Monday, March 29, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. Apologia

And so.


Chicago School within a Beaux Arts Format. Ruskin's organics. Anderson's 4th Century Rome. Dinkelberg's (can't wait to blog the Jewelers' Building) enormous, philosophically anchored talent. The echo of Atwood. Not to mention the Vanderbilts.

This (all of this) is Daniel Burnham, "the man who set Architecture back by 50 years" (at a Fair that put Chicago on the Map) creating a synthesis of Regionalism and Classicism at the Railway Exchange -- the building that would become home to the creation of the 1909 Plan of the City of Chicago.

Within this framework, the synthesis of Greece and that Native American woman's perfect grace present irrefutable logic.

Daniel, we've underestimated you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. The Lamp of Beauty

The answer to the riddle of the previous post may be surprisingly simple. Found fully explained in John Ruskin's "Seven Lamps of Architecture." Right down to the "tendrils" and the "fleurs de lys" of the photograph, also of the previous post. Fred Dinkelberg, the Railway Exchange's designer, was hired by Daniel Burnham as Charles Atwood's assistant. After Atwood's "termination" Dinkelberg assumed greater responsibilities within the firm. The Heyworth and The Conway are two notable contributions. And of course, the Railway Exchange.

What Architect does not rely on his mentor?

Charles Atwood worked for Ware and Van Brunt in Boston before coming to Chicago. A firm heavily influenced by John Ruskin. A quick look at Atwood's reinterpretation of Richardsonian stonework and its use of organic ornament at Marshall Field and Company prove the depth of Ruskin's influence on Atwood and his young assistant, Fred Dinkelberg. (See image below.) (Remember, too, that Ware went on to be head of MIT and briefly taught Louis Sullivan.  

Fred Dinkelberg's terra cotta reference to his mentor, Charles Atwood, even with tendrils and a fleur de lys should be EXPECTED in 1903. Deference to Chicago School Architect, Louis Sullivan, from Daniel Burnham would also be EXPECTED. Burnham's kindnesses to Sullivan, even when Sullivan was at his worst, are legendary.

What a wonderful little discovery. This whimsical panel with the Fleur de Lys.

Northwestern Terra Cotta occupied the mezzanine of the Railway Exchange during the earliest years of the building, displaying product and art in natural sunlight. The only thing missing now is the modeler's name.

Another name needs to be mentioned in conjunction with the Railway Exchange. The remarkable 1982 renovations, didn't just happen. Lonn Frye of Fry Gillan and Molinaro appears to have been able to channel Daniel Burnham from the first quarter directly to the last quarter of the twentieth century. I have to wonder what Lonn might have done with the Insurance Exchange. Or 208.

Always, it seems. Opportunities lost.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. A Unity of Two and Three Diimensions

The Unity of detail and whole, so clearly apparent  in the "Progress" and "Civilization" allegories,  presents itself throughout the Railway Exchange.  The light fixtures are reflected in terra cotta bas-relief, which tell an even more intricate story. (The plot remains temporarily unknown.)  A neo-classic geometry (of bound wire?) springing from nature (the modified leaf) supports the stem of a fleur de lis ,but ends, whimsically, as a delicate  (crocus? tulip?)  blossom.  I'd be glad for some help here.......
The Railway Exchange's spectacular light fixtures  flanking the grand staircase are photographed above.
Daniel Burnham's lead designer, Peirce Anderson, was an electrical engineer. And electric lights in 1903 or 1904 or 1905 were a very big deal. So was music. For most visitors to turn-of-the-century Michigan Avenue the newly completed Orchestra Hall (another Burnham building) and the Railway Exchange represented "marvels". Without radio, Dvorak's New World could only be heard here. And electricity illuminating a glass roof? Only here. A fast train to Los Angeles. Or New York. Fresh oysters at Christmas. Morning bananas.

And Aaron Montgomery Ward's image of Progress (Diana of the Tower) - a startling gold, nude weathervane spun wildly in the wind, just up the street.
Please, Mr. Hines, don't talk to me about a cacaphony of style.


I'm about to say that Daniel Burnham was a great Architect.  A really great Architect.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. An Original

Terra Cotta had the benefit of being a factory produced material.  And the Railway Exchange is covered with it.  Still there was flexibility for special conditions.  Like this one at the mainstair.  A border of 26 layers (depending on whose counting)  transitioning from arc to angle. DID I SAY TWENTY-SIX LAYERS.....???   
I can't help but notice that islamic geometry at the return air grill. I first saw this in John Root's work and the Rookery. But it is pervasive in early Chicago School architecture.

One more story to uncover.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. 1903. 1904. or 1905

So. After the 1893 Fair, for Daniel Burnham, it was New York Architect, Charles Atwood. The new Designer for D.H. Burnham and Company.

On the plus side:
Charles Atwood had produced an instantly recognized "permanent" Landmark at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 with the Fine Arts Building. One so respected that, even locally, Julius Rosenwald backed its preservation. (With cash.)

Next, Charlie had personally designed Cornelius Vanderbilt's New York townhouse. Also the New York Homes for the Webbs' and the Twombleys' -- two of Cornelius' married daughters. (Sweet.)

Now, Cornelius besides just being rich, controlled half a dozen railroads headquartered in Chicago. Atwood designed the Fair's Railway Station. And Daniel Burnham could never be accused of shortsightedness. The commissions for both Union Station in Washington DC and Union in Chicago were not so very far away. Surely Daniel was scheming. Charles should have been a significant asset

He'd studied at Harvard.

And had worked for Ware and Van Brunt in Boston. Ware became the first professor and head of the first architectural curricula at MIT (alma mater to Sullivan/ Jenney/ Hayden/ Shepley/ Rutan/ etc). Van Brunt was the first to translate LeDuc's "Entretiens" to English. Talk about credentials that could capture the imagination of the Chicago architectural community. (No matter what the preference.)

And maybe most of all, speculating, if I were Daniel, looking at the Webb/Twombly work I would have been reminded of John Root's William Goudy House. And had the thought that maybe the enthusiasm of the of the Burnham and Root partnership might return.

Those first years (despite the Financial Panic) looked promising. Atwood's late reinterpretation of Richardsonian Romanesque at Marshall Field and Company (Washington at Wabash) --the (very thin-skinned) Reliance Building, epitome of the Chicago School,-- and the remarkable Fisher Building -- this was real architecture.

Daniel Burnham's office, even after the Fair, was, clearly, a continuing and significant player in the development of the Chicago School. The Reliance Building pre-dates Sullivan's Schlesinger and Meyer by four years. The Stock Exchange belongs to the era of the Burnham's Great Northern, not his Reliance. But, in addition, Burnham also became a significant player on the national level, where this Beaux-Arts thing was beginning to gain real traction. (It all seemed like a no-brainer. )

On the cons:

Atwood's opium thing. And the worst depression to precede the Great Depression.

Atwood was fired from Burnham's Office and died shortly thereafter in late 1895. (Rumored at the time, to have felt no pain)

But the tradition of the Chicago School however remained strong in Daniel Burnham's office through the last years of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth. 1903 or 1904 or 1905 to be exact. (See Previous Post). When a new generation of kids began to fill the offices of architects and take power (from the old guys) all across the country (not just on the East Coast). A generation, who had discovered (some years earlier) that it was just no longer happening in the US -- and that you needed an education in Paris France to be the cat's meow. Which returns us to the Railway Exchange. Peirce Anderson. Fred Dinkelberg. Chicago School on the outside. Beaux-Arts on the inside. The real moment of transition in Chicago Architecture.

A moment, that for the moment, is lost. Not only to memory.  But in real time.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. 1903. 1904. or 1905.

The American Institute of Architect's Guide to Chicago dates the Railway Exchange to 1904. The Railway Exchange dates itself to 1903, which if true, means that it predates the Heyworth Building. A significant fact in Chicago's transition from "School" to "Beaux Arts." Checking the AIA Guide for dates on the Heyworth, I find that, for the AIA, it does not exist.  (Nor does Burnham's Board of Ed) 
Thomas Hines dates both the Heyworth and the Exchange to 1903 in appendix A of his "Burnham of Chicago." However, on page 277 he dates the Exchange to 1905, followed quickly by his witty quote "...the formal, neoclassical, interior detailing was disturbingly cacophonous and stylistically inappropriate. You gotta wonder about a guy who writes a book about shit he hates. Or who can't spell Peirce Anderson. Or who doesn't think Fred Dinkelberg is worth a spot in the index.

And you also need wonder about paying dues to organizations who seem hellbent on denigrating (or ignoring) some of Chicago's most important architectural history in the name of stylistic appropriateness.

Which brings me to the subject of this, my 100th post.

Our dirty little secret. Chicago's Architectural history, its real legacy seems to be a source of embarrassment to many of those who make decisions about such things. Daniel Burnham was a helluva planner but his architecture was........ GAPW couldn't hold a candle to........ Boyington, not really a ...
etc, etc.

With each additional post, with every hour of research , with the hours of photography and waiting for the light, I find that Chicago is increasingly just out of reach. That facts are garbled. That the official "story" is just a story. That we are far more nuanced, far richer than the story tells. And that as we move through this very sensitive period when the out-dated becomes historic (and in a recession at that), we are in great danger of losing much that is most dear.

Monday, March 1, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. Triptych of Progress. A Second Look.

Maybe not so mysterious  after all. (See Post Below.)  It just took a bit of low light. And a patient security guard who thought I was crazy. But harmless enough.......

Progress is flanked by Commerce and Industry. Civilization is flanked by Art and Science. And just in case anybody's confused.... the "modeler" gave us some clues. (Below).
The railroad wheel with wings (kicking up a bit of dust) is my favorite. There is no doubt that terra cotta in Chicago was/is art.
The most astonishing thing about this composition is its scale. It is white, like the building, not an applique. And therefore "of the building." A conceptual unity with the whole, which shows an incredible level of detail. More on this in the next post.
And about that mandolin. (See previous post.) It is certainly a rudder. Thanks due to Facebook friend SBK.