Sunday, December 27, 2009

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Continental and Commercial. The Original

Its time to look at original views of the Continental and Commercial.  208 South LaSalle.  It's time for some fun.


Sally A. Kitt Chappell, on page 97 of her book "The Architecture and Planning of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White" quotes Andrew Rebori's description of the Continental and Commercial Bank from page 134 of his book "The Work of Burnham and Root".  I quote her here.

"A broad staircase once ascended to a lofty Banking Room, expressing the vaunted halls of a great financial institution. Enhanced by the abundant daylight that streamed through the barrel vault seventy-five feet overhead, the interior reflections were further intensified by the white marble mosaics on the floors, the shining brasses, and the lustrous columns that articulated the space..." I couldn't have said it better.

If we're going to try to learn about Architecture, we should learn it from someone who loves it. Both Chappell's and Rebori's work is highly recommended. The photo credits belong to Chappell. 

Peirce Anderson had been Daniel Burnham's lead designer for four years when he started the Continental and Commercial. Confident experimentation within the classic format is evident. Particularly the introduction of a directional facade and the delicate tracery of the high barrel-vaulted skylight.

As I learn more about each of Daniel Burnham's remaining Buildings in downtown Chicago I am reminded of our loss with the loss of each Burnham interior. These buildings were not boxes of offices packed onto a downtown lot. They were fully conceived Buildings that relate to the City around them. Public spaces. Interior Piazzas. Pedestrian Ways. Full of light.   Variation. Ornament.  Full of pride.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

PARIS. 1898

Who can explain how the mind wanders?

The Ecole.  Credit due Lindernaute

On this rainy Christmas Eve of 2009, somehow, I've been drawn to Paris. 1898. To the Quai Malaquais. To my right, the tip of Cite pierces the Seine. Ahead, the Louvre. To my left, the Tuileries. Behind me is the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

1898 was a remarkable year in Paris. For Chicago. But, it would have been impossible to know then. That Peirce Anderson, Ed Bennett and Henry Hering, three students at the Ecole, all in their twenties, would dominate their fields in Chicago for the next quarter of a Century. Anderson in Architecture. Bennett in Urban Planning. Hering in Sculpture. Hering, the youngest of the three, had already worked with Daniel Burnham at the Columbian Exposition. Anderson and Bennett had no higher hopes. Surely they listened with envy to his stories of Standford White. Charles Atwood. Augustus Saint Gaudens.

These would be memories shared by these three from Union Station, and the Field Museum to Wacker Drive and the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Vin rouge ordinaire. Gitaines. Breakfast Baguettes. Childe Hassam. Camille Pissaro's latest. Nouveau. And the Ecole itself. An undercurrent of shared experience that History doesn't describe. Christmas Eve at Notre Dame. And Chicago. Waiting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DANIEL BURNHAM. Continental and Commercial. George M. Reynolds

Men with names built early twentieth century Chicago. Characters with stories.

Following the Panic of 1907, George M. Reynolds, President of the American-Bankers' Association, stated "Conditions now existing give great assurance for a substantial business revival during the coming year" New York Times. January 10, 1909

"Banking conditions in Chicago are again normal" declared George Reynolds, President of the Continental and Commercial National Bank. "The Chicago Banks are perfectly sound and there are no weak spots." New York Times. June 23, 1914

"The Fort Dearborn National bank and the Fort Dearborn Trust and Savings Bank tonight were taken over by George M. Reynolds" ending a "crisis that had lasted several days....." New York Times. January 3, 1922

In discussing his new company (The Continental Chicago Corp.) Mr. George M. Reynolds issued a bullish bull to the effect that it would not have been considered "if we had not felt completely confident in the future." Time Magazine. September 23, 1929.

But despite change, panic and turbulence, George M. Reynolds established a banking empire that lasted until the 1994 takeover of the Contintental Bank. And, oh yes,  at 208 South Lasalle Street, George built this:

Daniel Burnham wasn't far from the money. In 1909 he was a director of the bank. Peirce Anderson,  Burnham's designer, started the project with Daniel and completed it with Graham Anderson Probst and White in 1914.

Speculation. Forced Mergers.  Excessive Construction.  Panic. Bank Failures.  This sounds very very familiar.....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO. Shepley Rutan and Coolidge, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Holabird & Root & Burgee, Shaw Metz Associates, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Hammond, Beeby and Babka, Renzo Piano

Today, I stopped in to see the Arts and Crafts "Apostles of Beauty," Exhibit at the AIC. Arts and Crafts has been a part of my design vocabulary for some time - and I was looking forward to seeing a few interesting pieces. A few interesting pieces and then some. This Exhibit placed the Arts and Crafts Movement in a context of time, philosphy, politics, world history, and local events. In a simple sweep it showed relationships between the Industrial Revolution, Japanese history, the Market Crash of 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Sullivan's Stock Exchange. (To name a few) And featured some of the most elegant design ever produced.This Show deserves all stars and all thumbs up for a spectacular collection presented globally, thoughtfully and still directed at its audience. All thumbs up and a special thanks to the Terra Foundation. (No photography allowed in the exhibit)


On the way out of the Exhibit I noticed,  for the first time, the remarkable similiarities between Hammond Beeby Babka's Rice Wing central space and Renzo Piano's Modern.  Similarities of size and location place them almost symmetrically balanced on either side of  their  access points  near McKinlock Court.  The main differences, it seems, are that Art is allowed in one space, but not in the other.  And that one has a bridge at both ends of its "organizing" space to avoid dead-ended traffic.  The other does not.  There are, of course, other variations.  To be discussed in future posts.


DANIEL BURNHAM. The Continental and Commercial. Lions

Dwarfed by the buildings that surround it, gutted, damaged, dated, out-dated -- I do not know how it is possible -- that even today, standing on LaSalle Street in front of 208 -- you know you are somewhere very important.

The first clue might be the lions....


Monday, December 14, 2009

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Edison Building. Revelation

I need to finish the sequence of posts about Daniel Burnham's Edison Building. But I'll confess to a little writer's block.

So, on this gray monday I stopped into the Art Institute for warmth and brightness. I wasn't disappointed. A cluster of excited school children stood in front of Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus. A docent explained Caravaggio's kitchen table Revelation. And his revolutionary technique of painting tableaux vivants directly from life. The Gallery was perfectly lit and without distraction. Except for the adjacent Manfredi depicting Mars punishment of a blindfolded Cupid (whose perfectly rendered, about-to-be-whipped bum was the epicenter of the un-settling composition). The Children moved out and on, followed by three bespectacled Germans. Tourists. Women in their eighties. Caravaggio cognoscenti it would seem, if judged by the nods and murmurs. The shocking contrast of Cupid's bum and Christ's reappearance on Earth was clearly not lost on them.

For a moment, I was left alone in the room, clearly aware that I was in the presence of two silent masterpieces. Revolutionary. Diametrically opposed. Brilliant. Hanging side by side. It was a moment you would pray for, if you prayed. But only comes accidentally. Unexpectedly. Caravaggio's and Manfredi's gift spanning 400 years. I left the Museum through the modern wing. Exited to the solitude of the Nichols Bridge and the Park in the rain. I always have the notion, floating over Monroe Street, suspended, carpet-like, that someone thought it necessary to crush some philosophy or some movement or another with the sheer size and correctness of their modernisme. And indeed they did. Howard Van Doren Shaw's modesty will forever be forgotten. With his understanding that a statement of neither mass nor form, can be the statement of most value.

But excuse the digression. I'm back to the Edison Building. Where I find that I may have the post I was looking for. Daniel Burnham is dead. Not as long dead as Manfredi or Caravaggio, but dead just the same. So is Mies, for that matter. But each has left a record whose value is that it might speak to us from another time. Another place or circumstance. Teach us something new. Fresh. Something we may have forgotten. I like the Edison Building. Like it without logic or just-ification. But the reason for its importance is that it stands among others. Who are loved equally well. And, also beyond reason.

I would hope to find, some years from now, that the Edison Building's base/plinth has been entirely restored, its masonry maintained, and its cornice replaced to match in care and quality the adjacent work at the Marquette Building. And the facade renovations, across the street, at the Federal Center. And that these, together, might stand - for at least another lifetime - in their perfect opposition. Cupid's bum on the Left. Revelation on the Right.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Edison Building. The Pride of Lions

This is the day that I've decided to start the book "Peirce Anderson in Chicago." Anderson was Burnham's lead designer after 1908, and the design partner at Graham Anderson Probst and White until his death. The idea has been churning for some time, but strangely enough, or proudly, it is the comparison of these three lions that has posed the questions that need to be answered. From Marshall Field and Company (1902) through the Illinois Merchant's Bank (1924) changes, methodical and small brought Peirce Anderson to his position as one Chicago's most influential 20th Century Architects.

Piano Nobile. Agora. Two windows per bay. Three windows per bay. Horizontal window emphasis. Vertical. Ornate stone. Smoothe. Solid Cornice. Balustrade. Each explored and analyzed. All attempted. And shown below: the Lions. At the Edison Building the ring is suspended from an open mouth. At People's Gas the ring is tightly clenched. At the Continental and Commercial National Bank, there is no lion's ring. These are not accidents.

The progression shows the same care as a Mies corner, modified almost imperceptibly from the Federal Center to the IBM Building. Just in a different, more distant language. One we may no longer understand. 


Sunday, December 6, 2009

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Edison Building. Pilasters

I know that Ron Huberman and the Board of Education are up to their elbows in alligators. But it wouldn't be too much to ask them to start planning a careful masonry restoration program on this very important Daniel Burnham Building. It could take a couple of years just to establish the scope of work and  a hoped-for budget.   And by then the Board just might be back "in the black."   ......and so might we all.

These pilasters spring from a line in the sky formed by cornices and lintels that band the top and bottom of the 16th floor. Additional mass is introduced at this level by dropping from 3 windows per bay to two. (That Lions Face gets the additional space.) The dark green curtain wall is pulled back from the building line for depth and shadow. It also gives contrast to the (once) white pilasters. 

Nicely done.

With this post I've proven my over-active imagination. Samuel Insull couldn't have wandered the 21st floor of THIS building. Technology and a zoning code that believed the sunlight was the right of every property owner held the Edison Building to just nineteen stories.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Edison Building ....In the Loggia

The history of Chicago buildings is usually quite clear. And although occupancy and construction dates can vary from source to source, generally, the story isn't too far beneath the surface. The Edison Building, however, seems to have some history. Originally constructed as the Commercial National Bank, it soon thereafter became the Edison Building. It is now occupied by the Chicago Board of Education. This building has ghosts hidden in its extensive remodellings. I imagine Samuel Insull wandering the 21st floor, whistling Puccini and plotting.... And while I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, spot-on, on-message, stick-to-the-facts-please, no monkey-business Architect, I'll be heading to Graceland soon to see Mr. Insull's grave. ....and Peirce Anderson, who appears to have had a major role in the "Edison's" design.

SAMUEL INSULL  President, Chicago Edison

But today, we consider the Edison Building's loggia. This design may have been a prototype for Burnham's Oliver Building ca 1910 in Pittsburgh (See Kristen Schaffer's "Daniel Burnham, Visionary and Planner" p154.) The loggia is consists of a cornice, arched supports, pilasters, a transitioning base, and a turn-of- the century curtainwall. Below are detailed views of the arches. (Much of the Cornice has been removed).

Buildings that have been "intensely" designed, (the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, for example) show dimples, dirt, moisture, and bird droppings more easily than less considered structures. The Edison Building suffers this same fate. The facade is in need of restoration. Even Photoshop can't hide the deferred maintenance.