Chicago October 2009

1. Save Gropius Buildings at Michael Reese

Blair Kamin in today’s Tribune makes the case for saving the Gropius buildings at the former Michael Reese Hospital. He also takes to task the city’s spokesperson for an indefensible “we are proceeding” position. This is no longer an overnight development for the Olympics and it is no longer a job for the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing sector of the development community. It is not that hard to reuse some or all of these buildings, and now that we needn’t follow the dictates of the Olympic village, we can use variety in height and scale (as Gropius did) to make the south lakefront more urbanistically interesting than it would have been under the previous plan.
MRH kaplan anglS
MRH gropius 31st bS

2. 839 Park Avenue, River Forest. I blogged about this one recently. Hometown architect. Significant student of Frank Lloyd Wright. A design that sits in the landscape in a way that CANNOT be achieved in less than a generation. What new building will look half as good as this?
park drumm709s
This has been covered in the local press, but NO ONE mentions the Illinois Property Tax Freeze as an option, which it clearly is – as noted by Landmarks Illinois and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

My conclusion? The new owners are head over heels in love with property taxes!

They have chosen to put this million-dollar home in a landfill and GIVE us twice as much in property taxes than they would have if they simply built a rear addition to double the size of the house and improve its floorplan. I guess they are saving everyone else in River Forest a lot of money.

Maybe not – depending on how the new building looks, it could depress local values. Could that be the strategy? Build an ugly house and thereby reduce values and thus property taxes? Hmm. We will have to see.

3. Aqua – Sitting (or standing) in the new modern wing at AIC you are surrounded by Piano and confronted by Gehry. But you are also astounded by the female winner of this “contest” – Jeanne Gang and her Aqua, quite easily the most interesting, urbane and aesthetically pleasing highrise in twenty years. Everyone is noticing its insistent elegance between its more brusque and brash neighbors.
mod wing bridgeo909s
mill pk aqua
mill pk aqua cls

4. The Society of Architectural Historians conference is here in Chicago in April. I am Local Chair and you should all come – great tours and the latest and greatest thoughts from those who think about buildings across all places and all times.

FRIDAY UPDATE:

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA – Only the second Chicagoan to win this award – the first being Jane Addams in 1931. The New York Times headline calls it a political liability at home. Huh? John Bolton, the cantankerous anti-furriner that was made ambassador to the UN (that’s IRONY with ALL of the letters capitalized) said: “It’s high-minded Europeans talking down to hayseed Americans, saying this is the way you ought to be.” That’s probably true, but Mr. Bolton shouldn’t worry. If history is a guide, low-mindedness will certainly make a comeback before too long. Or did they blow it all on town hall drive-by shoutings?

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2 Responses to “Chicago October 2009”

  1. Sabra Smith Says:

    Your #1 and #2 neatly exemplify what will be an increasing challenge for champions of mid-century architects and their work — the general public isn’t yet feeling the warm-fuzzies about mid-century yet. While the River Forest house is sweetly storybookish and it feels like a tragedy that it will be demolished, many will shrug over Gropius because to them the building just looks like their elementary school and what’s the big deal? We’ve seen this in Philadelphia with Magaziner’s Sidney Hillman Medical Center (an important touchstone of the labor movement and hailed as one of the city’s top ten most important mid-century buildings). Citizen comment (in reaction to a Star-Ledger article) on the money being spent to restore Louis Kahn’s Trenton bath house was so hostile I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear riot police had been called.

  2. preservegreen Says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned Jeanne Gang’s Aqua building. I only just noticed this building the other day and was surprised to be so impressed and struck by it, especially amid the ubiquitous mirrored towers around it.

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