Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

St. Patrick’s Day

March 18, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day.  Corned beef, beer, parades.  This is an American tradition, not an Irish one, but significant enough among Irish-Americans that these traditions spread back across the ocean to Ireland, where they have been adopted.  This is actually how culture works, which is to say the process is authentic.

Lima Day 5

June 12, 2011

Today we found two more huacas and lots of nice buildings and parks, mostly in the swank San Isidro neighborhood, which is next to Miraflores. We started by getting into the concrete parabolic church we saw yesterday (see post below from yesterday) then we wandered along Avenida Camino Real (so I had Tennessee Williams on the brain) and saw this lovely highrise with hanging gardens terraces (and attendant brick issues)

It was Douglas and Erika and I again, walking about 8 km before lunch and another 3-4 after. We found one more cool cantilever building before….

we stumbled on Huaca Huallamarca, a much smaller huaca and made with roughly rounded adobe bricks, simpler than our elaborate friend from yesterday.

The huaca had a lot of lights and I dreamed about having a cocktail party on one of the roofs around the huaca when it was lit up at night, which must be a sight to see…

Here you can see the rounded bricks. This one also dates from the first half of the first millenium, and then was used as a cemetery by the Wari, not unlike Huaca Paclluna from yesterday.

Lotsa embassies in these nice quiet neighborhoods, even more quiet because it was Sunday. We wandered over to Lince to the Parque Mariscal Castilla, which had both an oncological installation and an ecological installation…

Oh, that reminds me: latest trend: modern dance in the parks, in large groups. This is like tai chi used to be in the old days, or ballroom dance at 6 AM in Chinese cities a decade ago. The ones by the Oncological institute (next to the ecological pond) were a bit more hip-hop.

We then wandered in search of lunch, but thanks to modernist planning, we were esconced in miles of residential, which made for some felicitous architectural encounters, like….this Tudor

This fire academy in appropriately fire engine red..

Colonial, Renaissance, Deco – something for everyone….


And these buildings with typical Lima balconies, the first I saw outside the Cercado…

Then some Ceviche for lunch

Then through this cool section of San Isidro that is all organized around parks, sort of modernist superblock planning except the parks are public and usually have some playground equipment and a statue or two. And they are surrounded by lovely buildings. So here are some examples from our walk:



I loved these modernist ones near Parque Pio XII (despite how I might feel about him…)

Shoot, Arquitectonica was even doing one.

These park developments were quite fascinating and Douglas and I are thinking about making them part of the students’ study. Fascinating investigations into urbanism, architecture, scale, use and so forth are possible. Sometimes there are blank walls that support urban environments, and sometimes they don’t. There is no one-size-fits-all, and perhaps there is no rule that admits no exception. At any rate, this city is a good place to ask those questions.


this one totally made me think Mies in Krefeld


what if liebeskind did a park?


cool canted cantilevers on angamos oeste

Is that gorgeous or what?!

One hour until departure. Pero yo regreso….

Read the paper the Day Before

February 20, 2010

The greatest casualty of the 24-hour news cycle is not attention span – it is memory. The current Olympic tiff between the ice skaters is a classic example. Silver medalist Plushenko lashed out at judges after they awarded gold to Lysacek, who performed a more elegant routine – but didn’t do any quads. Why this is a controversy is a complete mystery to those of us who read the paper THE DAY BEFORE the competition, when there was a big article about the ice skating judges who said – flat out – that they weren’t going to judge the competition solely on jumps. I sort of understand Plushenko being upset that he didn’t get gold for a more difficult athletic accomplishment, but he was totally warned THE DAY BEFORE.

The same thing happened five years ago – when this blog began. The day before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the newspaper had a large cross-section illustration describing how the levees in New Orleans would fail and how the city would flood. And then it did. And President Bush and the feds claimed they didn’t expect it. I guess they didn’t read the newspaper, because there it was THE DAY BEFORE.

You can only learn from the past if you remember it, and unfortunately there are a lot of examples of really short-term memory.

A Better Plan

August 18, 2009

One of the things that has made Landmarks Illinois an effective preservation organization has been its ability to transcend the primal impulse of many preservationists – the “Just Say No” response – and provide a more intelligent way to proceed. When a developer/institution/politician/agency says “This is what we want to do” the preservationist in all of us just wants to shout “no!”. But that is neither effective nor even a complete response. Much, much better to say: here is the better plan that achieves your goals and saves historic buildings.

This is what Landmarks Illinois did this week with their new plan for the 2016 Olympic Village on Chicago’s lakefront – they picked the best Gropius buildings – not all of them – and came up with a more intelligent and sustainable plan – you can see it at http://www.landmarks.org or click at the link on the right.
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The organization actually has a long history of doing this – coming up with a more sustainable plan than what is first proposed. And the plan is usually a compromise – it doesn’t save everything the most ardent preservationists want to save, as is the case here at Michael Reese Hospital campus. Landmarks did it way back in 1980 when the City of Chicago proposed demolishing Block 37. They picked 4 of the 8 historic buildings and proposed a development that met all of the city’s requirements for the block. The city ended up demolishing the whole thing and then letting it sit vacant for 18 years.

They did it several years ago with Soldier Field – developing a new stadium for the Bears while holding onto the history – and National Landmark status – of Soldier Field. The Bears went ahead and modified the field and lost the landmark status.

They did it again with Cook County Hospital, showing how the old hospital could be adaptively re-used for needed office space. That one got enough traction that it came to fruition – albeit with the loss of the rear of the building. But that is what I like about Landmarks Illinois – they know how to save something by coming up with a better plan. You can argue that they should have saved more, but you can never argue that the original plan was better. And it meets the opposition to preservation on its own terms: What do you want? How many square feet, what uses, what plan requirements? Let’s take all of those parameters and do it WHILE saving the best historic buildings.

This is what good planners, good designers, good developers do. They take the MORE creative approach of looking at how all of the programmatic goals can be achieved without starting from scratch. Creativity is not measured by how blank the canvas was at the start. Heck, the vaults of the Sistine Chapel are a huge impediment to a decent painting.

It is a measure of the maturity of an organization like Landmarks Illinois that it chooses to argue for preservation by doing a BETTER job of planning than the opposition. You can argue about the significance and beauty and innovative epoch-shattering character of a building, but it can all be for naught if you can’t show them a better way. As baby preservationists, we first just see those arguments of history and architecture and beauty and human scale. Eventually we learn that we have to speak the language of those who would throw away those qualities. It is a language Landmarks Illinois has mastered over the years.

Upcoming Lectures

May 3, 2009

This Thursday night I will be the after-dinner speaker for Quincy’s 20th Annual Preservation Dinner, doing a reprise of a talk on “50 years of Chicago historic districts” I did for the Traditional Building Show at Navy Pier last fall. It will be a great opportunity for me to see the incredible preservation story that is Quincy, a town with a wealth of downtown and residential landmarks.
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The following weekend I will be at the National Trust Board meetings in Kansas City, and speaking on “Barry Byrne: His Architecture and the Design for St. Francis Xavier” at St. Francis Xavier Church, 1001 East 52nd Street in Kansas City. The lecture is Saturday May 16 at 7:30 PM preceded by organ music starting at 7:00 PM.

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!
uiuc-mumford

A New Birth of Freedom

January 20, 2009

You have to really, really cling to an anti-historical ideology not to be excited today. I am currently in the ballroom of the 112 S, Michigan Avenue building, the 1908 Illinois Athletic Club by Barnett Haynes & Barnett of St. Louis (with a major remodeling in the 1910s?) where I am watching, along with a couple hundred other SAIC faculty, staff and students, the Inauguration.

Indescribable emotions. The only Chicagoan ever elected President. Perhaps the first preservationist – he was known for his support of preservation in the Illinois General Assembly and Michelle Obama was on the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The first President of my generation after years of being the shadow of those Baby Boomers. Not to mention the whole African ancestry thing. So nice to finally put the lie to race, that artificial construct. Do you know that in the famous Supreme Court case upholding segregation – 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson – they couldn’t even tell Plessy was black by sight? I remember the excitement of electing Harold Washington Mayor of Chicago 25 years ago. I felt proud then and I feel proud now. Pride is a human emotion based on association, not biology. This Spring I am doing a series of community tour designs in various Chicago neighborhoods and one thing I have always noticed about people in communities is how they feel personal ownership and pride in their community history – even if that history had no direct connection to personal “heritage.” I remember being in Miami at my first National Trust conference 17 years ago, being auctioned off at the Preservation Action auction as a guide for a tour of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, complete with brunch at Gladys’, now sadly gone. This is my history too, and I know I will find that ecumenical outlook among the community activists we will be working with this Spring. I get excited about all sorts of Chicago history, about all the layers of history in these streets.

Do you think it’s just me? I get proud of places I have adopted, from Leeds to Weishan, and I boast about them. Maybe it is an American thing, a nation born as an idea more than a place, because the place was contingent and fugitive, even perhaps for the first Americans who came 14,000 years ago, and then for the denizens of Europe and Africa who followed more than 13,000 years later, framing a nation without a heritage, without a land or a race really, without all those artificial constructs the Enlightenment was promoting in order to grease the skids for capitalism and industrialization. A paradox, really, a nation founded on Enlightenment ideals that had no roots and struggled to make the sort of artificial roots the Enlightenment was promoting. Heck, Plessy v. Ferguson was a twisted attempt at those roots. How exciting to be here in a time and place to witness the historicity of an idea; the culmination of a promise.

I am fond of saying that all ideology is wrong, because it is static and history is dynamic. But there are ideas that motivate and inspire and have agency in history. They exist on both sides, those pushing us toward peace and unity and those pushing us toward division and hate. It is so very wonderful to see the good ideas arriving on the stage of history and the humanity that made this possible. Here he comes.

Context

January 14, 2009

Context is everything. It is the reason we bought the Farnsworth House five years ago – because it was going to be ripped out of its historic context – the site it was designed for, the place where its history happened. There are some monuments and buildings that are incredible works of art and some have been moved AWAY from their context in order to save that art. My first memory of a National Geographic cover was the moving of Abu Simbel for the Aswan dam. But something is lost, even when a great work of art is subjected to this sort of move in order to save SOME of it.
uiuc-mumford
The Mumford House is not a great work of art, but it is a fantastic piece of history. It is a remnant of the experimental south farms of the campus, and they even preserve some crop fields nearby as well, or they did a couple of years ago. The oldest structure on the U of I campus in Champaign, the house is the remnant of the campus’ earliest history. It can only effectively represent that history WHERE IT IS. This significance saved the building in the past but now the bosses want to move it to a site miles away where it can be forgotten. And where it will lose much of its value. There is a hearing next week – January 22 – where you can try to explain to the powers that be that this is a bad idea. Or check out the Landmarks Illinois link to make your views known.
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Most people don’t get it. I have seen many houses moved to save them, but in every case something was lost, and that something was historic context. Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, various historical societies and industrialists like Henry Ford began collecting historic buildings into petting zoos of history and architecture. There was some value in that, but A LOT LESS VALUE than saving something where it happened.

The shocking thing about the Mumford House is that the preservation planner for the U of I endorsed the move as quickly as the FDA approved Viagra (It does what? No, we don’t need tests – that is SO approved!). God knows why. This has led a lot of otherwise thoughtful people to assume that this is a preservation decision and that moving the building – AND giving it to a department that doesn’t want it for a use that doesn’t exist – is saving it. In fact, it is hiding it in a corner where it can be subject to further abuse. In this case, context is everything. You move it, you lose it.

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



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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.


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