Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Did Burnham say "Make Middling Muddled Plans"?

No question about it, Betram Goodhue's 1918 Rockerfeller Chapel is a masterpiece of stone and concrete on Chicago's South Side. So today's announcement in the Tribune that Conrad Schmitt has been hired to restore Lee Lawrie and Ulric Ellerhausen's "sculptures" of St. Paul and St. Francis sounds like a splendid project, if that was what was actually happening.

But the sculptures are not being restored. The plaster models for sculptures are being re-stucktogether and displayed at eye level, so that visitors can get a better look at them. This isn't the worst news I have ever read. It is also a rather bland project for a major institution and a major source of funds in architectural restoration and preservation.

Take a look at the archaic chapel website. Minimal photos, javascript errors, inaccurate opening times, and a 6 month old newsletter, all indicative of the lack of maintenance and attention to inaccurate details symptomatic of a broken system. Visit the chapel, and note that deferred maintenance, inappropriate displays, and broken masonry are not only Catholic illnesses.

How to do this better? Well, what about actually sculpting the missing LIMESTONE figures, and getting them displayed as Goodham wanted? Sure, lets see the models, but finish the project as a first priority, given the 80 year lag between design and display. After all, shouldn't we get to see a sculpture of Martin Luther standing across from a sacred rendering of Woodrow Wilson? How about Rockerfeller nemisis Teddy Roosevelt staring down St. Augustine? And how about at least one COLOR photo where the camera is steady of the interior of the grand Chapel?

I will give U of C 1 point for keeping the doors open, and displaying the artists craft. But given the nearly unlimited resources of the University, let's make some bigger plans.

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