I lived in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, from 2006 to 2014, teaching English at two universities there. I arrived as the city was demolishing the last of its ancient neighborhoods in its rush to “progress;” to waste so much valuable architectural and cultural heritage seemed criminal. I wandered the city and documented what remained with my camera. Learn more about the transformation of one historic area here:
The Edison Shop, Chicago, 1912, Purcell, Feick, and Elmslie, architects
I’ve started a new blog to document and write about historic buildings. ArchInform is in the experimental phase, but it has rekindled my love of architectural history. The picture above is from my latest post, The Edison Shop, the first in a series I plan about lost Chicago buildings.
In case you’re interested, you can also check out a digitized version of my first journal publication, Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles, in PDF format here.
No, I’m not talking about my upcoming 65th birthday. Come to think of it, however, I am grateful for Medicare.
I’m talking about an ancient piece of research history, my 1993 M.A. Thesis in art history, titled Three Public Buildings in St. Joseph, Missouri, 1873-1891.
That’s the Buchanan County Courthouse above, one of my three chosen buildings which, within a roughly 20-year period, proudly proclaimed St. Joseph’s “golden age.” I decided to venture into my past and to resurrect my thesis, which survives only in one bound photocopied version, with indistinct illustrations. In case you’re wondering, most theses and dissertations have only been stored in digital format since about 1995; mine is stored in the UMKC library in its original, archival-quality paper format.
Long story short, I have now scanned all 151 pages, put them through OCR software to be saved in an editable Word format, and laboriously proofread and corrected the document manually. The process took two weeks, and was good occupational therapy during COVID-19 lock-down. While I was at it, I sourced new illustrations from the internet, replacing my old, worn, badly-photocopied ones.
Above is the 1873-74 St. Joseph City Hall and Market House, a rather self-important-looking building that was unceremoniously knocked down in 1929.
My slightly altered body of research has now been uploaded to www.academia.edu. Speaking of the digital world, I was amazed to discover how much historic research material is now available online. Many of my original sources, requiring trips to libraries, interlibrary loans, and scanning fragile microfilm, are now available online, searchable and downloadable at the touch of a button. Printed sources dating back to 1873 can now be found on Archive.org and HathiTrust, as well as Library of Congress archives. How extraordinary, then to find something like this:
It’s a promotional booklet for St. Joseph produced about 1901, formerly available in crumbling copies in locked cabinets of local reference rooms, now digitized for anyone to see. Or how about this, a local newspaper article from 1873 available (for a fee) from a newspaper archive site?
That’s amazing. Now that I’m all fired up about architectural research, I plan to do some more digging online, and expand sections of my thesis in future blog posts.
Just thought I’d share that with you.
Open House Chicago, 2019 edition, proved almost as exciting as the previous two annual events I’ve attended. Sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the weekend-long viewing opens hundreds of building interiors to the public, who might otherwise never have the chance to view them.
My favorites this year: The Nederlander Theater (formerly the Oriental, a 1920s movie palace) and the more modern interiors of the 333 North Michigan Avenue Building, offering stunning views over Chicago’s skyline.
This year, I learned to pace myself, confine myself to the downtown area, and not to scurry madly all over the city in an orgy of architectural indulgence. I also took breaks whenever my feet got sore. In short, I concentrated on quality over quantity.
As a side note, I’m learning better how to adjust the color temperature settings in my camera for interior photography, not always an easy thing to accomplish.
The Chicago buildings of Bertrand Goldberg, architect of Marina City, have recently begun to capture my imagination, as I visit and photograph his work throughout the city. The destruction of Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital (1975) in Chicago in 2013, a building I vaguely remembered admiring years ago, also set in motion my desire to know more about this groundbreaking architect.
Marina City, at the time of its completion boasting both the tallest apartment buildings and tallest concrete structures in the world, is dramatically sited on the Chicago River, and has been a focal point of the city since its completion in 1963. As Goldberg said,
At $10 per square foot, they were the most economical in the United States. They were the first American mixed-use urban complex to include housing and possibly the first in the western world since the 14th century. They were a technological advance that was designed for a world which believed its urban problems could be solved with technology and facts. – ‘The Critical Mass of Urbanism’, a speech first given before the Union Internationale des Architectes in April of 1983.
On a recent Saturday, I hopped on my bicycle to explore and photograph some of Goldberg’s Chicago buildings. Apart from Marina City, I was barely familiar with any of his other work.
Punctuating mansion-lined Astor Street on the near north side like a tall exclamation mark, Astor Tower was originally an exclusive hotel, now converted to condominiums. Built around a central core and rising above thin concrete columns with a couple of floating space-age canopies extending over the sidewalk, the thin tower is rather elegant but otherwise unremarkable, surrounded by a sea of similar structures on the lakefront.
Designed just before Marina City, and built at about the same time,
Goldberg exposed the core at the base of the building and again at top, highlighting its important structural role by making it a central feature of his design. Because the residential stories do not begin until the fifth story, the exposed core gives the impression of an architectural peep-show, the building lifting its exterior wall to expose its structure beneath. – http://bertrandgoldberg.org/projects/astor-tower/
More exciting and, similar to Marina City, combining residential, shopping, and recreational uses, Goldberg’s River City (completed 1986) was a new discovery for me. The only place from which you can view the entire serpentine, double-curve structure, located in Chicago’s South Loop, is from the opposite side of the Chicago River. Building on Goldberg’s concept of multi-use complexes, here he shows his love of curved concrete sections, the antithesis of the “boxes” of steel and glass so loved by modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe.
The complex, appearing rather blob-like and even startling, can only be viewed in sections from close up. It’s a multi-level and perplexing structure, and I didn’t gain access to the interior, with its grand atrium or interior “street.” Perhaps someday I’ll view the inside of the building; I could, of course, pose as a prospective tenant and view one of the model condos.
I should also mention that my interest in Goldberg was piqued by the fact that I work in a complex designed by him, Wilbur Wright College, City Colleges of Chicago. You’ll notice the rather interesting pattern of square, rounded windows which, in a nod to aviation history, look like the windows set in vertical panels on the interior of a passenger aircraft.
The most striking feature of the college complex is the pyramid of the Learning Center, dominating the intersection of Montrose and Narragansett Avenues in northwest Chicago. When crossing through the tubes connecting to the other buildings, one is given the impression of boarding a plane through the tunnel leading from the boarding gate.
I have yet to explore a couple of other Goldberg buildings in the city, about which I’ll write at another time.