Posts Tagged ‘The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’

Life and Death Heritage

January 14, 2011


On July 23, 1986 I attended the funeral procession/cremation of Tjokorda Gde Oka Sukawati, a prince and stepbrother to the last king of Ubud in Bali. I was traveling there (long story) and stumbled across the ceremony, which featured an amazing Pelebon procession in the Balinese Hindu tradition, including a bade, an 11-tiered pagoda tower used to carry the deceased to the cemetery,

A naga banda – basically a dragon vehicle, a lembu, the coffin in the shape of a bull (nandi), a swarm of people.

Now, the funeral tradition there and elsewhere is of course solemn, but it was also touristic. My camera lens caught the tourists lining up, even joining the procession, and local vendors using the occasion to sell t-shirts and the like.

When I lectured on Bali at the Field Museum in 1987 following the trip, I included my perceptions of the tourist side of the place, bolstered by an interview I had done there with Silvio Santosa, a native who had formed the Bina Wisata Foundation to help educate tourists about proper behavior, since they had a tendency to treat the place like Cancun during Spring Break.

Candi Dasa, Bali
What strikes me today is not the intangible heritage represented by the performance of the cremation ceremony or the challenges of keeping tourists from fornicating in ancient temples but the complex interweaving of tourism and heritage sites in general.



Lijiang, Yunnan, China, 2008
I have the good fortune of serving on the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, which recently released a report “Saving Our Vanishing Heritage” which details not only GHF’s efforts to preserve World Heritage Sites in the developing world, but also the complex layering of tourism, economics and heritage conservation that can save – or destroy – such sites.

Angkor Wat, 3rd gallery, 2001
When I began in this field in the 1980s, heritage tourism was the latest and greatest idea: get people to come see history – built, living, or otherwise – and they will pay for the experience, generating the income sites need to survive. I saw Arthur Frommer speak about how heritage tourists avoid places that don’t preserve their history and how heritage tourists spend more than other tourists. We used lots of oversimplified multipliers in those days to calculate the economic benefits of preserving historic sites for tourism.

Tien An Men, 2009
But in the last decade we have seen the effects of too much tourism. I spoke at an ICOMOS conference on tourism in the Pacific Rim in San Francisco in 2007, and that conference was inspired in part by the overabundance of tourism and the attendant wear-and-tear on historic sites, like the great temples of Angkor in Cambodia, which survived in the jungles for centuries and even the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s but are now beset by tourist numbers which exceed 2 million per year and looting of the more remote sites for the international art market. When I last saw Angkor 10 years ago the number was less than half that.

Angkor Wat 2001
Many of the challenges that Global Heritage Fund addresses as it seeks to build capacity for conservation are external to the heritage tourism economy: war, looting, and even the depredations of nature and climate.

Ta Prohm, Angkor, 2001
But many of the largest challenges are the tourists themselves. Macchu Picchu in Peru has gone from 420,000 visitors in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2009. Petra in Jordan has almost tripled to 900,000 in the last decade. Yet, at the same time, heritage tourism still represents a major economic engine for the developing world. The GHF report notes the dilemma: if the sites are simply exploited, they will be destroyed and cease to draw tourists. Macchu Picchu accounts for 90 percent of Peru’s tourism revenue. Part of the problem is sustainability planning: Peru has many other valuable heritage sites, but these have not been marketed, managed or developed. Planning at Angkor in the 1990s directed development to the outskirts of the site, but lack of controls has placed much private development in more sensitive areas. Moreover, despite the incredible value in heritage sites – GHF estimates $20-30 billion for the top 500 heritage sites – only a fraction of that revenue, $400-500 million, or 2-3 percent, is spent on the sites.

Coba, Mexico, 2006
The best projects work to train local officials, planners, developers and others in sustainable management and development practices. GHF’s project in the walled city of Pingyao, Shaanxi, China, is emblematic, and I had the opportunity to visit that site in 2008.



GHF has also worked to help Lijiang in China, which I cited as a bad example in my 2007 presentation, since the city was stripped of local authentic culture after becoming a world heritage site: the city’s buildings were preserved, but it became an ersatz tourist town: local businesses replaced by tourism shops, homes replaced by hotels. I called this catastrophic tourist development, since it replaces a sustainable and diverse local economy with a dangerously unbalanced economic monoculture.


Lijiang, 2008
Our work in Weishan, Yunnan, China over the last seven years with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Center for US-China Arts Exchange is focused on just this complex intersection: Heritage tourists want an authentic experience, not a commercialized stage set, which is what Lijiang is very like. Weishan has done a great job of preserving the real, everyday businesses along the Southern Silk Road that passes through the great 1390 North Gate and the Drum Tower. You can still see locals shopping for clothes, rice noodles drying on streetside racks, birds and jellies and coffins and shoes for sale, along with some antique shops and food stalls. The final chapter on Weishan is not written, but in 2007 and 2010 it is a model of sustainable development.


Weishan, 2009

Weishan noodle shop, 2006. Photo copyright Felicity Rich

noodles drying, Weishan 2006. Photo copyright Felicity Rich
Huge challenges remain: The international tourist market that appreciates authenticity is actually dwarfed by a domestic tourist market that is happy to visit the Chinese versions of Branson: artificially constructed sites with artificial histories and happy Happy entertainment. Authenticity is a challenging concept for most tourists, something I recall even when we used to work in Ireland in the Burren, where the great portal dolmen of Poulnabrone was surrounded by little tiny dolmens, built by tourists in acts of pure vandalism, destroying the delicate limestone pavement ecosystem to build little stonehenges that would fool the next tourist into thinking they were seeing a thousands-years-old structure.

Poulnabrone, Burren, Clare, Ireland, 2002
Again, my interest today is not in the misbehaving tourist as much as the economic context: heritage tourism is a boon AND a bust for historic sites and places seeking economic uplift. Heritage conservation is a huge expense AND a huge revenue source for countries at all levels of development. Economic development is a threat AND an opportunity – if done with long-term returns in mind for historic sites worldwide. It is not (I am tempted to say NEVER) an “EITHER OR” proposition but a “BOTH AND” proposition. The advantage the heritage conservationist brings to this challenge is quite simply the long view: we are not about the quick buck or the quick fix. We want to keep BOTH historic sites AND a productive local society for as long as we can.

Cashel, Ireland, 2002

Age Value and the 50-year rule

August 13, 2010

The latest issue of Forum Journal (from the National Trust for Historic Preservation – you can join here.) has an article questioning the 50-year rule. The National Register of Historic Places was created in 1966 and shortly thereafter the Park Service promulgated policies for listing properties on the National Register. Eight categories of properties have to jump some more hurdles to become landmarks: birthplaces, gravesites, cemeteries, memorials, relocated buildings, reconstructed buildings, houses of worship, and buildings less than 50 years old.

Now, first it should be noted that I can name properties in each of those categories that ARE on the National Register of Historic Places, but they had to prove extra significance.

Field memorial, Daniel Chester French, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

The article, by Elaine Stiles, notes that the 50-year rule actually dates from the Historic Sites Act of 1935 as a guideline for the Park Service and its publicly owned sites. They originally rejected all sites before 1870, and then revised it in 1952 to “50 years”. Stiles notes there is no evidence as to why 50 years was chosen, but it is a problem, since most buildings are threatened with demolition or remodeling within 25 or 30 years of their initial construction. Heck, the Rookery by Burnham & Root (1886) was totally remodeled on the inside only 19 years later, in 1905.

by Frank Lloyd Wright

it was remodeled again 25 years later by Wright’s student William Drummond, with elevator doors by Annette Cremin Byrne. The point is, the cycle of building remodeling is a lot quicker than 50 years. EVEN some of the most famous battles in preservation history happened to buildings about my age. Penn Station, the epochal demolition in the early 1960s that helped spur New York City’s Landmarks Ordinance, was only 52 when the wrecking ball hit.

Chicago’s Robie House was only 47 years old when the Chicago Theological Seminary proposed demolishing it for a dormitory.

Now, the idea of letting some time pass before you decide whether something is worth preserving has merit. A century ago Alois Reigl defined several reasons for saving historic sites, including “age value,” “historical value,” “art value,” and “use-value”. For Reigl, “age-value” and “historical value” were about the past, while “art value” and “use-value” were about the present and future.

Personally I think our preservation/conservation field today is all about “use-value,” but our criteria still put a lot of weight on the artistic and historical merits of properties we want to conserve. Reigl defined “age-value” with reference to evidence of decay or aging, which would inspire nostalgia. Like historical value, it resided in the past. This is arguably a Western value, deriving from the aesthetics of decay so prevalent in writers like John Ruskin, and I agree that there is something to the sense of age that certain historic sites can evoke.


Society Hill, Philadelphia


Joliet Prison

I used to always relate a story I heard about Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1894 Winslow House in River Forest. I heard that a woman lived across the street from the house for decades and she told an interviewer that she had looked at that house every day for 50 years and never got tired of looking at it.

I don’t know the validity of the story, but it seemed an excellent definition of a landmark. Although, in reality she was referring not to age value but art value, one of Riegl’s present values. If it looks good for a half century, odds are its “beauty” is not a passing fashion.

One of the examples in Stiles’ article was Chicago’s Inland Steel building, built in 1957, landmarked by the city in 1998 and listed on the National Register in 2009. Actually, the story is even more amazing than that.

Inland Steel was considered a landmark before it was even completed. It was included in the first lists of Chicago landmarks, and there is actually a city landmark plaque from 1960 (the paint probably wasn’t even dry yet) still visible on its exterior.

Inland Steel was considered landmarkable in 1960 and it still is today – Frank Gehry even became a part owner he thought it was so cool.

But back to Stiles’ argument against the 50-year rule, which notes several places, including Chicago, that have no age limit on their landmarks. Indeed, in Chicago we have a National Historic Landmark that made the grade at the youthful age of 25. Then again, it was the site of the first self-sustained nuclear reaction, which is a scientific achievement we all agree was more than a little significant for subsequent earth history.

We also designated numerous Mies van der Rohe buildings before they hit 50 years old, because, well, we knew he would remain one of the most significant architects of the 20th century.

It isn’t simply the date of construction that is important, either. in 1990 the City of Chicago landmarked – to great public acclaim – the Chess Records Studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, the only Chicago Landmark to have a Rolling Stones song named after it. The building dates from 1911, but it achieved its significance – as Chess Records – from 1957 to 1967.

But the real problem is not exceptional sites but typical sites. Stiles notes that only 3 percent or less of sites on the National Register are less than 50 years old, and that most places that matter to people today will be less than 50 years old and will NOT meet the standard of “exceptionally important.”

When we were landmarking properties in the 1970s and 1980s, we were coming up against 1930, which represented the beginning of a generation-long hiatus in the construction industry – very little was built between 1930 and 1946. But once we hit the 1990s, postwar buildings started to become eligible even under the 50-year rule, and today a building from 1960 is eligible. But that also means many 1960s and 70s resources are being threatened, if they have not already been lost.

Mid-North area, Chicago


Galewood, Chicago


Leon’s Custard, Milwaukee


twinned ranch houses, River Forest, Illinois


1960s office building, Oak Park, Illinois

At SAIC’s Historic Preservation Program, we have been dealing with this issue for years. Anne Sullivan started a course in Preserving the Recent Past in the 1990s, and for the last four years together with Landmarks Illinois, (and thanks to Jim Peters) our students in the Preservation Planning Studio class have been surveying the postwar buildings of suburban Cook County, and finding a host of swinging 60s gems, almost none of which have any form of protection.

Age value is important, but it is only one of the criteria used to determining what to conserve and retool for the future.

I suppose I am sensitive to the 50-year rule since I became eligible myself this summer. My half century birthday occurred in two buildings, this one I woke up in in Germany, a Jugendstil treasure from 1907

And this postwar Buitenveldert townhouse in Amsterdam that I went to sleep in. Heck, it was probably younger than me.

I found them both to have art value, age value, and historical value. And they both obviously had “use-value” because families live in them. And now I am commemorating them.

Ghost Sign at Roger Brown Studio

July 28, 2010

SAIC did a good job repointing the wall at the Roger Brown Study Collection at 1926 N. Halsted in Chicago, saving and enhancing the existing Daily News ghost sign that has been there for the better part of a century. Here is the before-and-after courtesy of Ron Fitzpatrick, Director of Design and Construction.

This ghost sign may have helped inspire Roger to choose the building for his home and studio back in the 1970s. Ghost signs are a fascinating phenomenon, and hard to preserve. We just lost the 1960s Pago Pago sign downtown, and invariably they appear and disappear quickly. Here is one that emerged for less than a month in 1997, on North Avenue near Humboldt Park. It is clearly a pre-Prohibition sign revealed when a nice Victorian was demolished adjacent to Roeser’s Bakery – Seipp was a major Chicago brewer and the builder of Black Point in Lake Geneva.

SAIC MSHP alumna Nicole Donohoe did her thesis on ghost signs, an amazing inventory (the largest thesis ever in our program!) and even got on WTTW once thanks to her great work.

more to come

Oak Park Commercial

May 5, 2010

My graduate student seminar this Spring at the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program is focused on historic districts: their history as an expression of community planning and their evolution as an aspect of the historic preservation movement. It builds on my dissertation, which argued that the historic district impulse is about community control in a much broader sense than the more refined motivation of architectural and historical building conservation. Mostly I focus on the residential neighborhoods where the movement has been prevalent over the last eight decades, places like Greenwich Village in New York and Old Town in Chicago.

This semester we had the opportunity to survey two commercial areas in Oak Park, the South Town district on Oak Park Avenue near the Eisenhower Expressway and Harrison Street, the arts district Oak Park has been promoting just north of said expressway along its eastern edge.
Besides fulfilling the “real world” project standards we prefer at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the survey project has also been an interesting investigation into the nature of non-residential historic districts, which have their own history. In the 1970s, numerous courthouse squares and historic Main Streets and downtowns were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby examples include Lockport, an 1930s canal town just 35 miles from Chicago.

Some of these commercial historic districts have also achieved some form of local landmark status. In Oak Park itself, the Avenue district at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue is part of the Ridgeland district on the National Register and now reviewed by the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission.

The Avenue district has been quite a commercial success over the last two decades it has been a landmark, in contrast to Downtown Oak Park, which has resisted BOTH historic district status and consistent economic vitality.

I’m not saying those two are correlated: you can certainly have economic vitality without historic district status, and you can have historic district status without economic vitality. Historic districts tend to stabilize and increase values, a pattern more evident in residential neighborhoods, although the Avenue is a good example of how it works in commercial areas. Recently Chicago has designated more commercial districts, beginning with Armitage-Halsted in 2003 and continuing this year with Milwaukee Avenue, part of the Wicker Park National Register district that was originally excluded from the Chicago Landmark district in 1990.

Now all of this is prelude to what my graduate students are doing, which is following the preservation process: survey, evaluate, register. Tomorrow night they will present their findings to the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission. They may find sufficient buildings of merit to recommend a potential historic district: they may not. They may identify some buildings that merit designation (South Town already has one local landmark) or they may not. Their findings will be presented tomorrow night. The process is what is important.

SAIC starts in Chicago

September 13, 2009

Fall arrives with the excitement of a new school year. Like last year, I am teaching both a First Year Program class for incoming undergraduates, and our graduate students in the Master of Science in Historic Preservation program. SAIC maintains an enviable, nationally recognized position at both levels, and enrollment is up this year. When I advertise our graduate program, I advertise Chicago, because to me the city is the best classroom of all, and that is how I treat my undergraduate course as well, a Community Based Practices Research Studio that I call If These Streets Could Talk. We spend a lot of time walking the city, sketching it, and looking at monuments to history, both purposeful, like the plaque on the Chicago River marking the site of the Eastland disaster, or the Chicago Vietnam Memorial
chgo viet mem09s
as well as the accidental, like the statue of Irv Kupcinet by my frend Preston Jackson. “Kup” is well rendered, but his gesture toward his longtime place of employment – the Chicago Sun-Times building – has morphed into a seeming advertisement for the new Trump Tower, which now occupies the site.
kup trump clsS
Another oddity, occasioned by the otherwise excellent Millenium Park, was the removal of Aaron Montgomery Ward – whose massively unpopular lawsuits helped preserve the lakefront for the public – from the site facing his own Michigan Avenue building to a site a mile to the south. It is still in the park, so it still makes some sense, but not as much as it did before.
bean and michS
Ward figured big in the story of Chicago’s incredible park system, the subject of a tour I led late last week for the museum. We did the whole 30-mile ring around the city, from Grant and Burnham Parks to Jackson, the Midway, Washington, Sherman and the three west parks of Douglas, Garfield and Humboldt before returning to the lakefront and Lincoln Park.
grndmthrs gdn09bS
We punctuated the tour with two modern churches designed by the teacher of Frank Lloyd Wright and one of Wright’s best students, Barry Byrne. In 1922 Byrne designed St. Thomas Apostle church in Hyde Park, the first Catholic church to anticipate the liturgical reforms of Vatican II forty years early. It is a wonderful continuous fold of brick wall wrapping a single, uninterrupted open space and while elements suggest the Gothic or Spanish colonial, Byrne’s contributions and those of sculptors Alfonso Iannelli and Alfeo Faggi are entirely original.
sta entr07S
sta view in
faggi stn falls
We went through the entire boulevard system,which was and is unevenly developed but amazingly complete – as compelling a plan as the 1909 Bunrham and Bennett plan we are celebrating this year. And it is full of gems, like the Humboldt Park boathouse, a Prairie masterpiece by Hugh Garden in a setting so sylvan and lustrous it is hard to believe the Loop is only four miles away.
HP boaths obliqdetailS
In the afternoon after an amazing pizza lunch (chocolate pizza!) at Piece in Wicker Park,we visited Louis Sullivan’s Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, where my friend Fr. John Adamcio, dean of the Cathedral, made us welcome and the afternoon sun made the interior shine.
Holy Trin  s side vwS
Holy Trinty interS
The tour ended at Lincoln Park Conservatory, designed by Joseph Lyman Silsbee, the first architect to employ Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago. This is fall in Chicago, which is always its best season, crisp, clear and comfortable. And exciting, now that school is back in session.
LP conservtyS

End of March

March 31, 2009

March is going out more lionine than lamblike and perhaps April will be less hectic – it looks like I am staying in town all month (unless you count two tours to Lockport and Joliet for AIC). Our Masters in Historic Preservation program has a lot going on this month, starting next Monday, April 6 when my seminar class presents our ideas for interpretation of the Armitage-Halsted district to Alderman Vi Daley, the CTA and members of the Sheffield community. This class has done a great job of tackling a range of interpretive elements, from website and brochure and banners to a couple of installations at the Armitage L station designed to get people looking at the amazing buildings of the Armitage-Halsted historic district, with their Renaissance (Baroque) inspired architectural details in metal, stone and brick. Here are a few samples of these delicious buildings:
917-armtgs
1967-halsted-1892
852-54-w-armitgs
I was one of the expert witnesses for the district when the Commission proposed it to the City Council back in 2002-03 and it is nice that Alderman Daley wants to promote it some more, because it is largely unmarked and it is special – only 18th Street in Pilsen and Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park comes close in terms of a 19th century commercial streetscape in Chicago. We have some neat ideas (I’m holding the surprise until later) on how to get people to LOOK UP and see the architectural sumptuousness circumscribing their everyday.
2100-halsted-1888
Then, a week from Friday, on April 10, we are having a lunchtime lecture at the School’s ballroom at 112 S. Michigan Avenue from Professor Fan Jianhua, who has been our key sponsor for the Yunnan Initiative in China, in concert with the US-China Arts Exchange. Professor Fan published our students who came to Weishan photographing in 2006 and promises to help again when we return this summer.
dscf7271
dsc_0953sml
This last image is one Felicity Rich shot in 2006 – nice view to the North Gate building (1390, dude!) which is a national landmark in China, and rightly so – second largest gate tower after Tien An Men. And it is older.

So, then the following weekend we are doing our practice tours for our six neighborhoods – South Chicago, Auburn-Gresham, Quad Communities (Bronzeville), Pilsen, Albany Park and the Indo-American Museum. This is a project of the Burnham Centennial. These tours go live during Chicago Great Places and Spaces on May 16 so BE THERE!
gothic-deco-lawrs
albany park on lawrence
79th-deco-goths
auburn gresham on 79th
20th-flats-cottages1
pilsen 20th street
st-vitus-prp-muralss
Pilsen Resurrection Project – former St Vitus
ains-bungas
bungalows north
ada-bungs5s
bungalows south

April 28 we are having the amazing Doug Farr of Farr and Associates – you saw his Zero Energy House on Channel 11 TONIGHT – speaking in the museum’s Fullerton Hall in conjunction with our evening green preservation class. Two nights later we will have our students’ thesis presentations and the awarding of their pair of Peterson prizes for measured drawings by Walker Johnson, FAIA. In between I have my three classes, a couple of meetings for our China Study Trip and a couple of Gaylord Building meetings.

Then in May it gets busy…


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