Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Countdown

In each new life, the world is reborn, but for the rest of us, those of us who have been around - been there, done that - each equinox, each dawn of a new day, each reset of the calendar bears the gift of the idea of a do-over. To imagine not an end, but a beginning. Another chance to do it again, do it better, get it right, at long last. 

The world is an infinity that our abstract markers break down to human scale, letting us hold fast to a moment and feel it in full.

The cold universe laughs at our fabrications, but the arrival of each new second is a small miracle; each New Year the optimistic conceit of a slate wiped clean.

Congratulations! They've picked up our option for another season in the incredible playground.

Let's see what we can make of it.

Warmest wishes to all my readers and friends for an amazing New Year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Art Institute's 20th Century Masters: Better Kahn'ed than on the Piano?

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I have to admit to being somewhat taken aback this past year by the total lack of discussion or interest in the Art Institute of Chicago shutting down one-third of its Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing for six months of “adjustments” only four years after its opening. Nearly 100 masterworks were shipped to the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth for a blockbuster exhibition The Age of Picasso Matisse: Modern Masters from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Louis Kahn, Kimbell Art Musem.  Photograph: Andreas Praefcke, Wikipedia Commons

Ironically, to make move for the exhibition, the Kimbell's permanent collection has been moved out from the original world-renowned building designed by Louis Kahn to a new addition designed by Renzo Piano.  According to architecture critic Martin Filler, writing in the current issue of the New York Review of Books . . .
The switch involves unfortunate comparisons.  With their celebrated skylit concrete ceiling vaults and use of creamy travertine on the walls, Kahn's interiors virtually caress pictures shown within them, in an almost uncanny melding of sensitively proportioned volume and mysteriously modulated light.  Not surprisingly, the Art Institute's best twentieth-century pictures here look better than they ever have at home.
Filler damns the Piano addition with faint praise.  The title, No Harm to the Kimbell, pretty much says it all.  Although Filler raves about Piano's finely crafted, 2 percent titanium walls as “the most ravishing concrete I have seen in the U.S.” he concludes “the new Kimbell addition will soon fade into the middle rank of Piano's oeuvre, neither at the top . .  . nor the bottom.”  He doesn't mention where the Modern Wing falls in his rankings.
Filler's review is not available online, except to subscribers.  If you don't have it already, pick up the January 9th issue of the NYRB.  With a haunting new poem by Wislawa Szymborska, Garry Willis's acute dissection of the mis-analyses of Joe Scarborough, and the usual assortment of great pieces on myriad topics, it's well worth the price.

When the Modern Wing opened, it met with a largely ecstatic critical response.  There's much to admire in Piano's design, but I can't help thinking of it as something of a great white whale, ever-so-tastefully smothering the sting of the often ragingly provocative art of the early 20th century.  The scrupulously neutral harbors its own aggressions.

Read the whole story:

The Shock of the New: 1/3 of Modern Wing Shuts Down as Picasso and Matisse head out for six month Texas excursion.  Read here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Year in Chicago Architecture: Our Twelve Most Popular Stories for 2013

2013 draws to a close.  Michael Bolton goes into the deep freeze for another year (thankfully), right next to Walt Disney and Ted Williams' head.

The usual stock-taking: Nearly 20,000 photographs taken (two of them good).  ArchitectureChicago Plus traffic up 23%, with visitors from 122 countries and a gated community on Ymir.

Thank you, dear readers, for the great comments and warm support.  The downside of your encouragement is that I'm continuing ACP into 2014, with some great topics already in preparation.  We hope to be a bit more experimental and focused in the New Year - if such a combination is possible - and hold tight to our annual and as yet unrealized resolution to start making sense.

For now, here's the countdown to the dozen posts that in 2014 found the most readers:

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Number 12: [November 24]
Light and Shade at the Polish Triangle: Wheeler Kearns' 1611 West Division

Number 11: [March 29]
The Architecture of the Age of the Supply Chain: The Epic Saga of Sears in Chicago

Number 10: [January 29]
Hour of the Wolf: The Transformation of the Pivot Point of Chicago
Number 9: [November 19]
Alderman Reilly puts the brakes to the Realtors: plus What's Up with that Shear Wall at the new Hilton Garden Inn?

Number 8: [July 22]
The Power of Uselessness The History - and Potential - of Chicago's massive Santa Fe Grain Elevator

Number 7: [March 14]
The End of an Epic Dream: Calatrava's Chicago Spire hole on the block - retelling an amazing story.

Number 6: [June 4]
Studio/Gang's Clark Park Boathouse
A Century of Urban Transformation flowing down Chicago's River

Number 5: [December 8]
111 West Wacker's Red Crane Flies the Coop

Number 4: [July 10]
Mies Goes Soft: The Langham Chicago Pushes Against the Envelope

Number 3: [September 24]
Architecture as Tinder: Michael Bay's Transformers4 blows up Chicago's massive, abandoned Santa Fe Grain Elevator

Number 2: [September 25]
Redesign of the Interior of Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall: Glass Boxes within the Ultimate Glass Box

And now . . . our most popular story for 2013!

[September 25]
Icehendge: Chicago has a new Frank Gehry, and it's Like Nothing You've Seen

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas and Chicago Architecture 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bargain Day on the Street of Regrets: Interior Architecture Gnawed Clean at a Doomed Dominick's

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On Saturday, the tan-shirted employees of the soon-to-be closed Dominick's at 255 East Grand were keeping themselves busy in what has become a ghost of a store, conscientiously scrubbing clean all the empty racks, coolers and shelving, even though - if rumors of Whole Foods taking over the space proves true - it'll all probably just be pitched in a dumpster to make way for a redesign.
At its peak, Dominick's was a strong rival to Jewel in the Chicago food market.  Today, it's toast.
The chain, begun by Dominick DiMatteo in 1918, was bought by  Safeway in 1998, which proceeded to run it into the ground, all but completely ignoring the emerging competition at the high end by Whole Foods and the low end by Target and Wal-Mart.  

From a company that was the strong-runner up to Jewel in the Chicago market, with 116 stores and 24% share,  Safeway created a Dominick's with 44 fewer stores and a plummeting 14.5% market share.  And then, in October, they announced they were exiting the Chicago market, abandoning what they hadn't managed to destroy.  Safeway is picking the pockets of taxpayers by converting their managerial incompetence into a tax benefit estimated at nearly half a billion dollars, even as they're throwing 6,000 employees out on the street, effective December 28th - Merry Christmas!  Now we just need to wait for some University of Chicago economist's declaration that it can all be blamed on workers belonging to a union, making a living wage and not staying in school to get their MBA.
It was only seven years ago, in 2006, that the Dominick's opened in Streeterville at 255 East Grand at Columbus.  The first major chain grocery to open in Chicago's increasingly residential downtown, it was a highly welcomed event.  Just one year later, the 50,000 square-foot store's real estate - plus 100 parking spaces - sold for $23 million.  
Today, it's counting down the hours, with customers almost outnumbering the remaining pieces of merchandise.  Eccentric collections of least popular products huddle tightly together in ever-shrinking islands within a rising swell of otherwise emptied shelves.  It's like a homage to shopping in the old Soviet Union.
The structure that disappeared behind row upon row of thousands of different products in colorful packaging carefully designed to grab our eye now stands as bare as bleached bones.  A stark, inhuman geometry is revealed, a stacked sequence of fragmented lines stretching to infinity, leading nowhere.