May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Courtesy of Serious Eats. Good SCI-TECH example here, clearly tortilla chips behave more like concrete than like steel. Worth an experiment or two if you can afford the carbs and dry cleaning involved…
May 16, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Printer’s Row Lit Fest has finalized their calendar, and it looks like I’ll be talking about Chicago Skyscrapers with Gary Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum on Sunday, June 9th from 1:30-2:15 in the University Center/Loop Room. Lit Fest tickets required, details here. I’m also tentatively scheduled to appear at the University of Illinois Press’ booth at the New York Book Expo on May 30th, time to be determined. Pleased to be a part of both events…!
May 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
With the erection of the spire atop One World Trade, the press is abuzz that there’s a new “tallest building in the United States/North America, Western Hemisphere.” And the implication is that Chicago has, after nearly forty years, relinquished the title back to its rightful owner…
This, of course, is a never ending discussion, and the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats will make the “official” ruling later this month. CTBUH has a number of agreed upon criteria by which they judge such things, including a very fine distinction between “architectural top,” which is not supposed to include extraneous antennas, “highest occupied floor,” and “height to tip,” which includes things like “spires” that are intrinsic to the building’s structure.
For comparison, I’ve drawn up a fairly crude diagram to the left, there, showing the key heights of One World Trade and Sears. One World Trade’s claim rests entirely on whether you call its pointy thing an antenna or a spire–if it’s the latter, then sure, we have a new winner and North American champion. But here’s the thing: all of this week’s press coverage focused on the craning in to place of the 408-foot “spire,” in other words, an element that was simply bolted on to the building’s structure. The CTBUH criteria oddly say that it doesn’t count as a “spire” if it consists of “functional-technical equipment,” and as the Times points out, One World Trade’s “spire” may actually be an “antenna” anyway because of its lack of architectural cladding. (Interestingly, no matter what it is, the structure was designed in part by Kenneth Snelson, who’s widely credited with inspiring Bucky Fuller to take up tensegrity as a project…)
No matter how the CTBUH rules, from the profile I’d say this doesn’t pass the squint test. If you look at the architectural structures, and not the pointy things stuck onto them, any Chicagoan would agree that Sears is still #1. And yes, it’s still called Sears by most of us.
No doubt this will come up in the APTWGLC/CHSA skyscraper symposium on 22 June…
May 10, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Pleased to share the attached–the Western Great Lakes chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology, in conjunction with the Construction History Society of America, is sponsoring an afternoon-long symposium on historic skyscrapers on June 22 at the Leroy Neiman Center, the School of the Art Institute’s new student center at 37 S. Wabash. There will be two sessions–one on current preservation projects, and the other, later one will be a debate between myself and Construction History superstars (?) Don Friedman, of Old Structures in New York, and Meghan Elliott, of PreservationWorks in Minneapolis. We’ll be debating the origins of the tall building construction, and which city can claim the mantle of “home of the skyscraper.” Promises to be a steel-cage-match showdown, full of terra cotta and steel details, discussion of how you really measure a tall building, and random swipes at the Mets. Social hour to follow, hope to see a truly partisan crowd there! More details as they’re confirmed at: http://www.aptwglc.com/2013symposium.htm
May 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Today’s recommended reading comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has a suite of articles on the idea of ‘resilience,’ or a measure of a system’s ability to maintain its “operational integrity.” The term first surfaced in 1973 to describe ecological performance–how well a species or population could survive given changes in their environment–but ‘resilience’ has found its way into social sciences as both a metaphor and as a model for population studies. The results have been predictably messy and, as the articles note, somewhat controversial, but also interesting.
Anyone who has been stuck at O’Hare for 24 hours because of a weather system on the east coast knows the idea of resilience first-hand. Airlines that have to cancel hundreds of flights because of a storm hundreds of miles away are, um, not resilient. They may be lean, they may be efficient on good days, but if a predictable event throws the system into chaos, that’s a classic example of a non-resilient system. (And yes, I’ve had hours and hours in Terminal 1 to sit and ponder this).
There’s an interesting hint here for environmental design and preservation, too. If we changed our terminology, as the article seems to suggest, from “sustainable” to “resilient,” we’d be a bit more honest about what we really expected our buildings to do. And it would put the focus more on improving what’s already there instead of on the latest gadgets. If we build a ‘sustainable’ building, the rhetoric is that we can continue to build, exactly like that, for as long as we want, and in the back of our minds I think we all know that ain’t the case. If, on the other hand, we build a “resilient” building, it’s one that will still be habitable through climate changes, floods, energy costing more, etc. That seems a better goal ethically. And it also implies thinking about how we retrofit existing buildings to make them more adaptable to change–foreseeable and otherwise. For example, complex building management systems work fantastically well–when they work. Passive daylighting and cooling, on the other hand, work pretty well no matter whether the power’s on, the internet is up and running, etc. Embedded in this terminology is a pretty nifty rebuttal to the additive nature of a lot of ‘sustainable’ design today, and a suggestion that simple solutions that are easy to fix and to manipulate will always trump complicated systems that require several things to be going well in order to perform.
Worth a read…
May 3, 2013 § 3 Comments
As a nominal Cubs fan, I’m as interested as anyone in the outcome of the Ricketts family vs. the entire world saga that’s going on right now. The plan announced earlier this week to renovate and expand Wrigley Field was no surprise to anyone–big signs and scoreboards featuring plenty of ad space, some not-undesirable concourse improvements (save the troughs!) and the by now standard-issue historicist-lite satellite buildings (including a hotel on the site of a McDonalds that holds a dear place in the heart of everyone who went to Wrigley as a 12-year old and stopped for a burger and fries first). From an architectural point of view it’s all fairly predictable, not inspiring, probably smoothing out a few too many rough edges, but undoubtedly welcome to the team’s demographic.
The controversy now seems to revolve around an increased night game schedule, the scale of the hotel, and–inevitably–the fact that the signage will impinge on views from the neighborhood rooftops, a business venture that started as a fairly charming goof and is now so thoroughly corporatized that the rooftop seating comes with concession stands. Whether all of these might get ironed out or not is small beer, though, compared with the disastrous PR strategy being pursued by the Ricketts and the city, which seems to have been premised on shoving whatever the team asked for down the neighborhood’s throat. Ricketts has–again–threatened to move the team to a site in Rosemont–at the end of one of O’Hare’s busiest runways, which no one seems to have noticed–and what could have been a conversation about how the team and the neighborhood co-existed has become an all-out ground war.
What makes this interesting is that Wrigley is one of the shining–but unspoken–examples of how preservation can, in fact, be good for business. Tom Ricketts is quoted as saying “”All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum,” a line that preservationists hear all the time. But Wrigley isn’t like a museum–it’s a bit like the 96th, the restaurant on top of the Hancock building. No one really goes to the 96th to get the best meal in town, they go for the view. And as long as I’ve been a fan, the ‘product’ the team has put on the field has been, with a few exceptional years, pretty terrible. But attendance at the ballpark hasn’t been–in fact, if you look at their W/L record side-by-side with their attendance figures, you can see that people go to Wrigley no matter how bad the team is. Last year? Their W/L record was barely a good batting average. Yet attendance was over 2,800,000. (Attendance last year at the Museum of Science and Industry? 1,500,000. Sounds like Wrigley’s outperforming other ‘museums’ pretty well).
Like the view from the 96th, one of the big appeals of going to a Cubs game is the park itself. They sell tickets to tour the park when the team isn’t even playing. A long-held conspiracy theory among Cubs fans is that the team has never felt the need to field a good ‘product,’ because people will come no matter what happens on the field, especially if the weather’s good. There is no urban sports experience left like the one at Wrigley or Fenway, where you can spend an afternoon in the sun watching baseball with pretty much the same view as someone three generations ago might have had. Add to that being in a real neighborhood, where you can walk across the street and enjoy a cold beverage in the company of a few (ahem) other fans to round out the afternoon? Never mind being able to walk or take the El and avoiding the drive home. That’s a huge draw whether the team is winning or losing.
The threat, currently, is that the team can build an ‘exact replica’ of Wrigley on the Rosemont site with hotels and parking that would be far more convenient for the suburban fan. True enough. But the ridicule that this suggestion has met so far illustrates just how much value can be associated with an historic building and its relationship to its neighborhood. I would bet almost anything against the team moving, because the Cubs would lose the single most important piece of their business plan–a beloved, reasonably efficient building that relates to its neighborhood, offers easy pedestrian and mass transit access, and a real connection to history.
The Red Sox went through a similar crisis twenty years ago, with an owner who claimed that the antiquated and cramped Fenway Park prevented the team from maximizing its profit potential. Plans for a ‘replica’ park across the street, or alongside the Patriots’ stadium in Foxboro, all came to naught. In part that was due to public opinion, but it was also due to a city government that refused to buckle to the team’s threat to leave the city. Ultimately the bluff was called, ownership changed, and Fenway underwent $285 million of renovations, some of them controversial, others roundly welcomed (oh, and did I mention that the Sox finally won the World Series…twice). While some of the new stuff at Fenway seems a bit over-sponsored and corporate, ultimately the park feels more or less like it did twenty or thirty years ago. Hope Wrigley goes the same route, because its loss would be an unthinkable one for both baseball and for the city.
May 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
…starring Construction History guru John Ochsendorf. The Guastavino exhibit that formed the centerpiece for the CHSA conference in Boston last Fall is now at the National Building Museum, and he gives a good, albeit brief, tour of some highlights. The exhibit is spectacular, with original drawings, tile samples, and digitally fabricated reconstructions that show how the Guastavino’s vaults were constructed. Absolutely fascinating, even to a steel and concrete guy like me, Well worth checking out both the story and, if you’re near D.C., the exhibit, which runs through 20 January 2014.