Friday, July 30, 2010

Slice of Life: Lego My Chicago

There's a strange little free iPhone application from the people at Lego that lets you take a picture of something, and then renders it as if it was made out of Lego bricks.

Here's a snap I took of the Chicago skyline with the app.  The farther away you are, the better it looks.  The three towers rising from the brick jumble are the Trump Tower (401 North Wabash Street), Willis Tower (233 South Wacker Drive), and the Park Tower (800 North Michigan Avenue).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slice of Life: The Curly Gate

I'm not always good with labeling and cataloging my photographs as I should be.  It's for that reason that I have no idea where I ran across this gate.  I suspect it was somewhere on the South Side, and maybe along the Michigan/Wabash corridor, but I can't be certain.  What I can tell you is that it's a great looking gate.  Click on the picture to see it bigger and with more detail.  And if you have any idea what it might be, post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Slice of Life: Western Exposure

The glittering grid of Chicago streetlights stretches westward across the prairie towards the horizon.  In the foreground, the grid is interrupted by the darkened towers of Chicago's skyline.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday Trivia: 10 Things You Probably Don't Know About Marina City

Yesterday we published a review of the new book Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision.  Today, we present

Ten Things You Probably Don't Know About Marina City

  1. You've heard of the retail and office complex at "Block 37" in the Loop.  Well, Marina City is on "Block One" of the City of Chicago plan.
  2. The land Marina city sits on was formerly a rail yard.
  3. Marina City was originally called Labor Center.
  4. The original plan for Marina City called for two 40-story towers, and a third 10-story tower.
  5. Marina City once had its own ice skating rink and supermarket.
  6. Marina City's architect, Bertrand Goldberg, first experimented with curved concrete in the design he made for the city of Nashville's sewage treatment plant.
  7. Marina City was built for the Chicago janitors' union.
  8. Ten years before Marina City became a reality, its architect designed a smaller, but very similar, set of twin towers for a South Side motel that was never built.
  9. The boatyard underneath the Marina City complex was once known as Phillips Pier 66, after the oil company.
  10. What is now the House of Blues was called the Field Television Center at the time it opened, because WFLD Television had its studios there.

Slice of Life: Quigley's Niches

A row of saints secreted in their niches gaze down on Chestnut Street from the building that was until recently Quigley Seminary, built in 1919.  It's now the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Chicago as the Archbishop Quigley Center.

You can read more about the Quigley Center (103 East Chestnut Street) here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Slice of Life: Lunch and the Park

Office workers get a quick bite to eat at 311 South Wacker Drive, while protected from the heat outside by the building's atrium.  It's something of an overlooked oasis in both summer and winter.

More on 311 South Wacker here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision

"The Corncob Towers." "The Pie Spires." "Aunt Flo's Curlers." People may not always know what the twin towers on State Street at the Chicago River are called, but they at least know them.  Bertrand Goldberg's penultimate architectural creation, Marina City (300 North State Street), has inspired and amazed a generation of tourists and locals.  Now a new book chronicles how the buildings we see today were shaped, and what went on behind the scenes.

The book is called Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision (published by Princeton Architectural Press) and its 176 pages are packed with great information about the development of the buildings, starting from inspiration through construction and on to occupation.

Many people don't realize it, but Marina City was Chicago, and America's first downtown revitalization project.  It proved that if you built a city-within-a-city, you could attract people to the urban core where they would live, work, and thrive.  Since then the idea has been copied and expanded in Chicago and around the world.  Today a responsible developer wouldn't think of embarking on a huge project without considering the live+work+play model.  But in the 1960's, a time when suburban cul-de-sac developers and auto dealers were demonizing America's urban cores, this was considered revolutionary.

More than just the story of a building, this book tells the tale of the people behind Marina City -- the deals that had to be brokered, the challenges faced, the hurdles surmounted; with enough politics and intrigue to make this a truly Chicago story.

As someone who travels around the world frequently, whenever I mention Chicago to someone, I cringe in anticipation of the inevitable reference to Al Capone.  But did you know that Marina City was celebrated around the world as a new symbol of Chicago's renaissance?  It was influential enough to supplant Capone as the first notion people had of Chicago.  American Airlines published a guide to Chicago that featured Marina City on its cover.   Even in Cold War-era Moscow, Marina City was known and considered a symbol of the city.

As interesting as all the facts and background material are, it's the photos that really make this book.  Historic pictures and diagrams of Marina City that show it with the old TV tower still on top.  There are pictures of the skyscrapers when they were new and clean, and not festooned with twinkle lights and blow-up dolls as they frequently are now.  Perhaps if today's residents of Marina City read this book, they might treat their home with a little more respect and pride.

If you have even a passing interest in Chicago's history or architecture, I recommend picking this book up.  It's a quick and easy read and contains a lot of good information.

Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg's Urban Vision
By Igor Marjanovic and Katerina RĂ¼edi Ray
Published May 26, 2010 by Princeton Architectural Press
176 pages - Paperback
US $35.00, UK £25.00

This book was sent to me unsolicited by Princeton Architectural Press.  I have received no monetary or other compensation for this review.  If you would like to send a book for review, contact me at and I'll send you the mailing address.

If you're interested in the book, here's an link allowing you to buy it at a discount. By using this link, you help financially support this web site.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Regional Architecture Competition

We received an e-mail recently about an upcoming architecture competition.  It's sponsored by WoodWorks and open to architects, engineers, and designers in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  Here's the details from the WoodWorks web site:

Monday, July 19, 2010

TweetEcho: July 19, 2010

For those of you who don't subscribe to our Twitter feed, here are the tweets we posted over the last week or so:

  1. Chicago building of the day: Lambert Tree Studios : 601 North State Street Street
  2. Chicago building of the day: 1550 North Lake Shore Drive
  3. Off topic: Where did pop star Sting get inspired to start his current classical music tour? #Chicago
  4. Chicago building of the day: Chicago Title and Trust Center : 171 North Clark Street
  5. Don't forget! The Taste of River North starts tomorow! #Chicago #Food
  6. Chicago building of the day: 618 South Wabash Avenue
  7. Blame the Decepticons - but remember the Mag Mile closed through Monday for Transformers filming (via @Suntimes)
  8. Architect Lucien Lagrange retiring, firm files Chapter 11 (via @CRED_by_Crains)
  9. Magellan opens Aqua Parkhome Model designed by Studio Gang Architects (via @MagellanDev)
  10. Chicago building of the day: CTA Armitage Station : 944-46 West Armitage
  11. @Suntimes "It." Not "them." Twitter is no excuse for a newspaper to perpetuate bad grammar.
  12. Chicago building of the day: The Park at Lakeshore East : Field Boulevard
  13. Chicago building of the day: 680 North Lake Shore Drive
  14. Chicago building of the day: 2430 North Lakeview Avenue

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener on Michigan Avenue

I was looking through some old photographs recently, and came across some CrappyCameraPhone™ shots of the opening of the Columbia Sportswear store (830 North Michigan Avenue) that I didn't publish back when they were timely or relevant.

So, here they are -- just four months late. The reason they're interesting, is because for the event, Columbia put down artificial grass on the sidewalk, with a miniature hiking trail leading to the front doors of its store. Clever.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Video: What's So Great About the Fulton River District?

Have you ever asked yourself, "Self, what's so great about the Fulton River District?"  I haven't either.  But that doesn't mean there aren't great things there.

For tens of thousands of people, it's a way to get from their offices in the Loop to their homes in the suburbs.  But the Fulton River District Association wants people to know there's a lot more going on on the western bank of the Chicago River.

Here's a video the Association put together.  While the Haymarket Riot is certainly an historic event, I'm not sure celebrating a riot is the proper way to promote a neighborhood.  You decide for yourself:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

CBS-Site Skyscrapers Sidelined

It looks like plans for a pair of skyscrapers at the location of the former historic CBS Building (630 North McClurg Court) aren't going to develop.

The 1922 building, which served as a horse stable and a skating rink before hosting the world's first televised presidential debate, was razed last year and is now nothing more than a flat field of crushed brick and mortar.  CBS has since moved its radio and television broadcast studios to Block37 (22 West Washington Street).

There have been long-standing plans for two residential towers to sprout at this location, filling in a gap in the dense Streeterville skyscraper forest.  One was going to be 625-feet-tall, the other 695.  Both towers would be built atop a 10-story parking and retail podium.

The process has started to change the zoning on this block to "Downtown Mixed Use District," which likely means that any towers built here would not exceed 35 stories, not the 53 and 56-stories previously planned for this location. (It is possible we've miscalculated this.  Corrections are welcome.)

Alderman Reilly's office states that the plot is going to be sold, so it remains to be seen what the new owner will do.

In our opinion, the property would better serve the immediate community as a part.  Or as at least half of its surface area reserved for public access greenspace.  Streeterville continues to suffer from a dearth of neighborhood greenspace, and this summer's heat has left many longing for a local option for a little outdoor peace, instead of having to slog it out with the tourists and visitors from other neighborhoods who clog the lakefront.

Monday, July 12, 2010

TweetEcho: July 12, 2010

For those of you who don't subscribe to our Twitter feed, here are the tweets we posted over the last week or so:

  1. Thanks to Alfie Martin for posting photos of Wilbur Wright College on our Facebook page. Pix here:
  2. Chicago building of the day: George Washington-Robert Morris-Hyam Salomon Memorial :
  3. 300 North LaSalle to sell for $655m, or $503/sqft - most expensive #Chicago #skyscraper sale since Willis Tower in 2004
  4. Chicago building of the day: Amanda Apartments : 58 East Chicago Avenue
  5. Chicago building of the day: Millennium Park Plaza : 151 North Michigan Avenue
  6. #Buffalo blogger slams #Chicago. It's not kind, but it's at least interesting to get an outsider's POV:
  7. Three #Chicago hotels are in the top five in North America:
  8. 'Transformers 3' will be filming in Chicago this weekend. A bunch of streets will be closed (via @Suntimes)
  9. New restaurant planned for Wacker Drive (via @CRED_by_Crains)
  10. Chicago building of the day: The Sullivan Center : 33 South State Street
  11. Chicago building of the day: Randolph Place Lofts : 165 North Canal
  12. Don't forget tonight's lecture at the Glessner House Museum (7pm @ 1800 S. Prairie) on Henry Hobson Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright: $15
  13. Chicago building of the day: Chicago Athletic Association : 12 South Michigan Avenue
  14. Chicago building of the day: 101 East Oak Street