I finally got around to reading Robert Sharoff’s fascinating Chicago Magazine piece on the life and work of Harry Weese, the architect of one of my favorite works of modern of architecture, infrastructure, and urban design, the D.C. Metro. The piece is packed with 20th century Chicago architectural history, compelling biography, and insightful analysis of Weese’s work. Sharoff draws on Robert Bruegmann’s forthcoming book on the architect, and both make the case that Weese should be considered one of the preeminent figures in Postwar American architecture. Like his friend Eero Saarinen, he seemed to reinvent himself with each new project, pushing modernism in new, diverse directions and offering an alternative to Miesian orthodoxy. Sadly, his prolific career was brought to a premature end by alcoholism, but even so he made an indelible mark on the American landscape.
Crain’s reports that prominent Chicago architect Lucien Lagrange is throwing in the towel at the barely ripe age of 69. Not only his he closing up shop–at an as yet undisclosed date–he’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “Retiring, (there would be) a lot of liabilities are on my back. I can’t just walk away,” Lagrange told Crain’s. “Chapter 11 gives you a chance to plan ahead, organize and close in a decent way.”
While the AIA may be forcasting a brighter 2011, Lagrange, best known for designing high end condos, doesn’t see the market bouncing back for another five years. While he might be in a gloomy mood now, my hunch is that Chapter 11 won’t be the final chapter in his career.
Everyone may be a critic, but none moreso than Roger Ebert. While film has long been the Chicagoan’s preferred medium, he has increasingly cast his eyes and pen elsewhere on his Sun-Times blog (begun after a bout of thyroid cancer). Yesterday, he fixed his attention—and mostly scorn—on modern architecture. It’s a highly opinionated piece, one in which Ebert openly admits his increasingly “reactionary” preferences:
It was not always so. My first girlfriend when I moved to Chicago was Tal Gilat, an architect from Israel. She was an admirer of Mies. Together we explored his campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. She showed me his four adjacent apartment buildings on Lake Shore Drive and said they looked as new today as when they were built. It is now 40 years later, and they still look that new. Then I was impressed. Now I think of it as the problem. They will never grow old. They will never speak of history. No naive eye will look at them and think they represent the past. They seem helplessly captive of the present.
The undulating balconies of Aqua have become one of the most recognized and talked about additions to the Chicago skyline. Less attention has been paid to the handsome townhouses, called “Parkhomes,” in the building’s base. Magellan, the developers, are trying to right that balance and drum up interest amid the still sluggish downtown condo market by enlisting Studio Gang to fit out the interior of one of the units. The six 3,200 square foot Parkhomes, have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a two car garage, a rarity for condos in the immediate vicinity of the central business district. Read More
Among the dozens of books that arrive in our office, I found myself quickly drawn into Alan K. Lathrop’s handsome new guide Minnesota Architects: A Biographical Dictionary. The volume includes nearly forgotten 19th century architects all the way up to leading contemporary practitioners like Vincent James, David Salmela, and Julie Snow. While the book might sound like a dry reference, Lathrop includes concise descriptions of the individuals and firms, including their educational and professional lineages. Black and white photographs, both contemporary and historial, illustrate the book, and most are larger than the postage stamp-sized images found in many guides. Lathrop also connects professional collaborations between individuals, so the book feels like a yearbook for the state’s architects.
It’s a form of refence book that should be copied. For now, Minnesota Architects is poised to become the new standard reference for anyone looking to learn more about the state’s rich built heritage and its well developed professional culture.
After years of trying to land a second Walmart in Chicago, the world’s largest retailer succeeded in a big way yesterday when the City Council unanimously endorsed a Supercenter on the Far South Side, the anchor of a 270-acre mixed-use development. While only a few months ago the outcome of that store seemed uncertain, it all broke last week, when the unions reached a tentative agreement with Walmart to pay $8.75 an hour in its stores, more than the current minimum wage but less than was initially sought. On top of that, the retailer has cast doubt on whether a surefire deal has been set. Meanwhile, the city is bracing for the prospect of dozens of stores, through a deal arranged by Mayor Richard Daley, both a bane and a boon as it could mean an investment of $1 billion though also a costly one if it undercuts current retailers. The Sun-Times‘ incomparable Fran Spielman spells it all out for us: Read More
Could REX’s massive office/condo/hotel/art center finally be alive? We heard from Joshua Prince-Ramus that a “big announcement” about the project was coming, and now word arrives that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and the project’s developers have called a press conference for 10:00 AM tomorrow. Has financing been secured? Is the project being scrapped? We’ll know more tomorrow morning.
Hats off to Braden Klayko, the brains behind Broken Sidewalk and an AN contributor, who even when he isn’t blogging is still most in-the-know person about architecture, planning, and development in Louisville. Thanks for the tip.
UPDATE: Another tipster says the developers have secured a HUD loan for the project. Will the program be altered to meet the terms of the loan?
NeoCon may not have the hipster cachet of ICFF or the design world glamour of Milan’s Salone, but every year I come away from Chicago’s Merchandise Mart having seen a lot of great products, and am reminded of the vast size, scope, and importance of the show. And as the way we work and the way we live become increasingly inseparable, design trends in the contract and residential markets are becoming similarly intertwined. Further, many Midcentury classics, now popular in the residential market, were first developed for the contract market. In addition to the great products we featured in our preview, here are a few more standouts from the show.
Antenna Workspaces, Knoll
The big news from Knoll was the Antenna Workspaces (above) collection by Antenna Design. The desk system is built around a table base with clean lines. A variety of box storage, drawer units, and panels can be attached to the center rail. The system looks particularly good when used with Knoll archival surfaces, such as the natural rattan and grass fabrics used in the NeoCon showroom. Read More
Forget school-top farms for privileged Manhattan children. You want something truly radical? How about taking over abandoned lots in Detroit so poor single mothers can make a living growing organic produce. That is in part the focus of Grown in Detroit, a new documentary about how the Motor City, on both the large and small scale, is trying to become the manure city. The film is currently screening at a few locations in town as part of the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival. For those of us not in the shrinking city, though, there’s an ingenious option to stream the doc on its website, albeit on a pay-what-you-will basis, which is almost as clever as the idea to turn Detroit into one giant, happy farm.
What’s the cliché? You can dress up a pig but it’s still a pig? I can’t remember. Some terrible former governor, who will not be named, used the line a lot. Anyway! The Great American Tower, the newest addition to Cincinnati’s skyline, was recently topped off with a giant tiara inspired by Diana, Princess of Wales. The glitzy tower could be the ugliest building in the Midwest. It’s a toss-up as to whether the Royal Family will add this to its rather lengthy list of regal embarrassments—oh Fergie!—or delight in the ghastly tribute. After all, the tower will be the tallest in the city, surpassing the Carew Tower, which reigned supreme since 1930 with its beautiful art deco interiors. The tiara’s (and building’s) design cred go to Gyo Obata, the “O” of HOK. Eavesdrop wonders why Gyo did not look to local royalty, like former mayor Jerry Springer. A skyscraper inspired by guests throwing chairs at one another could be interesting! Read More
We’ll see you in Chicago at the show—while you’re there, remember to pick up a copy of our latest Midwest edition, hot off the press! Until then, we offer you a sneak peek of our favorite finds from this year’s contract furnishings market:
Bram Boo Bench, VanerumStelter
Belgian designer Bram Boo’s bench fosters socialization, rest, and work all in one piece of furniture. Four seats arranged in a square create four desktops and multiple ways to face others. The bench is available in red and black.