Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

“Less Is More” the Right Direction for Navy Pier Renovation

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Noted Chicago architect Ludwig Mies Navy Pier revamp needs some architectural originality.  van der Rohe’s famous maxim “Less is more” should apply to ambitious plans for revamping Chicago’s Navy Pier, the city’s top tourist destination.  Writing in the Chicago Tribune, architectural critic Blair Kamin says “The good news about the latest vision for the pier is that it discards the excesses of a 2006 plan that would have layered a roller coaster and an indoor water park onto an attraction that already resembles a shopping mall or a carnival midway.  But it is one thing to ditch a bad plan and another thing to find the creative spark necessary to bring order and élan to Navy Pier’s architectural mishmash.”

A bold design framework is needed for the 3,300-foot-long pier, which was a vision of Daniel Burnham and was completed in 1916.  The Urban Land Institute has issued a 40-page report with recommendations  that address the ways in which the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority could enhance the Pier, which has seen a fall in attendance to 8,000,000 annually from a high of 9,000,000 in 2000.  According to Kamin, “The report’s principal recommendations lack flashes of insight about the great public work, which originally consisted of classically inspired buildings framing freight and passenger sheds.  The sheds disappeared as part of the pier’s $225 million makeover, completed in 1995.  Still, the Urban Land Institute is offering a few promising ideas that could refresh the pier’s identity as a public pleasure ground and replace its once-graceful appearance.”

Among the recommendations are replacing the white fabric-roofed Skyline Stage with a 950-seat venue that would expand the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  This has the potential to restore the pier’s clean-lined silhouette.  Another is to replace the current Ferris wheel with a larger one similar to the London Eye.   Some of the elevated pier’s edges might be redesigned, giving visitors access to Lake Michigan.

“But as the report itself acknowledges, the next step is for architects to translate these vague notions into a reality that is both user friendly and visually striking,” Kamin says.  “Fortunately, pier officials say they will consider asking Chicago’s architects to submit redesign proposals based on the report.  And well they should, given that the city has a mother lode of design talent that’s been sidelined by the construction downturn.  It’s time to use that talent – and to use this fresh opportunity to make Navy Pier the great public space it ought to be.”

Recession Saves 1929 Daily News Building from Wrecking Ball

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

2riversideplazaThe recession has thwarted real estate billionaire Sam Zell’s plans to raze the art deco, 80-year-old, 26-story 2 North Riverside Plaza building that housed the Chicago Daily News until 1960 and replace it with an office tower.  Instead, Zell’s Equity Group Investments is beginning a multi-million dollar renovation of the building, which the advocacy group Preservation Chicago placed on its “Chicago Seven” list of endangered buildings in 2008.

The renovation includes basic fixes that appeal to prospective tenants, such as replacing old windows with energy-efficient ones and converting to electric heat from steam.  Aesthetic improvements include cleaning the sphinx-shaped building’s limestone exterior and renovating the art deco lobbies with their metal decorations inspired by flowers.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin expresses some disappointment in the building’s renovation plans, although he is pleased that the building is being saved for the time being.  According to Kamin, “Another reason for disappointment is that the renovation will introduce generic design elements, like the curving, vaguely art deco light fixtures that will hang in the historic lobbies.  And, as currently designed, the project will obscure dazzling, first-floor elevator-door decoration behind new walls meant to control pedestrian flow.  Why bring back precious art deco decoration on one floor if you are going to hide it on another?  Despite such faults, architecture buffs and historic preservationists should be pleased that they have won at least a temporary victory by staving off either a demolition or defacement of 2 North Riverside.”

The Alter Group’s One11 West Illinois Street Receives Praise from the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The Alter Group’s One11 West Illinois Street, its 10-story, 227,604 SF Class-A-to-own office building in downtown Chicago’s dynamic River North neighborhood recently received a rave review and from the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Blair Kamin. Kamin praised architect Martin F. Wolf, Senior Principal with Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates, who “was challenged with a particularly daunting hurdle:  a pair of ungainly, three-story buildings whose owners didn’t want to sell.  The two holdouts created a seemingly unusable panhandle at the western end of Alter’s otherwise rectangular plot.  But Wolf and his colleagues…took the leftover space and transformed it into something dramatic:  a prow-like edge that resembles the front end of a ship ready to steam across LaSalle.”

According to Kamin, “Instead of cramming the problem panhandle with a stubby rectangle of office space, Wolf sliced the building on a diagonal and opened a triangular outdoor plaza in the bargain.  But the slicing yielded that eye-catching glass prow.  It’s displayed, like a jewel within a setting, inside an exposed steel framework that extends beyond the building proper.”

Kamin continued:  “Its highly articulated corner captures the eye of the passerby with its play of light and shadow, solid and void, transparency and reflectivity.  Look closely, and you can see a moiré effect on the mesh.  Step inside the recess between the prow and the mesh, and you are treated to an upward look at the trapezoid-shaped metal grates that form platforms for lights that shine on the prow at night.”

It is heartening to see architecture on a mid-rise office building recognized.  One11 West Illinois Street’s anchor is the Erikson Institute, one of the nation’s leading graduate schools dedicated to the education of child-development professionals, which occupies approximately 75,000 SF.

Make Green Buildings Grow

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Buildings four stories and higher use 65 percent of electricity generated in the United States, according to a recent article on the website

Several states – notably California – are requiring all new government buildings to qualify for green certification.  Additionally, California is looking at the possibility of granting preferences to private building owners that are environmentally friendly when renewing leases with government agencies.

“All the people in the L.A. region want to come to my place to work,” said Peter Cho, chief engineer of the futuristic California Department of Transportation regional headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.  The 13-story green building, which occupies an entire city block, is attracting people with its sleek horizontal architecture, abundant natural lighting and healthier indoor air.

The building incorporates one monolithic solar-panel wall, which makes it 35 percent more energy-efficient than California state building codes require.  Another environmentally friendly element is the elevators that are programmed to skip two floors at a time to encourage building occupants to use the stairs.

Not unexpectedly, getting companies to build green is not easy.  According to the United States Green Building Council’s Lance Williams, “There is resistance to anything new, especially if it requires people to invest in something new or to believe in something new.  But there are people being converted…every single day.”

For their part, commercial building owners believe it is more effective to have direct financial incentives for going green.  Government’s green-building programs help in this way, and the Building Owners and Managers Association International is lobbying Congress to extend tax incentives to retrofit buildings to conserve energy.