Archive for March, 2009

End of March

March 31, 2009

March is going out more lionine than lamblike and perhaps April will be less hectic – it looks like I am staying in town all month (unless you count two tours to Lockport and Joliet for AIC). Our Masters in Historic Preservation program has a lot going on this month, starting next Monday, April 6 when my seminar class presents our ideas for interpretation of the Armitage-Halsted district to Alderman Vi Daley, the CTA and members of the Sheffield community. This class has done a great job of tackling a range of interpretive elements, from website and brochure and banners to a couple of installations at the Armitage L station designed to get people looking at the amazing buildings of the Armitage-Halsted historic district, with their Renaissance (Baroque) inspired architectural details in metal, stone and brick. Here are a few samples of these delicious buildings:
I was one of the expert witnesses for the district when the Commission proposed it to the City Council back in 2002-03 and it is nice that Alderman Daley wants to promote it some more, because it is largely unmarked and it is special – only 18th Street in Pilsen and Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park comes close in terms of a 19th century commercial streetscape in Chicago. We have some neat ideas (I’m holding the surprise until later) on how to get people to LOOK UP and see the architectural sumptuousness circumscribing their everyday.
Then, a week from Friday, on April 10, we are having a lunchtime lecture at the School’s ballroom at 112 S. Michigan Avenue from Professor Fan Jianhua, who has been our key sponsor for the Yunnan Initiative in China, in concert with the US-China Arts Exchange. Professor Fan published our students who came to Weishan photographing in 2006 and promises to help again when we return this summer.
This last image is one Felicity Rich shot in 2006 – nice view to the North Gate building (1390, dude!) which is a national landmark in China, and rightly so – second largest gate tower after Tien An Men. And it is older.

So, then the following weekend we are doing our practice tours for our six neighborhoods – South Chicago, Auburn-Gresham, Quad Communities (Bronzeville), Pilsen, Albany Park and the Indo-American Museum. This is a project of the Burnham Centennial. These tours go live during Chicago Great Places and Spaces on May 16 so BE THERE!
albany park on lawrence
auburn gresham on 79th
pilsen 20th street
Pilsen Resurrection Project – former St Vitus
bungalows north
bungalows south

April 28 we are having the amazing Doug Farr of Farr and Associates – you saw his Zero Energy House on Channel 11 TONIGHT – speaking in the museum’s Fullerton Hall in conjunction with our evening green preservation class. Two nights later we will have our students’ thesis presentations and the awarding of their pair of Peterson prizes for measured drawings by Walker Johnson, FAIA. In between I have my three classes, a couple of meetings for our China Study Trip and a couple of Gaylord Building meetings.

Then in May it gets busy…


Real Authenticity

March 24, 2009

AH, the challenge of Authenticity. We discussed this last night at an APT Fellows forum (I was the non-Fellow) with plenty of examples of challenged authenticity, from the replacement parts of Soldier Field and the 63rd Street Beach house to the relocation of Cape Hatteras and the reconstruction of churches in Kyiv. We had the meeting – kicking off the Great Lakes Chapter of APT – at Glessner House, which is itself a sort of lab for the changing attitudes to authenticity since its first rescue in 1966. The speakers were Walker Johnson, Harry Hunderman, Deborah Slaton, Paul Gaudette and Steve Kelley. I have known most of these people for a REALLY long time.
A big part of the challenge was defining authenticity, because while there are lots of international preservation charters (notably the 1994 Nara Document on Authenticity) that use the word, here in the U.S. we tend to focus on “integrity” instead, which is the word we use in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, Preservation, Restoration and Reconstruction, which is itself based on the 1964 Venice Charter, still the closest the preservation world has to a written constitution. And as someone noted, we chose to focus on integrity because “authenticity” was too challenging a concept, incorporating intangible elements – which is what the Nara Document added to the mix, along with a more diverse understanding of what makes something authentic.
I always like to use the example of the Shinto temple in Ise (which was capital of Japan before Nara, which in turn was before Kyoto which in turn was before Tokyo.) which is 1000 years old and holds the mirror of Ameratsu. Only the building is taken down every 20 years and completely rebuilt. In our minds, this lacks integrity and authenticity, but only because in the west we are focused on the physical fabric – the piece of the true cross if you will. The Shinto temples are rebuilt using the same tools and crafts as were used 1000 years ago, so the authenticity is in the act of construction. They might be scandalized to see us restore a 17th century house using nail guns, laser levels and epoxy, but somehow we are concerned with the thing, not the process of getting to the thing.
Paul Gaudette talked about the interesting challenge he had with the 63rd Street beach house and Soldier Field, where the original popcorn concrete was made in such a way that no two panels were the same, and how HARD it was nowadays to get that inconsistency. He called it the challenge of putting in variability. We also discussed the challenge of preserving the Modern, since the design intent of those buildings was a picture of pristine newness – they weren’t designed to age, as Deborah Slaton pointed out. And often their materials don’t age well. The travertine at Crown Hall was replaced and will need to be replaced again in 50 years – that is often the decision made with the Modern and it is arguably the correct one because it preserve the design intent.
Integrity – and authenticity – can be judged by both form (design) and fabric (material) and in the case of the latter for pre-Modern architecture that fabric should bear the marks of craftsmanship in some form. Yet, every charter since Athens in 1931 has talked about the value of various periods of history and has admonished AGAINST returning a building to some ideal of perfection, which was the fallacy of James Wyatt in 18th century England and Prosper Mérimée in 19th century France. It was a cultural choice our Western culture rejected in the 20th century and rejects still. Indeed, my wee slide show of the succession of international charters dealing with authenticity illustrates a clear trajectory toward a more inclusive system and a more inclusive process for determining significance, authenticity and even context, the great buzzwords of the preservation profession. The challenge, of course, is to maintain some form of best practices while accommodating the values of the many cultural and professional communities involved. That challenge will likely remain fugitive but the attempt is essential in order to insure the broadest incorporation of values and thus the broadest possible stewardship because that, ultimately, is what this is about.

Sustainability, LEED, and Preservation

March 20, 2009

I am at the Preservation and Sustainability conference at Goucher College today, where I presented a paper on the Greening of the Prairie School, which I joked was like saying “Gilding the Lily” since my biggest point was that much of the 100-year old Prairie School included design features we would now consider green, such as local sourcing, unfinished materials, climate-sensitive siting, overhanging eaves, natural ventilation systems, and compact design. I also talked about ways in which the Prairie School was not sustainable, including the sprawling anti-urban bias of Frank Lloyd Wright himself, and I concluded with the example of the former River Forest Women’s Club, which went from the 2005 Illinois’ 10 Most Endangered List to the 2008 Illinois Preservation Project of the Year, thanks to Ellen and Paul Coffey, who rehabbed the building using the latest in green technology.
I presented the project as an example of using contemporary geothermal and solar technology while meeting all of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, but much of the discussion here has been about the conflicts between preservation and LEED, which has become the standard – through marketing of a trade association, USGBC – for sustainability. A recurring theme has been the need to create an independent rating system for green design. We also learned about impending improvements to LEED which will allot more points for rehabilitating historic buildings – in the original you got the same point for NOT demolishing a building as you did for putting in a bike rack.
Bruce Judd, FAIA of San Francisco has done lots of LEED certified rehabilitations of historic buildings and argued that the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards do not need to be changed and are working well. Another speaker, archaeologist Tom King, got us going by suggesting an abolition of the National Register. I countered with the point that preservation is in fact a site of negotiation between various communities and various experts and not the purview of one or the other. Moreover, while LEED is prescriptive – you get points for specific things you do – in contrast, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which “govern” preservation, are interpretive, and have been interpreted differently over time. The importance as far as I am concerned is not lists or surveys or standards but a PROCESS whereby various values are considered. We will get back to values soon.
One of the problems with both LEED and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards is that they tend to focus on the time architects are involved: design and construction. If you are concerned about global warming, you have to look at building operations over time. The costs of operating a building for 30 years are 3 times the design and construction phase. Most people ignore the embodied energy of a building whose carbon footprint predates television; they also ignore the lifespan of materials. I blog a lot about my 110-year old windows because they are already there: no replacement can’t out-environment that and few can outperform them in terms of operation. Audrey Tepper did a nice job of making the window argument, which EVERYONE in this crowd understood all to well.
Tom Liebel, AIA of Baltimore has a wonderful motto: Long Life; Loose Fit. This is true of buildings as a construction and it is useful for thinking about the operation of buildings, which is a larger contributor to greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation. You might balk at spending $1000 on a door, but that door might be CHEAPER over the life of the product and operate MORE EFFICIENTLY. There was discussion of some laboratory spaces that could be retrofitted with German compressors that used a lot less energy and lasted longer, even though they were more expensive. Most people also focus only on design and construction, not operations. Most corporations and institutions also separate these functions, so someone makes a budget decision about installation or rehabilitation based only on the design and construction cost, not the operation cost. That is wrong.

Almost every speaker used a Venn diagram with three bubbles: Economic, Environmental and Social/Cultural. LEED was designed only for Environmental. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and other preservation practices were initially designed only for Social/Cultural. A generation ago preservation started getting heavily involved in the Economic. Now is the time to solve all three, because ONLY the intersection of Economic, Environmental and Social/Cultural values is TRUE sustainability.
Cindy Steinhauser from Dubuque also made an excellent economic point which I have aluded to in my recent posts on the Obama stimulus package: preservation – which is green building – creates more jobs. And Green jobs CAN’T BE EXPORTED. She talked about revitalizing a mill district in Dubuque which thrived for generations on manufacturing. That changed and the jobs went elsewhere. But rehabilitating our environment; our buildings and our communities is a job that CAN NOT go anywhere else.

The crux of the problem

March 18, 2009

During times of economic recession it is good for preservation because people can’t afford to build as many new structures or do questionable alterations to historic ones.

During times of economic recession it is bad for preservation because people can’t afford to rehabilitate historic buildings.
That is the crux of one problem. The other is apparent in a New York Times article today “Habitat for Humanity Adds Demolition To Its Mission” where the famed affordable housing group – so adept at getting high profile and no profile volunteers to build houses for the poor, is now demolishing houses in abandoned neighborhoods. The article notes that they are focused more on rehab now, which is good. But they are also doing demolition and one of the volunteers hit on the REAL crux of the preservation problem when he noted that “It’s more challenging than building, where you go in linear steps.”

Yes, preservation requires the flexibility of non-linear thought and action, even in the good times. It requires more skill (not necessarily more money) to rebuild, to work from what you have. Anyone can fill a blank canvas, but I often wonder whether the more creative act is working with existing forms.

Gropius in Chicago

March 16, 2009

Grahm Balkany, a student at IIT, the school designed by the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, has uncovered a surprising amount of evidence that Mies’ fellow modernist Walter Gropius had a hand in as many as 8 of the buildings at Michael Reese Hospital, the venue for the planned Olympic Village 2016. While the 2016 committee has always said they would save the main building, by local hospital heavyweights and sometime Prairie specialists Schmidt, Garden and Martin, the Gropius buildings are a big question mark at best. I saw Balkany’s presentation and it was very impressive – Gropius’ name appears on drawings as well as that of his firm and local planning director Reginald Isaacs. And as Balkany told the Landmarks Illinois’ Issues Committee, once you start looking at the buildings….
These are the only Gropius buildings in Illinois, much less Chicago, and they are part of a near South Side that is an essay in modernist planning, flanked by Prairie Shores, Lake Meadows, and to the west, IIT.
All of a sudden, it seems near South side Chicago is a Gropiusstadt, and the parallels in materials and idiom between the works of the Bauhaus’ first and last directors is stunning.
ok, that is Mies
It’s like a showdown between two architectural Olympians, and it’s all here.

The Gropius in Chicago website is at

Sears Willis Tower

March 14, 2009

The John Hancock Building, by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Fazlur Khan and Bruce Graham, is an architectural landmark. The Sears Tower, by the same team, is not. It is an engineering triumph. For 30 years it had the tallest occupied space and the tallest roof in the world and still does so in the Western Hemisphere. As an educator I can tell you that it is the BEST zoning diagram and illustration of FAR (floor area ratio) in the world. But aesthetically, it is challenged, a plunked metal cage. The four setback plazas which helped allow its great height are the most user-unfriendly in the city. Only the buoyant and garish mediocrity of neighboring 311 South Wacker – the ultimate 1980s “Big Hair” building – lends Sears the semblance of aesthetic balance.

All of which is prelude to the local media buzz about the renaming of the Sears Tower in Chicago. It will now be called Willis Tower after the owners, who will occupy 3% of the space in the building. Predictably, most people are upset by the change, but I think they could slightly modify their naming to recall Chicago history and call it the Willis Wagons Tower. For non-Chicagoans, Willis Wagons were the prefab mobile classrooms that filled the parking lots and athletic fields of Chicago public schools in the 1960s and 1970s, derisively named for Schools Superintendent Benjamin Willis, who plunked down the prefabs rather than bus black students to uncrowded white schools in the early 1960s. Many remained in place for decades. What better way to recall a key aspect of Chicago history than renaming our tallest building? It’s already halfway there!

There is a Friends of the Wesley Willis Tower group on Facebook. This is a great name – I remember Wesley Willis as a streetcorner artist who would sketch amazing graph-paper like building vistas with a collection of colored Flair pens. He was a big guy with some sort of mental disorder but eventually was recruited to lead a punk band called Wesley Willis Experience which was quite the thing in the early 90s. He died, sadly, but left this artistic legacy – including views of the then-Sears Tower – that make him the best name for the Willis Tower so far.

Well, the name change went into effect yesterday and the Tribune came up with the new local name – Big Willie. I think that says it all.

Mumford House Saved!

March 11, 2009

Wow! Somehow, the letters to the Trustees and the continued support of Landmarks Illinois, The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and tireless local preservationists Alice Novak and Karen Kummer, the Mumford House on the U of I campus – its oldest and most original building from 1869 – was saved by the Trustees in Board meeting this morning. I was most pleasantly shocked by this news and kudos go to Alice and Karen and Jim Peters at Landmarks Illinois and Jan Grimes at IHPA and Chairman Shah and Trustees Vickrey and Schmidt and Carroll. Thanks also to Susan Appel for reading my letter (blog below on January 14 2009) into the record back in January. This is a great victory for common sense, historic context. Thanks to the University of Illinois Trustees!

Hull House Again

March 10, 2009

Well, I took my grad students to the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and Director Lisa Lee did it again – wowed everyone with her enthusiasm and creativity in reimagining what a house museum is. Not that Jane Addams’ Hull House was ever a typical house museum – preserved under duress during the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the house was sort of a shrine to Addams herself and the institution she created, which still exists elsewhere. It was also subject to an absolutely bizarre restoration – you can see my 2003 research on the subject at
Addams was all about the radical democracy of speech and free interchange of ideas, and solidarity much more than service. The “residents” of Hull House were people who could live elsewhere but chose to live among working class immigrants, not simply to “help” them but to be with them and learn from them. It was a melding of public and private space and it was an extension of the ideals of a nurturing family to the entire city. I learn something new everytime I go there. They have even started the cell phone tours that will soon be EVERYWHERE
Anyway, Lisa reported that they recently received an NEH grant to put into practice her radical reimagining of this historic site. They are going to restore Jane Addams’s bedroom while they continue to make the main floor of the house a hybrid interactive museum space that interprets the many stories of Hull House, of the women (and some men) who gave us public health, public schools, playgrounds, parks, child labor laws, universal suffrage and a whole lot of art. Lisa talked about art today and it was a taut reminder that art must be in the everyday because it acculturates the other things we do. I suppose many schools will cut art in the name of the current economic conditions, as they often do, but it is no more separable from the body politic than your left arm. Yes, you can cut it off, but the rest won’t function nearly as well. Lisa also repeated the things she learned about TRUTH in South Africa. There are four kinds of truth: Forensic truth – the provable, scientific kind; narrative truth, which is what each of us tells ourselves about ourselves and our experiences; dialogic truth, which is the truth we share with others and thus not identical to our personal narrative truth; and finally restorative truth, which is the hardest of all because…I think because it requires a reckoning of all three other truths. This is what they were doing at Hull House HISTORICALLY and what they are doing there NOW.
I have blogged before about the “Rethinking Soup” they do at Hull House every Tuesday that carries not just the MESSAGE of the building but its historic PRACTICE into the present day, fomenting modern conversations about things like food and health and sustainability just as the Hull House residents debated these subjects for generations in the same space.
This is how historic interpretation should be done; a combination of third person, second person and first person, not one or the other, but all of them. That is the beauty of Jane Addams’ original Hull House – it was experimental and open, it evolved constantly, and it was constantly reinvented and reinvigorated by new blood. Which is what every museum – every institution really – needs to be to be relevant and worth preserving.
Hull House was saved at a time when house museums were shrines, when they told singular, uninflected and generally SAFE stories. Jane Addams’ Hull House museum is one of the best in the world right now because it is always experimenting, never safe and fueled by the energy of people like Lisa Lee. Half of my students wanted to BE her after the visit. Her energy is that infectious. How do you bottle that? That is the great challenge of interpretation, which if it works, is a constant reinterpretation, and like Einsteinian physics, that interpretation understands that the interpretation itself is affected not only by the interpreters but by the viewers. Hence, it is best if they are both, which they are at Hull House. Go. See for yourself. Better yet, see, hear, touch, taste and feel for yourself. Better yet again, do for yourself. It is the story of transformation, of immigration, of a constant arriving and redefining, of the formation and reformation of self and society.

2010 UPDATE: See my posting on the brand new reinterpretation of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum HERE!

Landmarks Gala

March 8, 2009

Did you know that the brownie was invented at the Palmer House? Bertha Honore Palmer wanted a new dessert treat in 1893 and they came up with the brownie. That was one of the fun facts we learned at the Legendary Landmarks Gala last night at the Palmer House; Landmarks Illinois’ annual black tie fundraiser. I am Secretary and Issues Committee Chair for the organization, which this year honored Susan and Lew Manilow, Michael Kutza and Richard Driehaus. Driehaus is a name well known in preservation circles for his sponsorship of Preservation Awards that Landmarks Illinois gives each year. The Manilows are incredible arts supporters (and good dancers, I am happy to say) and actually way ahead of the curve on preservation – Lew Manilow envisioned the North Loop Theatre District way back in 1980 when he sponsored a plan to save the Woods, Harris and Selwyn Theaters. This was WAY ahead of the curve in terms of preservation.
The Woods was lost in 1989 but he saved the other two (one facade; one whole) when the Goodman Theatre went in a decade later. Kutza of course founded the Chicago International Film Festival and Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra presented a motion picture intro to Kutza’s amazing and very photogenic accomplishments. Driehaus was the final recipient and delivered the coup de grace by surprising nearly everyone with the promise of a $1 million gift over the next four years to preserve and illuminate county courthouses throughout the State of Illinois. He announced this (a HUGE surprise) as an elevation of the Macoupin County Courthouse hovered above him.
I had a nice chat at dinner with a nice couple from Kenilworth who were very ashamed of the misinformation campaign that led to voting down the National Register designation (reported on here in November). The National Register can’t stop you from tearing down your house. It is really that simple but a lot of time and money was spent convincing people otherwise. David Bahlman came back to town as Master of Ceremonies; Tony Jones did a FANTASTIC introduction of Richard Driehaus and the food was good. Oh, and one other thing. No matter how hard I try, I can’t keep up with Rolf Achilles. I knew that 10 years ago but somehow I keep forgetting.
Speaking of 10 years ago, here is construction photo of Harris facade and Selwyn behind.

How To Weatherproof Your Windows

March 5, 2009

Many previous posts deal with windows and the benefits of repairing historic wooden windows. A post from November detailed one of my do-it-yourself repairs of my perfectly square, well-functioning 110-year old windows and just this week I shared the details of my heating bill. Now, you can learn “How To Repair and Weatherproof your Windows” in a workshop of that name this Saturday, March 7, from 9-10 AM at Von Dreele-Freerksen, 509 Madison Street in Oak Park. It’s free!

In 2005 I did a panel on windows with Doug Freerksen, who brought his tools and discussed how you can repair and weatherproof your windows, so I know it will be a good seminar.

BTW, you CAN’T do a seminar on “How to Repair Your Replacement Windows.”