Sunday, March 30, 2014

Abandoned Building To Luxury Tower: 111 West Wacker Sikorsky's towards completion

click images for larger view
Unloaded, the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter looks a bit like a mutant orange insect:  big head, long spine, spiky tail, no body.  The S-64 is a “heavy-lift” helicopter, meaning it can carry up 20,000 pounds of payload hung from that taut spine - everything from cargo to a 2,650 gallon tank to hold retardant for fighting brush fires.

A Sikorsky S-64 put in a very noisy appearance along the Chicago river Saturday.  There were some last bits of metal to be hauled up to the roof of 111 West Wacker.  The building was topped out last October, the tall red crane that had clung to its full height dismantled the following month.  So if it was too big for the freight elevator, bring in the copter.
The Clark Street bridge was closed off as trucks brought in the parts and crews attached them to long ropes dropped from the S-64 for the careful trip to the roof.

The airlift was kind of an impromptu celebration of one of the more remarkable turnarounds in Chicago construction history.  111 West Wacker started out all the way back in 2006 as Waterview, an 80-story tower combining a four-star Shangri-La Hotel with luxury condos.  The projects architects/engineers - Teng and Associates - made the fatal mistake of deciding to also be the developer.  Bad move.  Construction halted when continuing financing failed to materialize and checks stopped clearing, and the 2008 economic crash sent the structure into what seemed to be an game-ending code blue, leaving behind bare concrete bones truncated at the 25th floor.
Waterview became the cautionary eyesore on the river, exposed and decaying, year and year.  Then, in 2011, the development firm Related Midwest signed a letter of intent to acquire the site and the stub structure  for somewhere around $26 million.  The hotel was cut, the tower shortened to a 60 stories, and a second groundbreaking ceremony was held in November of 2012 - on the 28th floor.

Although the company has also recently completed a new apartment tower at 500 North Lake Shore Drive, Related Midwest is kind of the hermit crab of Chicago development. They've been assigned to develop a plan for the historic Lathrop Homes public housing site.   In addition to 111 West Wacker, Related took on three failed condo buildings in the Central Station development designed by Pappageorge Haymes, with all the buildings rebranded.  Museum Park Place 2 became Harbor View, One Museum Park West became The Grant, and 1600 Museum Park, the most irremediably lunkish of the designs, rechristened Adler Place.
The Adler
Once Related took over Wateview, they renamed it 111 West Wacker and handed the design over to New York-based architects Handel Architects, whose large-scale work can be found across the U.S.,and in Asia and the Middle East.  Handel dumped the castellated crown Teng Associates had designed for their taller tower in favor of  sculpting the redesigned building with a “recessed glass ribbon” to carve up the curtain wall into “a series of interlocking blocks.”
845 North State at Chestnut, image via Curbed Chicago
Incising the curtain wall to break up the monotony of a tower's facade seems to be on its way to becoming the new cliche in high-rise construction.  It's already been appropriated by Solomon Cordwell Bunez for their new residential tower rising at 845 North State, which also incorporates another trendy feature from bKL's GEMS World Academy at Lakeshore East -  vertical strips to articulate the facade . . .
GEMS World Academy - photograph: Bob Johnson
. . . although while the strips at GEMS are crazy-quilt colorful, those at 845 North State are desaturated to a less punchy grayscale.
The plywood strip along the west facade at 111 West Wacker . . .
 . . . still needs to be zipped up with glass, but the curtain wall is finally wrapping around the concrete honeycomb of the original 25-story base that remained bare even as the shiny tower rose above it.
 “It's not perfect”, to pre-empt Blair's usual phrase, but 111 West Wacker is shaping up to be a striking - if unadventurous - addition to the Chicago river skywall.

Read More:

Waterview Has Risen From the Grave!
The Three Red Cranes of 111 West Wacker

111 West Wacker's Red Crane Flies the Coop

Cranes (No) Chicago Business

Friday, March 28, 2014

Beyond Superhighways and Supertalls: Jan Gehl's The Human Scale, at the Siskel Saturday and Wednesday

Saturday is filling up.  Yesterday, we reminded you of tomorrow's 11:00 a.m. open-to-public ceremony for the 2014 Richard H. Driehaus Award to Italian architect Pier Carlo Bontempi.  Now we've got another great event.  Late that day, Saturday at 5:30 p.m., the Gene Siskel Film Center will be presenting the first of two screenings (also April 2nd at 6:00 p.m.) of the 2013 documentary The Human Scale . . .
The future of Earth is cities, but which future will we choose? 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with 80% expected by 2050. Using the ideas of visionary Danish architect Jan Gehl as a jumping-off point, this lucid and engaging documentary investigates the possible scenarios offered by cities around the globe, from Bangladesh’s car-choked Dhaka to pedestrian-friendly Copenhagen to New York’s recently transformed Times Square to earthquake-leveled Christchurch. The results are varied, but the film’s case is compelling and convincing: the suburban, car-oriented culture of the past is a dead end, and the road to a sustainable future lies along bike paths and walkways.

Gehl has spent his career remaking cities and their public spaces to be attuned less as engineerings for circulation and development and more for human needs, as reflected in the title of his first book, 1971's Life Between Buildings, carrying through to his latest volume, How to Study Public Life.  His firm has prepared studies on urban interaction for cities from Christchurch to New Zealand, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, New York  and London, with the reclaiming of urban streets for bicycles and pedestrians an ongoing theme.

The Human Scale's Rotten Tomatoes rating is 56% from critics, and 81% from the public.  Even the film's advocates describe it as  being a little dry, so don't go in expecting an urbanistic thrill ride, but as a visual portrayal of Gehl's ideas, it looks well worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Revenge of the Classicists: Driehaus Award to Pier Carlo Bontempi Saturday, Documentary on 'TTW Tonight

Isolato Sant'Anna, Pier Carlo Bontempi, architect (click images for larger view)
Monday was the Pritzker Architecture Prize's day in the sun, as Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was named the 2014 Laureate.  Saturday, we'll get the opposing viewpoint.

Chicago, ground central for modernism from Sullivan to Mies to Gang, has also spawned its own counter-reformation.  The School of Architecture at University of Notre Dame has become a hotbed of classicists, spurning the dominant architecture of the past century to advocate, in practice and polemics, for a return to traditional modes of design.

Chicago investment manager and philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus, who lovingly restored the former Nickerson Mansion and opened it to the public as the  Driehaus Museum, has been a key benefactor of this movement, and each year beginning in 2003 Notre Dame has presented the Richard H. Driehaus Prize, “awarded to a living architect whose work embodies the highest ideals of traditional and classical architecture in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental, and artistic impact.”
Place de Toscane - Val di'Europe, France
This year's honoree is Italian architect Pier Carlo Bontempi.  His work, in the words of School of Architecture Dean Michael Lykoudis, “illustrates why the idea of the traditional city and its architecture are referred to
as ‘the original green.’ His buildings, seamlessly woven into their urban environments, demonstrate the principles of the new classicism and urbanism. Their durable construction, adaptive interior space and sensitive urban siting make them exemplars of architecture as an art of conservation and investment as opposed to consumption and waste.”

Adds architect Leon Krier, “Bontempi acquired his vast architectural knowledge and versatility by studying the rich fabric of Italy, the cities and landscapes he grew up in. The serenity, robustness, elegance and economy of his considerable built work provide exemplary models for better cities and buildings in the cities and towns of the future.”

The Driehaus's cash prize is $200,000, double that of the Pritzker.   In addition to the cash, the Pritzker Laureate receives a bronze medallion based on designs of Louis Sullivan.  The Driehaus winner gets a miniature bronze replica of the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates in Athens, said to be  the first use of the Corinthian Order on a building's exterior.

This year's $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Award, presented to a non-architect whose work has supported the “traditional city” will be presented to Ruan Yisan, professor of architecture at Tongji University and a major activist in preserving traditional Chinese architecture from destruction in the country's massive wave of development and new construction.

To see this year's Pritzker Award ceremony June 13th, you'll have to follow President Obama's recent path to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and even then, it's an invitation-only.  The Driehaus Award, event, on the other hand, is always held in Chicago, and always open to the public, giving you a rare chance to see what's behind the massive classical facade of Marshall and Fox's French Renaissance-styled John B. Murphy Auditorium at 50 East Erie.  The ceremony takes place this Saturday, March 29th, at 11:00 a.m.
Another Driehaus tradition that the Pritzker might consider emulating is that each year a half-hour documentary is commissioned on the winning architect and his or her work.  This year's edition, A Taste for the Past, produced by Dan Andries, is hosted by Geoffrey Baer and includes an interview with Bontempi as well as looks at his work in Italy and Paris.  It debuts tonight, Thursday March 27th, 8:00 p.m. on WTTW, with rebroadcasts Friday the 28th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday March 30th at 6:30, plus Friday, March 28th at 2:00 p.m. on WTTW Prime (11.2) .  Sometime after, you'll also be able to watch the video on the documentary's website, which includes additional photos, videos and text.
Geoffrey Baer, Pier Carlo Bontempi

Calendar correction: Winy Maas has spoken.

That Winy Maas lecture we listed as happening at Crown Hall at 6pm tonight?  It was actually 11 a.m. this morning.  We don't know why either.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Shigeru provides a Ban(d)aid for the Pritzker Architecture Prize

photo: Shigeru Ban Architects
By now you've probably heard that 56-year-old Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was announced Monday as the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2014 Laureate.  If nothing else, the award was a savvy recovery move for the Pritzker, besieged - and unmoved - last year by an energetic petition drive to redress the omission of Denise Scott Brown from the 1991 award give to her personal and professional partner Robert Venturi.  (The American Institute of Architects swiftly staked a counter-position last December by awarding their 2014 Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, a pioneering female architect who died in 1957.)
Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2010, France
Image courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects.  Photograph: Didier Boy de la Tour

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne saw the naming of Ban as an response by the Pritzker jury to the narcissism of practitioners like Zaha Haid, who recently dismissed the death of nearly 900 immigrant workers at construction sites for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as none of her concern, an attitude echoed by her associate/polemicist/PR flack Patrik Schumacher, who declared any regional individuality in architecture "distracting" and that the “cultures” he was really interested in are IT in Silicon Valley and Finance in London, culture, apparently, having evolved to defining where the largest pots of money can be found. It's a conception of architecture in proud service to the new feudalism looming at the end of age of the supply chain, a paradise where parametricism is the answer to every question, and the death and starvation of those making the grand visions flesh, however sad, is not really a problem as long as the checks clear.
Paper Log House, 1995, Kobe, Japan
image courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects. Photograph Takanobu Sakuma
 Ban is a very different kind of architect.  As defined in the Jury Citation, . . .
. . . for twenty years, [he] has been responding with creativity and high quality design to extreme situations caused by devastating natural disasters. His buildings provide shelter, community centers, and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction. When tragedy strikes, he is often there from the beginning, as in Rwanda, Turkey, India, China, Italy, and Haiti, and his home country of Japan, among others.

His creative approach and innovation, especially related to building materials and structures, not merely good intentions, are present in all his works. Through excellent design, in response to pressing challenges, Shigeru Ban has expanded the role of the profession; he has made a place at the table for architects to participate in the dialogue with governments and public agencies, philanthropists, and the affected communities. His sense of responsibility and positive action to create architecture of quality to serve society ́s needs, combined with his original approach to these humanitarian challenges, make this year ́s winner an exemplary professional.
Paper Refugree Shelters for Rwandan, 1999
Image courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects. 
. . . An underpinning uniting much of his built work is his experimental approach. He has expanded the architectural field regarding not only the problems and challenges he tackles, but also regarding the tools and techniques to deal with them. He is able to see in standard components and common materials, such as paper tubes, packing materials or shipping containers, opportunities to use them in new ways. He is especially known for his structural innovations and the creative use of unconventional materials like bamboo, fabric, paper, and composites of recycled paper fiber and plastics. 
To be sure, it's not all recycled plastic and cardboard tubes.  This summer, the Aspen Art Museum will open a new building designed by Ban, with a $45 million price tag.   Still, while no small number of architects respond quickly and generously to needs arising out of crisis, for Shigeru Ban it goes beyond individual gestures to being the bedrock of his practice.  
Curtain Wall House, 1995, Tokyo
Image Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects.  Photograph: Hiroyuki Hirai
When Ban was in Chicago back in 2003 to chair the jury for a Chicago Architectural Club competition for the design of a large parking garage, he said that what resonated most strongly for him as an architect, in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe Japan earthquake that claimed 6,500 lives, was that “people were not killed by the earthquake itself.  Most people were killed by the collapse of buildings.”  “Killer” architecture takes on a tragic new meaning.  If buildings are efficient enough to house the poor cheaply and pretty enough to satisfy the vanity of the rich,  isn't a little collateral damage a small price to pay?

No doubt the World Cup in Qatar will result in a number of important designs,  but can you really hope to construct a progressive architecture, no matter how beautiful the forms, out of the despair of those who build it?  If given a voice, how many of those who died would have chosen to forgo the honor? 
Tamedia Building, 2013, Zurich
Image Courtesy Shigeru Bank Architects Europe
Whether designing emergency shelters in Rwanda, an aluminum-paneled pavilion for Hermès, or a seven-story office building in Zurich with a structure of wood timbers, Shigeru Ban checkmates the cynicism of Hadid and Schumacher to mark an alternative path for architecture in the balancing of high creativity with basic human empathy.
Cardboard Cathedral, 2013, Christchurch, New Zealand
Image Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects. Photograph Stephen Goodenough

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gregg Garmisa named Studio/Gang Principal, General Counsel

Is it a sign that an architectural firm is entering the big leagues when a lawyer becomes one of its key officers?

That became the case today with Studio/Gang Architects when it announced that Gregg Garmisa, a long-time corporate officer at WMA Consulting Engineers, has now been named Principal and General Counsel at Studio/Gang, which is about to make a big move to their own real estate later this year, as we reported on earlier this week. "Gregg's experience and knowledge will be tremendous additions to our firm, as we grow in Chicago and beyond," is Jeanne Gang's comment in the press release.

Weston Walker (collaborator on the design for the proposed Solar Cave Tower in NYC), Juliane Wolf (Writer's Theatre, Glencoe), and Todd Zima, AIA,(Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College and the University of Chicago Campus North Residence Hall) were promoted to Design Principals. Margaret Cavenagh, AIA, was promoted to Director of Interiors, Harry Soenksen, AIA, to Technical Director, and William Emmick, AIA, to Operations Director.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Studio/Gang on the Move: About to Enter its High Polish Period?

former Polish National Alliance (click images for larger view)
What could you do with this building?  Or more to the point, what could Jeanne Gang and her team do?  Gang is taking Studio/Gang Architects to another big leap, but this time it's not about a pathbreaking design - at least not yet - but jumping from the renter class to the ranks of ownership.

On the heels of recent announcements of her firm being in the hunt for major new residential towers both in San Francisco and back at Chicago's Lakeshore East, which her sculpted Aqua tower put on the international map, DNAInfo Chicago's Alisa Hauser's reported last week that Gang's lawyer was appearing before the permit review committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks regarding his firm's retrofit of the building at 1520 W. Division as their new headquarters.  Although Gang is proposing the building be landmarked, it wasn't even on the Commission's March agenda, but that didn't stop commission staff from recommending approving - with certain conditions - the architect's plans for making the structure a workable home.

Last December the district in which both Gang's new and old homes are to be found - around a square with an entrance to the Blue Line CTA stop and centered by the Nelson Algren Fountain - was officially designated by the Chicago City Council as the “Polish Triangle”, but its central roll in the lives of Chicago's Polish citizens goes back nearly a century-and-a-half.  Beginning just after the Great Fire of 1871, the three-way intersection was known as the “Polish Downtown”.  According to the Northwest Chicago Historical Society history, “Nearly every Polish undertaking of any consequence in the U.S. during that time either started or was directed from this tight-knight neighborhood.”  With shops, theatres and large department stores (Wieboldt's and Goldblatt's), the district thrived as one of Chicago's many vibrant neighborhood commercial centers, until the lethal combination of the malling of America and white flight to the suburbs wiped them all out in late mid 20th-century.
image courtesy The Chuckman Collection
In addition to strong parishes such as St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. John Cantius, the district has also been home to important Polish institutions, including the Polish National Alliance, founded to aid in the fight for restoring Poland as an independent nation.  In 1896, two lots west of Noble were purchased for $4,900, for the construction of the stately building you see above.  It's now the site of a Shell gas station.
image courtesy of The Chuckman Collection
In 1938, the alliance moved to a new Art Deco styled building at 1520 West Division.  In 1976 the Alliance decamped to 6100 North Cicero, and most recently the structure was home to the College of Office Technology.  Now it's Studio/Gang's turn.
For over a decade, Studio Gang has grown from a small office to taking over the entire second floor of a simple two-story building on Ashland just north of Division at the corner of Milwaukee.  You walked up a long stair to reach a series of offices formerly occupied by a loan company. A more recent social services tenant left behind a Diego Rivera-like labor mural covering one of the walls.
Private offices behind a sequence of glass doors surround a large open space for junior architects, stuffed with books, renderings and models.  
Another room served as a model shop, and there's a small outdoor patio used both as a recreational space and for testing materials against the weather.
More recently, a graphic mapping the terrain of Northerly Island, another Gang project, was mounted next to the otherwise anonymous first-floor entrance.
It was here that the distinctive designs that have made Gang globally renowned originated, from The Starlight Theater in Rockford, to the titanium shingle-clad Chinese American Service League, the still unbuilt Ford Calumet Environmental Center, to Aqua, the Columbia College Media Center, and, the WMS Clark Park boathouse.  The walls are infused with the spirit of that creative history, but Hauser quotes Studio Gang's Harry Soenken as saying that, now up to 50 employees, the old offices are “bursting at the seams.  We hope to have 65 people by the end of this year.”  And to move into their new space shortly thereafter.
Polish Triangle, 1950's (current Studio/Gang Office below the big Chevrolet sign)
image courtesy of The Chuckman Collection
The Polish Triangle is also changing, in an increasingly upscale way.  There's always been a shoe store beneath Gang's offices, but what used to be a Pay Less is now an Aldo  - a far swankier line, even if it's an outlet.  Last year, what was long a fast food joint was replaced by Wheeler Kearns' spiky 1611 West Division apartments.  Nicknamed the “Tower of Pizza” after the site's former occupant, a Pizza Hut, Crain's is reporting the developer is already looking to cash in by selling off the property.
With many of their employees walking to work, Studio/Gang wanted to stay in the neighborhood, and so they're moving little more than a block away.  This time they get to retrofit an entire building to their needs and tastes.  According to the Permit Review report, the plans include a one-story addition, setback on the rooftop, and replacement of the aging windows.  As is the norm, staff recommended that all new exterior alterations try to match, as much as possible, the original materials.  Staff approved lowering the basement window sills on Bosworth “only if needed.”  Changes to signage are to be reviewed once completed.
No renderings for the interiors have been released.  It's unknown whether any of the original interiors will be protected by the landmark designation, but most often protection is confined to exterior elements.  At their current offices, it was more the energy of the place than any radical design initiatives that energized the space.  I've visited a number of architects' offices, and without exception they've been more work horses than show horses.  Spartan or expressive, however, it's will interesting to be what Gang, Soenken and her team will come up with.


Jeanne Gang Before Aqua - a look at her life and early work.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Once More, With Greening - Celebrating St. Patrick on the Chicago River 2014

click images for larger view (highly recommended)
 I came.  I saw.  I took a lot of pictures.



Seriously, for these last two, click on the image to sell full-size