ILLINOIS GOVERNOR RAUNER ANNOUNCES STATE’S PLAN TO SELL CHICAGO’S POSTMODERN ICON. (Photo by Rainer Viertlboeck) Hot on the heels of round table discussions of the preservation of Postmodern monuments at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. One of Chicago’s most iconic and controversial Postmodern landmarks finds itself on unsure footing. The James R. Thompson Center, designed by Helmut Jahn and constructed in 1985, was the site of a press conference held by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to announce the proposed sale of the building. According to Rauner the building is “ineffective” as an office space for state government, and was “just not useable for much of anything.” Standing in the grand circular public atrium, Rauner focused on the financial burden of the building and the financial possibilities of razing the structure. According to the Governor the building has a deferred maintenance bill of over $100 million, and costs the state upwards of $12 million in operating costs every year. Conversely he speculated that a new development could produce 8,000 new construction jobs and $20 million a year in tax revenue. His comments on the architecture of the building were limited except to say it would “not cost much to take down.” He left the judgement to of the buildings aesthetic to the “eye of the beholder.” Having been previously notified by the Governor’s office of the impending sale, architect Helmut Jahn responded in writing on Tuesday. Jahn was critical of the subsequent administrations since that of Governor James R. Thompson, the original client and building namesake, for not upholding the “vision… of building a symbol for the openness and transparency of the state government, an active urban center, and a lively urban and public place.” In his letter, Jahn seemed resigned to the fact that there was little chance the state government would save the building. Instead he optimistically offered a path forward for the building through repurposing. He stated, “This requires upgrades to the retail and foodservice, marketing the large floor plates to innovative tech-companies…adding 24 hour uses… making it the most exciting place in the city.” In the past, other possible reuse plans have been put forward for the building to little avail, including a proposed casino. Governor Rauner’s hope is to sell the site within the year to the highest bidder in a public auction. Considering the building's location and access to public transportation, having multiple train stops in and under the building, it is expected to fetch a large sum. With that said, government land has not always found the anxious buyers it anticipates in Chicago. The South Loop’s U.S. Post Office being a case in point. And though the final story has not been written about this intensely maligned building, it is looking as though the city may soon be losing a large interior public space of architectural significance.
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Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) associate Neil Katz describes his approach to crafting facades as involving a “computational design” methodology. In computational design, the architect generates solutions to a particular problem by first defining a set of rules and criteria for the model. Though the many tools Katz uses during this process include intangibles like “a desire to explore as many valid options as possible” and his office’s collaborative environment, in many instances he also performs literal computation—specifically, parametric modeling. Katz will moderate a panel on “Creating Complex Facades with Parametric Control” at next month’s Facades+ Chicago symposium. On day two of the conference, he and SOM colleague Joel Putnam will lead a dialog workshop on “New Techniques in Parametric Design." Parametric modeling can be the means to several ends, explained Katz. First, it can be used to explore a building’s massing, taking into account constraints like program, site, climate, context, and the overarching design concept. When applied to facade panelization, meanwhile, parametric control works with a different set of rules, including the relative flatness of the facade or the desire for regularity or other panel properties. Finally, observed Katz, “analysis and simulation, and visualization of the results, is also part of the parametric process—and can be a parametric process in its own right.” Katz’s affinity for parametric design is in part an outgrowth of his interest in programming. “Even in school, but especially when I started working at SOM, this ability became a natural part of creating models, and performing many of the tasks I was given,” he said. During the 1980s, as a design student enrolled in computer science courses, he was an anomaly. But that may be changing. “For many years, engineers [also had to have] some expertise at programming to do their work,” said Katz. “That’s becoming true for architects as well. I would say that most architecture students are now interested in acquiring and using this skill.” He has observed a similar shift among his fellow architects at SOM. “More and more, my colleagues are building their own models, and my contribution is helping to develop a strategy to make the model as powerful and flexible as possible,” said Katz. Like Katz, his co-panelists are working to solve some of the challenges inherent to parametric design, including the time it takes to perform the various analyses. Tristan d’Estrée Sterk, of Formsolver and ORAMBRA, is “currently developing a tool (Formsolver) which will allow architects to easily optimize a building’s form and material use as little energy as necessary,” said Katz. Matthew Shaxted will also join the conversation. Parallel.Works, the firm he co-founded, gives AEC industry professionals access to the computing power necessary to perform many of the analyses described above. “Parallel.Works does not create new tools, as Formsolver does, but allows people to use existing tools in a more powerful way,” observed Katz. Thornton Tomasetti vice president Hauke Jungjohann is the third member of the panel. A specialist in parametric modeling, form optimization, and digital information transfer, Jungjohann leads the Facade Engineering practice for the firm’s East U.S. Region. Hear from Katz, d’Estrée Sterk, Shaxted, Jungjohann, and other leaders in the field of building envelope design and fabrication November 5-6 at Facades+ Chicago. Learn more and register today by visiting the Facades+ website.
A juicy tidbit from the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The number of projects in the Chicago Cultural Center right now is a bit dizzying, but we can only imagine what the place was like during the installation. It is a small miracle that it all fit, let alone got assembled correctly. The process was not without snafus. Multiple sources reported to AN that in the final hours before the preview opening on October 1, the large circular construction by Spanish architects SelgasCano (of Serpentine fame) and helloeverything actually collapsed. Fortunately, it was sturdily put back together for the opening. The team recovered with an elegant tension cable design that worked quite well, and is to be commended under such a last-minute timeframe.
Thursday night, Barbara Kasten’s first major retrospective opened at the Graham Foundation as an offsite event of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Set in the Madlener house, a turn-of-the century Prairie-Style mansion, the exhibition brings together a roughly chronological overview of the artist’s practice from the 1970s until today. The works on display are of an astonishingly contemporary quality—many of the framed photographs follow the aesthetic paradigms of current net—or Tumblr art featuring primitive geometric shapes of varying surface texture lit in a rich palette of pastel colors forming surreal spatial compositions. Kasten started her career working with fibers, with some of the most impressive works in the show being a series of cyanotype prints from the 1970s achieved by laying down fiberglass molds onto large sheets coated with chemicals. The images evoke seemingly three-dimensional rippled fabric brought to the flat plane through a technical process. Moving further into the third dimension Kasten started to build large-scale studio sets in the 1970s. Her forms highly geometric at first, she increasingly started adding more specific elements such as column details from architectural catalogues. These photographs are highly reminiscent of much more recent images circulating on the internet produced with 3d modeling and rendering software. Many of the analogue processes used by Kasten in this phase of her work can be applied particularly well in the virtual domain. The backgrounds are simplistic and contained, there is no natural light or environment to complicate the render process, and the objects are geometric primitives or sourced from catalogues rather than created from scratch. Despite formal similarities a significant difference separates the ethereal digital spaces from Barbara Kasten meticulously constructed environments. As Kasten points out in a recent interview, weight and gravity play an important role in the construction of sculptures. The props used by Kasten are never mounted in place but rest on or adjacent to each other through gravity. By the 1980s Kasten moved on to incorporating existing buildings into her sets, transforming them through light, color, and mirrors to create compositional photographs. She first worked with corporate headquarters and financial centers and later turned to museums as different kind of spaces of authority. Depicting these composed, lasting, authoritative buildings with temporary, fragile, colorful and disorienting sensibility she produced what Sylvia Lavin coined a kiss, or a powerful statement through a gentle gesture. The images produced in this series act as records of an atmospheric transformation of a number of establishment-reinforcing spaces. On the third floor of the Madlener house the show culminates with a site specific installation. With moving light projections directed at sculptural forms it is like one of her photographic stages come to life. It is a beautiful experience yet also feels like an unmasking of a magicians trick—with the mechanism behind the photographs exposed, the stage-like installation loses some of the precision and specificity of the highly controlled still frames. The piece is most successful at illustrating the incredible breadth of Barbara Kasten’s work, blurring the boundaries between art, installation, and architecture—despite the fact that all the illusions are based on the limits of physical space.
For much of its early history, architecture was more than a pragmatic response to the problem of shelter. It was infused by craft. "Craft has existed in all kinds of industry, especially architecture, for a long time," said Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH) principal Matthew Johnson. "But I feel it it lost its way in the twentieth century as we chased efficiency over quality." Until quite recently, in fact, Johnson felt that hope for a reunion of art and technics within architecture was dim. Then he had an epiphany. "It struck me that craft exists now, it's just in a completely different way than what I traditionally had thought," said Johnson. Where he previously defined craft as "a manual labor and artistic trade," Johnson saw that "craft has evolved into a computational trade, where you can create interest and detail computationally." Johnson, who is the "New Design" Practice Leader for SGH as well as Structural Engineering Head for the firm's Chicago office, will share his thoughts on the contemporary craft of building envelopes in a presentation at next month's Facades+ Chicago conference. Johnson was careful to stress that, for him, the new architectural craft is about more than just good-looking graphics: it extends to fabrication, for instance 3D printing. "There's a whole world of opportunity out there to create [at least] parts of building with an incredible level of detail and precision," said Johnson. "That doesn't mean we need to make things materially complex for complexity's sake. But there are often other needs to be met. We can start to be really creative in how we approach things." As an example, cited new techniques for designing and building in concrete. Constructing a concrete hyperboloid the old-fashioned way took a ton of time and effort, because the forms had to be put together on site, by hand. "Now all of a sudden we can build incredibly complex formwork, off site," said Johnson. "It's sort of like craft has reemerged in our profession. There's a skill set out there that allows this to happen." For Johnson, who will focus his talk, "Digital: Design-to-Fabrication Opportunities in Contemporary Facades," on SGH projects in the public realm, one of the most exciting developments has to do with the relative affordability of certain digital techniques. "For a museum, it's easy to be inventive," said Johnson. "They might have $1000 per square foot to build. What's interesting is where we see it in smaller projects, for example in K-12 schools. You can start to be inventive and inject craft into something that would otherwise be cost prohibitive." Hear from Johnson and other AEC industry leaders, and view the latest facade materials and systems at the Methods & Materials Gallery, at Facades+ Chicago November 5–6. View additional information and register online at the conference website.
Day two at the Chicago Architecture Biennial continued to deliver with a mix of the best international talent and local practitioners who are rethinking the way we build our cities. We were on the ground battling the wind in the crisp Chicago fall. Here are some of our favorite things we found.
Performance has been the breakout surprise of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. While many of the works inside the Chicago Cultural Center grapple with issues of urbanism, politics, and the resonances of Modernism (especially Mies’ oversized presence in the city) in contemporary culture, the three performances included in the opening weekend program address and embody what is at stake. Views from Superpowers of Ten by Andrés Jaque and the Office for Political Innovation (@andres_jaque, Instagram) Superpowers of Ten by Madrid/New York-based architect Andrés Jaque and his Office for Political Innovation, developed for and first performed at the Lisbon Architecture Triennial 2013, uses pop, oversized props and black-clad performers to restage of the Eames’ icon Powers of Ten. The original film was filmed on the banks of Lake Michigan, not far from the Chicago Athletic Club where it was performed. Jaque’s reworking expands the Eames narrative to our contemporary condition. The exponential zooming out from Earth and then back into the heart of the atom now includes critical questions of space junk, nuclear fallout, immigration, race, queerness, and transgender identity. In a gallery the unorthodox mix of para-architectural issues might seem ponderous, but told through pantomime, they resonate visually and emotionally. We Know How to Order, conceived by Bryony Roberts, and choreographed by Asher Waldron of the South Shore Drill Team powerfully superimposes the movement of African American bodies in space on top of the charged site of Federal Center by Mies van der Rohe. The South Shore Drill Team, hailing from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, trains young people to master the precise choreography. On the plaza, while the performers mimicked the lines of Mies’ architecture, which underscoring the conditions of universal space into the public realm, they also brought joy and dynamism to the windswept public space. Even stalwarts of the architecture community were moved to tap their feet and wipe their eyes. https://vimeo.com/141231941 Performed in Mies' super spare Carr Chapel on the IIT campus, Theatre by Mexican artist Santiago Borja brought a different kind of otherness to the Miesian space of worship. The performance was set with two specially-designed petate rugs, woven in Mexico, that represent esoteric geometries developed in Europe at the start of the modern movement. Made out of palm leaves, one rug sits on the floor and the other hangs above, demarking what is not so much a stage as an abstract spiritual space for Ingrid Everwijn, the lead teacher of the Eurythmeum CH in Dornach Switzerland. Dressed in pink and yellow dress, Everwijn performed eurythmy movements—a kind of “spiritual gymnastics” developed by Rudolf Steiner and Marie Sivers in early 20th Century. The result was mystical, irrational, and energetic, as well as an immersive experience that undermined the rigors of Miesian abstraction.
After a marathon session of presentations of all architects/artists in the biennial Thursday afternoon was marked by a preview of the complex, yet succinct exhibit House Housing capturing the history of inequality of designed inhabitation. Staged as an open house in one of last remaining buildings of one of the first federally-funded housing complex in Chicago, the exhibition is a walk-through into the part of the future home of the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM). Standing in front of the open house the curators with NPHM directors and residents gave a glimpse of the process that led to this collaboration to the audience in front of the open house. Inside the entrance a dilapidated apartment served as the concrete prop for the exhibit introduced as "An untimely history of architecture and real state in twenty three episodes". Empty, low lit rooms with walls carrying scores of uncannily pealed paint become a home for the installation made of home looking furniture, shelves, desks and platforms. Using multiple mediums and told in 23 episodes throughout the open house, House Housing further uses domestic media such as the phonograph, answering machine, television and iPad to tell the story of inequality of housing that are lived everywhere today. As Martin writes in the pamphlet coming with the exhibit, the domestic media in the installation transforms the crumbling rooms of former apartments into "a whispering, humming history machine." Being inside the open house gives a special sense to the material presented as a culture that is not only economically constrained, but also lived as form of constraint. With this exhibit the NPHM inaugurates its future home and hopes to further initiate debates on economies for housing not shy of ideological investigations of the cause, crisis and removal of modern housing and its replacement with typologies of new urbanism. A couple of visitors could be heard commenting how the spaces of the open house feel like being in a socialist home, a comment not too far off if one unjustly equates poverty with a specific ideology. Ultimately House Housing points to the "art of inequality" carried via the twenty three episodes that are specific, yet global, that its design is still happening as we experience the open house visit. A bleak preview of the future to come that is also uncertain. The exhibition is installed by the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture and assembled by a team of researchers at Columbia University directed by Reinhold Martin and curated together with Jacob Moore and Susanne Schindler. The group's website has more information about this long term project.
"We were outraged by what we saw—by the violence in everyday life," said Jeanne Gang when asked about the impetuous behind her firm's project Polis Project, a proposed reinvention of the typical police station on view at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The work, like any number of projects in the exhibition, highlights the what curator Joseph Grima calls “architectural agency,” where firms take on projects not for a client, but out of a sense of urgency to architecturally address important issues. Sparked by incidents of police violence against African Americans across the United States and supported by the May 2015 Obama administration policy brief: the “Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,” Studio Gang’s research and design proposal flanks the two sides of the Center’s grand stair. One side displays a history of law enforcement architectures—from the neighborhood police box to today’s bunker-like stations—and the other a design proposal for Chicago’s 10th District Station in Lawndale. “We asked ourselves “What is a police station in the 21st Century?”” she noted, pointing out that while past incarnations were community-based as police officers moved out of the neighborhoods where they had a beat, the tensions between locals and officers increased. The architecture of reflected that conflict. “The police station doesn’t carry the same ideas of democracy as a court house,” she noted, but by imbuing these values into the station building, Studio Gang hopes to point a way forward to a new idea of architecture. "Everyone comes though the same front door," Gang said, and explained how the building is more like a community center than a jail. Little things, like free Wi-Fi, and big things, like mental health services, computer labs, park space and retrofitted housing for officers in the neighborhoods, are meant to break down the barriers between the police and residents. Work is already underway. A police-owned parking lot is being transformed into a new park and basketball courts that is meant to be a shared, non-confrontational space in the neighborhood. “This community will have a safe place to play.”
AN got a firsthand look at some of the projects inside the Chicago Cultural Center, many of which are juxtaposed across media, scale, and intellectual territory. For example, simple wood models from South African studio Noero Architects' 180 Square Meters sat quietly next to a wild set of renderings by François Roche that showed digital narratives of buildings as characters in their surroundings. Nearby, an oddly-detailed full-scale mock-up of a light steel stud-framed room welcomed visitors to go inside. Here are some of our favorites from our first glimpse at the sprawling main exhibition in Chicago: "The End of Sitting" questions why we design so much of our environment for sitting, given recent research showing how unhealthy it is to sit all day. This is the first show by the radical architecture and media collective Environmental Communications. It includes a selection from 200,000 images found in a Venice, California, garage. The Rock Print load-bearing column was built using a robot that placed rocks bound by string into a mold, which was then removed to create this curious structure. Atelier Bow-Wow occupied the courtyard of the Cultural Center, which is an important place, but is often cut-off from the rest of the building. They animated the courtyard by exploring the idea of a prison as a place of potential. Amanda Williams's work on the south side of Chicago includes a set of abandoned houses painted with colors derived from pop culture in the surrounding neighborhoods. It is displayed in a hallway. MOS Architects built a house made of hallways to critique McMansions, which they see as all foyers and hallways. Its disciplinary deadpan was a great juxtaposition next to "Architecture is Everywhere" by Sou Fujimoto Architects, a series of small everyday objects, like staples and binder clips, arranged into architectural models complete with scale figures. Makeshift is an ad-hoc construction that responds to its specific site with an improvised structure for music performance. It is based on the music legacy of Chicago. The Biennial is bustling with people as well, as everyone from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to designers from around the world are in attendance. For ongoing Chicago Biennial coverage, check back with AN over the next few days and weeks.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rattled off a few of his favorite buildings in the fair city of Chicago. Rahmbo steered clear of the supertalls—no Sears, Hancock, or Trump—and he’s apparently a thoroughly modern guy, skipping the old Water Tower, the Board of Trade or any classical designs. Nope, it’s Kohn Pedersen Fox’s 333 Wacker Drive, clad in curving, reflective green glass, that leads off his list. He also gave shouts out to Frank Gehry’s fittingly bombastic Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the industrial-turned-condo buildings of Printer’s Row in the South Loop. Makes sense that Mr. Tourism-and-Development would gravitate towards buildings with real estate stories as interesting as their designs. No qualms with his picks, but we’d like to see old, pre-sweater wearing Rahm pen a screed dropping f-bombs on his least favorite buildings. Now that’d be something.
In recent years, building envelope assemblies have become increasingly sophisticated, separating the skin from its traditional, structural function and thus making way for formal experimentation. But this freedom "presents a bewildering challenge," says John Ronan, founding principal of Chicago-based John Ronan Architects. "What do you do when you can do anything? When the surface of the building asks for no more than a cladding? I think architects are struggling with this question, and that is why one sees so many arbitrary formal tropes in facade design now; anything is possible, but nothing has meaning." Ronan, who also teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) College of Architecture, will share some of his own experience designing dynamic facades during the afternoon keynote address at November's Facades+ Chicago conference. For Ronan, a successful facade design begins with project-specific issues that go beyond environmental performance and client, to include program, identity, social factors, and historical context. As an example, he contrasted his firm's treatment of the Poetry Foundation and Gary Comer Youth Center buildings. "At the Comer center, security and safety were primary issues due to violence in the neighborhood, and that influenced the facade design, while at the Poetry Foundation the issue was more one of public interface and creating a sense of intrigue or mystery, to entice someone to come in and explore," explained Ronan. The IIT Innovation Center presents a third point of reference. "[That facade] is driven by context, that is, the Mies [van der Rohe] campus, but also by technology—the idea that an institute of technology should have something very forward looking and innovative." Regarding the particularities of designing and fabricating facades for his hometown, observed Ronan, "Chicago is still a place where things are made, so we have a deep pool of material and fabrication knowhow to draw upon, and to a certain extent, the world still comes to Chicago for high rise design, a market which is typically on the leading edge of facade technology." On the flip side, architects and builders must contend with the Windy City's alternately hot, wet, and freezing weather. "Sadly, we have to leave buildings out in the rain, and this often dictates which materials and assemblies can and cannot be used Chicago," said Ronan, tongue in cheek. More seriously, he continued, "The development of rain screen facades has been liberating for us here, because it allows us to enclose the building and then come back in the spring to install the facade." Catch up with Ronan and other AEC industry leaders November 5–6 at Facades+ Chicago. Register today or learn more at the Facades+ Chicago website.