Posts Tagged ‘Lee Bey’

The Demolition of Malcolm X College

October 13, 2015

I am barely back in Chicago and another great Modernist masterpiece is going down.  I just reviewed the 372 page RFP for the demolition of Malcolm X College on the Near West Side, a 1971 Miesian design by Gene Summers, and generally considered his best building after his McCormick Place of the same year.  Summers had been Mies van der Rohe’s design assistant on the Neue National Gallery in Berlin.  Here is the beauty of the facade.  I was interviewed by the great Lee Bey on his podcast regarding this.

Malcolm X C entr poles obl

The college is a perfectly symmetrical composition that extends like a bridge.  Not unlike McCormick Place it is long and lean and low, planned on a 24 by 24 foot module (doubling the 24 by 12 module of the IIT campus) with three levels above grade, an inset glass ground level, a concourse below and two third-floor courtyards.

Malcolm X C facade nice

Summers treated the corners much like IIT with a double redentation, and followed Miesian precedent with attached beams in a black color that has not faded in 45 years.

Malcolm X C corner

In the 372 page RFP is a 1985 report regarding asbestos, since the building used spray-on asbestos fireproofing for its second and third floor structural elements.  This is interesting and again gives the lie to the idea that asbestos is a reason to demolish a building.  (see my old blog on this subject here.).

Malcolm X C facade det

The 1985 report recommended a $7.5 million asbestos abatement which would close the school for a year, to reopen in 1987.  The contract now for the full demolition is $10 million, which is LESS is 1985 dollars.  Amazing.  If you hear anyone using this lame excuse for demolition, remind them that the city had NO trouble allowing 30 years of students and faculty and staff to use the building since they knew of the problem.

Malcolm X C nice corner view

When I visited the building again yesterday I was struck by something we often forget about High Modernism – they actually really cared about landscape.  Four berms frame the ends of the college and partly hide the east and west parking lots.  The trees are mature and in their stunning October color.

Malcolm X C facade trees2

Malcolm X C south w berm

Feel the berm!

Now this Modernist attention to landscape sits, visibly, in stark contrast to the new Malcolm X College, which is nearing completion across the street.

Malcolm X C with newb

So, we got the usual contemporary design of contrasting shapes and volumes and colors and finishes, which is basically Victorian when you think about it.  But what really irks me is the streetscraping lack of green.  Summers gave us a wonderfully resolved sculpture set in a generous and well-designed garden.  The new college gives us ample access to its massive parking block and plenty of glass facades right up to the lot line.  Uck.

In preparing to be interviewed by Lee about this building, I also took a look at its two contemporaries about a half mile east, Whitney M. Young Magnet High School (also 1971, by Perkins and Will) and the Chicago Police Training and Education Center, which I visited when it was new in 1976 (done by Gerald Butler, the city architect (NOT the Iceman!)).  Whitney Young is a great composition, which some observers preferred to Malcolm X because it better expressed the structural frame.

Whitney Young with sign

Yeah, okay, but structural expression is always applied anyway (if ya wanna be fireproof!) and I would rate both buildings as excellent examples of High Modernism.  Both buildings achieve unity, continuity and elegance because they pay attention to details and scale – which the many BAD Miesian knockoffs do not.  It is harder to work well in Modernism because there is no room for error when you are limiting your palette of materials and shapes.  Much easier the contemporary Victorian, where a mistake in scale or detail can be reduced by a bravado flourish elsewhere.

Police Academy corner

The Police Academy is the weakest of the three, with circular columns and a lot less glass, which makes sense for 1976, especially since at the time they stuck the old Haymarket Statue in the courtyard to prevent it being blown up all the time.

Malcolm X C entr sou

I will miss the iconic Malcolm X College, which is the most visible of the three, located along the Eisenhower Expressway and insistent in its rectilinear resolution, rhythmic resonance and clear continuity.  It will be a loss, not occasioned by the new college, nor by asbestos, but probably by the new Blackhawks training facility being built on its eastern half.  As I recall the Blackhawks were not very good in the 1970s…..

Chicago Preservation Update February 2012

February 9, 2012

Despite appearances to the contrary, I am in Chicago more often than not, and it has been a while since I updated this blog on the key preservation issues in the city and region. The reigning issue for the last two years has of course been Prentice Women’s Hospital, a breathtaking flower of the union of engineering and architecture designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1974-75 and slated by Northwestern University to become a vacant lot.

The National Trust made it one of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Sites last June (I made the announcement) and now the trinity of preservation organizations, the Trust, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, are promoting both a series of CTA subway ads for Prentice and a contest to SHOW PRENTICE SOME LOVE for Valentine’s Day! My job is to wear my Save Prentice t-shirt at major sites across the globe and I got a good start at Macchu Pichu last month. Planning on Angkor Wat next month.

The subway ads are cool, especially since they coincide with the L platform ads for the new building at Rush, which focus on its four-lobed shape and the ease and convenience and quality of care this floorplan provides. And it is the same floorplan designed for the same reason at Prentice. What is old is new again. As I said before.

Quibble a bit? Yes the new one is bigger and the lobes more attenuated and the plan more focused on private rooms because that is the way the sick roll in 2012. But the ideation and justification are the same.

Now we just have to get Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s attention and see if he wants another tax-free vacant lot a block away from North Michigan Avenue.

Speaking of North Michigan Avenue, the Wrigley Building is finally being landmarked after 25 years – I recall collecting petitions from famous architects and historians and urbanists back in 1987 when it was first proposed for landmark status. It took a new non-Wrigley owner to finally make it official.

The Tribune ran an editorial last week about the travesty of the Soldier Field rebuilding in 2003 and used an illustration of Landmarks Illinois’ 2001 alternate plan that would’ve given the Bears a field big enough to host a Super Bowl. I guess we don’t need a Super Bowl, what with G-8 coming and all…nice to know that Landmarks Illinois’ great alternative use plans are still being remembered. Wonder how our plans for Prentice will be looked at years from now?

What else? Tomorrow we are having a discussion on historic preservation “This is not my Beautiful House: Historic Preservation and People’s History” at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum with activist and researcher Roberta Feldman, National Trust Sites V.P. Estevan Rael-Galvez, architecture critic Lee Bey, and longtime preservationist Mary Means. I am the moderator. I will be moderate again this May when New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger and Lee Bey (again) hang out in Harry Weese’s 17th Church of Christ Scientist for the Chicago Modern More Than Mies series, also coordinated by the inestimably talented Christina Morris of the Chicago field office. I wrote so many posts on Modernism last year because it is the HOT thing in preservation and shows no sings of slowing down.

even in Lima. Oops – not Chicago…

yum. oh, that’s palo alto..

Speaking of Lee Bey, he posted on the collapse of a fabulous city-owned terra cotta building last week in Auburn-Gresham at 79th and Halsted. I knew the building because it was part of the neighborhood tour we designed down there in 2009 and it ticked a lot of people off that the city owned it for a decade and let it fall down.

Up in Park Ridge they finally have a landmarks ordinance and managed to save the Alfonso Iannelli studio building, after having lost one of the Byrne-Iannelli Cedar Court houses four years ago (blog here.) Here is a photo of the interior of Iannelli’s studio during its heyday, thanks to the unparalleled David Jameson of ArchiTech Gallery.

I visited one of my favorite “mystery” buildings in Chicago, The Forum at 43rd and Calumet. It has a fabulous second-floor theater space that is remarkably intact and is going to be redeveloped by Bernard Loyd, who is doing similar work on 51st Street. The mystery of The Forum, built in the 1890s, is that no one has yet found an original permit or architect for this neighborhood assembly hall, not dissimilar to Thalia Hall in Pilsen or Yondorf Hall in Old Town in inspiration. We have tons of information about its later use as a vital piece of Bronzeville culture, hosting shows by Nat Cole and others and eventually becoming a home to the black Elks. I thought it might be Patton & Fisher and did a bit of research a year ago but no luck. The cool thing about it is that it is almost the ONLY historic cultural venue left on 43rd Street.

The other cool thing is that Bernard is employing 21st century heritage conservation in his projects. He didn’t call it that, but I was struck by how he was integrating gastronomy, cultural performance and other aspects of intangible heritage into his programs for revitalizing buildings.

This is the same thing we are doing in Peru and China, and it is the basis for the discussion we are having at the Global Heritage Fund about moving into the next phase of heritage conservation, a multi-level interactive development platform that unites the attractions of past and present cultural expressions to actualize a diversified (sustainable) economy that reinforces existing cultural and social investments while enhancing external attractions. Historic buildings revitalized with programs based on local cultural traditions attract both local and outside investment and tend to be more stable over time. That’s true in Chicago and Pasadena and it is true in Pingyao and Cusco.




Darn. I was trying to focus on Chicago and no sooner do I get to 43rd Street than I’ve gone global again. But now you know why.

Dying hospitals, living pubs

October 8, 2010

So MUCH heritage conservation news in Chicago lately. After the talibanic theft of writing from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple (see last post below) we now have reports that the one building the city saved at the Michael Reese Hospital site – the original Schmidt Garden Martin Prairie-styled structure from 1907 – is falling apart and beset by squatters. The article in the Tribune quotes a city spokeswoman, when asked why the city hadn’t fixed the roof, responding: “Time, the elements, exposure – all of those things took a toll long before we got into this building.”

I should add that quote above to my recent post on BAD excuses for demolition. You own the building, you own its problems. They did a walk-through in June 2009 and bought it then. Don’t tell me everything suddenly went south. The pioneering Chicago preservationist Richard Nickel once said that the only enemies of historic buildings were water and stupid men. Fact is, the water only gets there if the people look the other way.

On the GOOD NEWS front, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks today took a step toward designating a collection of my favorite buildings, the Schlitz pubs found all over town. The most notable of them, like Schuba’s on Belmont and Southport Lanes a few blocks south, have wonderful large terra cotta globes (supposedly modeled by Wright sculptor Richard Bock) and they generally follow a sort of Central European neo-Baroque in their ornament.

Division and Wood Streets, Wicker Park

Armitage and Oakley, Bucktown

For about 20 years I carried around a list of these buildings, adding more as I found them. Schlitz apparently built almost 60 in Chicago – they would only serve Schlitz beer there – a system common in England but forgotten in America following our little Prohibition experiment in the 1920s.

And they span every corner of the city, from 35th and Western

to Broadway and Winona way up north

There are also some from the Stege Brewery, and this little gem from the local Peter Hand brewery, which I remember, because it only went out of business in 1978.

Wolcott and Thomas, East Village

I used to vote in that bar when I lived a block away in 1984-85. Unfortunately, the Peter Hand and Stege and Standard Brewery pubs (that one is at Grand and Hamlin, I recall) are not part of this Chicago Landmark nomination.

This is a forgotten history but one well worth preserving, and not only for beer geeks (like me) or local history geeks (me again). The City, through the Landmarks Commission, has been doing an excellent job lately of telling neighborhood stories by designating types of buildings found in a variety of neighborhoods, like fire stations and neighborhood banks. The tied houses have the added attraction of some special, period architecture and art, like this stained glass Schlitz globe you find in the transom at the South Chicago tied house at 94th and Ewing.

Oddly, this one is not included in the designation.

Nor is the great Southport Lanes, still a tavern and one of the only places left with hand-set bowling lanes.

Why? Perhaps because it is owned by a big company that owns a collection of venues, and I must add that we had some BAD experiences with their clumsy management last spring. But this designation is getting a lot of traction – Lee Bey and others are blogging about it and I think it is worth a toast!


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