Historic Preservation

The Illusion of Architectural Permanence

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Earlier this month, The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin wrote a thoughtful column about the newspaper's upcoming move from the iconic building bearing its name: The Tribune Tower. He reminds readers about a quote by 19th-century English architecture critic John Ruskin that is featured in the building's lobby floor:

“Therefore when we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred.”

But as Kamin points out, buildings are commodities and the companies that create them rarely stay in them - and he raises the question if the building's new owners can "Change the use but maintain the character."

I often talk about my belief that every building has a story to tell. The Tribune Tower, completed in 1925, speaks volumes. As an example, the tower features carved images of Robin Hood and a howling dog near the main entrance to commemorate the architects, John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood. The top of the tower is designed after the Tour de beurre (″butter tower″) of the Rouen Cathedral in France. But perhaps more fittingly, the historical fragments embedded in the building's facade (collected from sites like The Parthenon and the Berlin Wall) remind us that nothing, in fact, lasts forever.

The newspaper's relocation and the Tribune Tower's conversion to a mixed used development seems to underscore the impermanence of a seemingly permanent structure. But with care and attention, the neo-Gothic structure at 435 N. Michigan will grace the Chicago cityscape for years to come. Like many of Chicago's landmarks, we hope the Tribune Tower has another durable, sustainable chapter in its ongoing story.

Can The Uptown Be Saved?

Earlier this year Preservation Chicago joined the effort to save a Chicago landmark - the Uptown Theatre.  The organization has asked those concerned with historic preservation, neighborhood vitality and the economic future of the city to sign and promote the “Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Restore the Uptown!” petition.

The Uptown is often described as a massive, ornate "movie palace" located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. It opened its doors on August 18, 1925. With 4,381 seats, the Uptown's interior volume is said to be larger than any other movie palace in the United States, including Radio City Music Hall in New York. It has been closed to regular audiences since 1981 and preservationists are concerned that something needs to be done now to prevent permanent ruin. "If this isn't resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate," says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

An article by Mark Guarino in last week's Crain's Chicago Business details plans that have yet to materialize. There are certainly barriers to it's restoration, but many are still working to overcome those barriers - including Friends of the Uptown. As Ald. James Cappleman, 46th Ward is quoted: "I believe that next chapter of the story of this great theater will be written very soon, and there has never been a better time for this project to move forward." We will see what 2018 brings.

BTLA's Work Recognized By Design Evanston

 BTL Architect principal Delph Gustitus (pictured left) with Northwestern University's Manager of Construction Projects, Dick Painter (pictured right) at Design Evanston's 2017 Awards Ceremony, November 2, 2017.

BTL Architect principal Delph Gustitus (pictured left) with Northwestern University's Manager of Construction Projects, Dick Painter (pictured right) at Design Evanston's 2017 Awards Ceremony, November 2, 2017.

Last week, BTL Architects was recognized by Design Evanston at an awards ceremony for our work to restore 720 University Place at Northwestern University. Design Evanston is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit advocacy organization promoting good design in Evanston, Illinois. Annually they recognize professionals and projects that exemplify good design. Here is an excerpt from the awards program detail:

This project involved the restoration of the building enclosure. The building was built in the 1890’s, originally as a school of music with a performance hall. Years of deferred maintenance and atmospheric soiling had taken its toll on the exterior. The Owner stated a goal of restoring the exterior to its original condition as closely as possible. A detailed examination and assessment of the exterior was performed to determine the scope of repairs. The 12,000 square feet of exterior wall surface includes two brick colors and sizes, cut limestone sills, painted wood windows and trim, a rough-cut structural stone masonry base, clay tile roof, and copper downspouts.

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A combination of historic masonry techniques, reclaimed materials, and more modern materials and methods were used to restore the exterior to its original splendor. All masonry was cleaned with products and methods selected during extensive sampling. Old mortars were removed by mechanical wet grinding. Three different new mortars colors were used with an historic beaded joint profile. Deteriorated wood components were replaced with reclaimed old growth lumber fashioned in profiles to match the original components. High performance paint products were used in colors selected to match the historic appearance from historic photos.

More images of this project are included in our portfolio. For a full listing of Design Evanston's 2017 honorees, click here.

Daley Center Picasso’s 50th birthday

On August 15, 1967, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley famously remarked “what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow" as he unveiled an untitled monumental sculpture by Pablo Picasso at Daley Plaza. This month the city will mark this popular public art piece's 50th birthday.

The finished sculpture was executed from Picasso's 42-inch steel model and is 50 feet high and weighs 162 tons. The Picasso was certainly subject of some controversy in its first years. On August 25, 1967, Time Magazine reported: "Right up to the moment that the billowing blue percale veil covering Pablo Picasso's 50-ft. sculpture came tumbling down last week in Chicago, the debate continued. Was it a bird, a woman, an Afghan hound, a Barbary ape, a cruel hoax, a Communist plot, or Superman?" Nevertheless, Chicago also received many expressions of congratulations on its important acquisition and Time praised the city's "vigor and vision" and described the Chicago Picasso as "one of the most magnificent windfalls in its history."

Curbed Chicago reports that Picasso’s big birthday party will run from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 8 at Daley Plaza. Admission is free to the public.

The Other Mies van der Rohe

 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 - 1969) in S.R. Crown Hall at IIT College of Architecture PHOTO: Hedrich Blessing

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886 - 1969) in S.R. Crown Hall at IIT College of Architecture PHOTO: Hedrich Blessing

A few years ago, BTLA had the opportunity to work on the iconic Farnsworth House, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (images in our portfolio). So we were particularly pleased to hear that Elmhurst Art Museum plans to unveil the original facade of the other Mies-designed home in Chicago's suburbs - McCormick House (which has been obscured by an addition connecting it to the museum). The iconic facade of this historically significant building will be visible for the first time in 20 years as part of Elmhurst Art Museum’s 20th anniversary celebration.

The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin wrote about the project in this article a few days ago, as did Architectural Digest, discussing the history of the building and the effort to bring it back to life. The McCormick House was moved from its original site in Elmhurst in 1994. In 1997, a design by Chicago architects DeStefano + Partners (now Lothan Van Hook DeStefano Architecture) made it possible for the house to be incorporated into the then-new museum. Here's a video, featuring Avram Lothan, discussing Mies and the McCormick House: 

 “The decision to connect the house to the museum in 1997 was with Mies’ idea of universal space in mind,” says Executive Director Jenny Gibbs. “The museum has since evolved its thinking and I am thrilled to lead the charge in unveiling our hidden treasure.”

According to museum staff, Heritage Architecture Studio will be working with Elmhurst Art Museum Executive Director Jenny Gibbs to oversee the work of Berglund Construction to be completed in 2017. Barry Bergdoll (architecture and design curator at MoMA) is advising on the project and curating a long-term exhibition, Mies In Chicago which will open in 2018.