Monday, March 30, 2009

UNION STATION. Another Question of Scale

Sometime during the history of Union Station, Peirce Anderson's hand drawn letters placed carefully in ink on linen were forgotten. In typical modesty, he had labeled the architectural drawing for this astonishing space "Main Waiting Room." Today it has become THE GREAT HALL.

THE GREAT HALL! How big should a public space be? Another story higher? Ten feet longer? More? How is this decision made? Pre-Great War Architects measured their work in terms of the Ancients. Columns rivalled only by the Temple of Karnak. Or in the case of City Hall.....only by St. Peter's in Rome. Consider the accomplishment of this Architect and this Client. That ninety years later, in an era of "supertalls" and high speed rail, this space, still, has the capability to "astonish." I hate to leave. But Peirce Anderson's Field Museum, with a very good story of its own, is just up the street. With one last look at the Waiting Room, note Henry Hering's allegorical figures of Day and Night flanking the Ticket Agent's Concourse. Details of these will be displayed at And if you know anything about the Jenney sculptures, let me know.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

UNION STATION.Waiting Room Access

The Waiting Room at Union Station is designed and scaled to be "Entrance" to the City of Chicago. Even someone arriving from New York would know that they had arrived. Someone from Monon, Indiana, arriving on the "Tippecanoe" would certainly know that they had arrived. There is no lack of documented railroad history and nostalgia. Take a look at For downstate Hoosiers this will bring back memories Its hard not to think of the "Untouchables" when seeing the staircase below. But, I forget, this is an architecture blog... The most remakarble thing about Union Station is the planning, allowing multi-level access, for passengers and luggage, and its use of symmetry as an organizing tool. Below, the photo is from the north Canal Street entrance, looking down and across the Waiting Room to what was the women's private waiting area.
Above:The Untouchables Stair
Above: View from the Jackson Boulevard entrance to the Waiting Room
Below: View from the Waiting Room to the Jackson Boulevard entrance

Below: The barrel vaulted Concourse access.
The Architect of Chicago's Union Station, Peirce Anderson of Graham, Anderson, Probst and & White, (with a sculptural assist from Chicagoan Lorado Taft) designed Union Station in Washington DC. Taft is already famous in his own right for his work in Chicago (Fountain of the Great Lakes) and Champaign. See Anderson went on to work with Sculptor Henry Hering at the Field Museum, whose allegorical figures of Day and Night will take center stage in our next post.
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Saturday, March 21, 2009


A remarkable building is easy to photograph. These images almost "took themselves." My only regret about the building (other than deferred maintenance) is that it doesn't have the height it deserves. But maybe there is a future. (See the mar/apr issue of Chicago Architect, page.27).
Above: The coffered ceiling of the East Colonnade
Below: The West Facade
Below: Sidewalk view at the West Facade
I was in the first class to graduate from the University of Cincinnati that did not have to render Ionic, Doric and Corinthian column capitals in watercolor wash - something I now consider my loss. We were taught, however, that every good piece of architecture considered Balance, Rhythm, Unity, Mass, Proportion and Scale. And regardless of style or vocabulary, I believe those considerations can contribute to good architecture. And that some components of Peirce Anderson's solution for Union Station's facade are very good architecture, indeed.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Chicago winters are long. And so, when the temperature hits 70 degrees in March, all bets are off. Plans are thrown to the wind. Even the ones that aren't so small. And architecture takes a back seat to the weather. A light breeze touched the night. People spoke, slowly. The stars were never brighter.

We'll get back to Union Station. Tomorrow. But tonight, its all about the London Guarantee.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


The concourse has been destroyed. The baggage and cab tunnels have been barracaded. The women's waiting room is closed. And the lunch room. Symmetrical axes are broken. Ticket desks relocated. Below are the small and altered remains of the train sheds.

And, still, the Waiting Room soars. Above is the skylight at dusk. The "Tippecanoe" is boarding at Gate 5.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Next Stop. Union Station

In 1901, as construction proceeded on Marshall Field & Company at State and Randolph, Louis Sullivan wrote "It seems that not so long ago, in fact I might say quite recently, a group of ancient Romans by some miracle of cadaverous introspection became resurect and incarnate as of yore in the very proper form itself." (From Kindergarten Chats, available from Dover Press. Universally and highly recommended). Our beloved Sullivan found himself suffocating in the Glory of Rome. (See Post dated February 27. MARSHALL FIELD.Columns!)

It seems that Chicago has two hearts. One that holds close the traditions and philosophy of the Chicago School of Architecture and another that allows Classicism a very special place in the City. Icons of downtown Chicago are the Field Museum and its axis on Lake Shore Drive; the foot of LaSalle Street where identical Roman Temples flank the Board of Trade Building, Union Station, the Strauss Building, the great Michigan Avenue Wall, and Marshall Field and Co. The White City still stirs imagination. And yet, what loss is more regretted than Sullivan's Stock Exchange?

My next several posts will be Observations on Chicago's UNION STATION. My only regret is that it is only half there. Like Sullivan, Anderson's architecture has seen the effect of time. I intend, when my work at the Station is complete, to walk across the Loop, sit on the veranda of the Auditorium, ponder how Gehry affects Burnham, if Mestrovic's Indians are friend or foe, and if the Bridge, over there, on the other side of the Art Institute will find itself a graceful end.

Even an Architect needs a sense of humor.

Friday, March 6, 2009

MARSHALL FIELD. Louis Comfort Tiffany

Observation brings conjecture.

Walking from the 13 story atrium to the Tiffany Dome along the grand arcade of Marshall Field & Company on State Street, I feel as though I have passed from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. The atrium near Randolph Street is a void, with a clear expression of slab and column (albeit the columns are ionic) and open to the sky. I am reminded of photos of nineteenth century buildings - solid on the outside with a tracery of structure and skylight on the interior. (The Rookery, also from Burnham's office is similar in concept.) The Tiffany space, on the other hand, becomes space defined by surfaces, more finely detailed, and reminiscent of the Great Rooms to be seen later in early twentieth century banks, museums and railroad stations.

Regardless of time or conjecture it takes only a couple of minutes, looking straight up to the Vault, to fully understand "FAVRILE." Six thousand square feet and one million, six hundred thoousand pieces of glass mosaic.

Monday, March 2, 2009


The phased construction undertaken by Marshall Field & Company between 1902 and 1907 was both enormous and consistent. The State Street Facade and the grand first floor Arcade are almost seamless. Two large, stacked interior spaces, built in 1907, The Walnut Room and a 6 story space topped with a Tiffany favrile mosaic, perfectly balance the 13 story skylit atrium near Randolph Street built in 1902. Who can say which space is most loved? Below is the Walnut Room, whose Circassian paneling and Austrian chandeliers overcome extensive modifications through the years - including ductwork for an unforeseen invention - air conditioning.

Above: A view of the Walnut Room from the 8th floor.

Below: A view to the Walnut Room fountain. This space was "practice" for Peirce Anderson, who went on to give us more fine public spaces. The Field Museum and Union Station are among many to his credit.

How does architecture become an icon?