WBEZ | architecture http://www.wbez.org/tags/architecture Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Painting a brighter future for Chicago’s blighted neighborhoods http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/painting-brighter-future-chicago%E2%80%99s-blighted-neighborhoods-113170 <p><p>The Chicago Cultural Center was a hive of activity as designers and architects set up for the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial.</p><p>Amanda Williams exhibit features a series of photos, showing the abandoned houses she&rsquo;s painted in eye-catching colors - monochrome purples, blues, and yellows. She hopes the houses can revitalize a community fatigued by poverty and racism.</p><p>&ldquo;On a very simplistic level, I think it achieves that ability to really do more than lip service to this idea that architecture is not just skyscrapers or what I call architecture with a capital-A,&rdquo; Williams explained. &ldquo;It is questions of space, and race, and density--and all these things that we talk about in abstraction but are very real. And that people in these areas are experts in and don&rsquo;t realize it.&rdquo;</p><p>Williams is something of an expert herself. She grew up on the South Side, in Auburn Gresham - where her parents still live.</p><p>Away from the excited, is a very different scene at 56th and LaSalle, in Washington Park. It&rsquo;s full of empty lots - and one eye-catching feature.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody always wants to know why that house is pink,&rdquo; Glenda Bush said.<br /><br />She&rsquo;s lived in the neighborhood for eight years.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like it at all. Gangs and drug dealers. Killings. Racing up and down the street. There&rsquo;s nothing good over here but a few people,&rdquo; Bush said</p><p>On this block, more than half the lots are empty.</p><p>Bush talks about the block in terms of what&rsquo;s gone, rather than what remains.<br /><br />&ldquo;I think this house that was on the corner came down, if I&rsquo;m not mistaken, last year. That one burned,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Each of these homes was abandoned, fell into disrepair and was demolished. So Williams&rsquo; paint jobs are quite the change.</p><p>And Bush thinks, Williams&rsquo; plan is working.<br /><br />&ldquo;We need to address tearing down abandoned houses, and if people make a statement with paint, just maybe, that&rsquo;ll happen. I don&rsquo;t know,&rdquo; Bush said.</p><p>Not everybody likes it - Williams said some neighbors have complained that the houses are an eyesore and draw too much attention.</p><p>But, she added, that&rsquo;s good: at least they&rsquo;re talking.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paintedhouses2.jpg" title="(WBEZ/Sean Kennedy)" /></div></p> Mon, 05 Oct 2015 08:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/painting-brighter-future-chicago%E2%80%99s-blighted-neighborhoods-113170 Confronting community problems through architecture and design http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/confronting-community-problems-through-architecture-and-design-113169 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/JuanMoreno1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Anyone who drives on the Kennedy has likely seen Juan Moreno&rsquo;s work. The Northeastern Illinois University El Centro building is mostly glass, with vertical dividers turning it from yellow to blue to yellow, depending on the direction on the expressway.</p><p>Moreno&rsquo;s office building on Wabash Avenue is a frenetic space under the &lsquo;L&rsquo; tracks, surrounded by the noise of nearby road repairs. The lively business district gets constant care and attention, unlike Gage Park on the city&rsquo;s Southwest Side.</p><p>&ldquo;In the corporate world, there isn&rsquo;t this kind of desire to go into our communities of need,&rdquo; said Moreno. &ldquo;And give our gifts as architects, our ideas, our vision &mdash; to try to uplift the community.&rdquo;</p><p>And an area like Gage Park could use the help. It has different kinds of infrastructure problems: Its streets are punctuated by potholes, bridges crumbled to where the rebar steel peeks out from the concrete. Weeds grow tall and wide through sidewalk cracks in front of a multitude of empty buildings.</p><p>Moreno noted the differences between the rapid repairs happening near his office that might inconvenience commuters downtown, and the visible neglect in this mostly working-class Latino community. He believes that lack of attention can affect a resident&rsquo;s psyche.</p><p>&ldquo;Because they walk by it and those buildings talk to them. And it makes them feel like people don&rsquo;t care about them,&rdquo; said Moreno. &ldquo;That they (problems from neglect) are in communities of color. And it&rsquo;s a constant reminder when they look at that.&rdquo;</p><p>Rows and rows of one and two-story brick, pre-war homes line the streets of Gage Park: Brick homes and vacant lots. But a gleaming structure pierces the horizon &mdash; a giant, modern, glass-and-metal building &mdash; and in its shadow, kids played at its feet on the artificial turf.</p><p>The UNO charter Soccer Academy Elementary School could easily be mistaken for a museum or airport terminal. Moreno said he&rsquo;s happy his design gets that kind of reaction.</p><p>&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t always have to be the same prototype. We can think about their role in the community, the way learning is approached,&rdquo; said Moreno. &ldquo;And I think this school does a great job in doing that.&rdquo;</p><p>Punctuating the past with designs for the future isn&rsquo;t for everyone. Just north, in Pilsen, there&rsquo;s been lots of talk about gentrification in recent years. The Mexican neighborhood is known for its European-styled buildings dating back to the 1800s.</p><p>Crystal Quintero was peering into a soon-to-opened Giordano&#39;s restaurant on 18th Street, across from a Subway restaurant. The new pizza place is going into an old building that once housed a youth art studio. Some residents might see the chain going in and think, &lsquo;there goes the neighborhood.&#39; But Quintero didn&rsquo;t see it that way.</p><p>&ldquo;I was going to fill out an application,&rdquo; said Quintero. &ldquo;I want to work here so I&rsquo;m going to fill out an application online.&rdquo;</p><p>And that&rsquo;s one of the fundamental challenges for today&rsquo;s architect &mdash; how to transform space for the future while preserving the integrity of its past.</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ reporter Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter </em><em><a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a></em></p></p> Mon, 05 Oct 2015 08:27:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/confronting-community-problems-through-architecture-and-design-113169 Preview of Chicago's Architecture Biennial http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-10-02/preview-chicagos-architecture-biennial-113155 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/architecture Flickr Bert Kaufmann.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The names are repeated by Chicagoans in reverent tones the same way other cities tick off sports heroes: Burnham, Sullivan, Wright, Van Der Rohe, Goldberg, Tigerman. Architects &mdash; whose work not only defines our town, but continually invented and reinvented the relationship between structure and people and place.</p><p>Chicago is the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-begins-inaugural-celebration-built-environments-weekend-113147">perfect city </a>to hold a festival showcasing work that&rsquo;s being done around the world by architects who are pushing the boundaries and helping us redefine how we live and interact with our buildings, our environment and each other.</p><p>Chicago&#39;s Architecture Biennial begins this weekend, and runs for the next three months. Here to guide us through it is <a href="https://twitter.com/zachmortice">Zach Mortice</a>, an architecture journalist based in Chicago who&rsquo;s <a href="http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2015/09/150921-Chicago-Architecture-Biennial-Preview.asp">covered the lead up to the biennial</a> for Architectural Record.&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 02 Oct 2015 12:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-10-02/preview-chicagos-architecture-biennial-113155 Chicago begins inaugural celebration of built environments this weekend http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-begins-inaugural-celebration-built-environments-weekend-113147 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Biennial 151001.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If Chicago&rsquo;s buildings could talk, they&rsquo;d probably speak in a variety of languages. &nbsp;</p><p>The city is well-known for its diverse architecture, making it an ideal spot for North America&rsquo;s largest architecture exhibition. Hundreds of architects, urban planners and designers are flocking to Chicago to share their work at the inaugural <a href="http://chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/">Chicago Architecture Biennial</a>.</p><p>The three-month long exhibition is designed as a forum for creative-types to share new design ideas for cities through conversations, exhibits and tours around the city.</p><p>Joseph Grima is the event&rsquo;s co-artistic director.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s really the opportunity to affect the lives of individuals, groups, but also of entire communities,&rdquo; Grima said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s one of the things that exhibition explores, is the impact of good architecture on communities both in Chicago and other cities.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago Cultural Center is currently home to many of the exhibits, which includes full-scale houses from designers from places like Mexico and Vietnam.</p><p>Tatiana Bilbao is a participating architect from Mexico City. The house she designed is built from simple materials -- like wood and industrial pallets. Bilbao prioritized affordability so that the poorest families in Mexico aren&rsquo;t confined to one-room dwellings.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s very important that people have a very comfortable place to live, and normally these people don&rsquo;t have the chance,&rdquo; Bilbao said. &ldquo;If you have a (better) place to live, you can be a better citizen.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/heOuwXh0mAQ?rel=0" width="560"></iframe></p><p>Many of the participating architects are working on Chicago-based projects too.</p><p>Thomas Jacobs, an architect from the firm Krueck + Sexton. His designs are meant to address the empty lots seen all over the city. One of his projects included a design that would alter the way buildings are oriented on a city block. The design allows more daylight to enter the home, while avoiding windows that look directly onto a next door neighbor.</p><p>Jacobs said architects are well-equipped to address the sometimes simple problems that arise in communities.</p><p>&ldquo;I think a lot of the work that you see at the biennial, deal with some of these fundamental questions,&rdquo; Jacobs said. &nbsp;&ldquo;How could you improve neighborhoods and communities? And some of the things are very simple. It doesn&rsquo;t necessarily take a lot of money or technology. It&rsquo;s just orienting the building in a smarter way could do a lot to create space that is more usable and better for people.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other private sponsors were on hand Thursday to preview the exhibits. Emanuel said &ldquo;the study and discussion of architecture is engrained in the civic fabric of Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>He also pointed to a favorite project of his, the Chicago Riverwalk, as an example of how changing a space can improve the mood of an environment.</p><p>&ldquo;As cities have a renaissance, how we think of sustainability, how we think or urban planning and creating a space of commonality, can make a difference in the livelihood of a city,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p>The Chicago Architecture Biennial is free and open to the public. Designs are on display at the Chicago Cultural Center. There are a number of projects scattered around the city and along the lakefront. The exhibition opens Sunday and also includes free architecture tours.</p><p><em>Meredith Francis is a WBEZ news intern. Follow her<a href="https://twitter.com/MMLFrancis"> @MMLFrancis</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-begins-inaugural-celebration-built-environments-weekend-113147 New plan is released for Lucas Museum http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-09-18/new-plan-released-lucas-museum-112977 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/lucas museum ap.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The group behind the <a href="http://www.lucasmuseum.org/">Lucas Museum of Narrative Art</a> has unveiled a new, more scaled-down design that it hopes will appeal to city officials who have to sign off on the plan. The proposed museum would house everything from Norman Rockwell paintings to Stars Wars memorabilia to digital art, all from the personal collection of director George Lucas. And it would become part of Chicago&rsquo;s museum campus on the lakefront.</p><p>The initial design released last year received a lot of backlash, so how does this fresh take compare? We&rsquo;re joined by <a href="https://twitter.com/BlairKamin?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune</a> architecture critic, for his take.&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 18 Sep 2015 11:34:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-09-18/new-plan-released-lucas-museum-112977 Lucas Museum team unveils new design with more park space http://www.wbez.org/news/lucas-museum-team-unveils-new-design-more-park-space-112973 <p><div>The team behind George Lucas&#39; art and movie museum released revised renderings showing more green space at the Chicago site but no radical changes to the undulating, futuristic building stoking passions in a city that guards its Lake Michigan shoreline with religious-like devotion.</div><div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP_179440988171.jpg" style="margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px;" title="This artist rendering released by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art shows the museum in Chicago. The team behind George Lucas’ art and movie museum released revised renderings Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, showing more green space at the Chicago site. (Lucas Museum of Narrative Art via AP)" /></div></div><div>Images that will be presented to City Council next week show designers have significantly shrunk the lakefront building while preserving a smooth, tapering, dune-like form topped with an observation deck resembling a floating disc &mdash; a shape that critics have compared to Jabba the Hutt. Defenders of what will be known as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have said the design is loyal to Chicago&#39;s history of making bold architectural statements and its devotion to keeping the lakefront open, accessible and green.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Currently, it&#39;s a vast asphalt parking lot that is not welcoming; it&#39;s not very green,&quot; museum President Don Bacigalupi said of the site to the south of Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. &quot;And so replacing that with both a museum that&#39;s an amenity, that&#39;s an attraction and an educational inspiration, plus this very new green space park ... that&#39;s really our goal.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The 17-acre site will erase the parking lot and add 4.5 acres of new parkland.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A group committed to preserving open space, especially along the Lake Michigan shoreline, has fought the museum&#39;s location out of concern it opens the way for more construction on the valuable ribbon of public, open land. In a lawsuit currently in federal court, it says the city has no authority to hand over the land, citing a legal principle known as the public trust doctrine, which requires the state to ensure open spaces are preserved and accessible to the public.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The design revisions unveiled Thursday were not an attempt to appease critics. Rather, as more planning went into the interior space, the exterior changed, Bacigalupi said. The original building was scaled back from 400,000 to 300,000 square feet, allowing for more park space.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That space will include an &quot;event prairie&quot; and expanses of trees and native plantings to attract birds and other wildlife, as well as layers of pools designed to filter storm runoff.</div><div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP_212440099910.jpg" style="margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px;" title="A birds-eye view of the revised museum renderings of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (Lucas Museum of Narrative Art via AP)" /></div></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Its designers, architects Jeanne Gang and Kate Orff, said they wanted the space to function as educational &quot;green infrastructure,&quot; while providing an inspiring gateway to the museum rising in the distance.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The design is essentially final, although there could be minor adjustments. Construction is expected to begin in March and last until 2018.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It features an open-air observation deck on the rooftop, accessible for free by a ramp winding up the building&#39;s interior cone shape.</div><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP_377903710269.jpg" style="float: right; height: 172px; width: 310px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="This artist rendering released by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art shows the museum in Chicago. The team behind George Lucas’ art and movie museum released revised renderings Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, showing more green space at the Chicago site but no radical changes to the undulating, futuristic building stoking passions in a city that guards its Lake Michigan shoreline. (Lucas Museum of Narrative Art via AP)" /></p><div>An outdoor plaza in front gently rolls upward into the sloping face of the building.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;It reminds you of the sand dune landscape that had been there on the lakefront a long time ago,&quot; said architect Ma Yansong. &quot;So it&#39;s very organic architecture.&quot;</div><div>The museum will showcase popular art Lucas has collected since college, including illustrations by Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth, as well as works by Lucas&#39;s visual effects company, Industrial Light and Magic.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It also will feature digital media arts and film industry art, including props, costumes, set pieces and story boards. Three auditoriums will host films, lectures and workshops. And there&#39;s an educational library.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The vision is to highlight art that tells a story. The collection will have &quot;Star Wars&quot; and &quot;Indiana Jones&quot; fans mingling with art connoisseurs, Bacigalupi said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&mdash; <em>The Associated Press</em></div></p> Fri, 18 Sep 2015 09:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/lucas-museum-team-unveils-new-design-more-park-space-112973 Nice pipes: The inner workings of Buckingham Fountain http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/nice-pipes-inner-workings-buckingham-fountain-112844 <p><p>San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. For New York City, it&rsquo;s the Statue of Liberty. Chicago? It&rsquo;s got Buckingham Fountain, an icon that mingles water, multi-colored lights, and granite, as well as bronze and pink georgia marble. Not to mention a jet that sprays water to seemingly impossible heights.</p><p>The fountain&rsquo;s wow factor has entranced questioner Alan Ireland, an HVAC contractor and a self-described &ldquo;pump guy.&rdquo; While growing up in Chicago, he wondered how the fountain works and heard lore of a hidden engineer who kept the displays going. Combined, those led him to ask Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>I hear that Buckingham Fountain is run off of one individual pump and that there is one employee whose responsibility it is to keep the fountain running. Is that true?</em></p><p>Well, we got enough special access to answer Alan&rsquo;s question about the fountain&rsquo;s inner-workings, but as we learned more about the history, we also encountered a fascinating backstory about how Chicago came to have this grand landmark in the first place. Here&rsquo;s a hint: The fountain was a compromise &mdash; a way to establish a public lakefront without creating too much clutter.</p><p>But first ...</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">What does it take to make Buckingham Fountain tick?</span></p><p>When I ask Alan to describe the childhood legends he&rsquo;d heard, he says, &ldquo;This might come out really wrong, but like the troll under the bridge that keeps the bridge going or whatever. That sounds terrible. ... Let&rsquo;s call it the lighthouse keeper!&rdquo;</p><p>Instead of the proverbial troll under the bridge, we find tall, blue-eyed Eric Kelmar, an assistant chief engineer for the <a href="http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/clarence-f-buckingham-memorial-fountain/">Chicago Park District</a>. He manages the team of about five engineers who tend to Buckingham Fountain. Kelmar explains that due to the high priority of site, &ldquo;We try to keep it to a small family of people who operate it daily.&rdquo;</p><p>Every morning, from April 1 through mid-October, one of Kelmar&rsquo;s team throws on a pair of waders and pulls out any debris that birds may have lodged in the fountain&rsquo;s screens and baskets overnight.</p><p>Then, at 8:00 a.m., the engineer manually starts up the fountain. An hour later, the first water-show begins. Kelmar says the fountain&rsquo;s center jet can shoot water as high as 150 feet in the air, depending on wind conditions. That&rsquo;s 15 stories.</p><p>How many pumps does it take to pull that off?</p><p>Kelmar takes me down into Buckingham Fountain&rsquo;s underground pump room, which has three big pumps, each one being <em>original</em> 1927 DeLaval hardware. Their combined power totals 575 horsepower. (For context, a car in 1927 ran on 25 horsepower. Today, the average Toyota Corolla has approximately 140 horsepower.)</p><p>Kelmar says these old pumps require TLC, but they are built to last. &ldquo;Five years ago, we had them completely pulled out of the pump house and rewound, and they said there&#39;s no reason to replace [them],&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They were well-built and, with the new upgrades, they could last another 100 years.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="424" id="iframe" scrolling="no" src="//flickrit.com/slideshowholder.php?height=414&amp;width=620&amp;size=medium&amp;speed=stop&amp;count=8&amp;setId=72157657768098549&amp;caption=on&amp;counter=true&amp;credit=1&amp;theme=1&amp;thumbnails=0&amp;transition=0&amp;layoutType=fixed&amp;sort=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>No planned obsolescence here. In fact, Kelmar says that if they were to replace the original pumps, they would need about 24 modern pumps to do the same job.</p><p>In the past, the fountain&rsquo;s pumps were operated manually. Two engineers would alternate 12 hour shifts: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can still see the original bronze levers they used to control those pumps upstairs in the fountain&rsquo;s control room.</p><p>The fountain&rsquo;s light-show was also analog. The engineer would improvise each show on a complicated light board, littered with dozens of dimmers and switches. Chicago Park District historian Julia Bachrach explains that the engineer&rsquo;s creative decisions were not well-received.</p><p>&ldquo;In 1932, there were complaints that the engineer had garish taste and that he didn&#39;t know how to mix the colors properly to make a beautiful light show,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;So they brought in a theatrical lighting designer to help kind of create a program.&rdquo;</p><p>The light system went automatic in 1968 and, according to Bachrach, the fountain was computerized in 1980. The fountain&rsquo;s first computer was a Honeywell system which, from 1983 to 1994, was run out of a Honeywell office in Atlanta, Georgia. Later, the computer was moved to the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, before operations came full circle to the fountain&rsquo;s own control room. Today the fountain runs on an Allen-Bradley Programmable Logic Controller.</p><p>But, you can still override the system with the flip of a switch. Kelmar shows me the control panel, which sports an array of labeled switches: &ldquo;SEA HORSES,&rdquo; &ldquo;MUSHROOMS,&rdquo; &ldquo;ISOLATED JETS,&rdquo; and &ldquo;INNER TOP BOWL.&quot;</p><p>Opting for the seahorses, of course, I throw the switch from &ldquo;auto&rdquo; to &ldquo;off&rdquo; and, after a 13-second delay, the valves in the fountain&rsquo;s seahorses close. A loud sound emanates from the pump room below our feet and (voila!) the seahorses stop spitting. After a moment, the computer catches up, and the seahorses on the system&rsquo;s display change from green to red.</p><p>I quickly flip the switch back before any tourists get agitated. I wouldn&rsquo;t want to ruin any selfies.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The backstory on why the fountain&rsquo;s so grand</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/grant%20park%201906.jpg" style="height: 286px; width: 620px;" title="Grant Park pictured in 1906, before the area was beautified. (Library of Congress)" /></p><p>The fountain&rsquo;s pumps were built to last, but they were also built to impress. But ... impress whom? And why? Bachrach says it&rsquo;s important to understand what was in Grant Park before 1927, when Buckingham Fountain was completed. To set the scene, she explains that the area was mostly ash, trash and debris. &ldquo;For years and years, there was this raw, kind of landfill, just flat dirt terrain,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>The public debated what to do with this eyesore. Some people wanted to erect a massive building that celebrated everything splendid and grand. Inspired by the extravagant French <a href="http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage">Palace of Versailles</a>, this faction craved a building that would truly establish Grant Park as the seat of architectural excellence.</p><p>Mail-order magnate Montgomery Ward opposed such a building. Ward was a major entrepreneur and, like Chicago&rsquo;s founding fathers, he felt the city&rsquo;s lakefront should remain <a href="https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1050707081">&ldquo;Forever Open, Clear, &amp; Free.&rdquo;</a> Plus, his office had a great view of the lake.</p><p>In 1909 Ward got his way, and architect Edward Bennett began building a compromise. Bachrach says Bennett must have asked himself, &ldquo;If you couldn&#39;t have the palace of Versailles as the visual focal point for the park, what would you do?&rdquo; According to Bachrach, Bennett &ldquo;created what was then believed to be the world&#39;s largest fountain ... inspired by a beautiful fountain at Versailles.&rdquo; (That fountain is <a href="http://latone.chateauversailles.fr/en/page/the-latona-fountain/history-of-the-latona-fountain">the Latona Basin</a>, to be precise. And Buckingham Fountain is about twice its size.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BuckinghamArchival%28JB%29%281%29%20%281%29.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Buckingham Fountain in construction before its opening in 1927. (Photo courtesy Chicago Park District)" /></div><p>Bennett had found the perfect balance; his fountain would celebrate the architectural grandeur that was in vogue at the time, without obstructing the view of the lakefront. But he had a problem: Taxpayers would not fund such an opulent project, no matter how unobtrusive its design. So Bennett approached philanthropist Kate Buckingham, whom Bachrach describes as a real character.</p><p>&ldquo;She was known for being very sort of cavalier,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;She was a woman who would speak her mind. I&#39;ve heard she didn&#39;t mind using bad language occasionally.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/kate buckingham.jpg" style="height: 376px; width: 250px; float: right;" title="Kate Buckingham, 1930. (The Art Institute of Chicago)" /></div><p>Buckingham&rsquo;s family had made a fortune in grain elevators and she was the last remaining heir. Bachrach says that Buckingham asked Bennett and his team how much the fountain would cost. According to Bachrach, Bennett gave an estimate of about $300,000.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">Ever the generous woman, Buckingham decided to fund the fountain and to name it in memory of her late brother, Clarence. She liked the idea of building a beautiful, democratic space where everyone from secretaries to executives could come eat their lunches, chitchat and enjoy the lake.</div><p>Bennett&rsquo;s final design was meant to celebrate Lake Michigan, with one bronze seahorse for each of the four states bordering the lake. All of the bronze work was done by an up-and-coming French sculptor named Marcel Loyau, who was later awarded the <em>Prix National</em>, a prestigious French art award, for designing the fountain&rsquo;s sculptural elements.</p><p>Clearly, construction wasn&rsquo;t cheap. &ldquo;By the time all was said and done, she donated slightly over a million dollars,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;Which included $750,000 to build the fountain and a $300,000 endowment.&rdquo; (All told, this adds up to more than <a href="http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm">$13 million in today&rsquo;s figures</a>.)</p><p>Finally, on August 26, 1927, The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain was ready for the public.</p><p>&ldquo;At the time that it was dedicated, they had a lot of hoopla, they knew this was a big deal,&rdquo; Bachrach says. &ldquo;John Philip Sousa&#39;s orchestra played <em>Pomp and Circumstance</em>. ... Tens of thousands of Chicagoans gathered, they say 50,000. ... And, of course, Kate Buckingham was in attendance.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Does the fountain still captivate?</span></p><p>Buckingham Fountain made quite the impression on the citizens of Chicago. A week after the dedication, a <em><a href="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1927/09/04/page/1/article/fountain-adds-new-beauty-to-chicagos-life/index.html">Chicago Tribune</a></em> columnist waxed poetic:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;In a week the Buckingham fountain has captured the imagination of the town, enlarged its aesthetic sense, and done it spiritual good. &nbsp;&hellip; It is the lyric of the lake. It will never grow old or commonplace.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>But, almost 100 years later, does Buckingham Fountain still capture the city&rsquo;s imagination?</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FlP2aTqkJas?rel=0&amp;showinfo=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>It&rsquo;s certainly Chicago&rsquo;s calling card. If there&rsquo;s an establishing shot of the Windy City in a film or <a href="https://youtu.be/FlP2aTqkJas?t=4m32s">a television series</a>, chances are it depicts Buckingham Fountain in the foreground, juxtaposed with Chicago&rsquo;s modern skyline just behind. Pick up <a href="https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/4b/c5/74/4bc57416918be23dd90b96a8a5271a41.jpg">a tourist brochure of Chicago</a>, and it&rsquo;s likely that Buckingham Fountain is one of the first images you&rsquo;ll see inside. In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama gave his victory speech in Grant Park as throngs of people encircled the fountain to listen to him speak. And, there are more than a few videos floating around the Internet of different flash mobs dancing in front of the fountain before someone inevitably gets down on one knee and pops the question. (<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_l7Gf6mEOY">She says yes</a>).</p><p>For an informal survey, I talk to tourists zipping around on segways, a model posing for the camera in a long, white dress, and people cooling off in the fountain&rsquo;s spray. Everyone I talk to is impressed with this place, including Kevin Doerksen, a native Chicagoan who runs a professional tour company. He says that when people visit the city, Buckingham Fountain is on the top of his itinerary, but not necessarily for the site&rsquo;s historical merits. With a shrug, he explains that people want to see the fountain from the opening credits of the nineties sitcom, &lsquo;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8t5cOjlEPU">Married With Children</a>.&rsquo; Inevitably, he says, &ldquo;We always want to come down and see the Al Bundy Memorial Fountain.&rdquo;</p><p>Barabas Shane from Atlanta, Georgia, beams as he snaps a picture of the fountain. &ldquo;We love &lsquo;Married With Children,&rsquo;&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I finally got to see it and it&#39;s real,&rdquo; he gushes. &ldquo;I was like, this couldn&#39;t be real. But this is beautiful.&rdquo;</p><p>As the <em>Tribune</em> writer predicted, it seems Buckingham Fountain has grown neither old nor commonplace, after all.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AlanIreland9-1%28AI%29%281%29.png" style="height: 384px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Curious Citizen Alan Ireland inspired our investigation into fountain and its history. (Courtesy of Alan Ireland)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Alan Ireland, Curious Citizen</span></p><p>Alan Ireland, 35, grew up in north suburban Libertyville. When Ireland was a kid, his family would frequently take trips into the city. &ldquo;We always made it a point to walk down towards Buckingham Fountain, just to watch all the pumps go,&rdquo; Ireland explains. &ldquo;So it was always just kind of a really cool, neat fountain, cause you don&#39;t see a lot of those in America and the magnitude of it is pretty awesome.&rdquo;</p><p>Ireland&rsquo;s interest in pumps runs in the family. In fact, he oversees operations and sales for the family business, Ireland Heating and Air Conditioning. Ireland explains that his work entails everything from &ldquo;forced air and hot water pumps, water pumps, and things of that nature for both residential and commercial facilities in the northern suburbs.&rdquo;</p><p>But Ireland&rsquo;s curiosity about Buckingham Fountain isn&rsquo;t purely technical. &ldquo;I think the inner workings of the city of Chicago and the backbone and the tunnel systems and everything else that keeps the city running ... &nbsp;It&#39;s just really curious to see the marvels that nobody really looks at or even thinks about on a daily basis.&rdquo;</p><p>Ireland now lives in Chicago&rsquo;s Andersonville neighborhood. In his spare time, he is a member of the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association.</p><p><em>Chloe Prasinos is an independent reporter and producer based in Chicago. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/chloeprasinos" target="_blank">@chloeprasinos</a>. </em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Buckingham8-18(AT)(1).jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Alison Troldahl, left, and daughter, Milayna Boswell, right, break from their segway tour to talk with producer Chloe Prasinos, center, about the fountain. They only asked for a selfie in return. (Courtesy of Alison Troldahl)" /></div></p> Fri, 04 Sep 2015 14:52:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/nice-pipes-inner-workings-buckingham-fountain-112844 “Starchitect” Helmut Jahn to make his mark Chicago yet again http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-08-11/%E2%80%9Cstarchitect%E2%80%9D-helmut-jahn-make-his-mark-chicago-yet-again-112618 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/mansueto library FlickrJohn Zacherle.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>German-born, Chicago-trained architect Helmut Jahn is set to make his mark on the City of the Big Shoulders yet again. 1000 South Michigan Avenue is an empty lot now, but soon it could be the latest architectural attraction in a city full of them thanks to Jahn&rsquo;s sought-after imprint. Crain&rsquo;s Chicago Business real estate reporter Dennis Rodkin gives us the details.</p></p> Tue, 11 Aug 2015 10:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-08-11/%E2%80%9Cstarchitect%E2%80%9D-helmut-jahn-make-his-mark-chicago-yet-again-112618 The art and science behind the glow of Chicago's skyline http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/art-and-science-behind-glow-chicagos-skyline-111928 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/202093663&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>On a clear night in the summer of 2014, Mike Mesterharm hopped in his car and hit a southbound expressway toward downtown Chicago. He was happy to be back home; he&rsquo;d left the city at 18, for college and some other shenanigans. During that drive, eight years later, he was gazing at the Chicago skyline &mdash; his skyline. And he was thinking it looked different somehow. Brighter.</p><p>After careful consideration of whether something in him had changed, Mike decided, No, it&rsquo;s not just that he had been looking on the bright side lately &mdash; it must be something with the lights. So he sent Curious City this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How has energy efficient lighting affected the view of the Chicago skyline?</em></p><p>We found an answer for Mike, but the &ldquo;green energy angle&rdquo; is just a part of it. Expert after expert suggested that that story would not do justice to the big picture: Chicago&rsquo;s skyline&rsquo;s evolved over the years, and that Mike&rsquo;s question is born from a short snippet of that fascinating history, one that has affected how we see &mdash; and feel &mdash; one evening to the next. We&rsquo;ll run through the highlights of how that&rsquo;s been captured in art, of all places, and deal with Mike&rsquo;s question in the most recent timeframe.</p><p>And at the end of it all, we arrive at a crossroads that illuminates a big decision we&rsquo;ll soon have to make: What does Chicago <em>want </em>its skyline to look like?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A brief history of Chicago&rsquo;s skyline palette</span></p><p>The impact of city lights on city dwellers has affected Chicago&rsquo;s culture, too; to get the broad picture of change in the skyline, you can survey the city&rsquo;s literature and visual art.</p><p>Note the skyline&rsquo;s yellow tinge in this excerpt from &lsquo;<a href="http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.poetryfoundation.org%2Fpoem%2F239566&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNHiSA3B9-DNGydvoEkEKVs8tK-62g" target="_blank">The Windy City</a>&rsquo; [sections 1 and 6], penned by Chicago poet Carl Sandburg in 1916.</p><blockquote><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">So between the Great Lakes, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">The Grand De Tour, and the Grand Prairie, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">The living lighted skyscrapers stand,</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">Spotting the blue dusk with checkers of yellow,</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;streamers of smoke and silver, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;parallelograms of night-gray watchmen, &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: right;"><span style="font-size:12px;">Singing a soft moaning song: I am a child, a belonging. &nbsp;</span></p></blockquote><div><span style="line-height: 1.38;">Compare that to the light-polluted sky found in this excerpt from &lsquo;<a href="http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/239566" target="_blank">The Waste Land&rsquo;</a> (2010) by John Beer.</span></div><blockquote><p><span style="font-size:12px;">Orpheus walked down Milwaukee Avenue toward the Flatiron Building. He passed bodegas, taquerias, vintage stores. He met a hustler with a gas can. He walked past the anarchist kids. And he walked, and he walked, and he walked past the cabdrivers trading insults in Urdu, and he walked past convenience stores, and he walked past Latin Kings, and he walked past waitresses getting off night shifts, and he walked past jazz stars that nobody recognized, he walked past the students, the teachers, the cops. And the sky was the color of eggplant and tire fires, the sky was the field that resisted exhaustion.</span></p></blockquote><p>Lynne Warren, a curator at Chicago&rsquo;s Museum of Contemporary Art, says you can track Chicago&rsquo;s changing city lights in paintings, too.</p><p>In<em> Bronzeville At Night</em> (1949), Chicago artist Archibald Motley depicted the yellow incandescent street lights used across the city at the time. The lamps were sparse and dim enough that on clear nights, you could make out stars across the skyline.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bronzeville%20at%20night%20archibald%20motley.png" style="height: 494px; width: 620px;" title="A painting by Archibald J. Motley Jr. of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood lit by moonlight and incandescent street lights." /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Warren notes, too, that the warmth of incandescent light enhanced the &ldquo;natural&rdquo; colors of Chicago&rsquo;s nightscapes. For example, the red of the classic, Chicago brick on the building in the background is actually drawn out by the light. The tops of the cars on the left also reflect the &ldquo;truer blue&rdquo; of the Chicago night sky.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/richard-florsheim-jet-landings.jpg" style="float: right; height: 262px; width: 350px;" title="Richard Florsheim's 'Jet Landings' pictures the blue-green glow of Chicago street lights in the 1960s (Courtesy artnet.com)" />A decade or so after Motley&rsquo;s Bronzeville painting was complete, though, the city swapped out incandescents for brighter bulbs that gave off a green cast. The 1960s were the era of mercury vapor lights, and, <a href="https://chicagohistorytoday.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/old-street-lights/" target="_blank">by some accounts</a>, they cast a sci-fi feel across the city.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">By the end of the 1970s, just about all of Chicago&rsquo;s streetlights were replaced yet again, but this time with sodium vapor lights, which glow with a deep orange. Or, like orbs the color of tire fires, if you will.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Chicago&rsquo;s still got a lot of these lamps, and they dominated the city during the &#39;90s, when our question-asker, Mike Mesterharm, was a kid.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Warren says that gold glow repeats over and over in depictions of Chicago&rsquo;s skyline by Roger Brown, an influential painter during the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Imagists" target="_blank">Chicago Imagists movement</a>. His piece <em>Entry of Christ into Chicago in 1976</em> (1976) depicts the Hancock Tower, the Aon Center and the Sears Tower (today&rsquo;s Willis Tower) being set against a light-polluted, sodium vapor sky.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Brown-jesus.jpg" style="height: 347px; width: 620px;" title="Chicago Imagists painter Roger Brown's depiction of the Chicago skyline, titled 'The Entry of Christ into Chicago in 1976.' (Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>All that&rsquo;s to say, Mike Mesterharm&rsquo;s question comes at a bit of a well-lit crossroads; recent changes to Chicago&rsquo;s lit environment are again affecting its color palette. Warren says she&rsquo;s beginning to consider Brown&rsquo;s work as historical &mdash; like she would <a href="http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111628" target="_blank">Edward Hopper&rsquo;s <em>Nighthawks</em></a> or Motley&rsquo;s <em>Bronzeville At Night</em> &mdash; because, like Mike, she&rsquo;s noticed the gradual visual exodus of the sodium vapor light.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Out with the gold, in with the blue</span></p><p>George Malek, director of ComEd&rsquo;s energy efficiency program, confirms sodium vapor lighting &mdash; and its tell-tale gold glow &mdash; is on its way out. And, he says, the transformation is driven by a city-wide movement toward efficient lighting, something that Mike had suspected when he pitched us his question.</p><p>Malek says during the &lsquo;90s, manufacturers and engineers developed ways to wring the same amount of light (if not more of it) from the same amount of power. The improvements, he says, came with indoor fluorescent lights used in office buildings and commercial businesses. Previously, fluorescents ran on magnetic ballasts (the things that make a lamp turn on), but newer, electronic ballasts could run on 60 percent of the energy previously needed. Over time, Malek says, the standard width of fluorescent tubes got thinner and thinner, but they emitted more and more light.</p><p>With these successes in hand, Malek says, companies like ComEd saw potential for energy efficiency on a larger scale.</p><p>In 2008 ComEd launched <a href="https://www.comed.com/business-savings/programs-incentives/Pages/lighting.aspx" target="_blank">a series of initiatives</a> to help businesses and residents cut their energy consumption &mdash; and costs &mdash; across the board. Malek says the vast majority of requests from commercial businesses were for replacing lighting systems. He says that&rsquo;s still the case.</p><p>Malek thinks our question-asker, Mike Mesterharm, is on to something when it comes to the Chicago skyline getting brighter.</p><p>&ldquo;I bet you there&rsquo;s more lumens at this point in the skyline,&rdquo; Malek says. &ldquo;I would think it&rsquo;s brighter.&rdquo;</p><p>Malek points out, though, that while the skyline&rsquo;s getting brighter in terms of lumens (a measurement of visible light), it&rsquo;s also getting brighter where you actually <em>need</em> it to be bright. That&rsquo;s because of the increasing accessibility of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), a lighting technology that&rsquo;s more directional and brighter than their sodium vapor predecessors.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/19ejvmq0elq8gjpg%20led%20lights%20hoover%20street%20courtesy.jpg" style="height: 352px; width: 620px;" title="An example of the color differences in sodium vapor lighting, left, versus LED lighting, right, on a residential street in Los Angeles. (Courtesy Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting) " /></div><p>LEDs are also &ldquo;cooler&rdquo; on the color spectrum &nbsp;than sodium vapor lights, so they give off a bluer hue, unless they&rsquo;re somehow manipulated. <a href="http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/why-blue-led-worth-nobel-prize" target="_blank">Advancements in LED color rendering</a> are happening quickly, though, Malek points out. So while the skyline may be brighter overall because of them, it&rsquo;s hard to predict long-term changes in the skyline&rsquo;s color.</p><p>Malek says ComEd&rsquo;s already experimenting with 800 LED streetlights in the Chicago suburbs of Lombard and Bensenville. The lights are not only more energy efficient, he says, but they&rsquo;re also equipped with &ldquo;smart technology.&rdquo; Applications could include dimming lights in sync with sunrise and sunset, or turning them off completely when people want to better appreciate Fourth of July fireworks displays. In emergency situations, they could be isolated to flash in areas that need attention by police or medics. (For better or for worse, it&rsquo;s possible that in the near future, your alderman or other local rep could control your neighborhood&rsquo;s street lights from an iPad.)</p><p>Malek can&rsquo;t say for sure whether Chicago will adopt the same fixture technology, but he predicts it will arrive someday, regardless of energy savings.</p><p>And if you think that&rsquo;s going to change the view of a skyline, we&rsquo;ve only scratched the surface.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">New creative powers</span></p><p>Light as a utility is one thing, but light as an aesthetic or artistic choice is another. And as LED technology swarms the light market, Chicago, like other cities, will have more choices about what kind of lights to buy and how to use them. That&rsquo;s true for your home, your neighborhood, and the entire Chicago skyline.</p><p>Changes in the skyline could be hard to ignore.</p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" mozallowfullscreen="" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/62936054?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="620"></iframe><p>Take what&rsquo;s happened at the Intercontinental Miami. In 2013 the hotel installed a 19-story LED installation of a silhouetted woman dancing on the side of its building (and then offered <a href="http://miami.curbed.com/archives/2013/01/11/intercontinental-hotel.php" target="_blank">this explanation</a>). The 47-floor iconic Miami Tower in the heart of downtown is now also a <a href="http://www.ledsource.com/project/miami-tower/" target="_blank">slate for light displays that look like neon fish</a> &mdash; with the capability of 16 million color combinations.</p><p>In 2014 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dps/ContractAdministration/Specs/2014/Spec124831Exhibit1_Part1.pdf" target="_blank"> launched an international call for proposals</a> to have designers rethink the city&rsquo;s &ldquo;Lighting Framework Plan.&rdquo; According to the invitation, the city wants &ldquo;unique and revolutionary&rdquo; lighting concepts to decorate some of the most &ldquo;important and visible public places in Chicago.&rdquo; An invitation for proposals provides designers with suggestions, including photo displays cast onto the Merchandise Mart:</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dps/ContractAdministration/Specs/2014/Spec124831Exhibit1_Part1.pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/proposal screenshot.PNG" style="height: 401px; width: 620px;" title="(Source: City of Chicago.)" /></a></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.schulershook.com/" target="_blank">Schuler Shook</a> lighting designer Jim Baney points out that LEDs can be used in subtle ways, but he&rsquo;s seen projects get carried away, too. From his vantage, lighting in Chicago should accompany presentation of architecture.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;Just because we have the ability with LEDs to select from any number of different colors and to mix those colors to make other colors, doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean that we should all the time do that,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I think with control comes responsibility and comes the need for somebody to really have knowledge.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size:22px;">Another choice: The case to be made for stars</span></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/audrey.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Audrey Fischer, President of Chicago's Astronomical Society. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">With this much power in our hands to light &nbsp;the world as much as we want (and however we want), there is a case to made for a different strategy for Chicago&rsquo;s future skyline: restraint.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Audrey Fischer, President of Chicago&rsquo;s Astronomical Society and an advocate for dark skies, wants the city to invest in light fixtures that only shine downward, and bulbs that don&rsquo;t burn quite so bright, or so blue.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;In my mind a &lsquo;green&rsquo; city like Chicago ... ought to have a midnight blue sky, star-studded with the milky way,&rdquo; she says.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">If the case for starlight&rsquo;s natural beauty doesn&rsquo;t move you, Fischer points to a litany of problems associated with irresponsible lighting (aka, light pollution). For starters, it <a href="http://www.birdmonitors.net/LightsOut.php" target="_blank">screws up bird migratory paths</a> and <a href="http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/bats_and_lighting.html" target="_blank">disrupts roosting by local bat populations</a>. Even the eco-friendliest of lights can <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side" target="_blank">screw up our own internal clocks</a> as well. And that&rsquo;s apart from evidence that the wrong lighting can <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002207/" target="_blank">increase the risk of breast cancer</a>, <a href="http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/05/29/aje.kwu117.short" target="_blank">obesity</a>, and <a href="http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/melatonin-and-sleep" target="_blank">sleep disorders</a>. (For an extensive look on issues regarding blue-rich, white outdoor lighting, see <a href="http://www.darksky.org/assets/documents/Reports/IDA-Blue-Rich-Light-White-Paper.pdf" target="_blank">this report by the International Dark-Sky Association</a>).</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Fischer says Chicago is the most light-polluted city in the world, referencing <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/ngeo_1300_NOV11_auproof2.pdf" target="_blank">a study by researcher Harald Stark at the University of Colorado</a>. This is kind of ironic, given that in the early 20th century Edwin Hubble (of Hubble telescope fame) made some of <a href="https://cosmology.carnegiescience.edu/timeline/1929" target="_blank">his most important scientific discoveries</a> (like the fact that the universe is expanding) with a degree in mathematics and astronomy from the University of Chicago. Now, you can hardly even see starlight if you&#39;re gazing within the city limits.</div><div><p><a href="http://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/nature/lightscape.htm" target="_blank">A study by the National Park Service estimates</a> that by 2025, dark skies will be an &ldquo;extinct phenomena&rdquo; in the continental United States due to light pollution.</p><p>To people like Fischer, that&rsquo;s a pretty high cost.</p><p>&ldquo;Starlight is the one thing that connects all nationalities across this planet,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Theres a chance that we&rsquo;re going to lose that forever.&rdquo;</p><p>Here&rsquo;s a taste of what we&rsquo;re missing.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Chi1h5.jpg" style="height: 207px; width: 620px;" title="The Chicago sky as it could be without light pollution showing the Milky Way and numerous stars. (Composite image by Adler photographer, Craig Stillwell, and Adler astronomer, Larry Ciupik, based on images by Craig Stillwell and Wei-Hao Wang)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/mike_0.jpg" style="float: right; height: 213px; width: 300px;" title="(WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">About our question-asker</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Mike Mesterharm is from Chicago, but he left the city at 18 to attend college. He says he didn&rsquo;t pay much attention to things like street lights or skyline changes. But come to think of it, he says, he didn&rsquo;t pay much attention to <em>anything</em> at 18.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Now, at 28, Mike says he&rsquo;s a bit more observant about his environment. In fact, he says his whole concept of the environment has expanded.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;Our environment isn&rsquo;t simply the hard matter,&rdquo; Mike says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the things that exist around that. It&rsquo;s the light, it&rsquo;s the sound.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;You know, I wouldn&rsquo;t have asked this question at 18. If anything, I find it reassuring that maybe if the skyline&rsquo;s changed and I&rsquo;m noticing it, that&rsquo;s a good thing. And if it hasn&rsquo;t changed &hellip; now I&rsquo;m paying attention.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&rsquo;s multimedia producer. Follow her on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>.</em></div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 17:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/art-and-science-behind-glow-chicagos-skyline-111928 Building skyscrapers on Chicago's swampy soil http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/building-skyscrapers-chicagos-swampy-soil-111658 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This was piece was produced in collaboration with the <a href="http://www.architecture.org/" target="_blank">Chicago Architecture Foundation,</a> which provided research, expertise and other assistance during its development.</em></p><p>From his office tower in downtown Chicago, Mike Vendel has no reason to doubt the structural stability of the buildings where he and hundreds of thousands of others spend their workdays. Looking back on the Loop from the shores of Lake Michigan, though, it&rsquo;s a different story.</p><p>&ldquo;Outside enjoying the lakefront, beaches, parks,&rdquo; says Vendel, &ldquo;you see the sand and you see these huge skyscrapers in the skyline and you think: How do they stay stable in that structure?&rdquo;</p><p>He asked Curious City how it all came to be:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What special techniques or extra work is required to construct massive buildings on swampland around Chicago?</em></p><p>He&rsquo;s right to wonder. Steadying skyscrapers in Chicago (and, come to think of it, many cities around the world) is still a staggering feat of structural engineering. If architects and engineers don&rsquo;t do it right, the results could be catastrophic: They could end up with a lopsided building or, worse, a fatal collapse.</p><p>As we found out, in the past 150 plus years, architects have struggled to tame Chicago&rsquo;s swampy soil, with varying degrees of success. In fact, the city&#39;s very identity as a hotbed for architecture and geotechnical engineering might be a product of what reporters once deemed &ldquo;the great layer of jelly in Chicago&rsquo;s cake.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">From swamp to city</span></p><p>Offering just a <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/993.html" target="_blank">short portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin</a>, the area that would become downtown Chicago was a natural choice for the city&rsquo;s settlers &mdash; and a naturally swampy setting. Ray Wiggers, a geologist with Oakton Community College, says Chicago&rsquo;s bedrock is buried beneath silt, mud and clay.</p><p>&ldquo;If you had been here, for example, in 1820 when Chicago was still a very small settlement, what you would have found first of all was a soil profile that was mostly wetland soil. It would be <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/267930/Histosol" target="_blank">something we&rsquo;d call a histosol</a> &mdash; it&rsquo;s very peat-rich, very rich in organic matter,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Very swampy, marshy.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MANUSCRIPTS/illinois/cookIL2012/Cook_IL.pdf" target="_blank"><em>View the USDA&#39;s Soil Survey of Cook County for&nbsp;a detailed look at Chicago-area soil</em></a></p><p>The soil was so slick that <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-01/raising-chicago-105064" target="_blank">in 1856, Chicago lifted itself up to 14 feet off the ground</a> to keep from sinking and sliding around in the mosquito-infested marshland.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s soil started as sediment drifting around in Lake Chicago &mdash; an ice-age precursor to Lake Michigan. That material settled to the bottom, leaving present-day denizens a thick layer of squishy soil.</p><p>&ldquo;If you can imagine your front yard and the little muddy spot you have after it&rsquo;s rained for a while,&rdquo; says Wiggers, &ldquo;that sediment is really, really saturated and it&rsquo;s very oozy. Imagine trying to build a skyscraper in that.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR WEB chicago in 1820.jpg" style="height: 478px; width: 620px;" title="(Image courtesy Library of Congress)" /></div></div><p>By contrast New York City &mdash; whose architects and engineers pioneered the skyscraper along with Chicago&rsquo;s during the late 19th century &mdash; had nearly perfect soil conditions for anchoring tall buildings. Despite being surrounded by water, Manhattan has readily available bedrock.</p><p>The rock outcroppings jutting out of the earth in Central Park are visible proof that New York&rsquo;s bedrock, Manhattan schist, comes all the way up to the surface in some places. Chicago&rsquo;s equivalent, a rock called dolomite, can be as deep as 85 feet underground.</p><p>&ldquo;And yet here in Chicago we persevered through all the muck, literally, and built [skyscrapers] here,&rdquo; Wiggers says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://digicol.lib.depaul.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16106coll1/id/170/rec/25" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20soil%20map%20crop.jpg" style="height: 274px; width: 620px;" title="Generalized soil map of the region of Chicago, 1927. Click to explore a large version of this map. (Image courtesy DePaul University archives)" /></a></div><p>Reporters in the late 19th century described Chicago&rsquo;s soil as &ldquo;a great jelly-cake&rdquo; with a &ldquo;semi-fluid&rdquo; layer like &ldquo;molasses.&rdquo; Here&rsquo;s a bit from an 1891 article in the New York Times &mdash; back when the word skyscraper was so new that reporters had to put it in quotes:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;What shall it profit Chicago to have taken the prairies and the wheat fields and the distant lairs of wolves and bears in its municipal embrace if the proud palaces in the haunts of its Board of Trade must sink in a smother of slimy ooze? Who shall restrain the great layer of jelly in Chicago&rsquo;s cake? Who can say when it will be released, to be mixed with the sluggish sewage of the river, and then to fill the streets and pour in at the windows while the thin upper crust sinks to its ultimate resting place on the lower clay?&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>That clay actually became the key to some early engineering solutions for tall, heavy buildings. Before then, they fine-tuned a method to float their massive buildings on layers of jelly-like clay called the desiccated crust. But as anyone who has stumbled through the lobby of the Auditorium Building has experienced, early engineers didn&rsquo;t always get it exactly right.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">An early experiment</span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Library%20of%20Congress%2C%20Prints%20%26%20Photographs%20Division%2C%20HABS%2C%20Reproduction%20number%20HABS%20ILL%2C16-CHIG%2C39--1.jpg" style="height: 450px; width: 620px;" title="The Auditorium Building in 1963, which floats in the soil on a layer of clay instead of bedrock.(Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints &amp; Photographs Division, HABS, Reproduction number HABS ILL,16-CHIG,39--1)" /></div><p>The 1889 Auditorium Building is well-known for the important role it played in establishing the artistic and cultural identity of a young, booming city. Roosevelt University now owns the building at the corner of East Congress Parkway and North Michigan Avenue.</p><p>The multi-use building, designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, included an exquisite performance space with stunning acoustics and ornamentation. But the building also sheds light on how these late 19th century architects wrestled with designing increasingly taller and heavier buildings on Chicago&rsquo;s waterlogged clay.</p><p>If you&rsquo;ve ever visited the Auditorium Building or Theatre, you may have noticed that the floors are not quite even. And if you&rsquo;ve come in the Auditorium entrance off the Congress Parkway, located under the building&rsquo;s 17-story tower, you may have noticed that you walk <em>down</em> about four steps to buy your ticket and enter the lobby.</p><p>Those four steps were not part of Adler and Sullivan&rsquo;s original plans &mdash; they were added because that&rsquo;s how far the building has sunk into the earth since it was constructed in 1889. The building weighs more than 110,000 tons.</p><p>All new buildings sink a bit at first &mdash; a fact architects and engineers have tried to account for since they began building big enough to notice. But the Auditorium sunk more than 18 inches in the first year after it opened, leaving it with uneven floors that can make visitors feel drunk as they navigate. The technical term for this is &ldquo;differential settlement,&rdquo; which means that the different parts of the building &mdash; depending on how heavy they are and how much the soil can bear &mdash; settle to different depths.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR WEB Auditorium_bldg_(foundations)_HABS.jpg" style="height: 322px; width: 620px;" title="Adler and Sullivan designed a foundation system of isolated piers to distribute the load at several points across the Auditorium Building's base. (Source: Library of Congress, HABS, National Park Service)" /></div></div><p>In the basement of the Auditorium, there&rsquo;s a large crack on the concrete floor that runs parallel to the exterior wall. While the whole building has settled, this is where it&rsquo;s obvious that the heavier exterior stone walls have sunk almost a foot more than the interior structure, which was made from a lighter iron and steel skeleton.</p><p>The 1880s and 1890s saw several Chicago buildings that used a hybrid structural system of stone and brick on the exterior with iron and steel on the interior. But because architects knew that a continuous foundation around the building&rsquo;s perimeter would likely sink at different rates and to different depths, Adler and Sullivan designed a foundation system of isolated piers to distribute the load at several points across the building&rsquo;s base. These piers under the building resemble giant pyramids measuring more than 12 feet tall. They acted like the legs of a chair, redistributing the heaviest parts of the building&rsquo;s uneven footprint over a larger area. But these giant pyramids &mdash; made with layers of wooden timbers, crisscrossing steel embedded in concrete, and blocks of stone &mdash; took up valuable basement space.</p><p>Adler conducted extensive tests of the Auditorium footings, loading them with heavy pig iron to simulate the weight of the building and then measuring how much they sank into the earth. But this is an imperfect science. He based his calculations on exterior walls of brick, not the heavier granite and limestone that would eventually be used. It also became clear that the 17-story tower simply weighed more than the 10-story building surrounding it. And the weight of the exterior stone walls was much greater than the lighter skeleton frame of steel and iron used on the interior.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20monadnock%20present%20Eric%20Allix%20Rogers%20flickr.jpg" style="height: 423px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="The Monadnock Building, built in 1891, is one of the heaviest skyscrapers still standing. (Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">A later experiment: The Monadnock Building</span></p><p>As skyscrapers in the late 19th century grew taller, architects and engineers experimented with ways of preventing buildings from sinking too far into the clay, or settling unevenly.</p><p>Burnham and Root&rsquo;s 1891 Monadnock Building, which sits at the southwest corner of Jackson Boulevard and Dearborn Street, is one of the heaviest skyscrapers still standing. Its dark brown brick walls measure six feet wide at the base.</p><p>The building&rsquo;s basement holds clues to how such a heavy building stands without its feet on solid bedrock. Owner Bill Donnell explains that the Monadnock is distinctive because it&rsquo;s one of the tallest buildings with walls that actually do the work of holding it up. During the 1890s, buildings needed to get taller, so architects started shifting away from load-bearing walls; instead, they opted for a sturdy skeleton of steel.</p><p>Construction crews at the time couldn&rsquo;t dig down 80 feet to find bedrock, so they floated the building on the clay.</p><p>They took steel railroad rails and layered them into pyramid-shaped footings that could distribute the building&rsquo;s weight over a larger area. Picture dozens of columns pressing through the basement floor with pyramid-shaped feet, made from railroad rails caked with concrete.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20grillage%20diagram.jpg" title="A diagram of standard grillage foundation of steel rails and concrete. " /></div><p>These so-called &lsquo;grillage&rsquo; foundations were used in several other Burnham and Root buildings throughout Chicago in the 1880s and 1890s, including the Rookery and the now-demolished Montauk Block and Great Northern Hotel. Burnham credits Peter B. Wight, who came to the city from New York after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, with helping to engineer the first one.</p><p>In fact, if we think back to our question about Chicago&rsquo;s swamp, this type of floating raft foundation actually makes a lot of sense. Imagine a tall tree growing in a water-filled swamp. Just like the Monadnock&rsquo;s foundations, the tree trunk flairs out wide at the base. With only a shallow root system, this is the tree&rsquo;s only way of buttressing itself in the mud.</p><p>The Monadnock is actually a hybrid; its northern and southern halves were completed a few years apart, and feature different structural systems. The north half of the Monadnock was the end of an era in structural design, showing the challenges of this type of floating-raft foundation and thick masonry walls.</p><p>A lot more than swampy soil factored into the desire for new structural systems around this time. As land values climbed, developers and clients required taller buildings to make building profitable. That meant architects and engineers needed to economize while also still strengthening the structure against gravity and wind. And if the walls of the building get thicker, the result is smaller rooms with less rentable space. Thicker walls also meant smaller windows. Long before the widespread use of strong electric lighting, natural daylight was a premium amenity that all tenants wanted.</p><p>Things changed a bit when the owners of the Monadnock Building expanded only a year and a half later. They commissioned architects Holabird &amp; Roche for the southern addition and rather than design another load-bearing brick building, the architects developed a lighter-weight steel skeleton frame building. Although it used a similar foundation, this steel skeleton frame brought benefits beyond simply weighing less; it had thinner walls, used less material and could be constructed faster.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/monadnock grid bentley2.jpg" title="The grillage foundation seen under the basement floor of the Monadnock Building shows how the architects and engineers tried to float the building on clay. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><p>Just one year after the Monadnock&rsquo;s southern addition was built, another dramatically different type of foundation system, called caissons, was attempted for the first time in a Chicago skyscraper. At Adler and Sullivan&rsquo;s Stock Exchange Building construction site, crews were finally able to drill down through all the clay and fill the holes with concrete, which anchored the building to the bedrock.</p><p>Caissons were basically subterranean chambers that could keep construction work dry even deep underground. They diminished the need to float the building on top of the squishy soil, which meant that architects and engineers could experiment with new types of structural systems above ground.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 4.08.43 PM_0.png" style="height: 637px; width: 310px; float: right;" title="Surficial geology map of the Chicago region. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Reaching new heights</span></p><p>Architects in Chicago have dug enough foundations to know their way around the city&rsquo;s famously swampy soil. But in many cities geotechnical engineers are still searching for solid footing.</p><p>&ldquo;For cities that are established, it&#39;s more a question of refinement,&rdquo; says Bill Baker, a structural engineering partner at architecture firm Skidmore Owings &amp; Merrill. &ldquo;There are still cities where you&#39;re trying to figure it out. [In] Las Vegas you can&#39;t find the rock. There have been some buildings with very large settlements, so how do you deal with that? [In] Houston, believe it or not, you can&#39;t find the rock.&rdquo;</p><p>Baker knows this problem well. In 1957 architects Walter Netsch and Bruce Graham used steel pilings to anchor Chicago&rsquo;s Inland Steel Building to dolomite bedrock buried deep beneath the Loop &mdash; the first time after almost seven decades of skyscraper construction that design teams and engineers had accomplished such a feat.</p><p>Though most of the digging and surveying underground is done remotely these days, Baker recalls looking up from 70 feet beneath the AT&amp;T Corporate Center, which opened in 1989.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re looking up at a little patch of light, which is the sky, and it of course has an earthy smell,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Somewhere along the way someone discovered there&rsquo;s a tendency to be methane down there, and so we don&rsquo;t go down them any more. We put cameras down there. But I kind of miss going down &hellip; to the bottom of the world there.&rdquo;</p><p>He says even though new technology makes it easier to find solid bedrock beneath 100 feet of wet clay, it doesn&rsquo;t always make sense to drill that deep. Modern engineers still use the same general principle Burnham &amp; Root employed when they floated the foundations of the Monadnock Building on an even flimsier layer of soil known as desiccated crust: They just spread the load. Only, today, they prefer a compacted layer of clay found deeper than the crust, called hardpan.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://archive.org/stream/historyconstruct00nich#page/n0/mode/thumb" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20hardpan%20and%20other%20soil%20tests%20copy.png" style="height: 466px; width: 620px;" title="Hardpan, a soil layer above bedrock, is commonly used to anchor skyscrapers today. (Source: The history, construction and design of caisson foundations in Chicago, 1913) " /></a></div><p>&ldquo;One of the reasons we don&#39;t always sit on the rock is it&#39;s very expensive. Because once you poke through that hardpan you&#39;re fighting against water that&#39;s under pressure,&rdquo; Baker says. &ldquo;That last few feet is very expensive, which is why if at all possible you sit on the hardpan.&rdquo;</p><p>And Baker says Chicago&rsquo;s legacy as an innovation center for geotechnical engineering is very much alive.</p><p>&ldquo;If you were an architect you had to show that you were not just a ballerina, you had to show you could actually speak to the technology,&rdquo; says Baker. &ldquo;One of the things about Chicago is that it was always an architectural engineering town. &hellip; A lot of the serious architects out there are very, very savvy when it comes to technology.&rdquo;</p><p>While Chicago may have been dealt an unlucky geological hand, 19th century Chicagoans did find something useful to do with all the mucky clay: The city became the center of the nation&rsquo;s terra cotta industry. Architects used terra cotta, which is simply baked clay, to <a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/chicagofire/#buildingmaterials" target="_blank">help fireproof buildings after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871</a>.</p><p>So it might just be that Chicago&rsquo;s sloshy soil helped solidify the foundations of modern tall building design, engineering and construction.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20vendel.jpg" style="height: 232px; width: 310px; float: left;" title="(Photo courtesy Mike Vendel)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Mike Vendel, Curious Citizen</span></p><p>Mike Vendel, a computer programmer for Accenture, grew up in Chicago&rsquo;s West Lawn neighborhood and now lives in Edgewater. He says he first wondered about Chicago&rsquo;s swampy soil when volunteering in parks along the North Side lakefront. Looking south one day from Montrose Beach, Vendel noticed that Chicago&rsquo;s mighty skyscrapers were basically sitting on the same soggy footing he was.</p><p>&ldquo;I see these giant buildings on the horizon. And then I look down at the sandy soil I&#39;m standing on and I think, how do those massive and immense buildings stay stable in a soil like this?&rdquo; he wrote at the start of our reporting.</p><p>He wondered about the geology of our region and how early settlers overcame Chicago&rsquo;s swampy conditions to lay the foundations of a 20th century skyscraper boom.</p><p>&ldquo;Any architect probably knows how massive buildings can remain stable in any type of soil,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;But to me, it&rsquo;s a mystery and fairly amazing.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley reports for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City and is the Midwest Editor of <a href="http://www.archpaper.com/" target="_blank">The Architect&rsquo;s Newspaper</a>. Follow him at <a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">cabentley.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p><p><em>Jen Masengarb is Director of Interpretation and Research at the <a href="http://www.architecture.org" target="_blank">Chicago Architecture Foundation</a>. Follow her on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/jmasengarb" target="_blank">@jmasengarb</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 04 Mar 2015 17:52:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/building-skyscrapers-chicagos-swampy-soil-111658