reliance elevation

One of the tasks I’m working on right now is to get some presentable elevations and plans of Chicago skyscrapers ready for publication.  A lot of this information exists only on scratchy microfilms or on archival drawings, all of which is interesting but difficult to read.

So here’s the Reliance, which I’ve posted about before, all cleaned up.  Elevations like this make it easy to track the relative size of window openings vs. solid elements in building skins, but they also show how the designer must have thought of the building on the drawing board.  If anything, the curtain wall here looks even more glassy than in real life…

One of the real finds has been plans and elevations of the Montauk–the 1883 building that broke the 10 story barrier in Chicago.  Lots has been written about it, and there is one lithograph and a handful of photographs of it published, but I’m working on what I think will be the first published floor plan of it for the book…watch this space!

old chicago skyscraper of the week–pittsfield

Marshall Field’s estate was a consistent player in Chicago’s real estate market during the 1920s and 1930s, and the Pittsfield, named for the Massachusetts town of his birth, was an ambitious mix of retail and commercial office space.  Powered by a skyrocketing market and increasingly nuanced interpretations of the city’s 1923 setback ordinance, the Pittsfield reached only 38 stories–fewer than the 45-story Morrison Hotel tower built in 1925–but managed to poke a gabled roof and ornamental smokestack up to 557 feet, making it the tallest structure in the city until the Board of Trade pipped it in 1930.

The Pittsfield was the first major work by Alfred Shaw of Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White to make its mark on the city’s skyline.  It encapsulated Shaw’s response to the setback rules, which would make their mark on the city’s skyline in the Civic Opera and even the Merchandise Mart during the next decade.  Shaw interpreted the code faithfully, with a 264-foot high block filling the site footprint and a narrower, code-defined tower extending above this.  But while this formula had been rather rigidly interpreted in towers such as the Jeweler’s/Pure Oil a year earlier, Shaw used vertically oriented ornament and fenestration to try to tie the block and tower together.  The result is a tower that feels less strictly separated from its block, an effect that Holabird and Root would exploit to greater effect in their art deco skyscrapers a few years later.  Shaw’s ornament was a mix of white enameled gothic and black granite at the base, with some subtle deco leanings that would be more obvious on the Civic Opera, his 1929 tour de force.

Hidden by the setback stylings was a remarkably sophisticated plan that combined a skylit retail atrium at the base with an efficient office block (and less efficient tower) above.  To ease circulation Shaw squeezed the complex’ elevators into a narrow corridor along Washington Street, providing access to every floor and eliminating the awkward transfer floor that plagued other block-and-tower configurations of the era.

Frank Gehry remodeling Inland Steel?

Bet that got your attention.  The iconic Chicago skyscraper has been under the knife the last few weeks with precious little information about what’s been going on.  The stainless steel Bertoia sculpture in the lobby was removed in May and the Monroe Street lobby has been a construction site ever since.

The Architect’s Newspaper finally reported last week that the renovation is being done at the behest of a new owner’s syndicate, which includes Gehry as an investor and New York firm Capital Properties.  Gehry isn’t touching the design, though, leaving that to SOM, who not only designed the original but occupied several floors in it until the early 1980s.  Plans call for mechanical upgrade and permanent interiors that, by eliminating the waste of constant design changes, will help the building earn LEED Platinum status.  SOM is restoring the lobby to its original design, and the new owner syndicate worked to place the building on the National Register, qualifying it for federal funds to aid in the restoration.

Most provocatively, reports say that the design originally called for replacing the building’s single-layer glass facade with a ventilated, double skin.  While this was abandoned for preservation (and, likely, cost) reasons, Walter Netsch’s original design called for a second layer of glass on the exterior of the building’s outboard columns, with ductwork and plenums in between.  When the project was taken over by Bruce Graham, this innovative strategy disappeared–quickly–but it’s interesting to note that this would have been the first major skyscraper with such a ventilated skin, predating the Occidental Chemical Building in Niagara Falls, NY by a good 22 years.  While it’s comforting to see that the design plans aim at restoring the original intent–in line with recent renovations of Mies’ 860-880 Lake Shore Drive and Crown Hall–it’s worth wondering whether considering Netsch’s original intent might be more faithful and, possibly, interesting as an active renovation.

salutations de Montréal

Any architect would be proud of this...

I’m in Montreal this weekend.  I would like to be able to say it’s all research, but I’m here for the Canadian Grand Prix.  My better half will give you the race details, meanwhile here’s a vintage Ferrari 312 stripped down in preparation for a vintage F1 race tomorrow.  Personally, I think this is pretty beautiful stuff…

New Wrigley Field Neighbor?

OK, OK, so it’s not the Kimbell.  Still, I can imagine some gritted teeth among Cubs faithful with the announcement of a large new mixed use complex at Clark and Addison–the Ka’aba of Chicago baseball.  The Architect’s Newspaper reports that the complex (called “Addison Park on Clark”–something less twee, please?) will feature a 137-room hotel, 135 apartments, and 145,000 square feet of retail.  Designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, the project looks innocuous enough.

But that might be the problem.  What it’s replacing is, without a doubt, pretty funky, a collection of one-story bars, souvenir shops, and exorbitantly-priced parking lots.  But that’s all part of the game-day experience, and from the visuals released today things will be a bit more homogenous, without that stale beer smell.  The developer, M&R, has at least sacrificed some space to widen the sidewalk on Clark Street–though the death-defying pinch on Addison around the first base bulge remains.  And it’s smaller than the original plan, though it’s as tall as the ballpark as it stands.  Does any developer go into a neighborhood development these days with anything less than Gigantor, so that they can claim to have listened to their new neighbors when the real, smaller scheme gets released?

Wrigleyville’s image is the rooftop bleachers over the three-flats across Waveland and Sheffield.  The cameras rarely pan back toward Addison or Clark.  So it’s maybe not that big a deal.  More apartments in the neighborhood can’t be a bad thing, and the area does lack for hotels (though really, how tough is it to get on the Red Line from River North?)  Still, Boston got it right a few years ago when they agreed to shut down the streets around Fenway on game days, keeping the ragged collection of bars and shops (and a high school) but promoting infill and renovation instead of starting with a clean slate.  That wouldn’t be easy to do on Clark or Addison, but with the El station right there it seems like something that added more open space to accommodate game day crowds wouldn’t be amiss.

Now, what about an historic skyscraper connection?  Sure.  See how the new development is wrapping around a big block on Sheffield Ave.?  That’s a telephone switching center–still active–designed by Holabird & Root in the early 1930s.  They had quite a profitable sideline in these buildings, which are scattered throughout the city.  Years of replaced wiring, patches, and equipment that can’t go offline means that most of them will be tough to take down.