Farnsworth House 2014

May 14, 2014 Chicago Buildings, House Museums, Interpretation, Sustainability Comments (6) 208

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou are more lovely and more tempered…

I have been involved with Mies van der Rohe’s famous Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois for over a decade. I recall vividly the day (December 12, 2003) Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully bid on the house at Sotheby’s in New York, saving it from the possibility of being dismantled and moved to another place. Like all great architecture, the Farnsworth House was designed for its specific location along the Fox River, and this context is part of its significance. Continue Reading

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The Architecture of Barry Byrne

June 30, 2013 Chicago Buildings, Vision and Style Comments (2) 186

Christ the King altar, Cork, copyright 1998 Felicity Rich

Today marks my first full year in California, but it also marks a week since the publication of my book The Architecture of Barry Byrne: Taking the Prairie School to Europe with Photography by Felicity Rich (University of Illinois Press, 2013). This book was 15 years in the making, and indeed the stunning cover photo was taken by Felicity in 1998 in Cork, Ireland. Continue Reading

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Modern and Ancient, my Whirled in Views

February 7, 2013 Chicago Buildings, China Preservation, Economics, Global Heritage Comments (5) 177

As the Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund I deal with many ancient sites, including one of the most ancient, the religious complex being excavated by the Deutsche Archaeologische Institut at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, where stone columns carved with animals form intriguing ringed structures that predate Stonehenge by 6,000 years. This is not only ancient, it is more ancient than almost any other site people are preserving. I am honored to be involved in this.

But as a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Board Member of Landmarks Illinois, I am dealing with lots of modern artifacts, including the justifiably famous Prentice Women’s Hospital, a 1975 landmark that marked the first deployment of computer-aided design and crafted concrete cantilevers known for their beauty as well as their ability to hold a 45-foot projection. Bertrand Goldberg – whom I met – designed the building in his famous ‘flower petal’ mode and I have blogged about it many times before. Here. And here. And here. And way back here over two years ago. Which just goes to show you that preservationists are not always slow on the draw. We had the drop on the bumbling owner (Northwestern University) by, like EIGHT YEARS. Their clout might well prevail, but they definitely showed up late and unprepared.

The denouement, a court-ordered second hearing on landmark status and denial, will be held today, February 7, 2013. Continue Reading

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California and Chicago: Beauty and the Beast

September 2, 2012 California, Chicago Buildings, History Comments (2) 137

Traffic is a drag in both places, but here you get this to look at

California is a fiction and a romance, indeed it takes its name from a novel of an exotic utopia, and since the earliest European encounter, it has been a place where dreams come real, from the dreams of missionaries and miners to the visions of moviemakers and microcomputer mavens that continue to radiate around the world.

Chicago is a fiction too, but it is less wish-fulfillment and more film noir, captured pretty persuasively in Call Northside 777 with the great Jimmy Stewart. Titans of industry fulfilled their dreams of filthy lucre there, as did the gangsters. Today it is an international destination as well known for art food and music as it once was for smokestacks and blind pigs, but it will never be confused with the sun-kissed valleys and tree-bedecked mountains of the Golden State. Continue Reading

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Save Prentice Movement Grows

July 27, 2012 Chicago Buildings Comments (3) 170

“But just as a patient expects his doctor to pull out all stops in search of a cure, Northwestern must pursue every avenue before daring to raze one of Chicago’s architectural and engineering treasures.

We don’t think they’re trying hard enough. Surely, there’s a solution.”

That is from an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday, one of several actions that have ramped up the pressure on Northwestern University to explain why it needs to demolish Bertrand Goldberg’s pathbreaking 1975 Prentice Women’s Hospital, which I have been writing about here for over two years. The first building to use computers in aid of its design, Prentice is a song, a crescendo of 45-foot concrete cantilevers twirling into a quatrefoil of cylindrical skin delicately punched with ovals, a bold sculpture on a base that makes the regular buildings around it look dull-witted.

The architecture geeks have loved this building for a while, and of course I announced its ascension to the National Trust Eleven Most Endangered List a little over a year ago. Continue Reading

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False Choices and the Process of Preservation

April 12, 2012 Chicago Buildings, History, Sustainability, Vision and Style Comments (1) 113

Reportedly the largest chandelier in the United States and the 7th largest in the world. Would you hold a party under this for a 25-year old preservation planner who had been working in the field for less than three years? I will be there again tomorrow.

I am fond of saying that heritage conservation (historic preservation) is a process. It is the process whereby a community (however defined and constituted) determines what elements of its past it wants to bring into the future. The process consists of establishing context (historical, architectural, environmental, social), criteria, evaluating resources (tangible and intangible) and then determining how we want to treat those resources in the future.

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World Heritage City Chicago

March 24, 2012 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 126

Last Saturday, Irena Bakova, Director-General of UNESCO, was in Chicago for a meet-and-greet with local heritage conservation professionals, and last night ICOMOS Director Gustavo Araoz spoke as part of the Chicago Modern: More Than Mies series, presented by the Save Prentice Coalition of AIA Chicago, docomomo Midwest, Landmarks Illinois, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Chicago.  Both talked about Chicago’s singular architectural legacy and suggested that Chicago would be an ideal World Heritage city. Continue Reading

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Chicago Preservation Update February 2012

February 9, 2012 Chicago Buildings, China Preservation, Economics, Sustainability Comments (0) 187

Despite appearances to the contrary, I am in Chicago more often than not, and it has been a while since I updated this blog on the key preservation issues in the city and region. The reigning issue for the last two years has of course been Prentice Women’s Hospital, a breathtaking flower of the union of engineering and architecture designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1974-75 and slated by Northwestern University to become a vacant lot.

The National Trust made it one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Sites last June (I made the announcement) and now the trinity of preservation organizations, the Trust, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, are promoting both a series of CTA subway ads for Prentice and a contest to SHOW PRENTICE SOME LOVE for Valentine’s Day! My job is to wear my Save Prentice t-shirt at major sites across the globe and I got a good start at Macchu Pichu last month. Planning on Angkor Wat next month. Continue Reading

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Chicago Blues: Intangible Heritage

December 30, 2011 Chicago Buildings, Vision and Style Comments (0) 127

Howard Reich had an interesting article in the Tribune the other day about the loss of three great Blues statesmen in 2011: Hubert Sumlin (age 80), David “Honeyboy” Edwards (age 96) and Pinetop Perkins (age 97). The article “Twilight of the Blues” laments the loss of a once-vibrant local cultural expression to an esoteric rarity along the lines of Gregorian chant; Appalachian folk and Bee Gees’ disco. I blog a lot about the important role that intangible heritage plays in modern heritage conservation, and how international charters over the last two decades have started to embrace this phenomenon and I recalled how in 1987 the French newspaper Le Monde celebrated Chicago’s two great contributions to world culture: the blues and architecture.
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Farnsworth House 2011

September 24, 2011 Chicago Buildings, House Museums Comments (2) 190

There it is. My perfect Greek temple, the ultimate expression of art in nature, of architecture. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. Great art and great architecture work like this: you can visit it a hundred times and you see something new, learn something new, feel something new every single time. I discover it every time at Unity Temple and every time at the Farnsworth House. In the video we show visitors, John Bryan says there is no building more important in modern architecture. Dirk Lohan calls it a poem. It is a beautiful and perfect chord, a wonderful harmony of steel and glass and white and light wood and it floats above its site, resting loosely on the world, ready to rise like sound. Continue Reading

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