Posts Tagged ‘School of the Art Institute of Chicago’

Sharp Building 2009

December 26, 2009

Most people think of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as the institution that resided above and below the museum it gave birth to over a century ago. Yet for over 30 years the school has had its own building and in the last 20 years the School has grown even more, filling five different buildings in the Loop and occupying space in even more.

In 1976 the School occupied the Walter Netsch modernist building on Columbus Drive behind the museum, and 12 years later it purchased the Champlain Building, now the Sharp Building. A couple of years later it bought the old Illinois Athletic Club building (1908, Barnett, Haynes and Barnett) as a dorm, later converting it into classrooms and renaming it the Maclean Building.

A few more years and SAIC turned the Chicago Building (1904, Holabird & Roche) into a dormitory, which was particularly gratifying to me because I had helped save it from demolition in 1989 when I worked at Landmarks Illinois.

The School also saved a 1917 Christian Eckstorm Building on State Street and incorporated it into a new dormitory by Larry Booth, a building I had the pleasure of teaching in last year.

But I want to talk about the place I have taught for the last 15 years, the Sharp Building at 37 S. Wabash.

The Sharp Building was originally built in 1902 for the Powers school, which taught clerical skills like German, stenography and bookkeeping. My Research Studio students – first year BFA candidates – are working on an exhibit interpreting the history of the building, which is appropriate since it has just been restored.

This is also the building where we have our Master of Science in Historic Preservation studios, lab, resource center and faculty offices. We used to be on the 13th floor but now we are on the 10th, where we have two large studios overlooking the corner of Monroe and Wabash Streets.

The building’s entrance and ground floor has just been restored to the original Holabird & Roche design, which involved recreation of the elaborate terra cotta entrance, largely destroyed in the 1933 remodeling as the Champlain Building.

The restoration also involved bringing back the brick piers which originally defined the ground floor, lost in the 1947 Skidmore, Owings and Merrill transformation into a TWA ticket office.

That’s 1947.

That’s today.

There is a lot of fascinating history here: When TWA was selling airplane tickets here in 1947, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was on the 9th floor designing the Farnsworth House.

Thirty years later, my father had a travel business in the building. The TWA ticket office turned into a restaurant and then later into a bank and again into a restaurant before closing a half dozen years ago. Our program began in the building in 1993, the same year it was DENIED landmark status. Later in the 1990s it was landmarked as part of the Jeweler’s Row district. A controversial project saved the facades of three Jeweler’s Row buildings for the new 80-story Legacy highrise. That project is responsible for the restoration of the Sharp Building’s ground floor, which has just debuted this month.

It is exciting for our historic preservation graduate students to work in a building that is seeing such a sensitive restoration, expecially after the disappointing replacement of most of the original windows a decade ago.

That’s the BEFORE – note the profile and depth.

That’s the AFTER – butchered and blinded. And they’re aluminum which means they are REALLY COLD right now. This was one of the events which kicked off my window rants back in ’01. Our class even produced alternatives to replacement, to no avail.

The lobby has bits of each period – we apparently still have – in storage – the elevator doors decorated with relief French and Indian figures during the 1933 remodeling by onetime SAIC dean Hubert Ropp, who also designed lunette murals, long lost to a dropped ceiling.

My BFA students are exploring all of these themes as well as the history of the corner of Monroe and Wabash, which includes the legendary Palmer House hotel, and the Sullivan facades recently revealed on Wabash Avenue across the street, on buildings incorporated into the Louis Sullivan designed Carson Pirie Scott store at the turn of the last century.

It is a great place to work, and an especially great place to teach the many arts and sciences of heritage conservation.


Here is the show we had up this April from students in the BFA program first year:


Roger Brown Study Collection

December 15, 2009

I have blogged several times about Hull House and its approaches to interpretation of historic sites – in fact, “Hull House Again” is my most-visited blog post. I have also blogged about the Gaylord Building on several occasions, where I served as Chair of the Site Council for six years. Another role of mine this decade has been as a member of the Roger Brown Study Collection Steering Committee, involved in the preservation, interpretation and educational implementation of the property and collection at 1926 N. Halsted in Chicago.

The site itself is an increasingly rare but once common two-story 1880s building that originally had a storefront and 3 apartments. A successful and influential Chicago painter associated with a 1970s-80s group labeled the Imagists, Roger and his partner George Veronda converted 1926 N. Halsted into a studio and home beginning in the 1970s. Over the course of two decades Roger produced much of his work here in his first floor studio and amassed a nearly overwhelming collection of art from the fine to the folk to the kitsch to the ephemeral that bedecks the second floor, the staircases and nearly every available space.

The place is literally packed with the collection as Roger had displayed it, or more appropriately, lived with it. My students both graduate and undergraduate really appreciate the place as a four-dimensional example of an artistic environment and as a stunning project of conservation and interpretation.

I serve on the Steering Committee with a roster of famous artists who knew and worked with Roger, and whose works are included in the collection, including Gladys Nillson, Jim Nutt, and Barbara Rossi. Nick Lowe from Arts Administration and Policy, is doing an amazing project documenting – and creating miniatures of – Roger Brown’s California home and collection, to be at Hyde Park Arts Center this spring.

The incomparable Lisa Stone curates and manages the collection, and like her South Halsted counterpart Lisa Lee, has made the site an educational experience of uncommon depth. You always experience something new there. I had my students sketch whatever they liked in the studio and when I reviewed their sketches a couple of weeks later I saw things I had never seen.

What strikes me about historic sites are the accidental details, the mundane but telling forensics of the everyday. At Roger Brown I always show everyone the medicine cabinet, still filled with toothbrushes, Maalox, cotton swabs and other typical accoutrements. I saw the house shortly after Roger donated it to the School of the Art Institute in 1996, the year before his death, and was struck at that time by its time capsule quality: underwear stacked neatly in the closet, toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet, spice containers in the kitchen. The details of everyday life.

The fact that I can still see that medicine cabinet is oddly comforting. At times we feared that the School would deaccession the building. While the collection might be saved in that scenario, to have the collection in its original context is geometrically more educational. Somehow the medicine cabinet is that slice of everyday which grounds and makes real the rest of the collection.

It is striking the various educational programs that have taken place in the building. Our historic preservation graduate students restored the storefront in Neal Vogel’s class and cleaned graffiti from the side in Bill Latoza’s class and have helped document the collection and assess the building. This past Spring we did an interpretive project for the adjacent Armitage-Halsted District and met with Alderman Vi Daley in the building during and after the project.

Like Hull House, the Roger Brown collection is not simply preserving a place and its objects: it is preserving the purpose of a place by extending that purpose. Roger Brown made art in this building and a world of art and artists swirled through its interior for two decades: after he moved to California the gallery Intuit occupied the first floor. The School of the Art Institute is not simply preserving the building, it is preserving the importance of the building by extending that artistic and educational mission dozens of times every single semester with students of every age and background. That is what our field – heritage conservation – is all about.

November 2010 UPDATE: The Roger Brown Home & Studio is about to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places! Great work by Susannah Ribstein and of course Lisa Stone.

Making the past visible

February 11, 2009

My Research Studio class is looking at historic sites and how we mark them. This has been an interest of mine over the last decade, brought on by my experiences writing tour guides, being a tour guide and most of all, trying to explain the history of place to people. My graduate seminar is looking at the same issue, and I will report on that later this semester, but yesterday my First Year students and I took a tour of Lincoln Park and found lots of signs worth looking at, including a new project by Pamela Bannos called “Hidden Truths” which focuses on the fact that the southernmost 60 acres or so of Lincoln Park was once the city cemetery.
They moved the cemetery and reinterred the bodies, mostly at Rosehill, but a few remained behind – like the Couch tomb behind the History Museum – and skulls and bones invariably turn up every time someone digs in the park or even the Gold Coast, a fact Bannos presents in maps on her website
The Hidden Truths project is interesting because it uses the oldest and least interactive form of interpretive signage – the bronze plaque. The bronze plaque has an enduring quality in every sense of the adjective, but its ubiquity as a mode of communication has made it a turn-off for many people.
I tend to like artistic interpretations like the project on the sidewalks of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. We found an example of that in the form of footprints and medallions in “Dad’s Park” in Mid-North, not far from the site of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, which is unmarked.
We also wandered through the Zoo on this preternaturally warm day and were greeted by the granddaddy of “wayfinding,” the signage that gets you around to see Rhinos and giraffes and even CTA buses.
We also found a few memorials, like the incredible Eugene Field memorial, which is on Zoo grounds and is an exquisite riot of 19th century sentimentality even though it was crafted in 1922. A fairy putting children to sleep with poppies…
A memorial is a different idea than a monument or even than an historical marker, which I believe is about the interaction of person and place. Memorials and monuments have less of a relationship to place, hence we have war memorials all over the country even though we have not had wars all over the country.
But we use the words sort of interchangeably: memorial, monument, landmark, markers, etc. and I think this is another example of conceptual laziness. I thought the Germans did better by having Denkmal, Mahnmal, Ehrenmal and Gedenkstätte, which are pretty specific in concept but it seems in practice they do not hew closely to the distinctions.
You know, we also have a Grant memorial in Lincoln Park.
And Lincoln, who would turn 200 tomorrow if he hadn’t been shot.
august-abesWe also found markers indicating the historic shoreline, which is useful in Lincoln Park, since the majority of its acreage is landfill.
At the South Pond, there is a lovely memorial garden with a Shakespeare sonnet on a series of four stones along a winding path. The plaque on a boulder is again one of the oldest forms of memorial marking/interpretation, and it is remarkable that it has returned to us now, in a world with such technological possibility. Why aren’t there interactive sound installations?
Actually, we found one of those in the Conservatory.
But it is striking how older forms abide even as new ones appear. It seems there is only addition, not replacement, like this odd boulder that my grad student Noel Weidner reported on Monday – erected in 1902 to commemorate the death 50 years earlier of a man who claimed to be 115 and have survived the Boston Tea Party.
The original plaque succumbed to the only force it is vulnerable to – metal scavengers – and was replaced. Now there is a brand new olde style plaque, part of Bannos’ Hidden Truths, and the whole place has become a sort of memorial to a memorial, a real memory of an apparent falsehood and the enthusiasm of those who would commemorate it.

what’s going on

September 13, 2008

busy busy September. I had the honor of being one of the four keynote speakers at the Know Your Chicago Symposium on Wednesday and had the opportunity to discuss the history and future of historic preservation in Chicago before a large and appreciative audience. Next week is the Traditional Building Show and the History of Chicago Preservation Symposium on Saturday and the following week I have two tours to LaSalle, a Gaylord Building meeting and a speech for a preservation conference out in Wayne, Illinois. Right now I am out in Oxbow with my first year class and it has been raining all day, the distant northern edge of the hurricane hitting Texas. Actually the rain just stopped.

This week, my First Year Program Residential College Research Studio I class, which I call If These Streets Could Talk, took a walk through the Loop in the morning, visiting the pedway and the Field Building and the Miro and the Federal Plaza farmer’s market and then we had our orientation to the Burnham and Ryerson library. After lunch we walked west on Randolph to the Haymarket, to visit the statue put there in 2004 to commemorate the Haymarket Tragedy, which was once known at the Haymarket Riot, an 1886 clash between anarchist labor leaders and police that led to a trial where several anarchists were convicted based on their beliefs not their actions.
We were there to analyze and sketch the site, which includes Crane’s Alley where someone – no one knows who to this day – threw a bomb into the massive phalanx of 175 police who came at the end of the rally to disperse it. My students drew the 2004 statue, which appears to show workers building or perhaps unbuilding a cart like the one which stood on the same site for the speakers that fateful night of May 4 1886 and it has ambiguity, which is the essential precondition of art. The piece is by Mary Brogger and it looks like wood but it is metal, composed of almost Haringesque featureless figures (one student, Talya, put the features on in her sketches) handing or unhanding planks and wheels and boxes…

It also attracts graffiti, especially from the political and spiritual descendants of the German anarchists who spoke there, and those who were hung because of what happened there even if they weren’t there at all.
The site has always been evocative for me because the alley, the Crane Factory and Zepf’s Hall on Lake Street are still there, giving a reasonably coherent context for the event. One of my students Karina was actually sketching the incident – Mayor Harrison visiting on his white horse and the column of police advancing down DesPlaines Street. The site works like that. For years there was a police statue here to commemorate the 8 police who died, one by the bomb and seven in the aftermath as everyone started shooting every which way. The police statue was attacked by a streetcar driver in the 1920s and then the statue was moved but it was blown up in 1969 and 1970 before being finally moved inside of the police academy a mile away. The site then couldn’t be marked for years because of the conflict between the police impressions of the site and those of the labor historians but that changed in the 21st century and now we have the site for my students to study as an exercise in historic interpretation. But no matter how good your interpretation, you have to fight with the advertising hoardings that bedizen our environment, and I was really struck by those near the Haymarket, faux-Lichtenstein super-comicular ultragraphic billboards that were as beautiful as they were mercenary.

so what should I tell the students – fight the sign? hate the sign? outsign the sign?

Three Years

August 30, 2008

For the first time in almost four years I am teaching a Research Studio in the First Year Program at the School called If These Streets Could Talk where we deal with history in the streets. We did a mini-tour during orientation Monday along the Chicago River, which is overloaded with plaques and historical markers and such. We saw the Chicago Vietnam memorial, which follows the nearly obligatory black-slab-incised-with-names format established by Maya Lin with her epochal memorial on the Mall in Washington. This design has not only been copied in nearly every city, state and county in the nation, it has also impacted memorials to other conflicts. Funny thing is that I can remember when the design was so controversial and reviled that they had to add a realistic figure sculpture of soldiers in Vietnam to the memorial, and then another. People couldn’t get past the typical narrative sculpture, the general on the horse or whatever. But then the reality of the place sunk in much as the design sinks into the Mall, an amazing, haptic experience of the nation’s most visible wound. For two decades it has basically been the best, most beloved, most interactive war memorial ever.

The Chicago version on the riverwalk is a quiet echo at best.

We then followed that with a 1941 memorial to tolerance, the Morris-Washington-Solomon Memorial to the two financiers of the American Revolution, as I recall a project of Chicago politico Jake Arvey forging a connection to the nation’s Jewish roots. Of course the financiers lost their shirts, in the first and last time the nation failed to make good on its debts, LOL. The next memorial illustrated the problem of narrative in the ever-evolving city. A huge bronze Irv Kupcinet – (much more elegant than those of Harry Caray or Jack Brickhouse) – gestures across the river to his longtime office in the Sun-Times building. Ooops! The Sun-Times Building is gone and now Kup has become yet another shill for the new Trump Tower. (I guess it is a mark that Chicago has arrived – we finally have an outlet of the nation’s biggest skyscraper franchise). In the coming weeks students will unravel some more examples of how the changing city has squeezed or squashed the context of its historical markers.

This is the third anniversary of the start of this blog (go on, you can go back and read all 170 old posts in the archive) and we again have a hurricane heading to New Orleans, so some things don’t change. On the other hand, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in baseball and a black American is on the brink of the presidency, two huge changes from the way things were for the entirety of my life.

School starts again and we have a baker’s dozen new historic preservation graduate students. September is going to be chiropteraguano insane for me – major lecture for Know Your Chicago, the Traditional Building Show, the Tri-Cities preservation symposium in the Fox Valley, a major symposium on the history of Chicago preservation on September 20, and a hearing at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on that excellent little modern bank across from the Chicago History Museum. And then Overbooktober, with the National Preservation Conference in Tulsa. In between we will host a number of our Master’s program alumni, run a LOT of walking and bus tours with both my Master’s students and the First Year Program, and try to keep on bloggin’.

The Michael Phelps of Preservation

August 14, 2008

Charlie Pipal, architect and preservationist and tour guide, has done it again and I told him he was like Michael Phelps. Only instead of collecting Olympic medals in swimming, Charlie collects Charles Peterson prizes, the nation’s big award for measured drawings of historic buildings. Charlie correctly notes that it is the students who deserve the honors, since they did the drawing. But he has brought home five of these babies in eight years of teaching, so no matter how you slice it, he has it going on.

The award also makes me look good because it brings honor (and cash) to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Historic Preservation Program. This year we got Third Prize for drawings of the Greenstone Church in Pullman, the project of the Fall 2007 Physical Documentation class. Kudos to: Shannon Berner, Christine Bernick, Vicki Birenberg, Katy Gallagher, Jennifer Harrman, Katie McManus, Mary Ottoson, Amy Porter, Molly Sargent, Emily Spreng, Sherine Sublette and Nivine Tawancy! Charlie taught an extra HABS documentation class this year based (for the first time) entirely in CAD, and did the incomparable Chicago Athletic Association building. Kudos to: Weston Davey, Mary Ottoson, Mira Patel, Jennifer Reep, Benjamin Roberts, Molly Sargent, Nicole Seguin, Nicola Spasoff, Emily Spreng and Rebecca Young. We got an Honorable Mention for that, equaling the award Charlie’s classes secured in 2006, 2003 and 2004. Here is a photo of the students and Charlie receiving last year’s honor from Walker Johnson, FAIA.

(One curious note – the awards tend to come for Romanesque buildings – Quinn Chapel AME, Thalia Hall, Greenstone Church, Western Springs Presbyterian Church – is this a stylistic preference or maybe the judges just get impressed with all of the stippling??)


January 4, 2008

mich ave 1006S

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

What will 2008 bring for preservation? More nasty facade projects? Fewer teardowns thanks to the meltdown of the housing market? I welcome your input and will share with you the SAIC HPRES plans for 2008, which are shaping up:

First, I am off to India along with some of our other faculty for a preservation (building conservation) conference in Ahmedabad in two weeks – less than two weeks actually. I will give a keynote on Preservation in the U.S. and present case studies of green preservation (River Forest Women’s Club) and design issues (Milton Historical Society).

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance and a number of organizations are planning events, including the exciting new exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, curated by SAIC alum Kate Keleman called Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Architectural Heritage? I am also moderating a panel of community preservationists in April on the subject, and we just started talking about a symposium in September on the history of preservation in Chicago. The City will kick off with some lectures this Spring, including a big name (pending) in May for Great Places and Spaces.

The Museum signed me up for a cool tour in March combining the Farnsworth House (1950) by Mies with the Ford House (1950) by Bruce Goff, which proves the lie of the zeitgeist and the Organization Man in one huge contrast between formal purity and anarchic romanticism.

Here at the grad program we are planning another trip to the Weishan Heritage Valley in Yunnan, China at the end of May as we continue our ongoing work on this 13th century town that seems to be in the only place in The Only Country That Matters that is committed to preservation.

I’ll be in New Orleans later this month with the National Trust, and then Denver in May, maybe, and then we have the Annual Conference in Bruce Goff’s hometown of Tulsa in late October, which I am looking forward to…

Our program is moving to larger quarters on the 10th floor of the Sharp Building (1902, Holabird & Roche) this spring, which means we will have a decent Resource Center for the students, a real office for the faculty and more generously windowed studios (sadly replacement windows with all of their problems – inoperability, jagged aluminum seams and short lifespans).

Tom is officially launching my “Preservation Nation” radio show in West Texas this week although I have been working on it for a year – I hope I don’t come off as too much of a curmudgeon, although I do get on the windows rant atimes. And the sustainability rant.

And Felicity and I are doing a house, which is already making me insane. Ah, the particularity of preservation – there are no first principles, just a million million points of difference as messy and unpredictable as all history and its head crushing parade of humanity…..

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.

House Interventions

October 8, 2006

john j. glessner

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Friday night I went to see Rebecca Keller’s installation at the Glessner House on Prairie Avenue. The H.H. Richardson masterpiece is considered the progenitor of the modern house, and the interior features furnishings and art – 80% of which the Glessner’s actually had in the house. This makes it a step above the average house museum, which has “period” furnishings and is sort of an artificial time capsule.

Glessner House is a real time capsule, but that is also problematic, as Keller’s installation shows. She specifically attacked the idea of domestic service that made large 19th century houses practical, and also the issues of immmigration and gender, since most of the house servants were “Bridgets” – young Irish women.

Keller’s installation consists of a fair amount of quotes and textual facts added to books and slates (in the children’s schoolroom) and mason jars (in the pantry) that point to the oppressive conditions of servants and the great gulf between rich and poor in 19th century America. She also quotes the affair d’Zoe Baird, who paid her domestics $5 an hour in 1999 to clean a household that was clearing $600K.

More interesting than the directed didactics of the text are the aprons that Rebecca made and painted which serve as scrims to suggest the ghostly presence of the workers in the domestic factory that was the Victorian house. Lined along the servant’s corridor or inside a kitchen cabinet these ethereal presences are more evocative and ultimately more political than the texts.

What I like most is the opportunity to make a house museum something else – house museums have been around for a century-and have a predeliction for the stodgy and stale. Even Glessner House, saved for its architectural singularity, still must interpret its inhabitants and any attempts to beef it up, bang it about or subvert it are always welcome.

Going Gothic?

September 1, 2005

Several alert historic preservation alumni sent me this clipping a couple of weeks ago. Turns out the house that Grant Wood used in his famous painting “American Gothic” is threatened with demolition, according to Harry Mount, a writer in Eldon. Not only is the little white cottage with the big Gothic window is empty, boarded-up, and being offered by the State Historical Society for $250 a month, but there is little interest. One neighbor wanted to tear it down in the 1960s but balked at the $200 purchase price.

American Gothic is the most-parodied and recognized painting in American history. The thing that I never knew was that this little landmark house actually inspired the painting in the first place! Mount reports that Grant was driving by the house and burst out laughing at the pretension of this oversized Gothic window on this tiny cottage. Later, searching for a stern couple, he convinced his dentist and his sister to pose as the farmer and wife. His sister eve sued Johnny Carson and Playboy in the 1960s for running a version of the painting with the couple in tiny swimsuits, according to Mount.

You might think someone at the Art Institute of Chicago might be interested – after all, we got the painting, and Wood is our guy, but then again the problem with real estate is location, location, location and the house ain’t in Grant Park. In fact, one of the reasons they can’t rent the 3-bedroom house with decent Victorian details is that everyone in that neighborhood prefers the modernity of the modern mobile trailer home. The barn has already been demolished for three trailers. The only question now is how long until the 75-year old painting’s inspiration and setting turns into another trailer.