The problem of architectural modernism

May 29, 2017 Vision and Style Comments (0) 98

I was riding my bike the other day and I figured out the problem of architectural modernism.

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Frank Lloyd Wright buildings I toured last year

January 8, 2017 Blog, California, Chicago Buildings, Vision and Style Comments (3) 1231

I have had the good fortune to serve on the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Board for the last three years, and this has availed me of several opportunities to tour this great architect’s work.

The living room in Robie House, Chicago, shot by my daughter Felicity.

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The new urban commandments

January 4, 2015 Economics, Sustainability, Vision and Style Comments (0) 168

Amherst

Prince Charles of England, who famously got involved in the world of architecture and urbanism nearly 30 years ago with a notorious speech to architects deriding modernism, has released last month in Architectural Review a list of ten principles for urban planning and design.  Those of us in the heritage preservation world have generally been fond of Albion’s heir and his advocacy of the virtues of tradition in architecture, although most of us become uncomfortable pitting tradition against modernism, fearing both the superficiality of style and a reduction of our cause into a formalist debate. Continue Reading

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Oak Park best neighborhood

October 13, 2010 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (2) 122

Historic Preservation (Heritage Conservation) has done it again. Oak Park became one of the United States’ top ten neighborhoods, according to the American Planning Association, and it did it the old fashioned way: it saved its historic buildings.

The Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and made subject to local landmark controls in 1994 (notice the distinction, Kenilworth???) is the best place to live in Illinois, according to the planners. As the article notes, Wright and the other Prairie architects wowed them a hundred years ago and they still are. Must be some good architecture, no?

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Unity Temple lettering stolen

October 4, 2010 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 155

This is sad. More than 50 of the letters that adorned the entrance of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Unity Temple were stolen amidst an Oak-Park frenzy of copper and bronze theft, apparently by salvage thieves seeking the resale value of the metal. Here is a link to a local article on the theft.

Theft of building pieces has been a thriving business around here for over 40 years and probably longer. The famed “brick thieves” in Chicago tried to take one of the exterior urns from Robie House a few years back. Continue Reading

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Age Value and the 50-year rule

August 13, 2010 Historic Districts, History Comments (4) 170

Field memorial, Daniel Chester French, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

The latest issue of Forum Journal (from the National Trust for Historic Preservation – you can join here.) has an article questioning the 50-year rule. The National Register of Historic Places was created in 1966 and shortly thereafter the Park Service promulgated policies for listing properties on the National Register. Eight categories of properties have to jump some more hurdles to become landmarks: birthplaces, gravesites, cemeteries, memorials, relocated buildings, reconstructed buildings, houses of worship, and buildings less than 50 years old.

Now, first it should be noted that I can name properties in each of those categories that ARE on the National Register of Historic Places, but they had to prove extra significance. Continue Reading

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Bradley House, Inland Steel, Wrigley Field

March 20, 2010 Chicago Buildings, House Museums Comments (0) 103

The big news this week was an effort to preserve Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House in Kankakee, one of the epochal early Wright Prairie Houses. Blair Kamin did a bangup job of covering the issue in the Tribune here. A local Wright in Kankakee group is trying to raise money to buy the house and make it a house museum and education center. The bottom line is the $1.9 million price and the more immediate concern of an additional $100,000 for the down payment beyond the $70,000 already raised. I can recall when the house was law offices and Kamin’s article notes that the owners for the last 5 years, the Halls, have been ideal, keeping it together and restoring it. With 100 art-glass windows, the house could be worth almost as much in pieces as it is put together. The real challenge is not simply the purchase price, but the ongoing operations, since house museums rarely generate more than a quarter of operating costs from admissions. The Bradley House either needs an angel to subsidize the purchase and an endowment, or it needs more angels like the Halls who will care for it as the treasure it is. Continue Reading

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Chicagoland Watch

September 17, 2009 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 110

Landmarks Illinois has made another splash with its annual Chicagoland Watch List thanks to the high profile Rose House and pavilion in Highland Park, a modernist treat by James Speyer that EVERYONE knows as Cam’s house from the 1980s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I knew that when I toured the house about 15 years ago. Modernist steel and glass boxes set into one of the suburb’s trademark wooded ravines, the gem is threatened by possible subdivision despite landmark status and a $2.3 million price tag.

You should go to Landmarks Illinois’ website (www.landmarks.org) to see the whole list, which includes a two-lane rural road in McHenry County, the South Side Masonic Temple, and an entire neighborhood’s worth of urbane and sustainable terra cotta and brick treasures at the intersection of Halsted Fullerton and Lincoln: Continue Reading

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Oak Park settles down a bit

February 9, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 136

Well, from the tenor of the panel discussion in Oak Park this morning, the Fox News-style polarization of preservation has died down a bit. This is a good thing. A developer, a village president/architect, a local architect and two preservationists made up a panel that was distinguished more by how much they agreed than by the false “Preservation or Development” dichotomy that was set up.

The biggest laughs came to Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago who said the title “Historic Preservation: Too Much of a Good Thing?” reminded him of “Women’s Suffrage: Too Much of a Good Thing?” or “Child Labor Laws: Too Much of a Good Thing?”. He is right that preservation has to keep justifying itself. Continue Reading

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Fallingwater and the Case of the House Museum

November 14, 2006 Economics, Interpretation Comments (0) 131

Fallingwater – the iconic, death-and-decay-defying leap of Frank Lloyd Wright from one end of the 20th century to the other. A building that cannot be left out of architectural history. A building that almost too nakedly tries to say everything about the role of nature and artifice that everyone from Vitruvius and Alberti to Perrault and LeCorbusier tried to say.

Maybe I want to focus on Fallingwater because it has a built-in fire suppression system and Chicago is beset by idiots with blowtorches.

Beyond its iconic status, Fallingwater is also a house museum, which is a challenging thing to be. Continue Reading

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