chicago Gallery is located inside a cavernous interior space, with a newly expanded model of the city, which has grown from 1,300 to 4,500 3-D-printed resin buildings and now includes subtle topographic features and neighborhoods as far south as Cermak Road and as far west as Sangamon Street. Interactive touch screens are positioned around the model, where visitors can search for buildings by architect or style, view data about changing land use, or explore the “10 Buildings You Should Know” feature. A film playing at intervals behind the model provides a dramatic narrative of the city's built history and is heavy on neighborhood content. This emphasis on everyday architecture continues across the rest of the Chicago Gallery, where Chicago’s vernacular architecture gets some significant airtime along with familiar names like Wright, Sullivan, and Burnham. Exhibitions continue upstairs, where the Skyscraper Gallery riffs on the Chicago invention and studies its international forms. The Building Tall exhibit features 23 skyscraper models at the scale of 1:91, including a composition of five models of buildings all of which were, at one time, the tallest in the world. These models are offset by a 40-foot-tall wall of glass where one can get up close and personal with some of Chicago’s most iconic and notorious buildings, including the Wrigley Building, Trump Tower, and the new flagship Apple store across the river. New exhibits at the Chicago Architecture Center draw from contemporary issues and reflect the profession's desire to draw in a wider audience. All are heavy on technology, but here there is a marked absence of Instagrammability, even in the supersized models of the Skyscraper Gallery. Whether intentional or not, this emphasis on physical experience over social media photo ops feels freshly genuine in contrast to made-for-Instagram museums. Exhibits are readable and tangible, but are also adaptable and future-forward, with enough variety in content to appeal both to visitors who know everything about architecture and those who know nothing at all. There is an emphasis on current and future projects, with not only Adrian Smith + Gordan Gill, but with other architects influencing the shape of Chicago to come, including Studio Gang and Goettsch Partners, as well as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, whose design for 400 North Lake Shore Drive on the former Chicago Spire site when completed in 2023 will do more to change the skyline of Chicago than any other structure in fifty years.
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In a record year of optimism for some of the Midwest’s most notorious and perennially vacant buildings, the City of Chicago, along with Jam Productions and Fairpoint Development, has announced that the lights will turn back on at Chicago’s Uptown Theatre after almost four decades of vacancy. The $75 million restoration project will be the catalyst in one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s early campaign promises to create a sustainable and lucrative entertainment district in Uptown slated to rival others downtown. Restoration of the Uptown Theatre is enhanced by a surge in infrastructure improvements to the neighborhood, including a $203 million restoration of the nearby Wilson Avenue CTA Red Line station and forthcoming renovations to both the Lawrence and Argyle CTA Red Line Stations. An additional $6 million has been allotted for street improvements already underway. According to a press release, city assistance for the Uptown restoration includes $14 million in Property Accessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, $13 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, and $3 million from the cities Adopt-A-Landmark fund. The remainder of the $75 million is expected to come from private financing sources. Shortly after his election in 2011, Mayor Emanuel began speaking of creating a music and entertainment district anchored by the Uptown, the Riviera Theatre, the Aragon Ballroom, and the Green Mill, forming a nonprofit to back public-private infrastructure projects, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT). The organization arranged for a purchasing agreement with Jam Productions in an attempt to turn the Uptown into a non-profit, but the effort ultimately failed. Jam Productions acquired the structure in 2008 through a judicial sale. Built in 1925, the Uptown Theatre was designed by architects Cornelius W. and George L. Rapp for the Balaban and Katz theater chain. Rapp and Rapp were incredibly prolific in Chicago, designing all of the city's well-known vaudeville theaters from the time period, including the Rivera Theatre, the Chicago Theatre, the Bank of America Theatre (originally the Majestic), the Oriental Theatre and the Cadillac Palace (originally the New Palace Theatre). The Uptown Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, is a Chicago Landmark, and contributes to a landmark district. In an unlikely story of preservation by neglect, the Uptown has been dark since the J. Geils Band played a concert there in December 1981. While no immediate plans for demolition have ever faced the Uptown Theatre, a lifetime of deferred maintenance and its seemingly constant flux in ownership have kept the building on the radar of Chicago preservationists, as well as organizations like Preservation Chicago, Landmarks Illinois, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Friends of the Uptown, a non-profit organization not affiliated with the restoration, was formed by community volunteers in 1998. The Uptown Theatre found itself in the winter of 2014 with its heat turned off, causing a 30-foot icicle to form in the basement. The building’s decades of vacancy along with its size—4,600 square feet across three levels—begs multiple questions. With the effects of 37 years without general upkeep to address, $75 million may not be enough to bring the Uptown back to modern standards. Restoration has been given a 2020 completion date, a tall order for a structure with complex architectural elements in various states of disrepair.
Developer Related Midwest has announced plans to construct two skyscrapers on the former site of the Chicago Spire, with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s David Childs at the design helm. While renderings for the project have yet to be released, the Chicago Tribune reports that the site calls for two multi-functioning towers, each clad in glass with setbacks that taper towards the sky. Currently known only by its address, 400 North Lake Shore Drive, the project details are to be unveiled by Related Midwest on Tuesday at 7 pm during a community forum hosted by the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents at the Sheridan Grand Chicago. Thus far, the plans call for an 850-foot tower at the northern edge of the site along the Ogden Slip, and a 1,000-foot tower located at the southern edge of the site. The shorter tower will house apartments, with the taller tower to include condominiums and hotel rooms. Both towers will be located on a podium with building amenities. The high rises will take up more space on the site than the Chicago Spire originally called for. Along with the plan for the Spire site, Related Midwest has provisionally agreed to fund a portion of the construction of DuSable Park, a rectangular 3.3-acre parcel of land east of Lake Shore Drive. First dedicated as open space by Mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s, Related Midwest has not indicated if or how the park will relate to the towers. Most notably, Related Midwest has not specified how the construction will address what remains of the defunct Chicago Spire, now a 78-foot-deep, 104-foot-wide cofferdam over a decade old, the beginnings of a 2,000-foot unicorn horn shaped supertall building designed by Santiago Calatrava. If constructed as planned, the Spire would have been the tallest structure in the country. Related Midwest recently released renderings for a 62-acre Near South Side development they are calling "The 78," a serious of mixed-use, multi-phase structures built atop the largest undeveloped piece of land along the Chicago River. David Childs, a consulting partner in the SOM New York Office, is best known for designing One World Trade Center. Other work by Childs includes 7 World Trade Center, The Times Square Tower, and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
As the Chicago Architecture Biennial's October opening approaches, its organizers are beginning to release details about its forthcoming exhibitions. The latest hint is an ad for BOLD, a show of “speculative proposals that re-imagine the design potential” of Chicago's waterways, roadways, vacant lots and public space. Subtitled Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, the show will be organized by architect Iker Gil of MAS Studio (Read AN's Q&A with Gil here.) Local graphic designers Plural are also overseeing the event. Per the press release, the following firms will participate in BOLD: CAMESgibson + SOM David Brown with 3D Design Studio, Central Standard Office of Design, Ania Jaworska, Krueck+Sexton, Landon Bone Baker, Stanley Tigerman, Margaret McCurry,JGMA, and JAHN David Schalliol Design With Company Hinterlands Michael Pecirno PORT UrbanLab Weathers with AECOM Earlier this month the exhibition organizers announced the winners of its Lakefront Kiosk competition: Rhode Island–based Ultramoderne will build a sleek, low-slung pavilion dubbed Chicago Horizon. Its first show was announced last year: an exhibit of aerial photography by Iwan Baan. The inaugural biennial will host more than 100 architects and artists from more than 30 countries.