Posts Tagged ‘Walter Netsch’

Bradley House, Inland Steel, Wrigley Field

March 20, 2010

The big news this week was an effort to preserve Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House in Kankakee, one of the epochal early Wright Prairie Houses. Blair Kamin did a bangup job of covering the issue in the Tribune here. A local Wright in Kankakee group is trying to raise money to buy the house and make it a house museum and education center. The bottom line is the $1.9 million price and the more immediate concern of an additional $100,000 for the down payment beyond the $70,000 already raised. I can recall when the house was law offices and Kamin’s article notes that the owners for the last 5 years, the Halls, have been ideal, keeping it together and restoring it. With 100 art-glass windows, the house could be worth almost as much in pieces as it is put together. The real challenge is not simply the purchase price, but the ongoing operations, since house museums rarely generate more than a quarter of operating costs from admissions. The Bradley House either needs an angel to subsidize the purchase and an endowment, or it needs more angels like the Halls who will care for it as the treasure it is.

My other news clippings this week included a plan to restore the iconic 1957 Inland Steel Building using the Cook County Class L landmark tax incentive, which basically halves a commercial building’s tax liability for a decade. What’s the catch? It has to be a locally designated landmark and you have to spend half the value of the building on the rehab. The announcement came just days after the death of Bruce Graham, the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architect who designed the building, or rather, completed the design that Walter Netsch had started, making the building a rare collaboration between the two SOM protagonists.

Inland Steel has a fascinating landmarks history. On a flower planter near the Monroe entrance you can find a 1960 plaque from the first, toothless 1957 Chicago Architectural Landmarks law, an add-on to the famous zoning ordinance that doubled the city’s density. Inland Steel was included in “Chicago’s Famous Buildings” and considered a Chicago Landmark WHEN IT WAS BRAND NEW! It epitomized the structural bravado that seemed the salient characteristic of Chicago School architecture, carrying its steel frame on the OUTSIDE and creating completely open floor plans serviced by a separate, windowless tower than contained all of the functional necessities. It is such an icon modern starchitect Frank Gehry is a partner in the building and has designed a new desk for the lobby.

Finally, Wrigley Field announced it wanted to put up a giant illuminated Toyota billboard above the left-field bleachers. What can I say – Toyota and the Cubs: what a co-branding opportunity!

Two teams you can trust – until September comes!

Don’t put the brakes on the Cubs season!

As if Toyota wasn’t enough of a target for regulators and Congress, now it is going to be a target for MLB sluggers?

All joking aside, Wrigley Field is a landmark and the signage would presumably have to be approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. It is a big sign, and it is structural. There are plenty of other signs in and around Wrigley Field, so the question is not whether a sign would be allowed but what kind of sign and how big.

Also, Wrigley has had a fair amount of changes approved by the Commission, including an addition in the bleachers that reached out over the public sidewalk at Waveland and Sheffield Avenues and the new club building that appeared last year on Addison.

Time will tell.


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:

Yuck at UIC

December 18, 2008

I admit it. Back in the day (early 1990s) the committee I staffed at Landmarks Illinois refused Walter Netsch’s request that we try to preserve his UIC campus design, replete with double-decked concrete walkways and a concrete forum/agora/ampitheaters in the center of the supposed commuter campus. The center was replaced with typical 90s Vanilla Town Center but the basic brutalist buildings remained. And I liked them and I went to school in them for much of the early 2000s and I liked them more as I spent time in and around them.
I even referenced the buildings in my speech there last May (see the blogroll from May) and they had a clear elegance in concert with their material, the lancet lattices of beveled brut framing windows in a delicious evocation of gothic aspiration that did not detract from the atomic optimism of the campus’ 1960s conception.
So I am teaching a class there this spring so I went back to campus for the first time in a couple of years and found this crap
How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways….
1. Goodbye Lincoln Cathedral, Hello bicycle shed. The original buildings had layers, rhythms of solid and void, a sense of depth. Now they look like toasters, and I don’t mean an elegant Sunbeam from the 1930s. Flat and formless.
2. Aluminum cladding. This stuff makes siding look good. It is what everyone uses nowadays for storefronts, even on nice projects, but the detailing is godawful – the cuts are rough, the joints are artlessly placed, and the whole thing depends on caulk. And how do they weather?
What will it look like after a whole year?
3. They boast about having more natural light – this is true. They also probably have more space, because the exterior column system so reminiscent of Corbu’s Do-mi-no is now on the inside, and the concrete lancets are gone, along with any sense of romance. And purpose. Design? gone. Nuance? gone. Meaning? gone. More natural light? Check.
4. The sign says “eco-friendly design.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but has ANYONE seen ANY building project in the last two years that DOESN’T claim to be an “eco-friendly design?” The only challenge is trying to figure out their reasoning behind making THE SAME CLAIM AS EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. CF bulbs? Wait! It must be the natural light, because that is light from nature, which is pretty darn eco-friendly. Increased heat loads, but hey, they probably tinted the glass, solving the heck out of that problem, and they probably added a layer of glass, so it won’t cost more to heat the increased amount of interior space. As long as that caulk holds.
Okay, I looked it up, and they got a big grant to go geothermal, which is a good thing. I can say nothing negative about this except that I have seen other buildings go geothermal without going UGLY.
5. Walter Netsch died this year. This is a hell of a way to commemorate him, but then again we celebrated Louis Sullivan’s 150th by torching three of his buildings.
6. Contemporary architecture is designed from the inside out. The only difference between this approach and that of classical modernism, is that Frank Lloyd Wright and friends continued to design when they got outside. This may be a lovely learning environment inside with lots of light and perfect climate control. It certainly will encourage students to stay inside and learn more because once they get outside, they have to contend with a whole lot of ugly.
Bottom line? This is an aesthetic call. This renovation looks cheap and boxy and really, really makes the Netsch buildings look fantastic in comparison.