Friday, October 30, 2009

PEOPLES GAS. A Personal Context

A Building can be viewed in Historic Context and Perspective. In terms of Symbolism. Or Current Condition. Technology. Style. Detail. Mass. Scale. Proportion. Or Client Aspirations.

But as important as all of these is the Context of the Architect.

In 1908 Daniel Burnham re-organized his firm. And Designer Peirce Anderson came out on top. After years of collaboration or compromise design decisions after 1908 were largely assigned to Anderson. People's Gas "belonged to him." This must have been a period of great optimism for Anderson. His contributions to D. H. Burnham and Company were substantial.

1905 The Plan of Manila
1907 Union Station. Washington DC
1909 Wanamaker's Department Store. Philadelphia
1910 People's Gas Light and Coke. Chicago
1911 The Insurance Exchange. Chicago
1912 80 Maiden Lane. New York

And another career awaited with Graham Anderson Probst and White. .... delayed only shortly by The Great War.

Credits are due to Sally A. Kitt Chappell's "Architecture and Planning of Graham Anderson Probst and White"page 173: it is a rare and highly recommended biography of Anderson.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ON VACATION. Thru 10.23

At Batchawana Bay. Boarding the Cottage for the Winter. How can this be?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CHICAGO. Architecture in the Loop

Today's CHICAGO.Architecture in the Loop Post, I decided, really belongs to CHICAGO.Sculpture in the Loop, where it has been posted.

There is mention, there, of Daniel Burnham, Peirce Anderson, Ernest Graham, Larry Perkins and Carter Manny. These Architects have their legacies, with many others. And those of us working in Chicago have inherited their traditions, no matter how distant they may seem or even how little we recognize their contributions.

Working with this Blog I have searched other Cities and watched their Blog communities. Not one, not even New York (not even) compares with what is happening, even now, in Chicago. Not only what we have in scope, but what we also have in teamwork. Chicago Architecture and Cityscape kindly recommended this Blog in a recent post. And now its my turn to return the favor -- Chicago Architecture and Cityscape is a must-see ---and don't just stop with the recent posts. This Blog is a years long commitment, extremely broad in range and scope, to Chicago's important Architectural Landmarks and a remarkable resource to us all.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Chicago in 1910 was still a largely Nineteenth Century City. Charles Ives Cobb's Federal Center, completed in 1905, stood in the heart of the City. Up the street, Burnham and Root's Great Northern Hotel, built in 1892 still stood at Dearborn and Jackson. And on Michigan Avenue, Holabird and Roche's University Club had just been completed.

The People's Gas Light and Coke Building was clearly something new. Different. A change of scale, proportion, and mass, foreshadowing even larger changes to come.
For more remarkable photographs of Chicago, visit the highly recommended Daily News Collection of Photographs at the Chicago History Museum. Credits for images above as follows: The Federal Center: Wikepedia. The University Club: Wikepedia. And Peoples Gas: Chicago PC Info (Don't miss this site!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


The Lion has come to symbolize Power, Dignity, Strength and Will ---- King of the Jungle.

Looks like the People's Gas Light and Coke Company was making a point.
Those Lions would have been originally sheltered by the huge cornice which has long since been removed. Take another look at Pat Sabin's post card image. You can see them posed in their original compostion.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

PEOPLE'S GAS. In Defense of Detail

It is true that much of the Detail on the facade of the People's Gas Building is not clearly visible from the street. And that only the broadest sense of design is perceived from a speeding taxi. But when viewed from an adjacent building, the detail is not only clear, it is remarkable. And when viewed from a distance, the logic of composition is also clear. And from that taxi -- it is a memorable blur of columns and light.

Daniel Burnham, and his designer, Peirce Anderson, understood the subtle nuances of scale. A building, (or a masterplan, for that matter) is perceived at a variety of speeds and distances, at a variety of times and during any number of recurrences. And while heavy massing at People's corners may seem without logic while standing adjacent, their statement of stability won't be missed from Grant Park. The delicate and intricate patterns carved into each stone are for the benefit of the neighbors. Not for us down below. Those missing eagles - would have been seen from inside and out. And perhaps noticed only the second or third visit. The list is almost endless. Some examples are shown below.

It is the lack of detail - any detail - that is my singlemost criticism of most architecture that follows WWII. A building's entire statement is most often a single gesture, understood at first glance. Leaving nothing left to give. Nothing left to learn.

People's Gas, on the other hand, has much to give. And whether it is a gift that is theoretically appreciated or opposed -- or simply considered precious antique -- it is a piece of architecture that speaks directly from turn-of-the-century Chicago and directly from the man who shaped much of what we are, and how we see ourselves.

Well worth a second look, I would say.

Friday, October 2, 2009

PEOPLE'S GAS. Maximized Gross Leaseable Area

"Retail" in the Eighties was HOT.. And the name of the game was maximizing Gross Leaseable Area. (GLA to the insiders). Strip Centers sprouted in the Suburbs. And Lobbies, across the Loop were converted to "Retail Use." Even the first floor of the (then) venerable Continental Bank was "mall-ized." Bay windows (like People's) were added and "punched out" between columns. Space that didn't return cash was "wasted."

There was just one problem. We retail architects knew, even in the 80's, that Retail Architecture was not real Architecture. And with the perfect hindsight of 20 years later, we can see that even some of our best attempts ended in caricature.

Look at the diminished Heart of Peoples' Gas. Elegant wood, nicely detailed storefronts. Considered patterns of terrazzo. Reuse of Peirce Anderson's light fixtures. Columns that recall the original. And a fairly accurate echo of the original skylight -- lowered to the scale of the newly down-sized "court.". And to satisfy "retail users" a forty- five degree angle clip to maximize frontage.


The result, however, is a cartoon of the original. A suburban mall. A Disney recreation at three quarter scale. With the final irony being that the destruction of the original interior space, the carefully rendered Heart of the People's Gas Building, has ended in empty storefronts and wasted space. And the conceptual denigration of the entire building.


Only hints remain of Peirce Anderson's original (below).



Credits are due to author Kristen Schaffer and photographer Paul Rocheleau for the excellent resource "Daniel H. Burnham, Visionary Architect and Planner. It is highly recommended.