Olympics in Chicago 2016

September 30, 2009 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 1111

It is potentially foolhardy to predict the future, even on the Orwellian internet that allows you to rewrite history as fast as you can type, but the fact of the matter is it is September 30 and Chicago has not been awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics but the POTUS is going to shill for the city at the IOC meeting in Copenhagen so I think we are the team to beat.

Some of my friends are totally against this, for reasons ranging from the obvious public cost and funding issues to the landmarks issues, which include permanent alteration of the most intact Frederick Law Olmsted landscape in Chicago – Washington Park – to demolition of a bunch of Walter Gropius buildings for the Olympic Village. Those issues are still there and they are not finalized, although the city is proceeding with the demolition for the Olympic Village with typical clumsiness, most recently half-demolishing the Laundry Building with a comically clumsy asbestos-abatement that involves a lot of plastic wrap blowing in the wind. Hmmm. Seems to defeat the purpose. Continue Reading

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A Better Plan

August 18, 2009 Blog, Chicago Buildings, History, Vision and Style Comments (2) 1381

One of the things that has made Landmarks Illinois an effective preservation organization has been its ability to transcend the primal impulse of many preservationists – the “Just Say No” response – and provide a more intelligent way to proceed. When a developer/institution/politician/agency says “This is what we want to do” the preservationist in all of us just wants to shout “no!”. But that is neither effective nor even a complete response. Much, much better to say: here is the better plan that achieves your goals and saves historic buildings.

This is what Landmarks Illinois did this week with their new plan for the 2016 Olympic Village on Chicago’s lakefront – they picked the best Gropius buildings – not all of them – and came up with a more intelligent and sustainable plan – you can see it at www.landmarks.org or click at the link on the right. Continue Reading

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Longworth’s Caught In The Middle

August 12, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments (1) 1514

Royce Yeater, Director of the Midwest Office of the National Trust, lent me Richard Longworth’s 2008 book Caught In The Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. It is a compelling read, thanks both to Longworth’s skill (I saved and filed every one of his 2002 Chicago Tribune articles on Europe) as writer and researcher, and also because of what it portends for the future in terms of regionalism, planning, and the survival of place.

Royce warned me that it was depressing, and indeed the book clearly states that many Midwestern towns, cities and places created during the 19th century for an industrial/agricultural economy will not survive into the future. He describes many places that are already emptying out – in the age of globalism there are global cities and there are places that don’t matter so much. Chicago is lucky – it is the global city in the Midwest and it has already adjusted to the new economy, but cities like Cleveland and Detroit are half their historic size and shrinking. Smaller cities dependent on certain industries, like the auto industry swath that stretched from Flint down into Akron are in similar straits, and the era of the megafarm has made hundreds of rural agricultural towns redundant. Continue Reading

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2016: Chicago Plan or Chicago Way?

August 7, 2009 Chicago Buildings Comments (1) 1452

On the front page of the Chicago Tribune today is an article about a Chicago Olympic committee member who is also a real estate developer and how the Olympics will help him develop numerous parcels near Douglas Park, an Olympic venue site. On page 11 is an article about the city’s landmark commission voting against landmark status for the Michael Reese hospital complex, site of eight buildings by Walter Gropius and site of the proposed Olympic Village, which the city will deliver to another developer after spending about $100 million on acquisition and demolition. Continue Reading

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Gropius in Chicago

March 16, 2009 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 1298

Grahm Balkany, a student at IIT, the school designed by the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, has uncovered a surprising amount of evidence that Mies’ fellow modernist Walter Gropius had a hand in as many as 8 of the buildings at Michael Reese Hospital, the venue for the planned Olympic Village 2016. While the 2016 committee has always said they would save the main building, by local hospital heavyweights and sometime Prairie specialists Schmidt, Garden and Martin, the Gropius buildings are a big question mark at best. I saw Balkany’s presentation and it was very impressive – Gropius’ name appears on drawings as well as that of his firm and local planning director Reginald Isaacs. And as Balkany told the Landmarks Illinois’ Issues Committee, once you start looking at the buildings…. Continue Reading

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