Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A New Day Dawns

November 5, 2008

grt-park11408-50As I have gotten older, I have been less concerned about being part of historic moments, but thanks to alums Mira Patel and Ben Roberts, both daughters Felicity and Alexandra were able to come to Grant Park with Mom and Dad last night and be part of an amazing moment in American history.
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Alex as cheerleader for Obama

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the girls were media hounds for local and foreign press

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Felicity and Felicity dance in Grant Park while the whole world was watching. There was no fear, no panic, no chaos but hope incarnate and an American dream not deferred but realized.

When I was young I read comic books, and there was a Catholic comic, Treasure Chest, that ran a serial about the election of the first African-American president. I can still remember that comic book and last night I watched it come true.

10 most 2008

April 2, 2008



wrgfld fldvw

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Today Landmarks Illinois released its 10 Most Endangered Landmarks list for the state, which includes two iconic sports stadia from two eras: Wrigley Field from 1914 and the U of I’s flying-saucer-like Assembly Hall from 1963. Wrigley has been in the news because of the endless string of trial balloons being floated by Tribune owner and 1980s real estate baron Sam Zell, who wants to sell the park and thus floated a balloon saying “Relax landmark status” which got a cold shudder from Mayor Daley and today’s listing.

The idea that you need to relax landmark status must be born of ignorance: WITH landmark status Wrigley just expanded its bleachers onto the sidewalk and it could easily dig out the dugouts, which are comically small. They could probably even wedge more skyboxes in. Has Zell seen all the Chicago Landmarks façade projects underweay? Did they think this one through or do any homework?

I don’t go to sporting events much anymore, partly because I’m old but partly because they used to be about the sweaty reality of sport and the stadiums reflected that: cold, dingy forests of I-beams rank with bodily excretions and excitement. Now they are high-style, quiet penthouse suites with dessert carts, wall-to-wall carpeting and anime athletes on Jumbotrons, adopting comic book superhero poses until the ACLs pop. In contrast, I think of Lou Gehrig’s hands, a jumble of dozens of untreated fractures and a paycheck that couldn’t keep him from summer barnstorming.

There. I got romantic and nostalgic. But I know that world is long gone. So, switch to hard-nosed economics: Modern sports are segregated by class. The rich watch from suites in the park while the punters watch on TV. Stadium revenue consists of these two streams: skyboxes and TV rights. The grandstands and bleachers that defined historic sports stadiums are basically obsolete, unnecessary and perhaps uneconomic features that require monetization through devices like Soldier Field’s seat licenses.

Assembly Hall is another story all together, what with its Jetsonian modernity. Yet it is also obsolete. Yesterday we heard about Lake Meadows from the Draper and Kramer group, and those 1950s buildings are obsolete as well. This should not surprise us, since obsolescence was in fact a GOAL of all industrial production in the 1950s and 1960s, as it is today.

Preservation, the sweet science of sustainability, rejects that goal. It is our challenge to find new uses for old buildings because they give us knowledge, identity, and free materials. That old 1914 fossil is essentially the same challenge as that 1963 fossil: to beat back built-in obsolescence and craft communities with continuity.

I’m still moving

March 27, 2008

Well, first they moved my office, then I moved my home, and now they are moving my blog. I have to write this to initiate the process and hopefully 200 old posts will follow.

Thought for Thursday March 27 2008. My beer club sent a half-sized newsletter claiming it was using less paper and is therefore greener. They then sent an email suggesting that future newsletters be pdfs which is even more environmentally friendly.

My response? Is it really more sustainable to rely on computers, which run on non-renewable coal, rather than paper, which is renewable and made from trees?

India

January 18, 2008



IIM lib helical stair4s

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Ashok Damani and his son Kirat gave me a Sri Ganesh, which I figure will be helpful in trying to sell the old house and survive the acquisition of the new one- maybe better than St. Joseph. It was only four days in India, with a day of arduous travel each way but it was worth it. I shared the keynote address task for the Heritage Conservation: Indo-American Perspective conference with Balkrishna Doshi, a most famous Indian architect and a trusted assistant to both Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. I toured ancient monuments with the incomparable Yatin Pandya, a creative architect in his own right who has built entire buildings of recycled materials yet can describe the haptic and kinesthetic experience of a 15th century stepwell or 16th century mosque like no one else. The gift of observation cycling into the gift of creative appropriation of space, and he took us at dusk to Sharkez Roza, which Le Corbusier described as more magnificent than the Acropolis, a series of buildings regular and irregular around an artificial lake and we rowed through still moonlit waters. I toured the IIM with Prof. Vasavada who assisted Kahn on the construction of that masterpiece and I listened in great detail as Vasavada described the difficulty of bending the stair rail for the helical descent through the library. I was given the task of summarizing the entire conference for Dr. Kapila Vastyayan at the end of two days and I talked about the cyclicity of time which is truly a helicity and how the challenges of conservation/preservation in terms of economics and building a mass movement and public support are the same in India and the US. I was impressed by stories of community building through preservation in Ahmedabad and more impressed by how India has a craft tradition to build on so that when Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri – sustainability architects of the first order – could employ 300 craftsmen for 3 years to construct a new building using only traditional methods, something we could never do in a nation of 300 million where I challenge you to find 300 traditional craftsmen. Mostly it was about recycling, about how time and life moves, truly in an Indian sense, in circular motions, and how our economy has been falsely and non-sustainably based on linear notions, and how preservation/conservation is the essence of recycling and essential to building a future economy that makes sense. But it is more than living and bread alone – as Debashish Nayak said, heritage conservation is not only the key to sustainable human development – it is the key to our identity. Without it you are no one.

right now

January 13, 2008

the wheel is in spin but I am sitting in the axle, a whirling shopping mall revolving around the Starbucks at the center of the transit lounge in Heathrow, stuck for six and a half hours on my way to Ahmedabad, sampling the Scapa (even smaller distillery in Orkney than the Erdadour, which is Lowland I think), watching the world’s most amazing parade of humanity and hoping to a pantheon that I can get an aisle seat for the next eight hours. The spinning wheel is something called STUFF, and the great Chicago preservation architect Gunny Harboe sent a link to the STUFF site http://www.storyofstuff.com, which really makes you think about a materials economy based on consumption. You should see it – fun for the kids too. We can’t just change the nonsustainability of our society by consuming green stuff, since it is stuff too and most stuff – including buildings built since 1950 – is made to be thrown out. Historic preservation is not the only part of sustainability, but it is essential because building construction and destruction is one of the most harmful parts of the waste chain. I will say this in India at our conference when I discuss the Issues and where the movement is going today. Things are changing in this world, and you may soon see a whole generation rejecting not just carism and bigboxism but consumerism, which has been a literal article of faith (STUFF explains the designed religiosity of postwar consumerism) for two generations. I sense it is ending, and I think it will be dramatic. Preservation is not so dramatic as big social movements, but at least we are on the right side of this one.

I think I will buy the SCAPA. I like to buy things that I consume and recycle myself.

Anarchists and Zealots

December 6, 2007



Barat Interior 1 003

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

We are sort of getting used to the torching of cars in the banlieu de Paris, those partly impoverished suburbs that have become the barricades of the 21st century now that the center of the city has been fully gentrified. But we are not yet used to such property destruction in the suburbs of Chicago, especially tony North Shore Lake Forest. But take a gander at the picture here – this is the interior of the Barat College Chapel in Lake Forest. Can you distinguish between this and the anarchy of Paris’ outer rings?

The interior of Barat College Chapel was a landmark, according to most preservationists and according to the Lake Forest preservation commission, but the City Council overturned their denial of a demolition permit and so the issue is now in court. While it sits awaiting judgement, the owner, Charles Shaw, apparently, allegedly and purportedly ordered this destruction.

Of course I have seen this before. In 1987 in Boston Jesuits took to their own church interior with chainsaws and sledgehammers to prevent a landmark designation. A couple of years later the same thing happened to St. Martin de Porres in Chicago, and in the late 90’s the same thing happened to St. Vibiana’s in downtown Los Angeles. These were all Catholic churches but there are any number of religious sects whose zealots happily incite mayhem in the name of defending their faith.

And zealotry would seem to be the appropriate word given its emtymology – better to destroy oneself than submit to the enemy, their actions seem to say. But Charlie Shaw is no zealot, no ideologue, simply a developer with little patience for preservation. More than 20 years ago he decided not to pursue tax credits for a major downtown rehab EVEN THOUGH HE QUALIFIED for them. Apparently he mistook the opening negotiation from the SHPO as definitive. But hey, that is old school development – no dealings above the neck here – it is won or lost below the waist. Behind the missing stations of the cross, medallions and altars and wainscot and icons you can hear those steel globes clanking….

the week just past

November 17, 2007



CAA 1107

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

This is the week that was (if you get that reference you are even older than I)

Monday the weather was nice so our Preservation Planning class did a little bit of a walk downtown to see the vistas of the proposed new demolitionaddition to the Chicago Athletic Association from the park (see picture). Millenium Park is inspiring a lot of positive developments but also a lot of mischievous landmark-slicing-and-dicing. Then we walked west to tell the tale of Block 37, from its 1973 semi-racist anti-urban inspiration through the precociously pro-active preservation community response in 1980, when Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust agreed to let four historic buildings go in order to save four others on the block. Then in 1982 the City guidelines recommended saving three buildings and the developer in 1983 said he would save one and two facades, so the city landmarked the McCarthy Building in 1984 and then the developer flip-flopped and asked the city to de-landmark the building in 1987, which they did and Landmarks Illinois sued to the state Supreme Court and lost and the building and every landmark on the block was demolished in 1989. And then….nothing.

Our class, here in 2007 MORE than 18 years after the demolition, watched the new building rise. In the meantime this block-sized I-told-you-so hosted Skate on State and Gallery 37, which many of my students grew up with. There we were – standing across from the site of the McCarthy Building – where I had been photographed exactly 20 years ago and a full generation had passed and that new generation was standing here listening to me tell the story of landmarks demolished before the were in first grade (at least some of them). And of course the whole thing was a TIF district which means the $60 million land write-down was financed by the increased real estate taxes the site would bring and I don’t know who their accountant is but she has to account for 18 years of no flippin’ taxes at all at all at all.

Monday night John Bryan was there for the SAIC event honoring the new endowed chairs, of which I am fortunate enough to have one with John Bryan’s notable name which is a great name to have because he saved the Farnsworth House and built Millenium Park and has helped the National Trust and is most recently enthusiastic for Edgar Miller. Barbi and Tom Donnelley and Jerry Adelmann and David Bahlman were there bless them all. Later we had a nice dinner with Mr. Bryan and his wife Neville and my mother was there along with Felicity and we gave Mr. Bryan one of the books from our 2006 photo documentation trip to Weishan, China. Meanwhile the painters were at the house.

Tuesday was another class with Andrew Heckencamp from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency listening to our Archival Documentation students presenting their rough-draft National Register nominations, then an Executive Committee meeting at Landmarks Illinois where we discussed all the hot issues like Chicago Athletic Association demolitionaddition, Shedd Aquarium’s demi-addition and Evanston’s Hahn building saved by a skyscraper and then home to get the kids from school and then back downtown for the Partners in Preservation event where the winners of the $1 million were announced and l felt good for places we work with like Unity Temple and South Side Community Arts Center but I felt bad for the Roger Brown Home and Studio and Pleasant Home, two sites where I sit on committees and even though I sat on the big committee I couldn’t get them more money but at least there was an open bar.

Wednesday we met with Bill about the other house and Wednesday afternoon I met with students and showed Bill’s sister Anne, our star faculty member, the plans for the other house and met with prospective students and then finally got some work done on the award application for Paul’s house and dashed home just in time to meet with the mason and spent the night clearing out the basement. Thursday we had another painter at the house and I met with another prospective student and went up to the Apple store because the shift key came off this machine but they were packed out so I came back and Ursula at the Help desk fixed it bless her and then I had a meeting with Exhibition and Events Committee and then home for more basement cleaning and packing and pruning.

Now it is Friday and we met a plumber and an appraiser and I talked to two roofers and then I let Felicity take me shopping even though I suffer severely from male pattern shopping disorder although I did get some shoes and it wasn’t as painful as a root canal maybe because it was Friday and now I am on the train again and it seems that this is the only place I can write or get work done like that piece I want to submit to JSAH about Barry Byrne. The funny thing about packing and going through old boxes of stuff and putting things in new boxes and trying to lighten the load is you get sort of a flashback of your life or various odd bits of it and there are always bits you forgot even if you have a memory like mine and it gives a sense of depth, of time, that is always absent from the immediate everyday, a sense of depth like I tried to convey to my students at Block 37, to see the block not just now but in time and its various incarnations and like now with the PhD and the endowed Chair I am starting to feel that depth in me although when you thumb through the photos and clippings in the basement boxes you see it was there all along and it is not new and I wonder if anything is new but when a lot is happening everything feels new because that is the sensation of new, the sensation of activity and action and energy in the immediate everyday which is a sensation not a real thing or at least not an historic fact until time circles around and reminds you that now matter how much you laugh or cry there will be a next week.

Twenty Years later

October 26, 2007



gaylord east2004

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

In 1987, the rehabilitated Gaylord Building opened as a museum, gallery and restaurant. Last night we gathered there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of saving this landmark.

The oldest portion was built in 1838 as a supply depot for construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal and thus is the oldest industrial structure in Illinois. The 3-story Italianate addition was added in the late 1850s when the building was used as a grain store and warehouse. In 1902 two brick stories were added as it became a lock factory, and in 1948 it became a plumbing supply warehouse. By the 1980s it was an abandoned hulk.

Enter the Donnelley family – Gaylord Donnelley learned his grandfather, George Gaylord, had owned the building in the 1870s and 1880s and formed a not-for-profit to rehabilitate the building. Barbi Donnelley, one of my mentors, ran the project and is still intimately involved. Jerry Adelmann, my first mentor, helped inspire it. I recall the hot August day when Gaylord Donnelley announced the project; I recall bringing a tour group to the decrepit hulk and I recall meeting Governor Thompson 20 years ago as we celebrated the opening of the building.

In 1996 it became the first adaptive re-use project to become a National Trust historic site, representing a broadening of a movement that began with house museums. The list of National Trust properties has never been the same – now we have desert pueblos, tenements, and two modern glass houses. The Gaylord also represents the reality of historic preservation – it is ALWAYS adaptive re-use.

I said that last night at the dinner. We had just reviewed an excellent new exhibit of artifacts and documents and new panels describing the entire history of the building (Go. Visit. Now.) I said that historic preservation is about the future, about rehabilitating the physical remains of the past as useful parts of contemporary life – finding new lives for sturdily built structures. It is not about preserving the past but reanimating the past so that it continues to make history.

SAIC MSHP Faculty In The News

October 25, 2007

Well, Charlie Pipal our redoubtable Professor of Physical Documentation (that is not an official title but an earned one) has just returned from New Orleans where he picked up SAIC’s Honorable Mention for the Charles Peterson Prize, the nation’s award for best measured drawings. This is the third (!) time one of Charlie’s classes has won this award in seven tries, in competition against the nation’s top architectural schools.

Neal Vogel, our intrepid faculty member who brings students to real job sites and shows them how restoration REALLY happens, is on the cover of the Your Place section of the Tribune today, in the midst of a wonderfully refreshing Mary Beth Klatt article on restoring old windows. Neal is prominent in the feature, which for a change presents window restoration in a positive light, giving the lie to the new window industry marketing hype, Which. Is. All. Crap.

More news will be coming soon as we are gathering together a newsletter for mailing this semester. I’ve added Lee Bey’s link (his photography rocks) on the right, and of course you should join Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust (also at right). And the comments feature is working again – spam and all.

Twin Cities

October 7, 2007



st columba frtS

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Final Day of the National Preservation Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, a surprisingly balmy venue. This is Barry Byrne’s stunning St. Columba church, completed in 1950 and a worthy counterpoint to the more famous Christ Church Lutheran of the same time in Minneapolis by the more famous Eliel Saarinen. I have spent nine years working on a book on Byrne’s work and this is my first view of this, one of his two pioneering fish-shaped churches. Mike Jackson called it a tour de force and Felicity spent some time there with the field camera and most important, the parish recognizes what it has and is doing a nice job of preserving a mid-century Modern classic. Even in my poor photo here, you get a sense of Byrne’s skill at geometries, combining squaring and curving forms, layering them in the vertical the way Wright layered them in the horizontal. What you don’t get a sense of is how a building that is monumental and modest at once on the exterior becomes sweeping and sublime on the interior.

Two trips out to St. Columba were my only chances to get away from a blizzard of meetings and events in this, my first full conference as a Trustee of the National Trust. I even had to miss most of the National Council for Preservation Education events, save our Wednesday morning “Preservation 101″ session (well attended) and the Executive Committee on Friday. It was all fascinating: Historic Sites (The Trust has more than two dozen – I represent the Gaylord Building in Lockport, which you should visit) Diversity (a great new plan for a Hispanic American Historic Sites Initiative) and Preservation, which is of course the whole point. I did get to see our alum Chrissie Barr, who is preservation staff for St. Paul’s landmarks commission, and the networking among academic and professional colleagues has been as off the hook as the big houses on Summit Avenue we toured on Thursday and Friday. Garrison Keillor gave the keynote and even greeted guests at his home on the hill. I liked his style: he pleaded for a bit of tastlessness in our efforts – a worthy warning for a field than can get too precious (Every field can get too precious and needs such Cassandras…)

In 25 minutes I am at my next meeting followed by two more and a plane ride, so I better get ready…..more to follow??


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