Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Basilicas Please

This Shrine Basilica is truly sublime. Looking at some pix from Columbus Day trip to Holy Hill, Wisconsin and here are a few.

May still be able to ski up there, as you could on Columbus Day.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Teardowns and Replacements

My friend and neighbor Blogger Publia who publishes a blog titled "Wilmette" asked me to describe the flow of teardowns in Wilmette. Despite my general lack of knowledge of architecture and construction, I tend to make enough bold inaccurate statements that I am correct at least as often as a stopped clock (and observed about at about the same frequency).

Lot prices have become high enough in Wilmette (Kenilworth, Winnetka and the NorthShore) that any house not up to modern standards in multiple respects economically can be torn down and replaced, then sold on the real estate market for a possible profit. The trend is slowing dramatically in Wilmette, as the lot values are coming down faster than the prices, but nonetheless, the village is peppered with teardowns.

People throw around the term McMansion and Monster House to deride the newcoming houses, without giving much thought to the architectural value of what is built and what is removed.

Here is a typical torn down lot. Rather than belittling my neighbors that once lived their, suffice to say, the house was wooden, small, uninsulated and built inexpensively during the depression. Not every house that is torn down fits this description, but a good lot of them do.

Here is the kind of housing that fill those vacant lots. Traditional building materials, large lot to sq ft ratio, and a certain adherence to building norms, not likely to offend the aesthetics of the neighborhood, but neither likely to wow people. In my opinion, these houses are a huge contributor to the neighborhood, and fill a demand for traditional housing at a (relatively) reasonable price and timeframe.

Here is where it gets more complicated. This is a house designed by the Daniel Burnham firm, and probably not Daniel Burnham, on Kenilworth Avenue in Kenilworth. The house is stylish, well proportioned and by all accounts obsolete, with replacement costs being much less than restoration costs. There are many houses by Daniel Burnham, and this one is not noteworthy, nor would the average person recognize it in a lineup of great Chicago Homes. The owner has decided not to tear it down, due to historical signifcance

Here is a house 2 doors east on Kenilworth Ave that is traditional, stunning, contemparary with the neighborhood, and finished in 2007. Despite the best efforts of preservationists to keep this from being built, a very beautiful house now stands as an example of using tradtional materials, and modern building methods in the best Chicago fashion.

This is the next door neighbor to the Prairie/Tudor shown above. A ranch house, great in its own settting, but totally out of place in the neighborhood, sits on one of the best lots in Illinois at the corner of Sheridan and Kenilworth. It looks well constructed, probably insulated, and the toliets most likely work, but the lot price is disproportionate with the building costs. It may likely be torn down.

Here is my neighbors house, built in 2006. Pleasant contemparary design, high status materials (stone, brick), totally filling the lot to get the most square footage for the platt size. Maple Park is 10 yards east of here, giving the owner ample room for children. The back yard also extends 150 ft.

Here is a more modest, but quite charming traditional home one block north of the previous shot. This looks just like the neighbors, albeit a bit larger, but built in 2006.

Good time for whats the point:

1) You don't have to build an ugly house to replace a teardown

2) It is complicated to determine the historical value of maintaining dysfunctional old houses.

3) The Village of Wilmette allows buildings to occupy a certain footprint of the lot size. This is aggressively enforced. I can also say first hand that the enforcement does not meet any standards of common sense, as I had to lower ceiling heigth, but not sq. ft. occupied to meet building standards on my own house, and ensure additional bumps on my head. But by all mean, the Village does enforce a standard buildout size.

4) The terms McMansion and Monster house are just not descriptive enough to figure out what kind of teardown took place. There should be some standard (I think), but I am quite certain that the local municipalities are not capable of informed judgement on these matters, and should work on drainage, traffic, drinking water, etc.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shopping in the Spanish Renaissance

In the 1920's there was a movement in Chicago (and Pasedena and Santa Baraba) toward a (mostly imagined) Spanish Mediterranean Style of Architecture, with lots of smooth white stucco, red tile roofs, arches, stone carvings, and many of the elements that make buildings welcoming and pleasant to humans. Mostly imagined because on the Spanish Mediterranean, buildings do not actually look like this, nor do they have steel frames, and roofs slanted to withstand snowfall. Nonetheless, in 1926 Architect Edwin H. Clark built a grand theater and entertainment district in No-Mans-Land an unicorporated area south of Kenilworth and on the North Side of Wilmette.

The Spanish Court, to be renamed the Plaza Del Lago the grand development of Arhcitects Keck and Keck and Edwin Clark, stands today as a beautiful connection to Lake Michigan and the leafy suburbs of Wilmette and Kenilworth.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Chicago Athletic Association, the former owners of the Chicago Cubs, is closing its doors after a 117 yr + run as one the pre-eminent Gentleman's Club's in the world. Businessmen, Politicians, Journalists, and even Athletes called the CAA their home away from home in one of the architectural marvels of Skyscraper design. Henry Ives Cobb does a Venetian Splendour on the shores of Lake Michigan (before the infill) and with a great view of Lake Michigan (even after the infill).

Here is a tip of the hat to those that wanted to make Chicago more than just tolerable, rather the world champion of architecture. There is nothing quite like the Michigan Avenue facade of this building.

I took some apt snapshots at a literary lunch today of the Catholic Citizens of Illinois, who were championing a renaissance in Catholic Literature with none other than Joseph Pearce as a guest speaker, telling histories of Chesterton, Waugh, Greene, and Belloc.

A luxury hotel will come into this facility, and we wish them well, and continued public access to this Architectural Marvel.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Astonishing Beauty of St. Anthony's New Bedford

Fr. Roger Landry, the acclaimed homilist, and a great tour guide to Rome (if you ever get the chance, see if you can hitch a ride with the good Padre to the Eternal City), sends a beautiful set of shots from his parish of St. Anthony's of Padua in New Bedford Massachusettes.

Reportedly one of the largest Catholic Churches in America, St. Anthony's serves a largely Portuguese community, which benefits from Fr. Landry's hard work and ministry. This Church looks in suprisingly good shape and shows what one can do with some dedicated maintenance.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

More from Deering Library

Took a couple more shots inside Deering. The Gothic Lamps are awe inspiring...the University Club and other Prairie Goths should take note as to matching the fixtures with the buildling architecture. I am going to bring the Nikon next time, this place is just brimming with architectural details inside, and one the least viewed areas of the entire Northwestern Campus

The Deering Library is open to the public. The (very good) Art Library is inside. It is complex to get into the Deering Library itself. Go through the main library entrance, explain to the ball cap wearing youth reading graphic novels at the turnstyle that you would like to visit the Deering Library, he will mumble something that sounds like a Ruritanian folk dialect word for tunnel. Enter the (heinously ugly) Main Library and take a left. There will be two signs for the Deering Library. The one on the south leads to a locked door, but the the sign on the north is pointing in the right direction. You go down a stairwell, then back up two flights to see this stunning work.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Three Arts Club

Holabird and Roots 1914 masterpiece The Three Arts Club at 1300 N. Dearborn, has been sold to a botique hotel firm. The mosaic tile and stonework are legendary for their detail and match to function of the building (woman's artist residence). The Club itself has been down on its heels for some time now, and was not able to provide much in the way of residence or clubbishness to its constituents.

I am projecting greater access to this jewell, albeit at a cost, as the developer is also behind London's Brilliant Soho House.