Tuesday, July 6, 2010



Re-reading Donald Hoffman's JOHN WELLBORN ROOT while travelling I-15 north from Las Vegas to Cedar City...... Contemplating those elegant drawings. Yesterday's visit to Gehry's Center for Brain Health much on my mind. And Libeskind's shopping mall at City Center. The Arbiteurs of good taste had said that Vegas needed those accoutrements to be taken seriously. To be World Class. The desert, the mountains, and the neon alone, apparently, couldn't do that.


Hoffman says that Chicago School Architects did not "express structure" in some deep-seated philosophical statement. Structure was simply exposed when unnecessary skin and ornament was removed from it -- to make it lighter -- to allow tall buildings to be built on the swamped onion fields of Chicago. The School did not channel the mystic aura of some future Mies. In fact all they really wanted (even John Root -- look at the Boatman's Bank, below) was to design something in the style of Francis I. Or Romanesque, maybe. Or Georgian. (Yes, Georgian). But they needed something lighter. (Damned engineers. And damned foundations.)

Chicago architects -- forced to "reason" by the Chicago swamp.

JOHN ROOT.  Boatman's Bank

STUDIO LIBESKIND. Crystals. Las Vegas, Nev.

FRANK GEHRY. Center for Brain Research. Las Vegas, Nev.

Forced to reason.

So that the same mutant flower of Bilbao might not rebloom in Las Vegas. Or LA. So that the "metaphysics of presence" is, at least, contextually confrontational. Not idealogically static in its manifestations. Heaven knows that even Studio Libeskind can't compete in status with Louis Vuitton. Now, so does Daniel.  I'll refrain from commenting re: convoluted logic. Or the appropriateness of a Frankish reincarnation in Cook County.


The product of the Chicago School, those "bridgebuilders", cliffdwellers, (and Daniel Burnham foremost) was neither the product of an undisciplined hand nor unlimited resources. It was the product of a problem and a problem solved.

A remarkable creativity born of reason.

That simple. That durable. That inspiring. Reason. Found.  Speeding north. Past Moapa. In the desert heat of a Nevada Fourth of July. 2010.


Credit due Donald Hoffman, ARCHITECTURE OF JOHN WELLBORN ROOT, p 138.  This is a great little volume produced by Johns Hopkins Studies in 19th Century Architecture.


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