Archive for the ‘illinois’ Tag

Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Historically one of the major crossroads of America, the city of St. Louis holds a vast number of architectural treasures from the post Civil War period until the 1960s. The Eads Bridge, still one of the major crossings of the Mississippi River, was one of the major engineering feats of 19th century United States, along with other superlatives like the transcontinental railroad, the Erie Canal, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The bridge is located at a narrow point between downtown and East St. Louis, Illinois, and was built after a protracted battle against steamboat operators, during the aftermath of the disastrous Civil War. Construction began in 1867 and was completed eight years later, in 1874. It was the first major steel bridge built, and pneumatic caissons were used for the first time (at a major human cost). 141 years later, the bridge is still in use, with MetroLink trains on the lower level, and a refurbished deck hosting automobile, bike, and pedestrian traffic.

Aesthetically, the bridge is a balance of the delicate and muscular, with heavy stonework on the ends, and a dense network of steel in the three arches.

Detail of steelwork and west anchorage.

Detail of steelwork and west anchorage.

Eads Bridge, looking east from Laclede's Landing.

Eads Bridge, looking east from Laclede’s Landing.

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