Urban Renewal

April 7, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts, Vision and Style Comments Off on Urban Renewal 835

Felicity is in the Urban Renewal show opening tonight (Aprill 6) at the Southside Community Arts Center. The building is a Chicago Landmark, its 1890s exterior by L. Gustav Hallberg, who did a number of tony Victorian mansions, and the interior is by a pair of New Bauhaus grads who gave it the streamlined white wall treatment when it became a community arts center in 1940. It is the only community arts center still in existence in the nation, and it has trained and exhibited generations of African-American artists.

Felicity’s piece is “Spin” and it is a ceramic structure with facades that differ and perhaps suggest various forms of urban renewal over time. There are vines or plants on some side and actual grass on top. Is it broken or not? Is it modern or traditional? Continue Reading

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McMansion World

March 21, 2007 Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on McMansion World 923

Morning news: McDonalds is suing the Oxford English Dictionary over the word “McJobs,” describing low-paying menial jobs without hope of advancement. This made me wonder if the golden arch attorneys would be heading after “McMansions” next.

McMansions are what follows the teardown. They are franchised, mass-produced homes that are “mansions” in size and price only. They are McMansions because, design-wise, they are collections of signifiers, generally assembled artlessly, like the eponymous sandwiches. Palladian windows. Curving front staircases. Quoined corners. Big flat warpy windows with fake muntins that look like scotch tape because people read “divided lights” as “classy”. Balustrades, columns and pediments, the bacon, lettuce and cheese of Classical style (heavy on the cheese). They also tend to be SUPER-SIZED. Entrances tend toward the subtlety of a streetwalker, with similar effect. Like the burgers, they have all the outward signs of taste but the inside is nothing but architectural trans-fats: pressboard and PVC. Continue Reading

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Park Ridge: a Fistful of Dollars

March 8, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1007

Park Ridge, a suburb northwest of Chicago is careening into mediocrity thanks to teardowns that are turning a once-elegant neighborhood into a fast-buck boomtown, a Wild West municipality.

They tore down a Barry Byrne house Monday because contractors (several of them) told them they could get a new house for the same price as rehabbing and adding on to the old house. That is true, if the contractors lack skill. Continue Reading

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Oak Park settles down a bit

February 9, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1030

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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Lying Liars in Oak Park

January 29, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on Lying Liars in Oak Park 942

Next week – February 9 – a business group is hosting a breakfast about preservation and development in Oak Park. They are doing their level best to prove Santayana right – namely – forget history and be condemned to repeat it.

2004: Crandall Arambula do a downtown plan for Oak Park that calls for widespread demolition. People are mad.

Spring 2005: The ruling party is voted out of office for the first time in 50 years. Because of the bad plan. Westgate (a street in downtown Oak Park) makes Landmarks Illinois’ Most Endangered List.

Fall 2005: A broad community group redoes the plan for downtown Oak Park and their “consensus plan” recommends demolition of the Colt Building (see the picture) in order to save the other buildings on Westgate. Continue Reading

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“Right” Zoning

October 16, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on “Right” Zoning 908

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

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Behind The Scenes

October 12, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 942

They are pounding huge caissons into the sidewalk (?) just outside our building as they continue work on The Legacy – a 70-plus story tower they are building next door to our building. I’m trying to suss the structural reason for caissons out there – maybe to transfer loads since they are saving the facades of three landmark district buildings. I was chatting with Mark Igleski about the facades, since his firm is working on them, and he noted that even though the facades date from 1870s – 1970s, the buildings behind are ALL 1870s.

You don’t get buildings older than 1872 in downtown Chicago because it all burned down in 1871. They often have cast iron structural columns, the predecessors to the famous Chicago School steel frame skyscraper of the 1880s. Continue Reading

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River Forest

July 14, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts Comments (0) 899

I guess River Forest hasn’t had enough teardowns yet because the Trustees are pretty uncomfortable with the idea of a preservation ordinance. The proposed ordinance is the typical weenie milquetoast kind that places like Kenilworth or River Forest propose. While it allows designation of landmarks, it requires owner consent, which sort of defeats the purpose. The owners who would consent are not the ones causing the trouble.

What River Forest leaders fear is the idea of a preservation ordinance, not the reality of one. Reality is much more everyday, like the familiar experiences of thousands of communities that have had such ordinances for decades.

You also hear a lot about private property rights. This is an idea too, with no foothold in reality. It is a Karl Rove issue: sounds good; seems important; has absolutely no impact on your daily life. Continue Reading

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Jane Jacobs Dead

April 27, 2006 Historic Districts, History, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1053

Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities whupped the ass of the architectural and planning establishment, has died. Jacobs wrote until the end of her life, just a week before her 90th birthday, but that first book was the barn-burner. “A city cannot be a work of art.” She said, and italicized it to make sure we got the point. The city is organic, said Jacobs. You can’t plan it.

Jacobs emerged as a community activist who took down (an already wounded) Robert Moses and launched the concept that neighbors had a right to say how their neighborhood looked and what should go in it. A fifty-year history of urban planning as an elite, expert enterprise ended on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village when Jacobs systematically disemboweled the “Radiant Garden City” of Howard, Burnham, LeCorbusier and Moses.

A housewife and mother who pulled apart the metalogic of urban planning. She wasn’t just against urban renewal – she understood it better than its proponents. My favorite part of Death and Life –which I assigned in my seminar this semester – is near the end when she exposes the pseudo-science of urban planning. Twenty years earlier Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture had trumpeted modern architecture and planning as an expression of the new Einsteinian understanding of space and time. Jacobs exposed this as a rank falsehood. Continue Reading

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Home Economics

March 20, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts Comments Off on Home Economics 1076

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

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