Archive for the ‘modernism’ Tag

Architecture of Snowbird, Utah

I’ve been to Snowbird a handful of times, and aside from the amazing terrain, powder snow, and views, I was very interested in the buildings scattered around the base and the mountain. These are period pieces in classic Brutalist style, conceived in the mid-1960s and completed in the 1970s. Despite the seeming mismatch of lots and lots of concrete and wood, they strangely fit into the landscape, avoiding the often unexceptional, derivative nature of architecture at ski areas. Now architecture is normally not what one thinks of when going skiing, but I had to pause and explore some of these buildings in closer detail and loved what I saw.

I’ll also say a bit about the snow, my visit was timed with a moderate snowfall, with up to 6 inches accumulating overnight, and since some areas were closed until the avalanche danger eased, there were plenty of fresh tracks to be found. The crowds were minimal, despite being on a weekend, and there was no waiting in lines. The weather even cooperated on my second day there, as the sun came out. It’s a steep mountain, with lots of high speed lifts, and I probably got nearly 20000 meters of vertical over the course of two days. Fun! Incidentally, I purchased a Mountain Collective pass, which has been a good investment this year, especially now that the snow returned to the West.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The Road to Provo from the summit of Hidden Peak.

The buildings are Brutalist, with no attempt at hiding the modernist roots and the architecture in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. They reminded me of Louis Kahn, with the blend of concrete and wood, but are mixed in with plenty of dark, reflective glass. The master plan was completed in 1966, and the buildings were completed between 1971 and 1973, designed by Enteleki, Architecture, Planning, Research, and Brixen and Christopher architects (closed 2016).

The best building is probably the mid-mountain lodge, designed to withstand the elements, but also graced with wood beams that blend with the trees, and plenty of windows that allow for views of the mountains. Designed by Enteleki and completed in 1971, it looks clearly 1970s in the color scheme, but has weathered the 45 years very well. The entrance is a bit awkward though, with a ground level entrance splitting the lower level in half, and stairs lead up to the lodge level.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

Mid-mountain lodge, harmonious.

The base tram terminal shoots out of the ground like a church, but is a simply designed, logical structure that expresses exactly what it does. It’s unadorned form following function.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Lower tram terminal, with the Cliff Lodge in the background.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

Closeup of the Cliff Lodge.

So even the distinguished architectural photographer Julius Shulman dropped by and took photos, it was that good!

At the top is the Summit at Snowbird, which opened on 26 December 2015, and is the least distinguished structure, resembling a bunker. The views from the balconies and from behind the reflective glass are amazing, but it stands out like a sore thumb on the summit of Hidden Peak. The restaurant and seating is nice, though, serving healthy food with a touch of class and even linen tablecloths! It does provide a necessary stopping point at the junction of the upper tram terminal and the Mineral Basin lift. This “entry column” evokes the concrete architecture of the other buildings, but the materials don’t quite fit in.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

View from the Summit at Snowbird, not a bad place to have lunch.

And the logos and fonts, they evoke the 1970s as well, large and clean, with the Snowbird “triangles” logo imprinted into many of the structures. This is a great 1970s period piece and remains fresh even today.

An excellent page with more info and photos can be found at the Salt Lake Modern website.



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!

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