Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Pavement to the People

Andersonville, Architecture, Avondale, Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Lakeview, News etc., Wicker Park 5 Comments »

People Spot and bike corral in Andersonville/Photo: Andersonville Development Corporation

By John Greenfield

Local pundits like ex-Sun-Times columnist Mark Konkol and the Tribune’s John McCarron and John Kass have trashed the city’s new protected bike lanes as a waste of space on the streets. But Chicagoans tend to overlook the massive amount of room on the public way given over to moving and parking private automobiles.

A new Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) initiative called Make Way for People is dreaming up more imaginative uses of the city’s asphalt and concrete, creating new public spaces that are energizing business strips. In partnership with local community leaders, the program is taking parking spots, roadways, alleys and under-used plazas and transforming them into People Spots, People Streets, People Alleys and People Plazas, respectively, lively neighborhood hangouts.

“It’s not a top-down program where we come in and say, ‘We think you need a People Spot or a People Street,’” says Janet Attarian, head of the department’s Streetscape and Sustainable Design section. “Instead we say, ‘We want to help you build community and culture and place and, look, we just created a whole set of tools that wasn’t available before.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Living Landmark: How Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson Became an Encyclopedia of Chicago

Architecture, Chicago History, Loop, Rogers Park 6 Comments »

Photo: Thomas Marlow

By Harrison Smith

To design buildings, says Tim Samuelson, you have to be able to see things as one great complicated whole, “to think as one creative act.” The great ones, architects like Chicago’s own Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, were able to “imbue part of themselves” in their work, to design buildings that functioned as both useful spaces, as homes or auditoriums, and as works of art, objects that could move a person as much as a line of poetry or a beautiful painting. Sullivan had a concise way of expressing this point, writing in 1896 that “form ever follows function,” a quote that has long been misinterpreted to mean that form is secondary to function.

“What it really means,” says Tim, “is that the two work harmoniously together.” From this idea, architecture is “like creating poetry. Form follows function, as Sullivan intended it, is pure, beautiful, creative poetry. All the parts harmoniously and beautifully relate together. They stir the emotions.”

Tim Samuelson, no architect, says he was never able to imagine buildings this way, to see a building in his mind’s eye before any foundation had been laid and construction had begun. When he sees a great building, however—the Auditorium Building on Michigan and Congress, or the old Federal Building on Dearborn and Jackson—he is struck; he is in rapture; he is in love.

Samuelson has been the city’s cultural historian for the past ten years, functioning as a one-man office of the Department of Cultural Affairs. His job is that of a spokesperson, consultant, historian and storyteller, a wide-ranging position that requires him “to tell the spirit and the history of Chicago” through exhibits, public programs, and collaboration with other cultural institutions, museums, and governmental agencies. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Can Indy Rock?

Architecture, Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Transit 1 Comment »

McAfee and Kastner on the Cultural Trail/Photo by John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If I had to sum up Indianapolis in one word, it would be “Underrated.” With a population of 829,718, the Hoosier State capital is the second-largest Midwest city. But despite its size it’s known as “Naptown” and “India-No-Place” due to its reputation as a bland, suburban-style metropolis with few attractions besides the Colts, the Pacers and the Indy 500. I’m told that in the 1980s you couldn’t even buy a sandwich downtown after 6pm and the massive streets, lined with dozens of garages and oceans of parking lots, were so deserted you could safely walk down the middle of them.

But last weekend when I took Megbus there to meet up with my buddy Jake, in town for a conference, I discovered a surprisingly hip city with some fascinating architectural features and plenty of fun stuff to do. And while there’s little public transportation to speak of, and the city’s dominant image is a racecar, I was shocked to find a level of bike-friendliness that gives Chicago a run for its money. Read the rest of this entry »

A River Runs Through It: With “Waterline,” McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum Contemplates the Future

Architecture, City Life, Loop, Pilsen No Comments »

Photo: Harrison Smith

By Harrison Smith

The new exhibit at the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum occupies a similar place in the museum as the river does in the city: presented at various points scattered throughout the museum’s five tight floors, the exhibit—extensive as it is—is easy to overlook. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the museum itself, which fills the southwest tower of the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue and opens onto the Chicago Riverwalk at water’s edge. There are few signs identifying the museum at street-level, and few people walking along the Riverwalk to notice its entrance, something the museum and its “Waterline” exhibition are looking to change. Read the rest of this entry »

Custer’s Last: A South Side Celebration at the Historic Ben Hecht House

Architecture, Chicago History, Hyde Park No Comments »

Photo: Harrison Smith

By Harrison Smith

Early Wednesday evening, when the first guests start making their way inside the Ben Hecht house on 53rd and Kenwood, Kelly Custer is sitting out on the porch with a friend, asking if “maybe it was too much.” Earlier that morning she had called someone over to her family’s historic ten-bedroom bungalow for a little house cleaning; eight hours later, the job was done, or done as well as could be expected for a short notice cleaning of a four-floor house in transition. The person was paid, but Custer—whose family is selling their home of nearly fifty years—is concerned that things still aren’t clean enough: there are boxes lying around in corners, books and papers piled on desks, and for the next couple of hours a hundred-odd visitors will be walking through it all, taking a look at the house and its history. And, she figures, its mess, which probably should have been cleaned a little better anyway.

Prompted by Op-Shop and Southside Hub of Production organizer Laura Shaeffer, the Custer family had decided to open up their home to the community before saying goodbye for good. Shaeffer, like many others at the “Ben Hecht House Party,” is dressed in full 1920s garb, greeting guests as she walks through the building in flowing white pants and a rustling jewel necklace-piece her friend Victoria, a psychic, found in Chinatown. “The family was so worried” about the mess, she says, “but I said that’s fine, we’re going to clean up the front room, make it really nice and comfortable, and let people roam around and see that this is a space in transition.” Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Gain: Six Ideas Chicago Should Steal from Other Cities

Architecture, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Loop, Pilsen, Transit, West Loop, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »

Rendering of the Dallas park expressway cap via the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation

By Sam Feldman

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Chicago’s received its fair share. We pioneered the steel-frame skyscraper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric blues, all worldwide hits. We started studying the idea of turning the abandoned two-point-seven-mile Bloomingdale Line into an elevated park in 1998, a year before the High Line was a gleam in anybody’s eye, though it’s New York’s elevated park that’s gotten all the attention. (To be fair, New York’s park does have the advantage of actually existing.)

But other cities have some good ideas too sometimes, and every so often we should glance around and see what might be worth stealing. We’ve made a good start with the recent announcement of a 300-kiosk bike-sharing system arriving by next summer, an idea we stole from Washington, DC, along with our new transportation chief Gabe Klein. But there’s a lot more we can rip off. There are areas where we haven’t been keeping up, or we’ve been making small plans, or we just haven’t taken the lead. Some of these ideas would cost money, but some of them would make money. Some of them might be immediately popular, while others could take some convincing. Some of them won’t happen—but some of them will. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Wright Returns to the Rookery

Architecture, Loop No Comments »

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is honoring its namesake’s position in the rich heritage of Chicago’s architectural history with the grand opening of the new Shop Wright gift store on July 21 in the Rookery, one of Chicago’s oldest and most historically significant buildings. Wright remodeled the lobby of the Rookery in 1905 and it was then restored to his designs at the end of the twentieth century. Heidi Farina, director of multi-channel retailing at the Preservation Trust, explains that the Shop Wright opening has always been the next step after the central offices of the Trust were relocated to the Rookery in late 2010. “It allows us to reach a new, different type of audience,” she says, “not only the tourists but the business community of Chicago.” The grand opening, which the public can attend, will feature “champagne and shopping” from 5pm-7pm together with appetizers, three prize giveaways and a ten-percent discount to the public and twenty-percent to members of the Trust.  Alongside the boozing and browsing, the Trust is offering rare tours to the Rookery Vault storage, which usually has no public access and features catalogued architectural items from recent renovations, including ornamental ironwork and elevator grilles. Farina says that the gift store will contain many new items that incorporate the Rookery’s design styles with floral, geometric patterns and elements taken from the elevators, as well as bird styles that pay homage to the heritage of the Rookery’s name. These will slot in beside the rich catalogue of Shop Wright’s furniture, books, accessories, jewelry and art inspired by Wright’s design work. Together with the new store, tours of the iconic Rookery are being expanded to five days a week beginning at noon every day, Monday through Friday. (Ben Small)

The Go Wright grand opening is July 21 at the Rookery, 209 South LaSalle, 5pm-7pm. RSVP at gowright.org/rsvp-rookery.html.

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 »

411: Preserve this tour

Architecture, Loop No Comments »

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (architecture.org) has added three new entries to its list of more than eighty-five architecture tours in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Landmarks Illinois, the statewide voice for historic preservation. Ellen Shubart, co-chair of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s tour committee, says these three distinct walking tours, called “Preservation and Pubs,” will explore the various issues surrounding historic preservation within the Loop. “These are one-of-a-kind tours for this special anniversary and will not be on the schedule on a regular basis,” Shubart says. “We will be looking at various buildings that have been preserved and discuss the issues involved for buildings to become a landmark and why people want to preserve these buildings.” Each tour will end at an historic pub—the Sky-Ride Lounge,  Kasey’s and Cardozo’s Pub—and a representative from Landmarks Illinois will be on hand to discuss the history and nature of each location. The first tour, April 29, heads west, followed by the southbound May 13 and the June 17 finale, which will head north. (Nancy Wolens)

In the Loop: Chicago Detours leads learning expeditions in the city

Architecture, Chicago History, Loop No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

Standing just inside the Dearborn Street entrance of Chase Tower, Amanda Scotese welcomes her Friday Chicago Detours group to “Explore the Loop without Freezing.” This morning brings only four curious people together, but Scotese caps the number of tickets at twenty anyway, creating what she characterizes as a unique, personal and immersive urban experience. The attendees give their names and hometowns before Scotese pulls out the multimedia component, an iPad, starting with a nineteenth-century clip of a Chicago intersection and a Studs Terkel snippet.

“It’s not just facts. This is about stories and a theme that binds them together,” says Scotese.

Her digital collection of archival footage, ephemera and images “you can’t piece together on the Internet” complement her mental reserve of “forgotten stories,” as she calls the fascinating history she shares at each stop. She encourages questions and conversation, fostering a collaborative educational environment unlike the talking head on run-of-the-mill tours.

“People love to learn!” she exclaims. “I don’t pretend to know everything, and I’m not into making up answers.” Anything she doesn’t know, she researches and posts answers to on the Chicago Detours blog. Read the rest of this entry »