Frank Lloyd Wright Trust Moving to the Rookery

According to an article in today’s Tribune, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust will partly decamp from its quarters in the Home and Studio and set up offices and a shop in the Rookery.  This will give the Trust a presence downtown and will centralize some of its operations; tourists will be able to buy tickets to the Robie House and the Oak Park site in one place, and it will give them room for a downtown shop, where you’ll be able to buy Wrightiana to your heart’s content.

The article notes that the move will allow two really great things.  First, the second floor of the Home and Studio will be vacated, and thus open to the tours there.  Second, the Trust plans to give guided tours of the Rookery itself, whose lobby Wright renovated in 1907.  Purists will be somewhat appalled at the importance given to one of “Uncle Dan’s” buildings in all this, but Wright and John Wellborn Root shared more than a bit of architectural philosophy, and seeing more of a classic B+R building will be good no matter what…

Chicago Spire officially a swimming pool…

Sort of official word in the Irish Independent this morning that Calatrava’s bajilion dollar, 150-story apartment building project for the site on Lake Shore Drive is officially dead.  Some, no doubt, will mourn the loss of the potential addition to the skyline, but there have been doubts for years that the project would ever be viable; most insiders thought the apartments were far too small to bring the multi-million dollar prices needed to justify the expense of building so high.

So the site will stay vacant, except for the gigantic tunnel-like hole where the foundation’s ‘taproot’ was supposed to go.  It will no doubt attract its share of architectural “thanatoursists” (see The Atlantic this month for more details), and perhaps the informal competitions that have occurred in countless happy hour conversations–a swimming pool?  rocket silo?  inverted condominium?–will be matched by an actual proposal to do something with the pit…

UPDATE: As Ryan R. notes in the comments below, the Chicago Architectural Club has the competition angle well covered–“Mine the Gap,” indeed…

SCI-TECH III Pneumatic Classroom v. 5.0


Photo by Allison Weidemann


With all the fascinating stuff on this blog about rivets, building codes, and bay windows, one of the most-viewed posts remains last year’s report on our SCI-TECH class’ Pneumatic Classroom lab.  So here’s this year’s version.

The weather this week was pretty amazing for central Iowa, so we decided that the lab would take place outdoors (despite predictions for 20 mile an hour winds, which fortunately never materialized). (Actually that would have been a pretty spectacular demonstration of some lateral principles).  The problem, as always, is to construct a classroom for the 25 students using lightweight plastic painter’s drop cloths, a fan, and some duct tape.  The results are always weirdly compelling, and the problems faced in such a seemingly simple problem drive home issues of energy consumption (do we need the big fan once the bubble is up?) and serviceability (hey, did someone kick out the extension cord?  It feels pretty small in here all of a sudden…)


Photo by Allison Weidemann


This is the last lab in our graduate students’ structures sequence, so there’s a bit of an elegiac quality to the event for me–but almost certainly not for them.  The pedagogy here is admittedly light, and we’re basically in it to do something a bit off the wall and certainly something that will attract attention.  There’s usually a mad rush to get things taped up–and then often untaped–as the thing inflates, and the weird, often anthropomorphic nature of the bubble makes for some obvious (and sometimes pretty off color) cracks.




Photo by Allison Weidemann


So here’s this year’s bubble.  Well done, M.Arch. class of 2012–the largest pneu classroom yet, the first outdoor one, and (thanks to some wise material selection on their part) the first biodegradable version.  Back to rivets or something equally steampunky next week…

Adler, Sullivan, and “Form Follows Function:” JAE Article

The September Journal of Architectural Education is out this week, and it includes my article on Dankmar Adler’s suggested amendments to Louis Sullivan’s “three word spark…of arch-itectural brilliance.”  Link to the abstract here, the full .pdf is available from there to subscribers or those whose institutions subscribe.

The gist of the article is Adler’s response, at a national AIA convention in 1896, to Sullivan’s famed article in Lippincott’s. Essentially, Adler thought that “function” wasn’t enough to determine architectural form, and that the various milieux of technical, climatic, economic, and cultural factors at work on any project created a much richer, more complex relationship between form and what Nervi called the various “forces” acting upon it.

For me, this is particularly interesting since it parallels the philosophy of causation–what “causes” architecture to turn out one way instead of another?  Sullivan thought this was fairly straightforward, but Adler, a more circumspect engineer, was wary:

“…if ‘form follows function,’ it does not follow in a straight line, nor in accordance with a simple mathematical formula, but along the lines of curves whose elements are always changing and never alike; and if the lines of development and growth of the vegetable and animal organisms are infinitely differentiated, the process of untrammeled human thought and human emotions are even more subtle in the differences and shadings of their manifestations….before accepting Mr. Sullivan’s statement of the underlying law upon which all good architectural design and all true architectural style is founded, it may be well to amend it and say: ‘Function and environment determine form,’ using the words environment and form in their broadest sense.”


Old Chicago Skyscraper of the Week–Stock Exchange

Updated and corrected–May, 2017.  One of Sullivan’s most mythic and discussed buildings, the long-lost Stock Exchange had a unique history aside from its role in Sullivan’s ornamental development and its tragic demise.  The building was designed as a new home for the Exchange itself, although it only served as a home for a few years before stocks were traded alongside commodities at the Board of Trade.  In essence, the building was a typical commercial office building whose second floor replaced the usual banking hall with a trading floor.

The building’s timing and its relationship to the 1893 Building Code gave it a unique position in the city’s skyscraper development.  Commissioned after the new Code went into effect, it was one of the only buildings constructed in the mid-1890s to fall under the 1893 legislation’s provisions.  While the Reliance and Fisher were finished later, they were permitted earlier, under more relaxed fire and height provisions.  Adler and Sullivan were required to meet the more restrictive requirements for height and–crucially–for its exterior envelope.  The city, feeling pressure from fire officials and from competing developers, began cracking down on large bay windows with the 1893 code, restricting their size and composition, and requiring minimum distances between them on a facade.  This made sense from a fire control point of view, since a fire in one bay window could theoretically spread through an adjacent one (though it’s hard to tell whether this ever happened or not), but it also started closing the loophole that allowed developers to steal floor area from outside the lot line; cantilevered bay windows could extend several feet over the sidewalk, giving buildings not only more light, but more rentable space.

Adler and Sullivan’s facade for the Exchange–best known for its ornamental arched entrance–is actually one of the very few distillations of the 1893 code’s effects on bay windows.  The bays–or oriels–are there, and they form a significant pattern across the facade.  But unlike the Reliance or Fisher, they’re relatively solid, reflecting requirements for minimum thicknesses of terra cotta mullions.  And, also unlike the two Atwood buildings, they have very large flat windows between them, enabling them to meet new separation requirements.  In fact, these flat windows are (I think, and I’m sure someone will point this out if I’m wrong) Sullivan’s first use of the tripartite, “Chicago” window pioneered by Holabird and Roche, and they have more glass than the bay windows do.

You can see the slightly different effect of this arrangement in the plan, as well as the elevation.  The bay windows play much less of a role than in other curtain wall buildings; they’re smaller and tighter, and they take up far less of the outside wall than the would have under the earlier code.

Eventually architects and developers just abandoned the bay window in the face of these restrictions–the Stock Exchange, Holabird and Roche’s Chicago Savings Bank (at State and Madison) and the Railway Exchange and Atwood by Burnham and Root were the only buildings that employed extensive bay windows in the face of the new code.  The Chicago window became the standard method for introducing light and air into buildings, as flat windows weren’t limited in size or construction after 1893.

The Stock Exchange was demolished in the 1960s 1972 to make way for an aggressively bland office building that still stands.  That event is often credited with jump-starting the city’s preservation movement, and preservationist John Vinci is credited with saving both the entry arch and the interior of the Trading Room, both of which are held by the Art Institute.  Photographer Richard Nickel died while photographing the building’s demolition, making its loss particularly poignant.