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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After having posted this on a different thread, it occured to me that this might be a useful thread for this forum.

Much heat is generated on this forum over preservation of structures with no convincing reasons given as to why a particular building is deserving such. Most of what is earmarked for preservation is is owing to its vintage or nostalgia, but are "old" and "familiar" worthy criteria? Chicago is America's only industrially planned city, ala Burnham (Washington D.C. is an agricultral plan). As such, Chicago is a monumental work of art in progress. Its driving engine and true heart is commerce, the almighty dollar. The generation of wealth and great architecture, however, often make for a beautiful marriage--Rockefeller Center, Tribune tower, Auditorium theater, etc. But generation of wealth necessarily precedes good building in a modern economy. For example, the old Stock Exchange building was a stunning product of the Chicago School, a school of architecture that built palances of commerce; still it lay fallow for decades by reason of market forces, and was consigned to the dust bin. Some forces are beyond any individual's control. In this case, in my opinion, the city could have acknowledged the significance of this cultural loss and insisted its replacement structure make a statement of comparable aesthetics power, befitting the city of the big shoulders. What we got was a slap in the face from some Texass architect. It's not a disparaging observation that commercially bred architecture falls into the category of consumer item. Chicago's greatness begain in the aftermath of it great fire; an event whose vacuum sucked in some of this country's best young architecural talent. In other words, our city's heritage is firmly grounded in the reality that the outmoded must inevitably make way for the future, hopefully done in a civic-minded manner. To freeze buildings in time under such wealth-creating pressures, is to create nothing more than white elephants whose worth no longer merits the costs of their upkeep. Facadism, too, is an insult to architectral integrity and viability whose faudulence should be stripped away. It's nothing more a patch response to appease wrong-headed "preservationists." Of course, preserve that which is deserving of preservation, but what are the essential architectural principles upon which said preservation is to be based? To do this requires a good hard and long look at the structure in question. In fact, the same principles apply to any new structure as well. There is more to a building than its height, glassiness, glitz, etc. The basics for reading a building are long established, but seldom cited on this forum, e.g., how does the light play on the surfaces of the building, how does it dialogue with its neighbors, does it have a "chicago" feel, etc. Finally, I apologize for this soap-box moment, but this has been stuck in my craw for some time. The Chicago School never looked back, indeed, they made a major assault on the beaux art, neo-renaissance, neo-gothic paeans to the past. Recall Mssrs. Sullivan's and Wright's great falling out with Burnham's Great White City. Sullivan and Wright first put this city on the world map architectually, and did so with a fresh vision of how a modern, industrial civilization is to express and celebrate itself. They were so far from any preservationist mindset, one might suspect they started the great Chicago fire. :)
 

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In the words of the New York Times, we will be remembered not so much for the monuments we build as for the monuments we destroy.

The heart and soul of Chicago is older architecture. In the neighborhoods, it's flats and bungalows; downtown, Chicago School early 20th century skyscrapers. This architectural legacy gives us something that virtually no major non-East Coast city has: history on the streets, something that could be legitimately called old. Its value is much greater than the effects of a single building. Taken to the extreme, you get something like Paris, where each building in itself is unremarkable but together create possibly the most beautiful urban environment in the world. We are lucky to live in a city that has anything like that kind of heritage, especially in North America, and to destroy it would be the height of short-sightedness.

I suggest you page through the book "Lost Chicago."
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Unlike Chicago, New York City can boast of little of architectural significance save for its skyline. Not my opinion, but that of the New York Times' architectural critic Ida Huxtable.

Thanks for directing me back to Lost Chicago. Discounting its often inaccurate facts and nostalgic tone, 75+% of the buildings shown deserved history's dust bin. Of the less than 25% deserving a second look, many would have survived had today's landmarking commission been in place.

As for neighborhood streets, certainly a block of similar structures, say, Chicago bungalows, has architectural merit. But the hodge podge of dwellings typical of so many streets are just this side of "shanty town."

No argument, Paris has style, a Napoleonic style, an architecture of empire. But Chicago has its style best represented by the Chicago School and its galaxy of young architects, then and today. An architecture that befits an industrially planned city, thus at once modern, dynamic and commercially viable. Read the writings of Sullivan, Wright, Root, etc.

I'm really looking for is more specific architectural and engineering input for any building, old or new, not just Wow! over 1,000 ft.! or it's a shame to see that building go.

Actually, more fine buildings have survived in Chicago than have been lost, precisely because they were architectually significant and financially good investments. The Reliance building, now the Burnham hotel comes to mine.
 

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oshkeoto said:
This architectural legacy gives us something that virtually no major non-East Coast city has: history on the streets, something that could be legitimately called old. "
This statement is ridiculous and incorrect. There are a handful of non-East Coast cities that thrived before Chicago was even settled, with intact neighborhoods dating to the 1850s and even earlier. If that doesn't constitute "history on the streets" then your definition is a lot different than mine.
 

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A fascinating subject that goes way beyond Chicago & other Eastern cities. Could you please provide a link to the thread you opened, Frumie? :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Homepage, I'm confused. I didn't link to anywhere. To what are you referring?
 

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Lol, that seems to make two of us. :)

I interpreted this sentence of yours

Frumie said:
After having posted this on a different thread, it occured to me that this might be a useful thread for this forum.
as an indication that you had made a thread on the subject elsewhere in the US forum; that's why I asked for the link.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I apologize for the confusion. Much of what I posted here, I first said on another thread where it was probably a case of overkill. That's when I decided to open a thread on the same theme. In short, you needn't go anywhere else, it's all here. Thanks for your interest. :)
 

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Ah, OK then. :) But why stick this heavy subject of far reaching relevance & interest in the Chicago section? Other places have demolition/preservation issues too, you know. I could tell you some tales of horror! :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Whose Homepage said:
Ah, OK then. :) But why stick this heavy subject of far reaching relevance & interest in the Chicago section? Other places have demolition/preservation issues too, you know. I could tell you some tales of horror! :D
I don't doubt your words in the least. Transcending any parochial issues is Chicago as America's only industrially planned city as well home to the Chicago School of architecture--a School of architecture is itself a rare historical event.

It takes a good deal of study, examination, and living in Chicago to fully appreciate these two massive and formative features of our city. Edward Durell Stone studied it and the writings of Sullivan and Wright before designing his Standard Oil building. This but a sole example of what mean when, as I've so often remarked, Chicago is a monumental work of art in progress.

Since I am hoping to see our buildings old and new analyzed and discussed in the language and context of Chicago architecture (which encompasses all the chief elements of architecture), that the issue to preserve or not could be brought to a finer point.

That said, one need not be a Chicagoan to make significant contributions to this topic of perservation. I look forward to more of your thoughts. :)
 

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I am the first one to STRONGLY support Chicago's older structures, even the ones that aren't necessarily architectural textbook material. However, I think there is a HUGE element of sentimental nostalgia tainting some decision-making.

London isn't all the London of 900 AD. Neither is Paris, or other of our world's great cities. They have had structures torn down and rebuilt for centuries.

Chicago will inevitably tear down more structures, but I think that a large amount of the old Chicago will, without doubt, remain behind for future generations to enjoy.

But Chicago NEEDS to build a new city. It absolutely must. Renovate and convert what you can, but I believe it is not unreasonable to tear down structures that don't fit the practical use of the modern city that Chicago is. Certain structures with incredible architectural detailing and history (ie Cook County Hospital) certainly warrant preservation (and I think Chicago is being idiotic by even considering tearing it down), but those are the exceptions.

Those people who think that Chicago is building mediocrity as a replacement to its great architecture somewhat baffle me. There may be some truth to this, but I also think that nostalgia is fitting back in. I look at Chicago's older structures (NOT including downtown highrises), and, to be honest, EVERY FRIGGIN TOWN IN AMERICA was building the exact same crap. I walk around old neighborhoods in St Louis, Detroit, Kalamazoo Michigan, Washington, DC, and they all have the same sort of structures as Chicago does.

Heck, even the great historic bungaloes are just simple structures built for blue-collar families. The reason people cherish all of these structures is because they have history, and their builders are long since dead. Yet many of these "historical structures", when they were first built, were also commonplace.

I guarantee you that 80-100 years from now, when we are long dead and several families had lived in the structures (houses, flats, etc) that are currently being built, they will be regarded as charming and "historical architecture worth preserving".

Either way, Chicago MUST keep building and MUST rev itself up for the future. Those are just my 2 cents...
 

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^I agree with what TUP's points.

I think people are so concerned with preserving history that they ignore the fact that they could also be creating new history. London is London because it has buildings from 900 AD, from 1500 AD, from 1900 AD, all the way up till present. Shamelessly preserving every historical structure just seems to me like ancestor worship.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Sentimental nostalgia usually results in attic architecture--useless clutter.
 

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i think it adds some personality and character to a city , i like a certain amomount of it. it tells people who come to see chicago that were not just some bland city with no variaty like every most other cities in this country. its not like theres so much thats its holding this city back in any realy way. if the city wants to build a new 50 story building it will find sowheare to build it beileave me. its not like were realy that screwed on space like NY . i say keep the old stuf and build around it. as for the south michigan ave. street wall , build behind it . some of the old architecture is just stunning and its part of what makes this city so danm beautifull. you think its the sears and the hanckock? well think twice , cuz its the combination of new with the old that realy makes you walk around our city in amazement .
 

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I'm not saying we can never tear down anything again. I'm saying we should avoid it whenever possible--which should be frequently, seeing how many empty lots and parking lots we have in this city. There is a reason to keep even "normal" older buildings.
 

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simulcra said:
I think people are so concerned with preserving history that they ignore the fact that they could also be creating new history. London is London because it has buildings from 900 AD, from 1500 AD, from 1900 AD, all the way up till present. Shamelessly preserving every historical structure just seems to me like ancestor worship.
Good point about London. :eek:kay:

But I can't agree with you about the ancestor worship thing. Ancestor worship is private and voluntary and nobody but the worshippers are affected by it, while architectural ancestor worship is public. It affects everyone walking or driving past that precious relic of a building, whether its survival is merited or not.

And so, to summarize the topic of the thread, I do believe that, at least in some cases, it's not a matter of preservation or obstruction but rather one of preservation = obstruction.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
We seem to be off message. The purpose of this thread was to apply a larger range of architectural considerations when discussing structures new or old, either under construction or slated for demolition. Decisions about any significant citiscape feature need to stand up to many criteria, and I felt the forum needed something more informative than height and glassiness. Perhaps in its particularity this is a misplaced thread? :dunno:
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
A example might help. When Edward Durrell Stone was commissioned to design the Standard Oil building (now the Aon Center), he came to Chicago, survyed its extant architectural environment, studied the writings and work of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Chicago School.. DESIGN: Following Sullivan's credo to design a skyscraper to be a tall and soaring thing able to lift the soul of the observer. His response is a soaring structure whose vertical column is uniterrupted by base or capital. SITE: This graceful tower stands out in full view, never to be obscured as it faces Millenium Park. CONTEXT: Stone viewed the neighboring buildings wrapped in their smoky glass curtain walls. MATERIALS so he created an alpha white marble counterpoint, choosing a marble from Michaelangeo's quarry that whitens with age. Sadly, it could not stand up to Chicago's temperature extremes and was replaced with granite. VISUALS: The buildings fenestration sits between projecting triangular columns resulting in facades that open and close as the observer moves past; this dynamism turns the tower into a majestic sculpture. ENGINEERING: The elevated site compounds Chicago's lateral winds problem; Stone notched the four corners spoiling the wind flow and reducing the buildings sway. ECONOMICS: This elegant solution eliminated external cross-trussing or large interior columns, thus gaining more leasable space. PUBLIC: Below street level is a picnic area ringed with a food court. The south wall consists of two impressive waterfalls effectively baffling traffic noise. At stree level are two large Aeolian harp sculptures activated by our Chicago winds. Smaller waterfalls and picnic areas are at this upper level. Finally, an elegant turnaround driveway large enough to accomodate limosines. All this is, of course, after the fact. What I'd like to see, if at all possible, is to be ahead of curve. Perhaps some of our more enterprising and savvy forumers such as BVictor might ferret out tidbits at the design stage. His excellent construction images would be greatly enhanced if we knew somethings of the creative thought process behind them. Finally, similar criteria should be applied to any decision to preserve a building or demolish a building.
 

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^ I'm not sure what that has to do with preservation, and I think few of us here know enough about the history of specific buildings to give that kind of rundown.

While we're talking about Aon, though, I will say that it is a masterful bit of planning and design. Aon is one of the truly elegant minimalist buildings, and its plaza is the best modern plaza I've ever seen--it feels warm and inviting, as opposed to, say, the Daley Plaza, which feels like a site for some sort of ceremonial human sacrifice involving the Picasso.
 
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