Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Zero North/South

Austin, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Loop, West Loop No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Chicago’s Madison Street, named for one of the chief authors of the United States Constitution, runs through some of the most expensive real estate in town as well as some of the most underserved neighborhoods. As the city’s north-south bifurcating street, it forms the Mason-Dixon Line between the North Side and the South Side. Over the years I’ve hiked the entire length of several Chicago thoroughfares in search of fascinating sights and interesting people, so it was only a matter of time until I walked Madison, a relatively short street at eight miles, but one that’s dense with landmarks.

On a warm spring morning I start my walk in Millennium Park, where Madison T-bones into Michigan Avenue, 100 East Sunshine gleams off the Bean as I gaze past the historic high-rises of the Michigan Avenue cliff into the Madison Street canyon, then step off the curb and stride toward Jeweler’s Row. After passing the State Street intersection, Chicago’s Ground Zero, I cross the river by the grandiose Civic Opera House. Soon I come to Claes Oldenburg’s “Batcolumn,” 600 West, a 101-foot-tall Louisville Slugger made of gray steel latticework, symbolizing Chicago’s “ambition and vigor.” Read the rest of this entry »

Inspired Thinking: Architect John Ronan shares his schools

Architecture, Austin, Grand Crossing, River North No Comments »

It’s an early wake-up call for participants in the “Emerging Chicago” tour—which changes annually and selects breakthrough designs—with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. “Everything we have focused on so far has been on the forefront, on the cutting edge,” Nancy Cook, tour director announces on the way to the first location. “And I’m thrilled to say that we’re on the cutting-edge again.”

This year’s tour focuses on award-winning Chicago architect John Ronan’s work, specifically on two major buildings he has designed and built—Christ the King College Prep and Gary Comer College Prep. Both schools have had a profound impact on the impoverished neighborhoods and communities they were built in: Christ the King in the Austin neighborhood and Gary Comer, named after the late Lands’ End founder, in the Grand Crossing neighborhood.

Ronan meets the group at both institutions and offers his input, explaining his inspiration. At Christ the King, the building is concentrated on the Jesuit belief Corus Personalis, or care of the whole person. “The building is conceived like a body—the vital organs being the chapel, library, gym and cafeteria,” Ronan says. At Gary Comer, which works in conjunction with the youth center that shares its namesake adjoining the school, Ronan chose an almost-neon-greenish color for the exterior to reflect youth and optimism. “The school is very much about transparency and accountability both on the students and the staff,” Ronan explains. “And I put glass walls within each classroom to get the effect, to bring the natural light from two directions into each classroom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Toy Story: Tree Hopper brings the wood shop home

Austin, Holidays No Comments »

If urban woodsman chic and the enduring popularity of raw lofts has shown us anything, it is the extent to which aesthetic tastes run back to the rough elegance of primitive design. And thanks to one local artisan, there is no reason that your carefully “un-furbished” interior-decorating scheme need not extend to your childrens’ toys.

After getting his degree in fine arts from Columbia College, Eric Siegel was looking for a project. When his wife became pregnant with their first child, his mind turned to all things baby and soon enough he had the idea to start his Tree Hopper line of infant and toddler toys.

“We were on a road trip out west and we stopped by this toy store in San Francisco and they had some cool wood toys and that just got me thinking. And when I came back and looked into it more and looked around at toy stores, I saw that there would be a niche for these kinds of toys.”

The hallmark of Tree Hopper is Siegel’s wooden block sets, which can be built into a wide array of configurations with their connecting rods. Siegel says that the idea for the product came about when he wanted to make something for his nephew’s Christmas gift last year. Read the rest of this entry »

Austin City Limits: Bringing bikes west and south

Austin, Bicycling, Green, News etc. No Comments »

moxieA woman places a tin foil “bike helmet” on her Schnauzer and gently secures him into the doggie carrier on the back of her bike. As she does this, a crowd of bicyclists quickly gathers in Columbus Park at 500 South Central. By 1pm, roughly sixty people are waiting patiently to take a seventeen-mile bike ride zigzagging past the architectural gems in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.

“We’ll give stragglers a little more time,” says the tour’s organizer, Lee Diamond, while he gathers everyone’s attention. As he goes over some bike-safety basics, he is interrupted by a loud, balloon-like pop. A tire on the bike next to him quickly deflates. Suddenly, fellow bikers spring into action producing inner tubes and an air pump. Another tour organizer Cynthia Bell and a couple of others rush over to change the tire. “I’ve got a wrench!” someone yells. Read the rest of this entry »