Friday, February 26, 2010

Slice of Life: You Light Up My Ice

In the summer, this is the location of the fountain that burbles away the long warm days at Water Tower Park just in front of the Park Tower (800 North Michigan Avenue).  In the winter, however, it looks like this -- a wireframe and fairy-light facsimile of water in motion, frozen in time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chicago's Newest Empty Mall

It wasn't that long ago that Chicago Place decided it couldn't make a go of it as an urban mall and decided to reinvent itself.  Since then, the city's retail landscape hasn't gotten any better.  In fact, there are dozens and dozens of premier retail locations at the heart of the city from Oak Street to the Michigan Avenue corridor to State Street and beyond that are sitting vacant.

So while much has been made of Block37's retail woes, and the retail reformation at Chicago Place, and speculation about the future of urban retailing in the Windy City, guess what hasn't been getting much attention -- the empty mall at the base of the Trump International Hotel and Tower (401 North Wabash Street).

It was able to fly under the radar of scrutiny mostly because it's been under construction for years.  Every time a responsible publication would inquire about potential stores, Trump flacks would wax eloquent about premier names that would populate the riverside plaza and make it a shopping destination.  And always, they would stop just short of actually naming names.  Any name.

Now that the construction on the plaza mall appears to be mostly done, how much longer can the Trump people dodge the elephant in the store: Is anyone coming to the Trump mall, and if so, who are they and when?

Status Update: Children's Memorial Hospital

Yet another update on the new Children's Memorial Hospital (225 East Chicago Avenue) going up in the Gold Coast.  Though there's much glazing work to be done, the main parts of the facade are mostly in place.  For the last few weekends, there have been early-morning shipments of large pieces of truck-sized equipment whose labels, to a layman like myself, appear destined for the emergency room or ICU.

Slice of Life: Three Chicago Things

Three things remind me most of Chicago when I'm away -- historic architecture, the CTA, and snow.  This shot of the historic Water Tower (806 North Michigan Avenue) and the Pumping Station (163 East Pearson Street) across Michigan Avenue puts those three elements together.

Though Chicago is more of a cold city than a snowy city, we have exceeded our average snowfall by more than ten inches so far this season.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quickie: New Stores For North Bridge and Wabash

While in the Shops at North Bridge (520 North Michigan Avenue) today I noticed two stores being built out.

  • First, is the Art of Shaving store, which we mentioned was coming on this blog back in the fall.  It looks like it's finally coming to fruition, and if it's anything like the one I visited in San Francisco, it will be quite nice.
  • The other is on the second floor, and called "Teavana" -- some kind of tea shop.  The sign claims it will stock more than 100 varieties.
And one other quick note -- there's a new tiny convenience store at 203 North Wabash Street, kind of across the street from Harold Washington College.

Kindling A Desire For Chicago

I don't own a a Kindle, but a see lots of them all the time in the various Starbucks stores that dot my neighborhood.  They seem very popular and people like them a lot.  I was originally holding out for Nook for Christmas, but that didn't work out.  Now I'm thinking about an iPad, but that's a different story.

Why do you care?

Because if you are a Kindle owner, you can now subscribe to the Chicago Architecture Blog on your Kindle.  New issues are delivered automagically via the wireless Whispernet technology.  I don't have a Kindle of my own to try this out with, but it's my understanding that it looks something like this:

The price for a subscription is 99 cents a month.  Why that price?  I have no idea.  Amazon picks the price.  I assume it's to cover the cost of delivering the content via Sprint and AT&T's mobile data network for free.  When it first came online about a month ago, Amazon set the price at $1.99, but then lowered the price when I started publishing fewer articles for a while.  Now that I'm back on task and putting out more content, we'll see if the price rises again.  Or you could quick subscribe now to beat the price increase!  If there is one.  If not, you haven't lost anything.l

If you have a Kindle and choose to subscribe to this blog on it, let me know how it works for you, and what I can do to improve the experience.  Maybe I'll pick up a used one from eBay one of these days to see for myself.

Here's the link to the Chicago Architecture Blog on

I hope some of you find this method of reading the blog useful.

Status Update: The Ritz-Carlton Residences

It's hard to see from ground level, but progress is being made on Michigan Avenue's newest condo tower.  For months, caissons have been driven into the sandy Chicago shoreline soil and there now appears to be something of a basement and retaining wall on the north side of the property.  The Ritz-Carlton Residences (664 North Michigan Avenue) used to be the location of the Terra Museum of Art, a popcorn stand, a Starbucks, and a beloved historic mid-rise block known as the Farwell Building.  The old-fashioned mid-rise will be reincarnated via a controversial facade transplant.

In the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that I am a sometimes contributor to the Ritz-Carlton Residences' blog, for which I receive no paid compensation.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Gold Coast's New Marc Jabobs Store Looks Ready To Go

It looks like things have really come together at the new Marc Jacobs store. The boutique inside the Elysian Chicago Hotel (11 East Walton Street) has finally shed its cloak and you can clearly see the shelves stocked and the windows being decorated with stuffed animals. We haven't heard what the official opening date is, but it looks like it could be pretty soon.

Tuesday Trivia: Illuminating History

Q: What monuments do Chicago, New York, and Houston have in common?

A: They all have Lombard Lamps.

The one in Chicago is located in Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square.  If you're an old-timer, you might remember that this used to be next to the nearby Abraham Lincoln statue, but was moved in 1994.

The Chicago lamp has a plaque reading,
"Lamps such as this one have been a familiar sight in Hamburg, Germany, sinc 1869, where they grace the famous Lombard Bridge.
This Lombard Lamp is presented to the people of the City of Chicago by the people of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg so that it may forever brighten a bridge of friendship in human relations, trade and commerce.
March 1979"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Trivia: Heads of Commerce

Q: You probably already know that there are heads in front of the Merchandise Mart (222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza) representing the leaders of Chicago's industry from back when Chicago was an industrial leader.  But can you name them all?

A: Here is the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame in alphabetical order:

  • Marshall Field
  • Edward A. Filene
  • Julius Rosenwald
  • George Huntington Hartford
  • Aaron Montgomery Ward
  • John Wanamaker
  • General Robert E. Wood
  • Frank Winfield Woolworth

Monday, February 15, 2010

TweetEcho: February 1-14, 2010

For those of you who don't subscribe to our Twitter feed, here are the items we tweeted in the last week or so:

  1. Really good article in the Tribune about the history of skyscrapers in Chicago's suburbs:
  2. Caribou Coffee and RNRA are giving out free hot chocolate at the sledding hill at Erie Park tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon
  3. Video of Jeanne Gang talking about Aqua:
  4. For those of you who can't get enough of the snow -- pictures from around Chicago this afternoon:
  5. Just 5 years after it was promised to residents, groundbreaking for a Lakeshore East grocery store next week
  6. Frank Lloyd Wright's Unbuilt Designs Spark Debate:
  7. Another Oak Street boutique has closed for renovation:
  8. Welcome, @Superior110 -- the latest Chicago skyscraper to join Twitter!
  9. A new pub is coming to River North:
  10. Things looking "up" on Oak Street:
  11. Columbia College's new building has a crunchy surprise center
  12. First sign of Spring in Chicago: Daffodils are now available at the flower shop in Millennium Station.
  13. I vote for @HootSuite for a Shorty Award in #appsbecause...of its ease of use.
  14. 30 things you don't know about Block 37:
  15. @Tara_boom_d_eh Sadly, no chime from the Wrigley Building clock tower.
  16. Sephora opens at Block37 on March 6th.
  17. The property where Chicago was supposed to get a 107-story Waldorf=Astoria tower has been sold:
  18. The Kaplan Pavilion at Michael Reese Hospital is being demolished:
  19. Thanks to architect Ricardo Bofill for posting pictures of his Chicago projects on our Facebook page. Add yours today:
  20. Last night's sunset over Chicago in a time-lapse movie:
  21. Video and photos of the helicopter lift at Water Tower Place over the weekend:
  22. Cool Valentine's gift for an architecture nerd: You can now buy a yearly pass to the Hancock Observatory:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More on Columbia College's New Media Production Center

A couple of days ago I published an article here about Columbia College's new Media Production Center (1600 South State Street).  Although the location is starting to get a little off the beaten path, the building is very well done.  More importantly, it preserves a piece of Chicago's silent film history -- a chapter of the Windy City's evolution that is too often overlooked or forgotten.

In that article I also whined that my attempts at getting on Columbia College's media distribution list over the last year or so had fallen on deaf ears.  The most recent attempt was December 3, 2009.  Fortunately, Steve Kaufmann saw my complaint posted here and took it upon himself to rectify the situation.  Now the (hard to believe) thousands of people who read this blog will be a little better informed.

If any other P.R. folks are reading this, you can send your releases to and either I, or the other employee here will take care of it.

Mr. Kaufmann sent along the official press release for the MPC, and some photos of the interior and exterior.  Much better pictures than I've seen elsewhere.  As always, click on the pictures to make them bigger, and you can read the full Columbia release after the pics.

Columbia College Chicago Officially Opens Media Production Center,
Its First Newly Constructed Building in 120-Year History

Designed for form, function and sustainability, the 35,500-square-foot South Loop facility 
provides students with state-of-the-art professional production studios
(February 5, 2010) Columbia College Chicago’s first newly constructed building in its 120-year history – the $21 million Media Production Center (MPC) at the southwest corner of 16th and State Streets – will provide film and media arts students with invaluable hands-on experience in a state-of-the-art professional production studio while creating a next-generation collaborative learning environment.

The 35,500-square-foot facility, designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang & Studio Gang Architects, officially marks its opening today (Feb. 5) with a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by Columbia College Chicago President Warrick L. Carter, Ph.D. and Board Chairman Allen M. Turner with Mayor Richard M. Daley. The building opened to students for the start of spring semester classes on Monday, Jan. 25.

“This hands-on facility will allow Columbia College to completely change how filmmaking and other communications arts are taught,” said Dr. Carter. “Our faculty collaborated closely with the amazing team at Studio Gang to design the Media Production Center. From the outset, the goal was to provide a 21st century professional experience for our 4,200 School of Media Arts students to replicate the environment they’ll encounter in the working world.”

The MPC experience also provides for enhanced collaboration among media arts students and faculty in a variety of disciplines, with many production classes now under one roof.

“We didn’t just build a soundstage, we built an integrated curriculum encouraging interaction and collaboration between students across disciplines and departments, including Film & Video, Interactive Arts and Media, and Television,” said Doreen Bartoni, dean, School of Media Arts. “In this new age of film, video and television, segments of the industry are increasingly sharing skills and crossing boundaries - consider films like Avatar, combining both computer animation and live action footage.”

“This is our first building developed from the ground up, and we’re certainly pleased to have it come in under budget and on time – less than 12 months from our groundbreaking,” added Turner. “I’m also proud of how we were able to deliver our vision of this building as a breathtaking yet practical experience for faculty, staff and students that cannot be equaled by any other teaching facility in the world.”

The MPC was constructed for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification with a number of key sustainable design elements. They include a 50-percent green roof, radiant heating and cooling in the two soundstages, extensive use of windows for natural lighting throughout the building, and sets of lobby/mezzanine lighting fixtures that can progressively illuminate the lobby area as outdoor light decreases.

The 40,000-square-foot site, a vacant lot, was a “brown field” when it was sold to the college in 2008 by the City of Chicago specifically to build the MPC and help enhance the emerging neighborhood.  

“I’ve witnessed the transformation of this formerly contaminated plot of land into an architecturally significant, environmentally sustainable building that is a welcome addition to the revitalization of this area. Already, activity generated with classes in this building is increasing patronage to local businesses,” said Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell.

“It has been truly remarkable watching the MPC come into fruition. The quality and style of films and media we create are now limited solely by our dreams,” said senior film student Michael Lencioni, Columbia Student Government Association executive officer and student representative to the Board of Trustees.

Highlights of the Media Production Center (MPC) include:

  • Two professional soundstages (7,300 square feet and 2,200 square feet) will allow for Film & Video students to experience the culture of high-end studio film production both by observation from soundstage bleachers and eventually by hands-on participation

  • A 2,000-square-foot Motion Capture Studio for the creation of 2D and 3D film and gaming will allow students to better understand and visualize human movement using sophisticated 12-camera motion capture technology at professional industry standards. The Motion Capture Studio was designed to integrate state-of-the-art learning technologies with the study of 3D computer animation, digital filmmaking and game arts.

  • An animation lab, a high-tech set of classrooms, provides students with industry-leading technology for development of computer-aided design and animation

  • Four “wired” classrooms with fiber optic technology to link the soundstages and Motion Capture Studio to classes, including the camera-eye-view, so that students can learn from the processes being conducted elsewhere in the facility in real time

  • A fully equipped, 2,000-square-foot Production Shop with loading dock for the design, construction and delivery of set pieces

  • A docking area for the college’s two-year-old High Definition Media Production Truck that connects to internal cabling to enable live feeds from the facility with professional and student operators

  • An 11-by-13-foot LED screen, suspended in the lobby, comprises seven adjustable 9-foot-high LED panels that can operate seamlessly as one screen or independently and can rotate 180 degrees for film and video viewing  

  • The 25-foot–tall terra cotta Lasky Arch, an artifact from the now-demolished, nearby office of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, the parent company of Paramount Pictures formed in 1916 by Adolph Zukor. It uniquely honors Chicago’s important role in early film industry

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Slices of Life: February 9, 2010 Winter Storm

A few scenes of the snow around town.  Click any of the pictures to enlarge them.

Another Oak Street Boutique Goes Dark

Over the last few months we've told you how what was once Chicago's premier shopping street has become quieter and quieter.  Some stores are moving to new quarters, while others are taking advantage of the recession to renovate.

One of our readers e-mailed us photos of an empty store and of a sign taped to the window of Tod's (121 East Oak Street) showing that it, too, is taking a break to rejuvenate itself.  The paper indicates that the store will reopen next month.

Two weeks ago, the Yves Saint Laurent store (51 East Oak Street) also shut down, and promises to reopen in a few months.  Kate Spade (56 East Oak Street) just reopened over the weekend after undergoing its renovation.  Hermes continues to build out its new store in the old Barneys New York space (25 East Oak Street), and Marilyn Miglin still has signs up indicating that work continues on its space at 112 East Oak Street.

Of course, the ongoing bad news is that there are still a number of vacant spaces on Oak that show no signs of being reborn.  Most prominently 58, 56, and 72 all right by each other.