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Thursday, 15 March 2007
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies is expanding their facilities to what was an adjacent, empty, mid-block site. Krueck & Sexton Architects designed the new building with a prominent faceted glass frontage. The design is in the contemporary "funky-form" vein (led by people like Daniel Liebeskind and Zaha Hadid), in that it makes use of engineering to create a sculptural form, but there is no architectonic expression in the design. That is, it's not about how it's structure works, but the end result of that structure. Last weekend I walked by and took these shots of the facade being installed. You can see the complicated folded form is put together with a rather simple steel frame extending from the irregular outer edges of the floor slabs.

I think the overall effect will make a nice addition to this part of Michigan Avenue. With a narrow mid-block site, it's really only the facade that you have to make an architectural statement, and I think this exploits that notion successfully. According to the Spertus Institute, the forms are reminiscent in proportion and orientation to the windows found along the avenue. And there will be a Kosher Deli! Hell yeah, pickles and pastrami.

Spertus: New Building
Large Renderings

Posted by thenovakids at 4:23 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007 4:29 PM CDT
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Saturday, 25 November 2006
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
In his popular book, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977), architectural historian Charles Jencks makes a number of cheeky, provocative, humorous, and often enlightening observations about high-Modern and contemporary architecture. In his first chapter, "The Death of Modern Architecture" (which occured at 3:32PM in St. Louis on July 15, 1972 with the demolition of a notorious housing project), Jencks includes a rather sarcastic analysis of IIT's campus. He calls the Boiler Plant a cathedral, since it is divided into 3 long sections with a smokestack/tower--"a central nave structure with two side aisles expressed in the eastern front....there are clerestory windows on both aisle and nave elevations. Finally, to confirm our reading that this is the campus cathedral, we see the brick campanile, the bell tower that dominates the basilica." He goes on to (mis)read the plain campus chapel as a boiler house and the architecture school's Crown Hall as the President's Temple.

He caustically attributes the unexpected employment of these forms to solemn old Mies van der Rohe's "stunning wit." I came across this book in a used section of the Prairie Avenue Bookshop, Chicago's fabulous architectural bookstore. It seems to have been owned (and discarded) by an offended Miesian who wrote several angry comments in the margin (which abruptly end halfway through the first chapter). I found Jencks' analysis to be irreverently hilarious, but there are reasons why Mies is still interesting and relevant today. His forms are ambiguous, and depending on their function might communicate a number of conflicting ideals: do the open glass ground floors of his Federal Center in the loop denote a transparency and honesty of government, or a higher pure order of authority? Does an empty glass house place its inhabitants in the midst of nature, or do its materials, in their climactic insuitability and bird-killing invisibilty betray a complete disregard for the environment? There are no right answers, but to get the most out of Mies, it's important to ask all the questions, and I think that's something Jencks does well.

Posted by thenovakids at 3:38 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, 25 November 2006 4:22 PM CST
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Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Metra, the Chicago area's commuter rail system, antagonizes expressway drivers with its self-rightous billboards that boast, "We're On Time. Are You?" It's their job to be on time, and not their business whether mine is. Otherwise, from my one experience riding one of their trains, I think they do fine. But if especially irritated, one might be tempted to pose a similarly accusatory question like, "I Don't Present Myself as a Pile of Standard Lumber Scraps Nailed Together Haphazardly. Do You?"

Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune printed an article on Metra's Roosevelt Street Station. Despite being a primary city hub for the system, located across from the Museum Campus, it is a long-neglected and never fully realized facility. It is built from standard 2-bys, and is crooked and leaning. Walkways are reinforced with diagonal members that prop them up from the sides. I have admired its ramshackled crudeness from the CTA bus many times, but it seems like people are getting pretty sick of it. It is certainly absurd that neither the public, the city, or Metra's own dignity have demanded its replacement. The Tribune article offers explanations about budget delays, and other predictable set-backs. But with the shiny new condos going up around it, I imagine something's going to have to happen soon.

Chicago Tribune: "Showcase Metra Station Suffering"

Posted by thenovakids at 10:42 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006 10:43 PM CDT
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Monday, 29 May 2006
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
TAKOTRON BRIDGES is now up and ready for your consumption. The site contains information I have compiled and photos I have taken of some of Chicago's moveable railroad bridges. Chicago was the home of various modern engineering marvels, including the elevator and skyscraper, and the marriage of such innovation with the city's place as America's railroad hub yielded some incredible new bridge designs. Most notable is the Strauss trunnion bascule bridge, designed by Joseph Buermann Strauss, better known for the Golden Gate Bridge. Other methods for accomodating both the railroad and an open waterway were developed as well, including this unique vertical lift solution in which a 1500-ton span is elevated 130 feet above the Chicago River.

Posted by thenovakids at 11:32 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:55 PM CDT
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Tuesday, 16 May 2006
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
When I first passed by the Chicago Board of Trade, I thought I recognized its logo from somewhere. Upon reflection, I realized it is extremely similar to that of Omni Consumer Products (OCP), the sinister corporation that runs Detroit in the 1987 film Robocop. One or two friends confirmed this similarity, so I thought I would investigate. The website RoboCop Archive has a whole page dedicated to logos used in the films from which the rightmost image was extracted (and modified). As you can see, both logos are octagonal, divided into 3 rings with a center, with the outer 2 rings broken by an extension radiating from the inner ring that is the width of that ring's side. Coincidence or influence?

Posted by thenovakids at 9:57 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:51 PM CDT
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Tuesday, 31 January 2006
Pilgrim Baptist Church
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Old news, but a few weeks ago a culturally invaluable and architecturally important church burnt down. Here are some eulogies and testaments to its significance. I knew it was near campus, and finding myself unexpectedly right in front of it one day last week, took a couple pictures.
Chicago Landmarks
Repeat, architectural critic Lynn Becker's page
The Bronzeville neighborhood's reaction
Sun-Times report

Posted by thenovakids at 12:49 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006 11:58 PM CDT
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Saturday, 24 December 2005
Chicago Fantasy Land
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Chicago has its own little Disney within, serving up greasy food with its fiberglass sculptures. The intersection of Clark and Ontario is home to Hard Rock Cafe, the new flagship McDonalds, Rainforest Cafe, and Portillo's Hot Dogs.

The new Mac replaces the old Rock 'n' Roll McDonalds, which was filled with airbrushed murals and memorabilia. There is still an on-site (somewhere in the parking lot), stand-alone shrine to the original restaurant, but the new design is glass curtian walls and high-design, featuring a time-line in dioramas of Pop Culture (and Mac culture) relics through the ages. You can eat your burger in the comfort of designer furniture by Mies, Corbusier, and Saarinen while enjoying your favorite post-war decade's memorabilia and music. Chicago architect Helmut Jahn proposed a structure built around 100ft arches, but McDonalds decided to go with a more modest design by an in-house designer, Dan Wohlfeil.

I presume the Hard Rock and Rainforest Cafe are the same as they are about anywhere else--is this a weird new International Style, where giant fiberglass frogs and neon guitars can be transplanted into any context?

Portillo's, once a modest hot dog stand, is now a franchise empire, with spinoff Italian chain restaurants attached. They are still, however, a deserving favorite for standard Chicago fast food specialties like Italian beef, hot dogs, and Maxwell Street Polishes (left). Their downtown location, across the street from McDonalds and Hard Rock, is in a Tuscan/strip-mall(?) style, with a confusing semi-3-dimensional mural above the entrance. According to their , this location allegedly is built around a "20's, 30's, 40's Gangster" theme.

The new McDonalds is kitsch, a vernacular Disneyfication of high design and high tech (wire-braced glass curtain walls; tons of flat panel TVs), but it's comfortable, interesting, and admittedly fun inside. I feel that if these international chains are going to plop down tourist-attractive, consumerist sites in our cities, ones like the new Mac are infinitely better than the sloppy fiberglass cancer-sores like Rainforest Cafe, or the faked nostalgia of Portillo's. But that char-grilled polish was amazing.

More on Mac:
Lynn Becker, Chicago Reader, on the "Schlock Corridor"
animated walk-through the new site

Wednesday, 21 December 2005
Fugliest Building in Chicago's Loop?
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Today I walked all over downtown Chicago on a quest for perfect holiday gifts. I say "holiday" because my family and friends are of various religious backgrounds, and it's semantically appropriate to be sensitive to this. I can't believe people think of this as a "War on Christmas." Being inclusive is not a move of aggression or a method of belittling Christian faith, which supposedly preaches toleration and outreach. Are these upset people sick of having to put up a false front of toleration and political correctness, and are now just blowing up and insisting on explicitly exerting their hegemonic majority as openly and straightforward as they would like? Well, "Happy Holidays" motherfuckers.

So anyway, I was shopping downtown and found myself in front of this parking garage building that I've admired from time to time before. I was always under the impression that the word "fugly" was a contraction of "fucking ugly" ("f'ugly"?), but then I recently read somewhere that referred to it as meaning "fabulously ugly," which, while a more intriguing concept, is dubious, I think. Nevertheless, this building in the loop, a Self Park garage at 60 East Lake Street, fits both of those definitions. The tire-shaped canopies are goofy but maybe amusing in a campy way. I think, from my 1 semester of experience, that architects sometimes refer to this sort of shit, when they are trying to be positive, as "whimsical." Above the "whimsical" tire-canopies are gratings shaped like sideways pointed arches through which you can see a Coke machine.
The upper level is graced with 2 small porthole windows on either side of the facade. One of the portholes has managed to hold on to its bubbly plastic hemisphere over all these years since teal was a good idea. On the roof you may be able to discern a statue. If I had to guess, I would say it appears to be a man in a WWI aviator hat swinging a human femur. If anyone knows anything about this building, or has an opinion re: its fugliness, let me know.

Posted by thenovakids at 8:11 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:07 AM CDT
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Friday, 16 December 2005
Washington Park
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
TAKOTRONsemester001 officially ended yesterday as I handed in my paper, "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Democratization of Landscape Theory," at 12:06PM. For the topic I researched the famous American landscape architect in relation to 2 major theoretical movements that directly influenced him, the English Picturesque of the mid to late 18th century, and American transcendentalism of the mid 19th. Both movements were rooted in our experience of rural landscapes, but had elements somewhat contrary to democracy. The Picturesque was put forth by wealthy British gentlemen who created contrived "natural" landscapes for their enormous country estates. Transcendentalism had a strong moral, even theological undertone that enveloped its aesthetic ideas, but it was too introverted and rural to be directly applicable to the urban industrial life that would grow to dominate American society.

Frederick Law Olmsted (right), who was an established social activist before he began designing landscapes, was able to adapt his influences to create a plethora of urban park systems that would serve the surrounding communities democratically. He made it a point to avoid loud details like flower beds, fountains, and symmetrical open squares, instead developing experiential, all-encompassing scenes that would have an "unconscious influence" on visitors. His hope was, and he succeeded, to introduce into our cities "scenery offering the most agreeable contrasts to that of the rest of town; an opportunity for the people to come together for the single purpose of enjoyment, unembarrassed by the limitations with which they are surrounded at home or in the pursuit of their daily avocations."

Olmsted's first design was New York's Central Park, planned with architect Calvert Vaux beginning in 1858, and he would go on to design many of the nation's campuses and most treasured parks, among them Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Boston's Jamaica, Fenway, and Franklin Parks, Niagara and Yosemite national parks, and Chicago's southern park system. The last was planned in the 1870s, and would be modified as the site of 1893's World's Columbian Exhibition. The fairgrounds comprised Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance (where the first Ferris Wheel was featured), which extended West to Washington Park.

So I had turned in this paper and was on my way home when i decided to take the long route and walk through Washington Park. The Green Line drops you off on Garfield Boulevard across the street from the oldest existing original "L" station, from 1892 (left). The area has changed completely since the late 19th century, and the idealistic hope that went into it is difficult to discern. In the 19teens and 20s the neighborhood bordering Washington Park to the west rapidly shifted to African-American and, unfortunately, many of the previous settlers dispersed. Today it remains almost completely African-American (>98%) and is one of Chicago's more impoverished regions, with a median income barely over $15,000 with almost half of its buildings vacant. The area east of Washington Park, called Hyde Park, is a diverse and well-reputed neighborhood, partly because it is home to the University of Chicago. During the surrounding area's demographic changeover, the University made active moves to prevent blacks from settling near Washington Park, and may today be somewhat responsible for the park's function as a sort of buffer zone separating the haves from the have-nots. It is still a beautiful escape from city life, featuring a (frozen) lagoon, a variety of trees, wildlife, bridges, and paths, and is treasured by many different people, including students, locals, school groups, nature-watchers, and even cricket players.

Posted by thenovakids at 4:25 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:10 AM CDT
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Monday, 12 September 2005
SW Loop
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
TAKOTRON Operation MArch commenced almost 3 weeks ago, accompanied by the inevitable stagnation of TAKOTRON news. But, however it might stagnate, TAKOTRON news will never fall. So here are a few pictures from the weekend. Keipopnation and I wandered around, south and then west of the loop, which can be empty, haunting, surreal, decrepit, beautiful, depressing.

(1.) The south branch of the Chicago River flows between River City, Bertrand Goldberg's (of Marina City aka Corn Cob towers fame) Utopian apartment complex from the 80s, and an old Deco style power station.

(2.) Torn pornography leads to Union Station

(3.) The new SHURE (microphones/audio) headquarters in Niles, by Krueck + Sexton

More info:

Chicago Architects Oral History Project: Goldberg


Posted by thenovakids at 9:37 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:20 AM CDT
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Saturday, 4 June 2005
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Since our last entry, Architecture Day in Chicago has come and gone. It was a'ight. You know TAKOTRON was V.I.P., cuz we're the CORPORATE SPONSOR of bold expression everywhere. So first up was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Art Institute's new North wing, which should be pretty cool, if they get the funding they need--twice what they have to reach their goal, and everyone knows these things can end up costing a lot more than the original estimate. Renzo Piano designed it, and the plan is to have a bridge leading from Millenium Park to a new entrance with a sculpture terrace on the second or third floor of the new wing. Piano explained that the bridge will be "straight, like a knife," forming a dialogue with Frank Gehry's serpentine titanium-paneled bridge over Columbus drive on the park's east side. The new-ish President and Director of the Art Institute, James Cuno, started off the morning with an optimistic speech on Chicago and the Museum's relationship with one another, and their collective place in the world, or something close to that. From what I've seen, he's intelligent and well spoken and a nice guy. He was followed by an appropriate recitation of an excerpt from Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago (1909) and then inevitible speeches by the museum's Board of Trustees and the CEO of JPMORGANCHASEBANKONE, the real corporate sponsor. Yay, mergers. I thought banks were supposed to exhibit an image of stability and permanence. Why do they always merge and buy eachother out, then, and end up with dumb names like JPMORGANCHASE and AMALGAMATED and FIFTHTHIRD? Throughout the whole thing, which involved no actual ground-breaking, the Redmoon Theater had these Spring Nymph people with painted white faces wandering around on stilts with watering cans, sprinkling petals around with branches stuck on their heads. What's up with theater?

Mayor Daley was up next at the podium. His gestural presence was more important than his speech, thankfully, because he had a few slips, like "Renzio Piana," and "Rim Kole-us," which sent an audible shutter through the crowd, especially those in the architecture field (like Frank Gehry and Renzo himself). Then Piano took over and talked about his plan a little bit. He was humble, grateful, and focused, and even made a few funny little jokes, but maybe they seemed funnier or cute (in an old guy way) because if his accent.

Then in the evening, with a flash of the VIP badge, we got up close on the Pritzker presentation in the Pritzker Pavilion (left), designed by 1989 Pritzker Laureate Gehry, in Millenium Park. There were all these starchitects around, so i tried to be the architectural papparazzi, but sort of failed with my crappy old digital camera that kept focusing on peoples thinning hair in front of me. Anyway, I'm posting these images as thumbs, so you can click on them and get a closer look at the stars. How come architects and artists are never targeted for celebrity gossip? No Joan Rivers interviews, or E.T. exposes. This despite the efforts of Dali and later Warhol. It's not like Colin Farrell or Oprah are showing up in limousines filled with cauliflower.

Back to the presentation, it was ok, Daley was there and spoke again. Thom Mayne was a little emotional, and certainly grateful, and gave props to his whole Morphosis team, the wifey, the kids. It was generally pretty formal, of course. I spotted the suave Helmut Jahn arriving on the scene. Up on stage were the big guns, former winners and then the 2005 jury. Now I'm gonna explain who's in on the action in these photos here.

right:(l to r) Victoria Newhouse, architectural historian and author, founder and director of the Architectural History Foundation; Tom Pritzker; The Honorable Archduke Daley; Thom Mayne, at podium; woman in white, oops, forgot her naem; Frank Gehry; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architecture critic of the Wall Street Journal; another person I forgot, but I think it's the architect Carlos Jimenez

left:(l to r) Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, architect, sharp dresser, planner and professor of Architecture from Ahmeddabad, India; Rolf Fehlbaum, charman of the board of Vitra, Basil, Switzerland; Zaha Hadid, last year's Pritzker Laureate; Renzo Piano, 1998 Laureate; Thom Mayne; Victoria Newhouse; Mayor Daley, looking aloof

Not shown is Lord Palumbo of the UK (that's really his title), who gave a well-spoken, motivational and optimisitic speech at the beginning on the importance of architecture and it's most prestigious award.

Friday, 27 May 2005
Architecture Day in Chicago
Topic: Architecture / Chicago

8:30 AM
The Art Institute of Chicago
North Garden at Monroe and Michigan
111 S. Michigan
Groundbreaking Celebration for the Art Institute's New Building, Designed by Renzo Piano
Zero Gravity Exhibition

6:30 PM
Millenium Park
2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize Awards Cermony, to be Presented to Thom Mayne of Morphosis
more info
Morphosis Home

Posted by thenovakids at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:32 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 3 May 2005
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
So Trump, self-important asshole, fake-millionaire extraordinaire, is having built a bigass tower by the river here in Chicago. They're already clearing the site and maybe started digging for the foundation (left). It's gonna be yooge or whatever, a grand display of everyday nothingness. Included are "472 super-luxury condominiums from studios to three bedrooms and up to seven bedroom penthouses," and "90,450 square feet with exclusive boutique shopping and fine dining along the River." I am quoting from the official "brochure". You can see textually his affinity for superficial, cumbersome displays essentially void of meaning--"super-luxury," "exclusive," etc. The brochure is a goldmine of these claims.

So architecturally, it's going to be really huge. Adrian Smith of the firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill (Hancock Tower, Sears Tower) is the principal for the project, and it looks like the outcome is to be a fourth apex on our skyline (the third being Edward Durell Stone's Aon Center, originally called the Standard Oil Building). The site is right on the river in front of Herr Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe's IBM Building. According to my copy of the AIA Guide to Chicago (2nd ed.), "Mies last American building, and his largest, follows his familiar model. It is sited so as to avoid obstructing Marina City and to capture the lake views made possible by a jog in the river" (52). Isn't that nice, how it purposefully avoids blocking Bertrand Goldberg's famous "corncob" towers? I hope you don't expect Donald to maintain that sort of reverence. No, looking at that picture I took from his little website ("), it looks like he's going to break the chain of love, at least for about 2/3 of the IBM building. You suck, Trump.

Posted by thenovakids at 12:13 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:29 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Hot German Model
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Here is a photo of that model of Mies' original steel design for the Promontory Point Apartments. It looks like this is looking from the west, towards the lake. Lets listen to the song (source:The Free Information Society):


Sie ist ein Modell und sie sieht gut aus
Ich nehme sie heut' gerne mit zu mir nach Haus
Sie wirkt so kuhl, and sie kommt niemand 'ran
Doch vor der Kamera da zeigt sie was sie kannSie trinkt im Nachtklub immer Sekt (korr-ekt!)
Und hat hier alle Manner abgecheckt
Im Scheinwerferlicht ihr junges Lacheln strahlt
Sie sieht gut aus und Schonheit wird bezahlt
Sie stellt sich zu Schau fur das Konsumprodukt
Und wird von millionen Augen angeguckt
Ihr neues Titelbild ist einfach Fabelhaft
Ich muss sie wiedersehen, ich weiss sie hat's geschaft

Posted by thenovakids at 11:20 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 1:03 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 6 April 2005
Mies Returns
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Several weeks ago we made some comparisons between Mies van der Rohe and his contemporary, Le Corbusier. We also described a connection between his Promontory Apartments and unambitious imitations with different aims, specifically Cabrini Greens. I recently visited the Promontory Apartments, and discovered some impressive qualities not immediately discernable. We are so accustomed to Mies' imitators that it sometimes takes some effort or closer observation to understand his true innovation (I would say 'genius,' but I hate seeing its overuse in describing artists and architects. You would think 20-something years of contemporary art theory that questions ideas of 'mastery' and 'genius' would have made us more cautious about throwing around those terms. But go to the arts section of any book$$$$$tore...oh).

Back to our subject, The Promontory Apartments were completed in 1949, as work was underway at 860-880 N. Lake Shore Dr. Both were to have steel and glass curtain walls, but Mies' original plans for the Hyde Park high-rise were ultimately modified. So I walked around the corner and started taking a couple pictures of these apartments. As you can see, the vertical supports taper as they rise, which adds a touch of formal drama and structural efficiency (they need to support a decreasing load as they go up). From the back we can see through the open lobby to the lake, which the building overlooks, right by pretty little Promontory Point. Then I was politley asked to leave the private property by a building attendant. Bonus pics: The first beautiful day of the season spent at the Point--note the melting ice.

Posted by thenovakids at 5:16 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 1:01 AM CDT
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