Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Only til Saturday for Luftwerk campaign to light up Mies' Farnsworth House, which Town Hall meetings this week will discuss saving

[UPDATE 6/2/14:  The Kickstarter campaign's goal was met and the project is on.]

You have only until May 31 to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign to make Luftwerk's INsite project a reality.
This new project, INsite, will invite the public to experience a public art intervention on the Farnsworth House from sunset into evening. Drawing from insights into the ways that digital projections interact with architecture, INsite will immerse the building in a composition of light and sound. 
The proposal, scheduled for this fall, would be a collaboration between Luftwerk designs Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero and video designer and Livius Pasara and percussionist and composer Clayton Condon.  The team also created Celebrating 75 Years of Nature at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and 2012's Luminous Field, which brought relief to a cold Chicago winter with color, light and sound centered on Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park.  This past February, Luftwerk's Spring Light brought color and pattern to the facade of the Chicago Cultural Center and the skaters at Millennium Park.
The Luftwerk designs describe Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth house “a space mirrored upon itself. As the projected light travelled through the glass walls, a myriad of reflections appeared, seemingly expanding the interior.” The INSite lighting project, requiring 10 weatherproofed projects, loudspeakers and a computer, would bring “ a heightened awareness of the house's innate characteristics. It dissolves the structure and distills it into a pure experience of light and space. It becomes an architecture of light.”

As of Wednesday morning, Luftwerk's INsite campaign was about 3/5 towards its $25,000 goal, from a total of 102 contributors.  The project will only be funded if the full goal is reached by 7:01 a.m., this Saturday, May 31st.  You can read more - and contribute - here.

Luftwork's illuminations are not only a mesmerizing, but they encourage us to see their subject structures in new and revealing way.  INsite would come at a crucial time for Farnsworth, which is struggling to cope with a series of devastating floods that are becoming far more common than the historical record would indicate.

Saving Farnsworth House subject of two Town Hall Meetings this week
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which saved Farnsworth House for the public when it purchased it at auction in 2003, has initiated a Flood Mitigation Project and worked with architects, engineers, critics, DOCOMOMO, AIA, and other activists to come up with three proposals to remove the iconic house from future harm, from moving the structure to higher ground atop landfill, to raising it up on hydraulic lifts.

Those proposals will be the subject of two public meetings.  The first takes place this Thursday, May 29th, at the Mies designed Crown Hall on the IIT campus.  The second is mid-day Friday, May 30th at the Plano Community Public Library, not far from the house, itself.

Read More:
 新年快樂! Architecture as Canvas: Luftwerks takes over Cultural Center Facade to celebrate Chinese New Year in Chicago 
 Farnsworth House Flood Mitigation Project website
Glass House Struck by Gavel - the History and Saving of Farnsworth House
The Little Farmhouse that Roared: Cycles of time at Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House

Monday, May 26, 2014

Preservation Scorecard: Wreckers 2, Violinists 0

As reported in Preservation Chicago's latest newsletter, two Chicago buildings are coming down or experiencing massive alterations right now.  Neither one is an officially designated landmark, but both contain huge chunks of Chicago history.  And both were rooted in music.
Theodore Thomas House - image courtesy Preservation Chicago
I missed photographing the first, at 52 East Bellevue Place.  To put a twist on Churchill's famous quote, it could said to be a demonstration of how, “We make our buildings.  And then they unmake us.”  It was the longtime home of Theodore Thomas, and it was here that he died.  Beginning in 1855, Thomas had an astonishing career barnstorming the country conducting the Theodore Thomas Orchestra.  “I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra,” he was famously to have said, and in 1891, Chicago obliged him, creating the Chicago orchestra under his leadership.
The Auditorium (click images for larger view)
Thomas conducted in the newly opened Auditorium Theater, designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, but it was not a happy domicile.  First, although the acoustics of the theater were legendary, the lack of any kind of shell made them less favorable to symphonic music than for opera.  And the thing was just too damn big - 4,000 seats! - leaving the developing ensemble to play concerts to demoralizing, half-full houses.

And if that weren't enough, the building assaulted him.  In October of 1899, as Thomas was conducting a rehearsal, a heavy bolt fell from the rafters 75 feet down onto his head.  The wound was just a graze, but then the bolt rebounded from the floor to make a deep cut over Thomas's left eye.  He was picked up by his players and loaded into a carriage to recover at his Bellevue mansion.  Thomas's tireless strength and good health  - he could send an entire table shaking just by bringing his finder down hard on its surface - began a slow decline.

Early into the new century, the Orchestral association commissioned architect Daniel Burnham to build the ensemble its own home a couple blocks north on Michigan Avenue.
Orchestra Hall (now Symphony Hall)
In addition to his duties with the orchestra at the Auditorium, Thomas made time to monitor the progress at the new Orchestra Hall each day.  The Tribune reported that after a private rehearsal on December 7th, 1904, Thomas told the directors, “The greatest possible success has been achieved in
Theodore Thomas
the construction of the hall from the point of acoustics.  The quality of the tones is beyond all expectations.”

In actual fact, Orchestra Hall's acoustics would provide enduringly problematic, undergoing a series of largely unsuccessful architectural interventions down through the decades.  But that's a story for another time.  In what now could later be seen as a ominous foreshadowing, the story in the Trib just beneath the one on Thomas bore the headline, “Deride Pneumonia 'Gold Cure'.”

The hall's dedication on December 14th was a civic triumph.  Thomas walked onto the stage to a great ovation, and then to still another after the speech making, which he avoided having to respond to only by tapping his baton and launching into the overture to Tannhäuser.

Despite the formal opening, the building was really not finished.  It was drafty and dusty.  For fourteen years, Thomas had never missed a concert or public rehearsal.  On Christmas eve, he conducted what would be his last concert with the orchestra.  On the morning of his next rehearsal, he found himself too weak to rise from the breakfast table.

It was originally diagnosed as a bad cold, but by New Year's, Thomas took a turn for the worse, to pneumonia, and then spinal meningitis.   Strychnine and oxygen were administered, but in spite (or because?) of this, a newspaper headline reported “Thomas' Life in Balance” but that he was “still alive at 2:30 a.m.”  At 5:30 a.m., on January 4th, he died in his house on Bellevue.  He left behind a music collection valued at $300,000 - in 1905 dollars - and the institution that today endures as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 
The Thomas House on Monday
I'm not quite sure what's going on at the house now.  The permit reads . . . 
Removal of plumbing fixtures, ductwork, and non load bearing partition walls to existing 3 story single family masonry building for exploratory purposes as per plans . . . 
Is it being demolished or retrofitted? What's clear is that its graceful facade is being ripped off, the building gutted, the history erased.  Thomas lives on in the Theodore Thomas Memorial, The Spirit of Music by Albin Polasek and Howard van Doren Shaw, in Grant Park at Michigan and Balbo.

The second lost building will be easier to miss.  It sits in the 400 block of North Carpenter, the kind of exhausted-looking buildings we see all over, until one day we happen to notice they're gone.  Even the tree in front of the house seems terminally distressed. Its West Town neighborhood is at once derelict and gentrifying.  It's a trend that stands only to accelerate when thousands of Google employees move into the former Fulton Market Cold Storage Building, just a few blocks to the south, being reconstructed into a massive office complex. 
Look closely at those ornamental brackets under the eaves, however, and you realize the abject frame building at 456 North Carpenter actually has a rather extraordinary history, and we're indebted to University of Pennsylvania graduate Matthew W. Wicklund for uncovering it, in a rather splendid history of the houses and its times, which you can read here
Wicklund calls the building the Russell-Dyhrenfurth House  It's a survivor of the Great Chicago Fire.  When it was constructed in 1855 to a design by architect William Belden Olmstead it was at the edge of Chicago's original 1837 boundaries, in a largely unpopulated area.  Only six other structures stood on the block, and only one on the block across the street.
rendering of original house, from the Wicklund report
The house is of balloon-frame construction, the skeletal structural system often credited as the precursor to Chicago's classic steel-framed skyscrapers.  It was built, suitably enough, for John Russell, who had made his fortune milling lumber.  A substantial addition was built at the back of house in the 1860's.  Also in that decade, the push for less sickening sanitation resulted in a sewer line being constructed along Carpenter, raising the street grade by five feet and requiring an English basement to be constructed to elevate the house to the sidewalk's new level.
from the Wickland report
 As the area became increasingly industrial, Russell and his family moved out in 1867, and in 1875 the house was acquired by Julius Dyhrenfurth, a Prussian immigrant, and a violinist who first came to
Julius Dyrenfurth
America in 1837 for an orchestral tour that was a critical, but not economic success.

When Dyhrenfurth moved his family to Chicago permanently in 1846, he took the lesson of that tour and got a job not as a musician but as a bank clerk, developing innovative accounting methods soon adopted by other Chicago banks.   Still, music will out, and in 1850 Dyhrenfurth founded the Chicago Philharmonic Society, composed primarily of countrymen fleeing the 1848 German Revolution.  For the second season, Dyhrenfurth began selling subscriptions to the Philharmonic's concerts, another innovation that was a way of securing a regular stream of revenue for performing arts organization often ruined by variations in single-ticket sales.

When he was wiped out in the '57 panic, however, Dyrenfurth learned his lesson for good, and switched from music to founding a series of very successful trade schools and business colleges.

The neighborhood around 456 North Carpenter continue to grow more industrial, with the Chicago and Northwestern railroad viaduct cutting through the community just south of Hubbard, much as, to a far larger scale of destruction, the Kennedy Expressway would cut through to the north in the 1950's.
After the Great Fire of 1871, wood construction was proscribed  by law, and a pair of handsome brick townhomes were erected just to the south of 456, setting a new style and standard.  When the Dyrenfurth family moved out in 1879, the house, like many others in the area, was subdivided into five rental apartments, serving tradesmen who were first Norwegian or Swedish, and then primarily Italian.
In 1926, alterations were made to the house, including the addition what is now a truly frightening garage at the rear of the property.

In the 1950's, the neighborhood became largely Puerto Rican.  The Montes family bought the house, and three generations lived there, until they finally sold it in 2014.   Although as you walk down Carpenter and nearby streets, you'll find any number of frame houses renovated to a modern luster, this is not to be 456's fate.  It has been judged irremediable, and is about to be demolished, to be replaced by a four to five unit structure more attuned to the area's upscaling economics.  A Tesla dealership is just across the alley.

So it goes.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day in Pictures

click images for larger view
 Victory Monument.  More here.
Memorial Day Chicago
Memorial Day Chicago, 2012: Beyond the Words
Memorial Day in Chicago, 2007 to 2010

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Only Until Sunday for Tim Samuelson's Must-See Exhibition, Mecca Flat Blues, at the Cultural Center

click images for larger view
A tardy reminder that you have only through this Sunday, May 25th, to see Tim Samuelson's great exhibition, Mecca Flat Blues, at the Chicago Cultural Center.  It's notable for the story it tells - of the journey a single building from the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition to it's 1950's demolition to make way for Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall - and for the way it tells it, anchored by supersized photographs filling up the two-story space of the Sidney R. Yates gallery in a way that gives you as a spectator a true feeling of the scale and experience of this seminal Chicago building and its great atria.

You'll kick yourself if you miss it, and if you still need convincing, here's our copiously illustrated article on the show . . .
A Triumphant Exhibition creates a Time Machine to a Vanquished Architecture: Tim Samuelson's Mecca Flat Blues, at the Chicago Cultural Center

Pezo Von Ellrichshausen wins first MCHAP Emerging Architecture award

ArchDaily reported on Thursday that the Chilean firm of Pezo Von Ellrichshausen has won the first awarding of the new Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for Emerging Architecture, which comes with $25,000 cash and a research professorship at IIT, whose school of Architecture is sponsoring the prize.  Pezo Von Ellrichshausen won for their Casa Poli on Chile's Coliumo peninsula, completed in 2005.   In 2008, ArchDaily published an extensive photoset on the project.  This fall, the winner will be announced for the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize, chosen by a jury from 225 nominees of work completed in North and South American between January of 2000 and December 2013.

Read More:

Four Finalists for MCHAP for Emerging Architecture to present in IIT's Crown Hall.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A third of a billion dollars to save 15 seconds? CTA's pork barrel roller coaster subject of public hearing tonight.

A public meeting on the CTA's proposed Red-Purple bypass project will be held today, Thursday, May 22nd, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the 19th District Police Department, 850 West Addison.

The Belmont crossover today (click images for larger view)
In post-war America, when stagnating cities sought to come to terms with the emerging age of the automobile, the expressway became the great god of salvation - worshipped and inevitable.  Urban centers were torn and shredded to make way for their construction, sacrificing long-standing patterns of local transportation for visions of speed and connection.

The joke, of course, turned out to be on the big cities, themselves.  Far from securing their economic future, the expressways emptied out the cities and greased the skids for the exodus to the suburbs, even while slumming up the neighborhoods now fallen beneath the highways' deep, derelicting shadows.

Now, city after city has realized its mistake, and taken sometimes massively expensive initiatives to heal the scars the expressways and other overscaled infrastructure created, painstakingly stitching the urban fabric back together.  Boston spent billions to cover its downtown Central Artery beneath parkland.  After the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake caused major damage to the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco didn't repair, but demolish, returning one the city's most iconic vistas back to its citizens, and restoring the Ferry Building district to its status as one of the city's great amenities. 

Dumb, clout-heavy Chicago still doesn't get it.  Other towns learn from their mistakes.  Chicago just ups the ante.
image courtesy of the Chuckman Collection
There's no more poetical symbol of the excesses of the automobile age than Chicago's Circle Interchange, four square blocks of nothing but roadway and winding, elevated ramps, constructed not on some suburban tabula rasa, but carved out of the very heart of the city, where's it's been a wasteland presence for over half a century.  Visually, it's a magnificent beast, but it's appetite is insatiable.  Frequently cited as offering up the worst congestion in the United States, it reportedly wastes 25,0000,000 driver hours every year. 

So, is the plan to find ways to divert more of that traffic away from the interchange?  Of course not. The plan is to continue to force as much traffic as possible -even through traffic that never stops downtown - squeezing through the Circle Interchange.  Spending $500 million to add capacity that will be inadequate by the time it comes online, the reconstruction includes building still another ramp that will pass mere yards from residents' bedroom windows and make Greektown look like a off-ramp hick town.
And now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Transit Authority intends to slum up Lakeview with a roller-coaster like overpass to eliminate switching delays north of the Belmont Brown/Red/Purple line stations.  Just four years ago, the CTA spent $530 million to renovate the entire Brown Line, extending platforms to accommodate eight-car trains  and rebuilding 18 stations, including completely new platforms at Belmont and Fullerton.  Now, just for this overpass, the CTA is proposing to spend $320 million.

For what? To eliminate, in the CTA's words, “more than 40% weekday trains being delayed as much as three minutes.”

That's right.  In a city closing schools by the dozen and facing financial disaster from pension payment obligations, Emanuel wants to spend a third of a billion dollars to eliminate delays that don't exceed three minutes on far less than half of train runs.

But wait - there's more!

The CTA's propaganda campaign for the project is a rich collection of misdirection, evasion, and downright lies.  The Reader's Ben Joravsky actually clocked more than 30 trains with a stopwatch, and the typical delay was 25 to 30 seconds.  Max was 40 seconds.  I also ride the Brown Line every workday, and I've been watching how long I'm held up at Belmont.  Often, it's not at all.  And when I am delayed, it's seldom more than 15 seconds.  Usually by the time the “We are waiting for signals ahead” announcement finishes, the train is already moving.

So we're going to spend a third of billion dollars to cut 15 to 30 seconds from our travel times.  Hey, we're expecting Uncle Sam to foot the bill, so it's not real money anyway, right?

What's really depressing about this is how local media look at this kind of thing with a compliant shrug.  Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business recently did a thorough dissection of what a waste of money the proposed Illiana Expressway would be.   But when I saw him recently on television being asked about the overpass, his reaction was something no deeper than “sure - why not?”

The CTA makes a lot of other suspect claims, including projecting that traffic through the intersection will double over the next 15 years.   It also laughably claims credit for the retail surge on Southport through the rebuilding of the Brown Line station, and suggests that the construction of the Belmont overpass will spur a similar miracle along Sheffield and Clark.  Like the opportunity of being in the shadow of trains cars loudly passing overhead on a soaring trestle is an irresistible  magnet for new businesses.

Not that the CTA actually has any intention of letting you see the full visual impact of the overpass.  As in the latest remake of Godzilla, the monster is kept out of sight not, as in the movie, to build suspense, but as a permanent strategy to defuse public outrage.  Like a realtor hiding a huge septic tank behind bushes in photographs of a house they're trying to sell, the CTA's project renderings carefully conceal the worst of the overpass behind buildings that don't exist, and for which no developer has as yet stepped forward, or even been rumored. 
Where the overpass is depicted at it's full height, it's kept in the far distance of the rendering, as if the CTA thinks we're too stupid to notice the visual chicanery.

No fewer than 20 buildings would be demolished to make way for overpass.  If we are to believe the renderings, a real cityscape of different types of buildings - not architectural masterpieces, but real, human-scaled structures reflecting Chicago's history - would be replaced by generic, cookie-cutter designs most likely targeted to incomes far above those of current residents.
I suppose I should admire the bureaucrats for their shamelessness, but the time for this kind of scarring infrastructure, ripping like a tornado through the urban fabric of a thriving neighborhood, is long past.