Tuesday, January 26, 2010

LOUIS SULLIVAN.Schlesinger and Mayer. Ornament

This is Louis Sullivan's architectural ornament (wonderfully restored) that "set the bar" for architectural ornament in Chicago. For all time. And despite Peirce Anderson and Frederick Dinkelberg's good intentions at the Conway --- they never came close.     

Even in this afternoon's brutal cold, State Street looked awfully good. Carson's, The Palmer House, The Mentor, The Stevens Building lined up and ready to go for another fifty years. I couldn't resist the distraction.

I'll be taking a few days off --- then back with several more posts on the Conway.


Monday, January 25, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Conway. Turning the Corner

A corner. (This I understand).

A rounded corner. (Okay)
A rounded corner with a bottom, a middle, and a top. (Still, an easy read)
A rounded corner with a bottom, a transition, a middle, a transition, a top, a transition, a cornice. (Hmm)
A rounded corner with a bottom, a transition, a middle divided into four discreet patterns, a transition, a cornice, a balustrade. a balustrade cap. (You're losing me)
A rounded corner with a bottom, a transition, a middle divided into four discreet patterns, a transition, a cornice, a balustrade. a balustrade cap, differentiated from three other corners on the building. (Another language, they're speaking, it seems)
A rounded corner with a bottom, a transition, a middle divided into four discreet patterns, a transition, a cornice, a balustrade. a balustrade cap, differentiated from three other corners on the building, requiring 14 major plan/detail, section/detail, elevation/detail component drawings in their typical condition, 14 more at typical corners and 14 more at the primary corner. Another piece of linen for the Clark/Washington ornament including: the upper and mid shields (Mr. Field suggested the Y), the ionic column caps (I have an idea for that), and the victory swag detail. I will personally design the Interior Piazza and ornament -- to go toe to toe with (that bastard drunk) Sullivan. Mr. Dinkleberg, you will do the exterior geometries. I have a watercolor of Genevieve for Northwest Terra Cotta. Have them bring me a grotesque. We'll also need four lions, ring in mouth, draw dropped. Daniel has re-sketched the elevator locations....... Tell the boy we'll be needing ink.

Our minds no longer work this way. We are not the same men and women who lived and worked in 1913. Electricity, automobiles, telephones were new to them. They read Frost for the first time. And cherished their Thomas Bailey  Aldrich. Imagined airplanes. Mourned the Titanic. Had heard of Radio. We should not be surprised that we don't understand.

Neither should we question that they speak.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Conway Building

The first clue would be the Y. The junction of the North Branch, the South, and the final flow of the Chicago River to (uh) from Lake Michigan. Another would be the Lion, just in shadow. The Fleur de Lis. And Sainte Genevieve, the Patron Sainte of Paris.
It could be no place else but Chicago. Late tens or early teens. Paris on the Lake. With the ink barely dry on Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago.

This is the Conway Building, 111 West Washington Street, named for its Developer's home town, Conway, Massachusetts. Designed by D.H.Burnham and Company's Frederick Dinkelberg (with flourishes by its lead designer, Peirce Anderson) (Paris Ecole Peirce) for Marshall Field, this building has all the components of Daniel Burnham's very successful skyscrapers, including thoughtful planning, originality and some Beaux Arts experimentation.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

CHICAGO and the Alcazar

My education in Art and Architecture very much follows the norm. I've been taught artists, time periods and styles. Classic. Roman. Romanesque. Ottonian. Carolingian, etc. etc. etc. I can name architectural styles and substyles and their proponents. Particularly in the 19th and 20th Centuries. And I must say I like them all. Some more than others. Each represents an intellectual experience. A sense of purity.

But my "gut" reaction comes from someplace else.

From the unexpected flash of color in a late Courbet: the one that hints of impressionism. From a sense of movement and the absolute certainty, that column by ornate column, Durham Cathedral is lifting itself from the Romanesque to Gothic. The perfect unity of Norman, Byzantine and Arab at Palermo's Monreale. Siracusa's Temple of Athena. The Alhambra. Seville's Alcazar.

It strikes closer to home, too. William LeBaron Jenney's steel frame skyscrapers covered with cherubs or grotesques. Martin Roche's, undeniably successful combination of technology and art at the Marquette. (See previous post.) John Root's melding of a Romanesque fortress (albeit Richardsonian) with the Crystal Palace at the Rookery. Peirce Anderson's Beaux Arts vocabulary applied to 20th Century building types. That vague sense that Louis Sullivan knew the ornate patterns of the Madressa e Madar e Shah at Isphahan. Hugh Garden at the Madlener House. Holabird and Root at the Palmolive. More.

Exciting stuff. Undefineable stew. Transition. Change.

But even the most revolutionary change can only be defined by a status quo. The current is defined by the traditional. We need each one, each other to exist. Opinions that seem opposed (My moment of change/ Yours of clear style.) only differ in their time and location in the continuum of living and art. Not in their basic substance. This allows me to speak out for the preservation of the Test Cell. You, Michael Reese. Another, for the restoration of People's Gas and Com Ed-- with the hope that we might be a dependable, unified crew. A force to be reckoned. It would allow, too, an uncommon pride in the City of Chicago. Home of the Skyscraper and the Columbian Exposition.. The City that produced both the Pritzker and the Driehaus Prizes for Architecture.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

HOLABIRD AND ROCHE 1894. The Marquette Building.The MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation has just announced a new website highlighting the architecture and history of the Marquette Building. It is a very good site. Very good.  Link here. But when you're done, come back to take a look at a few of the Marquette's  elegant details (below).

No hint of compromise.  Holabird and Roche were masters of their Art. Even more remarkable, more than a hundred years later, the MacArthur Foundation understands that Art and has shown a long term commitment to preserve it. This is real Chicago School.  Cornice included.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. Rhonda Fleming. Arthur Rosenbloom. Lucien LaGrange. 208 South LaSalle

When we speak to one another, the words we use have specific personal meanings. They incorporate personal experiences in their broader definitions. It is in the shared experience of words that we are allowed to communicate richly, completely. On the same page. We know together that red is not just a color. It is a Christmas color. A Valentine heart.


In the summer of 1964 I was a plan file clerk for JM Foster  at the  Bethlehem Steel facility under construction near the southern tip of Lake Michigan. While heavy equipment leveled the dunes and filled inter-dunal lagoons that Henry Cowles had hiked less than 40 years previous, I folded bluepints in a construction trailer, counted myself lucky to have a job and looked forward to penny Hearts at lunch time. Four of us were regulars. My boss Arnold, Frank McCarty, who had worked on the caissons at Outer Drive East, myself, and on top of the heap, Arthur Rosenbloom, from Administration, who lovingly referred to himself as "Rosie-Rosie-you-stupid-shit" when he drew when he should have discarded. (Or vice versa).

The lunch hour talk was always good. But no story was better than Rosie's description of his secretary's love letter, copied on the new office xerox and mailed to her boyfriend, up north at Great Lakes. Rosie showed us all a copy. Rhonda Fleming could have, should have been a model for the Rigid Tool Calendar that was taped to the trailer wall. And as the story unfolds (and Rosie unfolds it very slowly) we all figure out that Rhonda sat on the Xerox glass. Rosie held her hand to keep her steady and he pushed the "copy" button. Rhonda surely didn't know about the extra copy or that Rosie had used it to ante up.

That shared experience has forever colored the words "xerox glass" and the "transmittals" (which were copied on that self-same machine shortly thereafter). There is no doubt that should I ever run into Frank McCarty we would break into immediate and uncontrolled laughter at the mention of "xerox glass".


The word "LaSalle Street" has personal meanings for me too. Though none quite so rich as "Bethlehem Steel." My images include the Board of Trade and the Fraternal Twins. They also include the Midwest Stock Exchange and the week-end that Richard Nickel went missing. The LaSalle Hotel. The Otis Elevator Building. The Corn Exchange. And a closeness to the late 1930's made more intense by a lack of intervening construction. The new Marriot Hotel renovation at 208 is not included in these images. When I say LaSalle Street my meaning is now different than, perhaps, yours. Different too, from George Reynolds'.
It would be convenient if the same words referred to the same images.  A little Historic Preservation would be just the ticket to bridge the gap. Grandparents and grand children might communicate. At least on LaSalle Street. But as long as the Miesian Revelationists find a Deco interpretation of Apollo acceptable but tsk tsk the more literal neo-classicism of Hering or Saint Gaudens or even Milles, Preservation will continue to be an accident of fashion, circumstance, and finance. We will, at best, preserve a random patchwork of history, art, and commonality. Shame on us.


Over the past weeks I've given some thought to the renovations proceeding at 208 South LaSalle Street. There are no easy answers to the questions of Historic Preservation.


The societal shifts that have taken place since the construction of the Continental and Commercial Bank in 1914 have been remarkable. The changes of the last ten years alone are changing the face of architecture. Who could say that any building owner should bear the burden of restoration and Historic Preservation when use, circulation and spatial patterns are no longer functional? Especially when that building contains nearly a million square feet. Who could not applaud the adaptive re-use that is reshaping 208 South LaSalle?



In this process of considerations I found Lucien LaGrange's website describing his renovations at the Continental and Commercial. It contains the remarkable photos below that I had not seen. And they are remarkable.

A special respect is due the Architect who can credit the work of his predecessor. And here's hoping that that the masonry facade restorations are as successful here as his work at the Insurance Exchange. And that these photos along with others can find their way to a "permanent" home at the Marriot that will preserve the memory of the architectural contributions of Daniel Burnham and Peirce Anderson to the words  "bank",  "LaSalle Street", and "Chicago".

Friday, January 1, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Continental and Commercial. A Renovation

Imagine. 2090.

"The Art Institute is proceeding with a major expansion and renovation program. While more than 200,000 SF of subterranean gallery space (intended for primarily digital use) will be added, a major renovation will be undertaken of the nearly 100 year old "Modern Wing."

It has been decided that existing circulation patterns are no longer functional and that the percentage of Gallery space as a part of gross area is unsustainable. The Monroe Street Entrance will be closed and the Nichols Bridge will be removed. A new entrance will be cut into Griffon Court though the Pritzker Garden. New construction will divide the north half of the Griffon into two stories, connecting the East and West components of the "Wing." Existing vertical circulation will be modified inward. Isolated third floor areas will be reallocated to administrative uses. Glass roofs will be sealed with a single ply membrane pending final analysis and funding.

Finally, and importantly, current acceptable aesthetic standards will be met. Inappropriate, early twenty-first century mis-application of structure as a kind of "mannerist" ornament will be corrected. Columns will be thickened to credulity. And color will be added. For a little buzzazz. "

Horrifying? Impossible? Never? Not in Chicago? Happily, for this building, we have some time to deal with the Ghost-of-New-Year-Future.  But, a renovation of surprisingly similar description is quietly proceeding at Daniel Burnham's Continental and Commercial. And without this intense reinvestment and adaptive re-use, the irony is that 208 would surely face demolition. With it, much of this Landmark's original heart is forever lost.

So, on this New Year's Day, 2010, when by nature we all look to the Future and the Past, I am reconsidering responsibilities  to each.

Wondering when almost half is acceptable. Wondering what victories were mistakes. Which fights can be won. And which are already lost. And how much strength lies in what remains.