Archive for the ‘chicago’ Tag

Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital, Chicago

Going, going, and almost gone. It’s probably now a matter of weeks before the distinctive cloverleaf towers come down. Demolition has been proceeding all summer, the rather utilitarian base structure is fast disappearing. This is another major loss for Chicago architecture, and it doesn’t seem like Northwestern is going to replace it with anything particularly distinctive, at least none of the other buildings on the medical campus are anything special.

Hospitals rarely last a long time, it’s probably true that the once-innovative features of Prentice Women’s Hospital went out of date back in the 1980s, but the building was very well built, a difficult and distinctive piece of engineering, and an important landmark in Bertrand Goldberg’s career. It’s been empty for years, but why tear it down when it can be creatively re-used?

So RIP Prentice.


Scaffolding is up, the building is coming down. A bit reminiscent of Richard Nickel's photos of the old Chicago Stock Exchange.

Scaffolding is up, the building is coming down. A bit reminiscent of Richard Nickel’s photos of the old Chicago Stock Exchange.


A distinctive presence among all the usual street level stuff!

Bruce Goff’s Chicago

Bruce Goff was one prodigious fellow, with a very long career and a wholly original style that could be seen as a deeply personal interpretation of the Prairie School. He spent part of his career in Chicago, and there’s a memorial for him in Graceland Cemetery. He also designed two houses in Chicago, one a radical remodeling of a 19th century structure, the other a rather unusual not-quite-mid-century Modern house on the fringes of the city. Here’s my little tour of the two structures, on a frigid winter day in the city.

The Bachman House is a remodeling, completed in 1948, where Goff took a 19th century house, gutted it, and replaced it with a Space Age, corrugated metal facade. He also redid the brick in a style reminiscent of the tail fin on cars of the 1950s, flaring out, with an asymmetric brick front. How about that? Despite this rather wild facade, Goff’s house designs were also known for being practical and livable.

Bachman House

Bachman House

Tail fins and corrugated metal

Tail fins and corrugated metal

Way further afield, in the far northwest corner of Chicago, is the Turzak House from 1938, which resembles a distant Prairie School relative, enhanced with more asymmetry and all sorts of fun touches. It’s got an entry with brick on one side and wood or metal on the other. The canopy is sloped, and so is the railing on the balcony, which fools the viewer’s perspective. There’s definitely more than meets the eye in these houses.

Turzak House, Chicago

Turzak House, Chicago

His stuff in Oklahoma is way out there, figuratively speaking, and I’ll have to check them out someday.


Adler and Sullivan, the Chicago residences

A number of these are Chicago landmarks, as they should be. By and large, these are early structures of Adler and Sullivan, all except the Charnley House completed by 1886, intended mostly for their middle- and upper middle-class clientele. They are simpler structures than their larger commissions, and much of the detail is in the interiors, with beautifully decorated stairways, stencilwork, balustrades, newel posts, and the like. From the exterior, the majority come across as being conservative, even severe. These days, they’re quite rare, with only a handful remaining in Chicago. Up until the mid-20th century, a large number of them stood in and around Bronzeville, before much of the area was razed in the name of urban renewal. Here’s a tour of the structures, four of them on the North Side and two on the South Side.

Mannheimer house (1884): This one is whimsical, distinguished mostly by the semicircular, textured front.

Leon Mannheimer House (1884)

Leon Mannheimer House (1884)

Around the corner is the Halsted House (1883): This freestanding house is on a spacious lot, and is severe and simple in character. The top begins to have a bit of fun, though, with experimentation around the chimney and the dormers.

Ann Halsted House (1883)

Ann Halsted House (1883)

Row houses for Ann Halsted (1884-1885): These are the only row houses designed by Adler and Sullivan, just as Sullivan was honing his architectural and decorative skills.

Row houses for Ann Halsted (1884-1885)

Row houses for Ann Halsted (1884-1885)

Charnley House (1892): This is probably mostly the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The exterior bears the hallmarks of Wright, with the long Roman brick and emphasis on horizontality. Given that by the early 1890s Adler and Sullivan were busy with their skyscraper commissions, and that Sullivan had little desire to do residences, most of the work was probably left to Wright.

Two houses remain on the South Side, one in Oakland, and one in Bronzeville. Both managed to escape the obliteration of entire blocks and neighborhoods in the mid-20th century. Richard Nickel’s extensive documentation of the neighborhood reveal a vital community, but badly decayed buildings and clear neglect. The Sullivan buildings all stood out for their architecture, but were clearly on their last legs as the neighborhood was being obliterated around them. They had also been extensively modified, many were missing their cornices, painted in appalling colors, and had not been properly maintained.

Eliel House (1886): Officially a Chicago landmark, probably because of its status as a rare Sullivan house in a neighborhood that was nearly torn down. This is one of Adler and Sullivan’s simpler structures, and heavily modified with siding on the bay window.

Gustav Eliel house (1886)

Gustav Eliel House (1886)

Deimel House (1886):  Again, the Deimel house is restrained, and most of the architectural detail is inside. The outside is notable for the entryway. And it’s for sale! Down the street are Wright’s Roloson row houses, which have Sullivanesque decorative panels.

Joseph Deimel house (1886)

Joseph Deimel House (1886)

I believe that the sole remaining Sullivan single-family house outside of Chicago is in Madison, WI, now a University of Wisconsin fraternity. There is also Sullivan’s little-known Tusculum College structure in Tennessee, and his badly damaged vacation house complex in Biloxi, MS. I have not visited either of them yet.

Getty and Ryerson Tombs, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

These are two tombs designed in very different styles by Louis Sullivan at the turn of the 1890s, located about 500 feet apart in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.

The Ryerson Tomb (1889) borrows from ancient Egypt, and unlike Sullivan’s buildings, is a polished dark gray granite structure that portrays a sense of timelessness, by reflecting its surroundings. Sullivan’s famed decoration is minimal here, limited to the entryway, and even that is quite restrained. It’s pure Sullivan, however, and while the structure itself is Egyptian-inspired, the decoration isn’t. It’s probably best appreciated towards sunset, when the sun reflects off of the main entrance and the granite mirrors the immediate surroundings.

Ryerson Tomb, detail

Ryerson Tomb at sunset

The Getty Tomb (1890) couldn’t be more different, it’s made of intricately carved sandstone, with bronze doors that have acquired a rich turquoise patina over the years, and is one of Sullivan’s greatest decorative efforts. Less visible is the main door to the tomb, which is a bit difficult to photograph, but is extraordinarily richly decorated. The structure also marks the beginning of Sullivan’s mature decoration, his previous structures being relatively restrained (maybe also because they were generally lower budget residential and small commercial commissions). The structure is contemporary with the Auditorium Building and other large Adler and Sullivan commissions, like the Stock Exchange, Wainwright, and Schiller buildings. The Getty Tomb is freed from the constraints of commercial and residential design, and it was remarked that Sullivan planned the work in full-scale drawings. Even the perennially picky Frank Lloyd Wright was particularly fond of this structure: ” Fine sculpture. . . A great poem. . . Outside of the realm of music what finer requiem.

Getty Tomb, front elevation

Getty Tomb, side elevation

Front gates, detail, note decoration on the main door behind

Bertrand Goldberg’s Chicago

Mies gets the glory, but Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) left a distinctive personal mark on Chicago’s built environment. He is most famous for his Marina City complex downtown, but he also designed a number of other structures in the city during the course of his long career. His work after 1960 is easily recognized, with obviously organic forms, but his earlier work is harder to categorize. I took a driving tour of his buildings in Chicago (south to north), and here are some of my observations.

Helstein House, Hyde Park (1951): It’s very easy to miss, as the house is tucked away in the back of the lot, hidden behind a front yard and a tangle of greenery. Ostensibly, this was to enhance privacy and also to avoid offending the neighbors with its daring architecture. The best way to see it is from the parking lot behind it, where there’s a clear view of the house. He relies on concrete and glass, as is the case for all of his structures, round pillars and floor-to-ceiling glass. But there’s little hint of the curvaceous forms that would characterize his later work, starting with Marina City. The paint scheme is a puke green, appalling.

Back side of Helstein House, the ground floor has apparently been modified.

Drexel Homes, Kenwood (1955): Drive by, and you’ll easily miss it. Built as a large complex of townhouses along Drexel Boulevard, these houses are in varying states of repair, some are well-kept, others are in need of upkeep. The townhouses are on the western fringe of prestigious Kenwood (Obama’s neighborhood), and the houses themselves are simple, modular designs with economy in mind, although many have been modified over the years.

Drexel Blvd. townhouses

Raymond Hilliard Homes, Chinatown (1966): On an irregular site along busy Cermak Road, this is one of the most successful of Chicago’s public housing complexes. Although access to the site is limited, this is Goldberg at his curvaceous, precast best. His signature rounded forms are on clear display here. For an architect of his influence, this is apparently the only Goldberg structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hilliard Houses

River City, South Loop (1986): The building extends over the water, and instead of the parking garage in Marina City, here it’s replaced by boat slips. The form is complex and difficult to grasp from street level, and it’s in a lousy location, cut off by Congress Parkway, and out of the urban fabric, with vacant lots to the north and south. It’s best seen from across the river, or from the architecture boat tour, or if you’re lucky, from a plane, where the S curve of the layout becomes clear.

River City, feeling a bit lonely out of the Loop

Marina City, River North (1967): This is his best-known project, with corncob floors rising out of a spiraling garage base. It’s part of an ensemble of architectural heavyweights, with Mies’ landmark IBM building next door, and along Chicago’s architectural textbook Dearborn Street. Mies was not the only style in Chicago in the mid-20th century. The construction of the towers was an event, with the slim concrete core of the structure rising to its full height as the first stage of construction. Whole books have been written on these structures, so I’ll just post a pretty picture.

Parking structure, Marina City

Prentice Women’s Hospital, Streeterville (1975): On borrowed time, it looks like it’s destined for demolition, and is now one of the nation’s most endangered landmarks. It’s been empty since 2007, and the building next door to it has been demolished, now affording a clear view of the structure. At ground level, it’s rather grim, with ill-defined entrances, but really shines above ground, with the soaring cloverleaf structure growing out of the base. The form is unmistakable, unique and innovative even for Chicago, a thrilling piece of engineering and architecture up top, but marred by an additional floor on the base that hides a clear view of the extraordinary cantilevering. For more information on the building and the detailed reuse study, see the Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust page on Prentice.

Prentice Women’s Hospital, better visit now before it’s gone!

Astor Tower, Gold Coast (1963): Using the rounded columns of his Helstein House, Goldberg gave us a tower in the formerly low-rise Gold Coast district, but with a small and distinct footprint at street level. The base is small, with two canopies at the asymmetric entrances. Signature 1960s chic and glamor that feels its age. The windows used to be louvered, but those were replaced in a recent renovation with more pedestrian glass elements.

Base of Astor Tower, slim and weightless

Brennemann Elementary School, Lakeview (1963): Very little of the Goldberg structure is visible, it’s been virtually obliterated by more recent building.

Wright College, Montrose at Narrangansett (1992): On the very edge of Chicago, this is his last completed work. I didn’t have the chance to look closely at this, but it’s unmistakably his work, with its rounded forms and windows. Definitely worth a closer look next time I’m in town.

Wright College, Goldberg’s final act

Dead Architects Society

That would be Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. The architects’ corner is located around the lake, and some of these monuments are pretty stylin’. I hope my gravestone looks this good.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, looking very Miesian

Bruce Goff, with a fragment from his Price Studio


Fazlur Khan, structural engineer extraordinaire


Bruce Graham, of the Graham / Khan duo at SOM

Daniel Burnham, architect, city planner


John Wellborn Root


Louis Henri Sullivan, an American original


Richard Nickel, photographer / preservationist


Chicago O’Hare Terminal 1

This is the airport everyone loves to hate, along with the usual suspects (Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, etc.). I’ve had my share of delays and cancellations and overnights at O’Hare in the past, but here’s the bright side, it’s a treasure as far as airport architecture goes.

The best of them is the Helmut Jahn-designed Terminal 1, the United terminal, completed in 1987. Jahn left his mark on the airport, also designing the CTA subway station, which is a masterpiece in its own right. The United terminal is the modern equivalent of the old train stations of Europe, and it’s clearly inspired by the exposed steel beams, screws, and arches. He didn’t match the rest of the airport’s architecture, an understated Miesian steel and glass box, but departed boldly from it, presenting a structure close in spirit to his downtown Thompson Center. Nevertheless, he integrated it into the remainder of the airport, giving a hint in Terminal 2 with a redesigned entryway to the gate area, and the connector corridor between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. The terminal has also weathered the intervening quarter-century, hundreds of millions of passengers, Chicago’s notorious weather, and is a beautiful and practical structure, in the best tradition of Chicago architecture.

End of the B concourse

B concourse, central section

My favorite part, though, is the tunnel linking to the satellite concourse C. It’s a 1980’s period piece, complete with the pastel color scheme and the kinetic neon sculpture. The only thing that’s been recently missing is the matching music (to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue). Airports tend to be so colorless and bland, what’s wrong with a few wacky colors to lighten things up, especially when you know your plane won’t be departing on time!

Tunnel between Concourses B and C

So unlike most, I always look forward to some time spent in O’Hare.

Louis Sullivan in Iowa

Three of the architect’s structures lie just a few miles off of I-80, so I paid them a visit on my drive west from Chicago to Omaha. These were all built late in his career, during one of the darkest periods of his life. Despite his difficult personal and financial circumstances at the time, Sullivan’s creativity remained undimmed, and these buildings are hallmarks of one of America’s most original architects.

I crossed the Mississippi River into Clinton, Iowa, a sleepy Midwestern town barricaded behind a levee. Sullivan’s building, the former Van Allen Department Store, the most prominent structure in the city, is located at the main crossroads of the town. It is reminiscent of the Gage Group in Chicago, with a nice balance of horizontal elements in the large Chicago windows, and these ‘vines’ that rise between the windows and blossom at the top.


Van Allen Building, Clinton, Iowa



Van Allen Building, detail


The next stop was Cedar Rapids, to visit the now closed, still heavily damaged People’s Savings Bank, located on the bank of the Cedar River opposite downtown. The great flood of 2008 partially submerged the structure, and it’s still boarded up, so it’s in desperate need of restoration. It’s a very understated building, with no multicolor decoration or organic motifs, but with subtle shades of brick red and smaller decorative elements that require a up close look.


People's Savings Bank, now Wells Fargo, still boarded up after the flood



Entrance detail


My final stop was the Merchants National Bank in Grinnell, IA. This is a building marked by a rather plain brick facade offset by a very exuberant cartouche above the main entrance. It’s the largest building on the block, sited at a corner, with a solid, but not out-of-scale presence. Sullivan was quite sensitive to the scale of the building and its surroundings, so one gets the impression that this is the dominant structure, while being harmonious with the other buildings nearby.

Merchants National Bank, Grinnell

Cartouche, detail

View in the context of the street

He has an additional building in northern Iowa, in Algona, which I did not have the chance to visit.

The Burton Store tour

I’m a Burton window shopping whore. Really. But I’ve bought a total of three things from the stores, a beanie, socks, and a pair of AK pants on discount.

Here’s a photo tour of the Burton Stores I’ve visited so far.

We’ll start in Innsbruck, Austria, where there’s a public bus stop called “Burton Store”. It’s located about two miles from the town center, along busy Haller Strasse, in the office annex part of the European HQ.

IBK, Innsbruck


Drool! I want to buy everything.

Then it’s across the pond to New York. The store is tiny and cramped, but it’s in one of those nifty Soho cast iron buildings.


Burton Store, Soho

And over to the City of Big Shoulders, with the very Chicago touch of having a Mies chair next to the board rack. This one’s in the heart of the Michigan Avenue shopping district, and I’d say probably the nicest of the stores I’ve visited.



To the West Coast, isn’t Melrose Avenue synonymous with snowboarding?


Los Angeles


And over to the Land of the Rising Sun, with the Tokyo store in trendy Harajuku. This one’s a bit disappointing, quite small, probably the least aesthetically pleasing of the stores I’ve been to.


Harajuku, Tokyo

Finally, to the heart of Japan, with the Osaka store in frenetic Shinsaibashi. Much nicer than Tokyo’s, spacious and stylish.


Osaka, Shinsaibashi


I’m still missing the Vermont flagship store, so that’s still on my list. I like how all of them are different, always full of style, but quite individually decorated. I’d say that the Chicago store gets the nod for best design, the furniture inside is very Chicago, while the entranceway is like a mountain lodge, with plenty of wood. Admittedly, though, the Rockies are pretty far from Chicago.