Planning for Preservation?
Demolition of 600 block of North Michigan Avenue, 1995
This fall for the 17th time I will teach a course called Preservation Planning. This course deals with the intersection of a host of urban planning issues: surveys, politics, law, economics, public relations, etc.; and the preservation of historic buildings. It is not about planning a preservation project, and there is also a contradiction in the title, because in a very real sense, you CAN’T plan preservation.
In my 28-plus years in the field I have been through many organizational spasms that attempt to inject regularity and predictability into the task of saving buildings and then repurposing them for the future. Invariably we say “we have to stop spending all of our time putting out brush fires,” which means that we are always REACTING to crises. We get tired of being reactive. This is a normal impulse – we want to be able to work proactively and we want to be able to plan and allocate our work more efficiently.
They demolished the Berwyn Spindle but they might re-erect it because they saved the two top cars, which makes me wonder which cars they will choose – this was a spindle of 1970s cars, after all, which still had elegant lines, unlike the box-cars of the 1980s, and I can’t imagine the Beetle and the T-Bird topping out a short stack of c. 1999 Escorts and Corollas or even nasty Buicks. I suppose it is like a totem pole, in which case it should span time, but I think the original effect of this spike of cars in a parking lot was to suggest that your car could belong there as well and if all of the spindled vehicles are out of date the piece means something else entirely….
This is the last week for the “Squandered” show at CAF and I am in it but it is still worth seeing and there have been a great series of events along with it, the most recent being Daniel Bluestone’s lecture last Wednesday, which summarized all of his interesting research into the history of preservation in Chicago and the idea of an “aesthetics of eclipse” provided by layers of history in the landscape. I guess that is why I wonder so hard what kind of cars they will put on the new Spindle, since its original criticality depending on the abnegation of such an aesthetics of eclipse but with a Beetle on top how can you do that? Continue Reading
Do We Dare Squander?
Our alumna Kate Keleman deserves congratulations for her curation of the excellent new exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Architectural Heritage? That seemingly unwieldy title was hand-written on a protest sign carried by Richard Nickel during the 1961 attempt to save Louis Sullivan’s Garrick Theater. Kate worked under Greg Dreicer at CAF who has made quite a splash in Chicago, and the graphic/physical design of the exhibit is really quite good.
Now, I am biased because I am in the show – one of many individuals quoted and pictured in conjunction with key preservation efforts, ranging from the 1920s effort to save the Palace of Fine Arts (Museum of Science and Industry), to more recent projects such as the Monadnock Building and Hilliard Center. Community efforts in places like the Gap and Old Town, as well as the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor (that’s how come I’m there) stress the important role of grass roots organizing efforts in preservation – which is the subject of a discussion I will moderate in conjunction with the exhibit on April 17 in the evening. The great Richard Nickel is included, as is Preservation Chicago and the recent effort to landmark Roberts Temple, Emmett Till’s church on the South Side. Continue Reading