The Chicago Tribune today editorialized that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks should have approved the skin job on North Michigan Avenue’s Farwell Building, buying the rationalization that it needed the economic generator of the superhigh Ritz Carlton condo tower in order to save a very badly deteriorated facade.
Fact: facade is badly deteriorated and needs a lot of money to fix.
Fact: the proposal before the Commission was NOT DESIGNED TO DO THAT. Continue Reading
Fallingwater and the Case of the House Museum
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
Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago spoke to my Preservation Planning class today and introduced them to an excellent phrase: “Right” zoning. This is more accurate than “downzoning” which is a phrase commonly used to describe what happens when a local alderman or city decides to reduce the allowable density in a district.
The recent book on the history of Chicago zoning describes the “downzoning” of the lakefront communities of Gold Coast and Lincoln Park in the 1970s and 1980s, which often followed landmarking of the area. Real estate expert Jared Shlaes opposed the downzoning in a 1980 report, and the book now judges that Shlaes was probably on the wrong side of history. Continue Reading
Last night we had a panel on restoring Louis Sullivan buildings over at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, also sponsored by the Chicago History Museum and Graham Foundation. I was the moderator and our featured speakers were architects Gunny Harboe, who directed the restoration of the Carson, Pirie Scott & Co. cornice, and Mary Brush, who directed facade restoration at the Gage Building. Then to make everything wonderful, Tim Samuelson agreed to join us.
Tim is often said to know everything about Chicago and everything about Louis Sullivan. It would be impossible to disprove this.
We learned a lot about Sullivan’s ornament – how he played with figure and ground to eliminate those signifiers and make ornament one with the building. We learned about the challenges of replicating the incredibly detailed elements of the Carson’s cornice from a few bad photographs and a lot of comparable. We saw how his highrise ornament was designed to be seen from below (something the designers of the Parthenon’s Panathenaic procession knew, but has oft since been forgot) and we heard how Sullivan could think in three dimensions. I reminded everyone of how much of Sullivan’s architecture was lost over the last 40 years, which is really tragic. Continue Reading
I Don’t Believe You
Yesterday Chicago’s City Council – known primarily for outlawing multitasking (cell phones while driving, smoking while drinking, foie gras while dining) – passed a living wage ordinance for big-box stores by a veto-proof majority. There are political implications (they went against the Mayor, oh my!) and of course the Retailers Association and various big-box spokespersons predicted that the stores won’t locate in the city, depriving it of tax revenue, non-living-wage jobs, convenience, etc..
The next chapter in this story was suggested by another news item buried deeper in the paper. It seems that the Berwyn City Council has 17 offers for the re-use of the historic Berwyn Bank Building, a fact that allowed it to reject an offer from Applebee’s restaurant to rehab the building, spending $2.5 million. The Berwyn Development Corporation touted the emergence of developer interest caused by media attention and preservationist word of mouth. Continue Reading
In the last month I have read two articles both titled “Home Economics” and both might be said to be profiles of anti-landmarks persons. The first was in Chicago magazine and profiled a local lawyer who helped quash landmark designation in the Sheffield/De Paul neighborhood. Her argument was that designation would hurt property values and cause all sorts of expenses for homeowners.
The other “Home Economics” profile was of economist Ed Glaeser in the New York Times, and he said just the opposite.
On Thursday the Wall Street Journal published an article about the proliferation of local historic districts driven by residents’ desire to raise their property values. That counters our Chicago attorney-cum-economist, but it supports Glaeser. Continue Reading
Endangered by Poverty and Wealth
Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois released its 10 Most list last Wednesday in Springfield. That is, Ten Most Endangered Buildings in the state. The ones in Chicago are particularly evocative because of what they share: deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods. In the west side’s North Lawndale neighborhood, the “most endangered” was not a building but a bunch of buildings stretching along Douglas Boulevard, massive former synagogues and schools. The threat is basically the weight of poverty and disinvestment multiplied by years.
North Lawndale was featured in a 1987 Chicago Tribune series as the most impoverished neighborhood in the city. My wife Felicity Rich photographed the buildings for the AIA Guide to Chicago in 1992 because most of the photographers didn’t want to go there. Continue Reading
A Deal Falls Through
Strange things always happen in the People’s Republic of Oak Park, a tenacious, opinionated and privileged suburb just west of Chicago – the only suburb with two CTA rapid transit lines.
The other shoe has finally fallen in the Downtown Oak Park development saga, some of which is visible at www.oakpark.us.
Oak Park was embarrassed last year when they adopted a whack plan by Portland firm Crandall-Arambula. I happened to be one of the random telephone interviews during the summer of 2004, so I know how bad their methodology was. The questioner kept asking me to choose between historic preservation and economic development. DUH! Historic preservation IS economic development I tried to say, but their script did not allow this. 250 grand wasted. Continue Reading
The Expense of Preservation
Preservation is often characterized as expensive. Why? Because it is a good excuse, even for the richest.
One of the preservation tragedies we have been awaiting these last few years is the demolition of Bertrand Goldeberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a mighty and evocative design from the 1960s, the last era of optimism. A Quatrefoil in plan, it took the stem-and-petals constructional idiom of Goldberg’s signature Marina City and evolved a powerful flower of a building, four cylindrical lobes of beautiful 60s concrete studded with rounded windows – for a guy Goldberg was pretty good at channelling the lost feminine tradition in Modernism and he was certainly an intellectual leader in recapturing that tradition from the Miesian hegemony.
My student Dorothy Bobco wrote me a marvelous note the other day about “lazy money”. Here is a quote:
“I think I have figured out why people get so upset when they think their property values are going down. They are losing free money, lazy money. You can buy a house and do nothing and the value will probably go up. If anything happens that changes that, they lose money that they did not have to work for. That is what makes them mad, losing money they did not have to work for. It is laziness and greed that drives the real estate market. ” Continue Reading