Street Smart Chicago

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 ( 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 »

Bertrand Goldberg’s legacy at risk

Architecture, Chicago History, Gold Coast/Near North No Comments »

The fight to save Prentice Hospital continues. Preservation Chicago has circulated this video, which covers the story. Newcity made Prentice the centerpiece of a cover story about the threat to Chicago’s mid-century modern architecture this summer.

Save Prentice! from Aaron Cahan on Vimeo.

Romancing the River: Falling in love with the underbelly of the city from the water taxi

Architecture, Essays & Commentary, Loop No Comments »

By Dina Elenbogen

I am floating in the underbelly of the city, the same way the summer my son was an infant, walking along the lake with him strapped to my body at dawn, I’d feel as if I were moving through the underbelly of the day. On this boat I take to work, floating under bridges and taking in new angles and facades of buildings, this city feels unfamiliar. It’s like looking into a face you’ve known for a long time and seeing an entirely new quality of beauty.

I used to envy friends who were able to walk only steps from the train to their buildings but now I realize that I am the lucky one. After a thirty-minute train ride on which I review for the writing class I’ll teach later in the morning, I arrive in the city, walk a few steps, and my boat is usually waiting for me. I step off the pier at Wacker and down a few steps into the yellow boat. I usually sit uncovered on a bench in the back. Some mornings I’ll commune with the red steel bridges that we pass between Madison (1922), and the Michigan Avenue Bridge (1920). Other times it will be the glass facades of the newer buildings next to the old stone and turrets of the Crain Communications Building and the Wrigley Building. If the boat didn’t hit the cement at Michigan Avenue to disembark, I’d probably drift away with my thoughts all morning. Read the rest of this entry »

In With the Old: Can Chicago turn the Spice Barrel District into a creative center?

Architecture, Chinatown, Pilsen 4 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

Chicago needs this. A grouping of four huge old buildings on the Near South Side will become, hopefully, a new Creative Industries District. This district isn’t simply an art gallery stroll, nor is it merely a rehabbed warehouse for artist studios. The proposed redevelopment plan is so big and ambitious—perhaps bigger than any current mixed-use art space in Chicago, 800,000 square feet in total—that galleries and studios will be just a small fraction of the big picture, if at all.

You don’t need to see it to believe it—because there’s not much to look at yet—but the future will spurt from this dust-caked shell of salvage, a sun-baked hulk of hundred-year-old bricks and broken windows. A picturesque ruin, perhaps. This is what condominium developments look like before the granite countertops and cast-iron balconies roll in, but no dream condos will be constructed here, and anyway, the kitchen-table art economy hasn’t gotten us much further than the front room. We won’t be art-gallery squatting in the near future. The near future has a budget, a committee, actually several committees, licensing forms and tax forms and applications, and a dada poem of acronyms—ULI, NEA, LISC, DCA, TIF, CMAP—that sounds like government bureaucracy BS, the type that we like to knee-jerk kick in the nostrils, but this time we’re going to sit on the shoulders of Big Brother. This time he’s got our back. Read the rest of this entry »

Architecture Capital? What we’ll lose if we lose our mid-century modern buildings

Architecture, Chicago History 5 Comments »

Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital

By Ella Christoph

If archaeologists wanted to excavate Chicago to discover its history, they would quickly realize digging down is far less productive than just opening your eyes and looking at the panorama of a city block. The sediment of Chicago reaches left and right, not down, and it’s by noticing one building next to another that Chicago’s turbulent history jumps out at us. The city is a jumble of homes, storefronts and skyscrapers that bring us back to before the Great Chicago Fire, back to the golden age of railroads, back to the time when internationally acclaimed architects fled Europe for the safety and capitalist progressivism of the Second City.

For archaeologists in Pompeii, the volcano was a gold mine, freezing the city in time. But imagine a different kind of destructive force, with the accuracy of a pencil eraser, deleting just one moment of a city’s past at a time. A bulldozer, tearing down what we believe future generations won’t miss—the now-ubiquitous square glass boxes of Mies van der Rohe’s protégés, the harsh concrete of Brutalism, the strange contraptions of architects excited by new materials that became ordinary almost instantaneously. This isn’t a new eraser; its sights are just set on a new comma in the paragraph of our city’s history. Read the rest of this entry »

You Killed the Car: The Rose House is both mid-century modern landmark and a bit of pop-culture history

Architecture, Chicago History, Highland Park No Comments »

In the late eighties and early nineties, hip, affluent trendsetters rediscovered the aesthetic of mid-century modern homes and flocked to Palm Springs in search of homes designed by Albert Frey, Richard Neutra and their peers. It was a godsend for the homes, which were “somewhat disheveled-looking, and worn out,” says Joseph Rosa, director of the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. Read the rest of this entry »

Grain of Truth: Taking stock of the relics of Chicago’s era as the world’s “Stacker of Wheat”

Architecture, Chicago History 3 Comments »

By David Witter

Grain elevators were the city’s first skyscrapers, rising up as high as fifteen stories along the Chicago River and Sanitary and Ship Canal from downtown to the South Shore, supplying the nation’s bakeries much in the way that the stockyards of the Armours, Oscar Mayers and Swifts gave us steak, bacon and hot dogs. Along with being the “Hog Butcher for the World,” they gave rise to Carl Sandburg’s description of Chicago as the “Stacker of Wheat.” Poured from trains and barges, wheat, corn, barley and other crops were stored within before being sold at a “new” market called The Chicago Board of Trade. Today, only two grain facilities, the Archer Daniels Midland Plant, and the Illinois International Port Grain Elevators at the Port of Chicago, remain in operation within the city limits. Dozens have been demolished, while still more sit vacant. Too large and expensive to tear down, they are slowly deteriorating like Egyptian ruins in an urban desert, standing as a final reminder of Chicago’s agricultural past amid the modern skyscrapers, condos and highways that are now Chicago’s landscape. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Right to Wright

Architecture, News etc. No Comments »

Frank Lloyd Wright’s world-renowned Unity Temple has been added to the 2009 America’s Most Endangered Historic Building’s List. Through not in jeopardy of being demolished, the Unity Temple is in need of massive renovations. The building has suffered water damage, which affects the roof and outer structure. “Water is our main enemy; over time water damage has built up,” says Emily Roth, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation. “It has become critical to fix it now or else the roof will become unstable.” Since 1973, UTRF, a non-profit organization, has been making strides in preserving the National Historic Landmark. Yet the restoration costs have outpaced funding and has only been compounded by the recession. Thankfully, the organization has received federal funding from the Save America’s Treasures grant through the National Parks Services. The grant will match the group’s fundraising efforts up to $200,000 dollars.  The UTRF is “bound and determined to raise $200,000 dollars” this summer, according to Roth. As a result of the landmark’s status, Roth has seen an increase in support and donations. “We had a flurry of donations from all over the country,” she says. “Making a donation is a way of preserving our cultural heritage.”