Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Dead

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"All the lights were on, but no one was home." 

Did you ever walk down a street late at night and have that phrase pop into your head.?
A street with restaurants you were used to seeing bright and filled with people?

A street they've told you is about to change utterly?  About to become still another avenue of tall, sleek residential towers, the light of the apartments beaming the image of their monied interiors out into the evening?
A street where you could swear you hear footsteps behind you.  They stop. You take a few more steps, and hear them again, muffled.  And then you turn quickly around and gasp . . .
. . . as a gang of 30-foot pizza slices stand looming over you, shedding grease that has dried into flakes down onto you like dandruff.  And then, as quickly as they had appeared, they vanish from sight.
It's clear they don't want you there.
It's like everyone decided to move out, really fast.   Had the Hooter Girls insisted on going on that midnight walk alone in the woods, even after we had warned them?
The once polished interiors stand empty and violated.
Eat at Eds?  Doesn't look like it.
You can hear the unnerved spirits that were left behind, still cracking their gum, their insults reduced to inaudible whispers.  
An invisible jukebox insinuates grotesque polkas out onto the street . . .
. . . as the tower of shake stands darkened and forlorn against the night sky.
The witching hour approaches. The chairs huddle tightly together in mute terror.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bombs Away! Stanley Tigerman unveils Titanic 2015

Elva Rubio, Carlo Parente, Karla Sierralta, Carl Ray Miller, Stanley Tigerman, Martin Kläschen,Eva Maddox

In the late 1970's, with Mies van der Rohe dead for nearly a decade and so-called "Miesian" architecture at its greatest point of power, architect Stanley Tigerman declared war with a single photo montage . . .
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"Two of us," Tigerman recalled last Thursday at the Chicago Architecture Foundation,  "James Ingo Freed and I, were sitting one night in my office, drinking. And I made this collage.  And he gave me the backbone to do it. I really was a bit of a coward. I didn't want to do it , but it was definitely confrontational. I was an incredible admirer of Mies van der Rohe, but I always had problems with the sycophants, the acolytes after Mies's death, who ran the school into the ground. Because they didn't add to the syntax of language in the way that they should have done."
Since then, Tigerman's image has itself become iconic, a key symbol of the rise of post-modernism and the emergence of a new generation of architects with very different ways of thinking. Nearly 40 years later, with Chicago's first Architecture Biennial launched with full force, architect and designer Elva Rubio thought it might be time for an update.
Elva Rubio, Stanley Tigerman
"Elva persuaded me to do another one now," said Tigerman.  Last week's event, held around a table imprinted with the original Titanic image, included the unveiling of Tigerman's 2015 update, the architect in conversation with both Rubio and a panel of clients, and a display of office artifacts.

"If you look at the wall," explained Rubio, "basically this is Stanley's office here, that you allowed us to kind of pull out and bring to the public which is absolutely amazing, kind of a patchwork of their lives, he and Margaret, and all the different accomplishments.  You can see the range is astonishing. It's writing, it's product design, ideation, architecture, urbanism, so it's quite a prize . And it's a very small piece of what is there."

The moment came.  Titanic 2015 was unveiled . . .
Tigerman had talked repeatedly about the struggle inherent in one generation taking over from the previous.  He recalled his last evening as Co-Director of Archeworks, the alternative design school he had founded in 1994 with Eva Maddox, at an event that had been named "Passing the Baton". He strode to the podium with a briefcase, from which first pulled a conductor's baton.  That is not what he meant, he said.  Then he pulled out the kind of baton marathon runner's pass one to the next.  That is not what he meant.  Finally, he pulled out a large hunting knife.  That is what he meant, he said, just before he striding out of the building never to return.

Of course, the violence that Tigerman referred to repeatedly is less a matter of tearing flesh than an Age of Innocence kind of genteel evisceration.  Indeed, even the imagery of Titanic 2015 - a bomb falling from the sky about to obliterate both Mies's Crown Hall and Frank Gehry's Bilbao museum should be seen as a kind of a McGuffin spurring discussion about succession.
"I thought about an icon," said Tigerman, "and the problem with an icon is it becomes iconic. It's emulated, and thereby watered down . . . The problem with an icon is that people are so overwhelmed by it that they then use it as a referent to then do something . As opposed to having a tabula rasa, a clean sweep. Nothing on your drawing board. You start again anew each time."

"There are originals, and there are copies. So I have a problem with an icon. I mean, I love Frank Gehry and I certainly love Mies van der Rohe. Obviously, Bilbao has become iconic. And it's not about signature work.  Not about Frank replicating or redoing something in a similar certain way. It's about something becoming an icon. Something becomes so staggeringly important that it inhibits one from finding one's own series of icons. So that's what this is about. It's got nothing to do with bombing Crown Hall or Bilbao at all."

"It's the problem of using those referents as inspiration. Inspiration is there in the emptiness of your drawing board or your computer . . . You try to do something each time out of the barn that's new. Not to be different. But just to try your hand at it. Inevitably, there will be things on your mind. Architects always have agendas. Architects are not simply, as Frank Lloyd Wright referred to himself as Louis Sullivan's pencil. They're not the client's pencil. The client comes to you because they're hoping that you have an idea about something. And when you hold up an icon, and that becomes the referent, then the client in a way becomes diminished."

"[Mies] was not going to be held hostage to the vicissitudes of clients. He had a 20-man office. He had 20 people. He had 20 people when he died. And he didn't expand it to 21, or drop it to 19. That was his team. And he wasn't going to have somebody come in and say, oh, we're going to overturn everything to accommodate them."
Stanley Tigerman, Eva Maddox
"Mies was a role model for me. Why do you think I've lived in a Mies building for 45 years? Because he was a really terrific architect. And it was a challenge to me to wake up every morning in a really good building . They're going to drag me out horizontally. That's where I'm going to end my days. Because he was my role model. He was my Abraham."

"Architecture is optimistic. The forces are always there to diminish you.  Building commissioners, zoning administrator, often clients. to diminish the work of the architect . . . You have to have a very strong stomach, and a very strong backbone.  You have to be stunningly and optimistically inclined to cause something to be built."

"It takes a wonderful client to make a really good building to transpire. So it is about optimism. You have to convey that optimism to your clients and everybody in the world, who will make light of what you do. Trust me."
Chicago Architecture Biennial
Tigerman had special praise for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, "which I'm thrilled by. 120 architects from all over the world, all six continents, that [Graham Foundation's] Sarah Herda and Joe Grima, the former editor of Domus, put together with the help of a consulting group that included [Chicago Architecture Foundation's] Lynn Osmond and a number of people. But they did it. And so what you see at the Cultural Center is this thrilling youngest generation , which is thrilling because they somehow have coalesced and they're not quite as back-biting as one finds in New York.
Elva Rubio, Lynn Osmond, Stanley Tigerman, unidentified, Eva Maddox
"Not all of it is wonderful. A huge proportion is quite remarkable. . . . Not everything is happy ending stuff. They get full marks, as far as I'm concerned."

The exhibitions Currencies of Architecture and Celebrating an Icon continue at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 South Michigan.  Concurrent with Celebrating an Icon is a series of panel discussions which continue next Thursday, October 29th, with a Chicago Educators evening including Penelope Dean of UIC, Vedran Mimica of IIT and Ben Nicholson of SAIC; a November 12th event with Carol Ross Barney; SOM's Brian Lee on November 19, and a closing party and auction on December 4th.  More information here.
An exhibition, Stanley Tigerman 821 Stanley Tigerman Sketches 821, is on display at Volume Gallery through December 5th.

 Read More:

The Architect as Zelig: Tigerman's Ceci n'est pas une reverie, at the Graham

Schlepping with Stanley

As he receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from AIA Chicago, a Stanley Tigerman Miscellany

Friday, October 16, 2015

Marina City Closer to Landmark Status? Public Hearing Friday Morning

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[update: 1:00 p.m., October 16][ No formal objections were filed during the public hearing on landmarking Marina City.  Speaking on behalf of LaSalle Hotel Properties, Mariah DiGrino of the law firm DLA Piper declared her client's - at least momentary - neutrality:
We are among the owners that have not provided a consent to the designation. At this time, ownership is not prepared to consent or object, but continues to evaluate the effect of the designation on its hotel and commercial operations. Obviously, we’re not here to challenge Marina City’s place in the city’s visual landscape or its place in the city’s history. We have met with [Landmarks] Commissioner [Eleanor] Gorski, who has been very informative and helpful to us understanding the effect of the designation and we look forward to continuing to work with the Landmarks Division on future requests for approvals for the hotel and commercial spaces as they arise.
Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald expressed her organization's support for the landmarking . . .
Marina City is a critical part of the city’s mid-century architectural heritage and is considered one of the city’s most photographed buildings . . . We know from a 2008 survey that a majority of Marina City’s residents are in favor of landmark designation, which will also provide helpful financial incentives for future capital improvements. 
Two of these incentives are the property tax assessment freeze, and, due to the building’s location, the opportunity to receive capital improvement funds through the city’s Adopt-A-Landmark program. Both of these incentives demonstrate that in addition to protecting one of the city’s most distinctive buildings, landmark designation can result in financial assistance for its owners.
The State of Illinois Property Tax Assessment Freeze program makes unit owners eligible for freezing the assessments on their units for 8 years, while the City of Chicago's Adopt-A-Landmark program allows developers to increase their allowable built density by financing improvements to a nearby designated landmark.

Preservation Chicago President Ward Miller stressed both Marina City's revolutionary design, and its path-breaking motor boat docks and river edge dining rooms that jump-started the transformation of the Chicago river from an "industrial canal" to the civic amenity of a recreational riverfront proposed by Daniel Burnham in his 1909 Plan of Chicago a half century before.

It's was all over in a little more than 40 minutes.  You can listen to the entire session, courtesy of Steven Dahlman, here.

Friday, October 16 at 9:30 a.m., in Room 1103 of City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will be holding a hearing for the public, owners, and any "unknown owners" to present comment on the proposal to make Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City complex an official Chicago landmark.
A week or so ago, I had heard no objections had been filed to the action, although Trib architecture critic Blair Kamin tweeted yesterday that there was still one owner who had yet to declare their consent.  In an article posted last evening, Kamin reported that the party not heard from was LaSalle Hotel Properties, which in 2006 acquired what was then the House of Blues Hotel - built in what had originally been the Marina City office building - and parking floors of the two residential towers for $114.5 million.  After rehabbing the facility as the Sax Hotel, it was rehabbed again recently and is now known as the Hotel Chicago. LaSalle's silence has been aggressive and complete, with Ald. Brendan Reilly saying nothing had been heard from the company and Kamin's phone calls going unreturned.
Although most people make thinkg of Marina City as just the twin cylindrical 60-story residential towers, with parking on the first twenty floors, it's actually perhaps the first, true multi-use complex, also including an office building, a theater, a marina, and public plazas.

The landmarks resolution protects  the exteriors of the complex's original buildings, as well as the "driveways and open plaza areas between the buildings."  The jarringly out-of-place Smith and Wollensky restaurant structure, constructed in 1998 where the original skating rink had been, is not protected, nor is the skylighted entrance pavilion next to it.
Although the Commission has now apparently largely outsourcing the work of writing the "Summary of Information" reports on the history and importance of proposed landmarks, the 54 page report on Marina City - a product of experts from Bauer Latoza, Ramsey Historic Consultants and Granacki Historic Consultants -  maintains the highs standards established in reports written by in-house scholars such as Terry Tatum.   The report includes a history of the building and its architect, Bertrand Goldberg, and of William McFetridge and the Chicago Labor movement that made the project possible, an account of the construction, financing and marketing, and a placement of Marina City's importantance within the larger context of Expressionist Modern Architecture.  Richly illustrated, it's a must-read.  (As is Steven Dahlman's on-line City Within a City: The Biography of Marina City.)
Last November, Marina City had its global moment in the sun moon when daredevil Nick Wallenda walked on a tightrope across the Chicago River from the top of Marina City's 60-story west tower, and then for an encore crossed from the West Tower to its twin to the east.   There's no mystery as to why he chose Marina City for his stunt.  Chicago has no more iconic building than Marina City.  With the Picasso and Cloud Gate, it's the most globally recognized symbol of the city.  Making it an designated landmark simply makes it official - and offers some needed protection.  If Marina City isn't a Chicago landmark, then there is none.

Read More:
Night Magic: Wallenda Walk Lights Up Chicago's River Skyline

 Up on the Rooftop: Night and Luftwerk's Art at Marina City

At Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg - Screwed Again

Door to the Heart: Bertrand Goldberg's Reflections - the things he made, the things he kept

Monday, October 12, 2015

Little Houses on the Lakefront: The four kiosks of the Chicago Architecture Biennial

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 What's an Architecture Biennial if you don't actually build stuff?  There are a number of full-up houses constructed inside the Chicago Cultural Center, but that wasn't enough.  The Chicago Architecture Biennial also seeks to colonize the Chicago lakefront with a series of four pavilions. The idea is to upgrade the poor quality of the 40+ small buildings that serve the vast numbers of people visiting Chicago's 20 miles of beaches and parks lining Lake Michigan.

As noted in a tweet from Trib Architecture critic Blair Kamin, the worst of these are fairly wretched . . .
While, in truth, a large number of others are not without their charm.
For the Biennial, however, none of the four kiosks are in their ultimate intended locations.  That's supposed to come next summer.  None of them are in or near the Cultural Center, either.

The farthest flung is at IIT, one of three schools that partnered with the Biennial, the Park District, and the City of Chicago in creating kiosks.  Call the Cent Pavilion, it's the work of Chilean firm Pezo von Ellrichshausen, the first winner of the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for Emerging Architecture (MCHAP), created by IIT Dean of Architecture Wiel Arets. The Cent Pavilion is described as . . .

. . . a 40-foot tower meant to convey silent and convoluted simplicity. It repeats the same angled design over and over, resulting in an opaque monolith. When its commercial function ceases at the summer’s end, the kiosk will complement the verticality of Chicago’s iconic skyline year-round. 
 At IIT, however, the tower is confined to its structure, sitting in front of Mies van der Rohe's iconic Crown Hall . . .
Instead of the ultimate stack of hat boxes, in this context it almost seems like an homage to the nearby smokestack of IIT's power plant . . .
The other two school-partnership kiosks are much closer to the Cultural Center.  Across the street, in fact, in Millennium Park, just off to the crowds taking in Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate Sculpture.  Summer Vault, a partnership between UIC,  Paul Andersen of Independent Architecture and Paul Preissner of Paul Preissner Architects offer up the kiosk that's the closest match to the original concept.
. . .basic geometric shapes—a 12-foot-diameter barrel vault, a parallelogram, triangles—combined to create a curious, freestanding hangout within the park. The interior of the skewed vault is divided into two triangular spaces—one enclosed by expanded metal screens and doors, and one open to the air but still within the vaulting. This two-part plan allows for commerce and community to occur simultaneously. It also reflects the kiosk’s Persian origins as a 13th-century garden pavilion, while embracing its contemporary use as a seasonal commercial front and festive park retreat. Its openness allows year-round use, so that it remains active even in its retail slumber during the Chicago winter.
Interestingly enough, the built kiosk is currently the one closest to its original concept, and also the one the public has the most problem getting its hands around.
. . . possibly because there's no real activity in the kiosk right now, and because the metal screens that subdivided the kiosk seem a bit too fence-like.
Kids, however, seemed to have no problem in being drawn to exploring it.

In contrast, Summer Vault's neighbor, Rock, by Kunlé Adeyemi in partnership with The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is the least completed kiosk - an isolated series of fragments - and the most popular.   Ultimately, it's supposed to be a Fallingwater-styled construction cantilevered over Montrose beach . . .
For the Biennial, however, it's a collection of rocks of the type of rocks that have historically been Chicago's seawall against Lake Michigan, until the Army Corps of Engineers get holds of it and makes it all a smooth expressway.
Some of the rocks include spots of color from the unofficial paintings and graffiti that come when people use the rocks as a canvass.

At Millennium, what seems to have made the rocks hugely popular are their picture-taking potential, perfect for everything from selfies to family portraits.
Let the Army Corps beware - people love climbing on rocks.
The design of the last kiosk is the result of an international competition with a $75,000 first prize.  You can see the runner-ups here, and other entrants here.
The winner,  Yasmin Vobis, Aaron Forrest, Brett Schneider's Chicago Horizon, Ultramoderne . . .

. . .  is a quest to build the largest flat wood roof possible within a limited budget. Using Cross-Laminated Timber, a new carbon-negative engineered lumber product, in the largest dimensions commercially available, the kiosk aims to provide an excess of public space for the Architecture Biennial and Chicago beachgoers.
This weekend, the plain wood and simple lines of kiosk, located on the Museum Campus just south of the Field Museum, was in competition with a cordon of orange plastic mesh, presumably there to protect from the hordes running and viewing Sunday's Chicago Marathon.
The 56-foot square structure currently is a bit surreal, with a set of stairs going nowhere.  Other renderings show visitors using the stairs to access the kiosk's hovering wood roof slab.
From the viewing platform, the roof becomes a new artificial horizon, shutting out the foreground and emphasizing the vertical Chicago skyline above an abstract floating plane.
The kiosks are scheduled to be on display through the close of the Biennial in early January.

Read More:

Carnival of Possibilities: A Photographic Tour of the Chicago Architecture Biennial