The Soldier Field redesign was the most most hotly-debated Chicago architectural and preservation issue in decades.
Under a design by Boston architecture firm Wood + Zapata and Chicago's Lohan Caprile Goettsch (both firm exist under different banners today), a new stadium interior would be built within the neo-classical exterior of lakefront landmark. That the silvery new elements could be seen poking outside the confines of the old raised many a hackle. You think the recent battle to save Prentice hospital was heated? It was a sword fight compared to the full-on war over Soldier Field.
"It is a travesty," the respected John Buenz of the firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz told Chicago magazine at the time. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin called it the "Eyesore on the Lakeshore," and when the stadium opened, he called it "brilliant and ultimately jarring failure." But the New York Times called the stadium one of the five best new buildings of 2003.
Ah, 2003. A decade has passed since then, can you believe? I didn't fully realize that much time had passed until I stumbled across a DVD last night containing the video above.
I was architecture and urban planning advisor to Mayor Richard M.
The streamlined former Allstate Insurance building, the Julia C. Lathrop public housing development and a pair of vacant downtown skyscrapers are among the city's seven most-endangered structures, a preservation group announced Tuesday.
"The purpose of this is to raise awareness of buildings that otherwise would not be known by the general public," said Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago.
The group named the buildings to its yearly "Chicago 7" list of endangered structures.
"The irony is [many of] these buildings are in neighborhoods that have the greatest need for these building to be rehabilitated, yet are last on the list of neighborhoods where buildings get rehabilitated," he said.
Fine's description is particularly apt in the case of the Allstate Building, 3245 W. Arthington Street in the North Lawndale community, seen in the photo above.
The Chicago Historic Resources Survey is a valuable tool in the preservation of the city's buildings.
Published in hardback by the Daley administration in 1995 and available online, the survey lists thousands of pre-1940 buildings and uses a four-color system to rank them according to architectural significance. The survey also lists dates of construction, architects and even architectural styles.
Since 2003, the survey has been not just a tool, but a frontline weapon in the city's effort to preserve old buildings. An ordinance slaps a 90-day hold on a demo permit sought for any building rated red or orange (the two highest ratings on the survey), allowing the city time to possibly work to preserve or landmark a doomed building. That means a listing in the CHRS can determine if a building falls to the bulldozers or not.
But here's the issue: The survey is hardly complete.
My first good taste of downtown came in 1978. I was 12 and caught the Jeffrey bus to the Loop with some buddies to see second-run (if not third-run) kung fu flicks at the Oriental Theatre.
I missed most of the movie because I was instead staring at the theater's ornate interior. And look where that got me.
Downtown was different then. There were the still-young postwar skyscrapers, but they shared the streetscape with aged buildings, time-warped restaurants, men's shops with Superfly-grade clothes and other places. Randolph Street was a faded rialto where rats were as plentiful as the cheap double-features. And across the river, Michigan Avenue seemed swank and cosmopolitan to my young eyes.
Pardon the flashback. But it comes courtesy of the above clip, posted on YouTube by user Anila from Poland. Shot in 1978, the nine-minute Super 8 film appears to begin somewhere in the Northwest suburbs, then finds its way downtown--along the way, a nice shot at 0:56 of the Howard Johnson's restaurant that once spanned the O'Hare oasis. The Old Country by the Michiel Borstlap Trio provides the score as we see the new downtown coexisting, and yet emerging, from the old.
Some scenes are surprisingly unchanged since then.
One of the many treasures of the Music Box Theatre's 70mm movie festival: Jacques Tati's Playtime from 1967.
Playtime is a personal favorite, because one doesn't often see architecture and "place" played for laughs. It's an infinitely fascinating French film with endless and ingenious sight-gags, set-ups and visual puns--often playing out simultaneously at various spots on the screen--involving Tati's character, the befuddled Mr. Hulot in an increasingly modern Paris.
Indeed, Paris is so gray, glassy and architecturally modern, Hulot and the characters can hardly function within it. Glass-walled lobbies, low-slung leather furniture all become problems. And then there is a magnificent, 45-minute scene in which a modern restaurant slowly goes haywire on its opening night.
Beneath the laughs, Playtime is asking real questions about what architectural modernism was doing to authentic and individualistic places.