Sunday, June 21, 2009

Burnham Pavilions Open to the Public (Sort of)

UNStudio's pavilion, freshly washed by mother nature, being enjoyed by tourists.

The Burnham Pavilions, one designed by Ben van Berkel of UNStudio and the other by Zaha Hadid of Zaha Hadid Architects officially opened Friday to the public. Thursday morning, the press was invited to a sneak preview and conference. It's okay, I wasn't invited either (still trying to figure that one out). Check out the blogs of Blair Kamin and Lynn Becker to get their take.

One last photo before I was politely escorted out of the closed exhibit area by Millennium Park security.

The day began with a panel discussion at Rubloff Auditorium in the Art Institute and the night was to be rounded out with a special concert by the Grant Park Music Festival. They played a new piece by Michael Torke called Plans, specifically commissioned for The Burnham Plan Centennial along with Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 composed in 1909.

The panel discussion gave me some helpful insights into the concepts behind the designs. Art Institute Architecture and Design Curator Joseph Rosa started things off by offering up some background into the idea and process for the pavilions, fundraising and supporters. Over $1M was raised for the design fees and incorporated into those fees was a system in which each firm would work with one of the two accredited architecture schools in Chicago, IIT and UIC. Each school was offered the opportunity to select the architect with whom they wanted to work, affording the students of the selected studios the incredible experience of working with one of these world-renowned international architects.

Mr. Rosa then introduced Robert Somol, professor and Director of the School of Architecture at UIC who described the process of selecting the international architects, the local architect of record, Doug Garofalo, and the experience the school had working with them. During his explanation he addressed the "traditionalists" and those that wanted local architects selected. On selecting the international architects Mr. Somol reminded us that Burnham based his original 1909 Plan on parts of many European cities he had experienced on his travels. And on selecting Ben van Berkel of UNStudio he said, the pavilions are placed in an area that was first a lake, then a landfill, then a rail yard and finally Millennium Park. Who would be better experienced for this than an architect from The Netherlands?

Donna Robertson, Professor and Dean of IIT College of Architecture, spoke next. Her presentation included a slide-show to help with her explanation in selecting Zaha Hadid Architects and in depicting the experience students had. Dirk Denison was chosen to lead the studio and would therefore be the local architect of record. Ms. Robertson showed a few slides from ZHA's 1998 entry for the student center competition at IIT, eventually won by OMA, and cited that experience for choosing her to work with the school.

Project architect Thomas Vietzke describes how the Burnham Plan's diagonals influenced the design.

Finally the architects were ready to give their insight into their designs. While Ms. Hadid couldn't make the event due to a knee injury, project architect Thomas Vietzke was on hand from her office to explain the concept on her behalf. He said they took the diagonal streets of the Burnham Plan, which were designed to alleviate some of the traffic from the city core, and super-imposed them on to the pavilion structure from which the tensile fabric is supported. What do you think? What I found interesting is that one of the diagonals was extended to the site where it eventually intersected with the pavilion driving the concept of the rib orientation. However, in this slide the Hadid pavilion was to the north and the van Berkel to the south. Today their positions are reversed.

Mr. Vietzke was not only the project architect on this pavilion but many of ZHA’s others including the travelling Chanel pavilion which made it to New York's Central Park before the show was cancelled. He was also one of two architects assigned to the IIT studio. He had a lot of slides with him of the Burnham Pavilion and of Zaha Hadid Architect's breadth of work. He ended his presentation with animation of the pavilion set to some music that was reminiscent of Underworld's Born Slippy.

The video was needed, and I say the pavilions 'sort of' opened to the public, because ZHA's isn't finished. They cited complications on the manufacturing end as the reason for the delay but promised it would be finished in 4 weeks.

ZHA's pavilion - skinless, bones exposed.

Ben Van Berkel was last to present and chose a different approach; instead of presenting images of his work to get an idea of the range of UNStudio, he presented his work from the angle of describing concepts behind his work. I had been looking forward to his speech since I tried see him when he lectured at UIC last month but arrived to a room filled to capacity and couldn’t get in. I use words to describe his approach but they really are no substitute for hearing it in person with visual aids. In describing his work he had a slide up that looked something like this:

From formal architecture to "articulated blob".

He described it as formal architecture on one end and on the other is an "articulated blob". All of the lines are continuous so it's as if the formal is morphing into the blob. Mr. van Berkel's work lies somewhere in between where spaces are created that could be a kitchen, auditorium, classroom, etc.

Whether by coincidence or not van Berkel used Burbham’s diagonals as the impetus for his pavilion as well. Except that, instead of using the diagonals in plan he projected them in section opening up vistas to the "higher parts of the city", just as Burnham’s diagonals opened up new vistas in 1909.

The pavilions are ideally placed in a room of trees.

Mr. Somol described UNStudio's pavilion in a way that gave it more Chicago context; as if Mies ate Goldberg. Delicious. To me it very much evokes Mies; the floating base coupled with the top to make a Miesian box. Except here the top has been broken by these vanilla tongues lapping at the milky-white base. I can imagine a fake conversation between a young van Berkel and Mies. Mies is presented with this pavilion in which his pure Miesian box has been broken by these forms as they make their way to the articulated blob. Mies swiftly swats it aside in a defiant, "NEIN!".

I’m not sure what that has to do with the Burnham Plan but I enjoyed the lectures, and the pavilions look great. Go see the Hadid before it's covered. The pavilions are open through October.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Last Chance to Apply for AIA Chicago's New Bridge Program

The deadline for AIA Chicago's new Bridge program is June 18th at midnight. That's tomorrow!
From AIA Chicago:

The benefits of the Bridge program include an opportunity to be paired and mentored by experienced Chicago architects, all of whom are Fellows in the AIA. Participants will develop communication and relationship skills, advance professional skills, expand professional and personal networks, experience team performance, and develop chapter and community leadership.

Quite an opportunity indeed when you consider the current state of employment prospects in the profession. Take a look at AIA Chicago's job postings for a rare sight. If you've got more time on your hands these days and you know how important networking is this is a no-brainer.

Joan Pomaranc, Program Director at AIA Chicago, probably doesn't remember a brief conversation I had with her around 9 months ago about starting a mentorship program that went beyond that of the traditional IDP relationship. That's quite a gestation period. I got swamped with work though and never followed through. It's nice someone did. I don't think I deserve credit; similar programs exist at AIA chapters throughout the country. That's where I got the idea. My ultimate vision was a tiered program in which young architects mentored students in college or high school while those young architects were in turn mentored by seasoned professionals. This Bridge program sounds similar.

More information and apply online.

POSTSCRIPT: The deadline has been extended one week to June 25th.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lewis Mumford Awards Ceremony

Jamie Clark speaks after being elected to the board of ADPSR

Three remarkable community activists were awarded with a Lewis Mumford Award on saturday night at Archeworks. From the ADPSR Chicago press release,

In 1992, ADPSR instituted the annual Lewis Mumford Awards to honor people and organizations that exemplify ADPSR’s goals of peace, preservation of the natural and built environment, and socially responsible development. The awards were named after Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) an American historian of technology and science, noted for his study of cities and urban architecture. “Lewis Mumford’s writings continue to inspire and remind us that architecture, design, and planning must respond to human needs, harmonize with its surroundings, and reflect the aspirations and social context of our civilization,” says Lynne Elizabeth, President of ADPSR.

You can read the rest of the release as well as a description of the winning organizations here.

After the winners were presented their award they were given an opportunity to speak about their organizations. One of the things they shared in common that resonated with me was the social aspects that were being addressed in these communities. As architects we are often focused on improving the built environment. But impoverished communities are so often a target for many social vices like substance abuse and gangs. I've often thought it would be more of a fair fight against these vices with a strong social network of family and friends. We see this type of community activism on the news when communities get together for anti-violence marches.

Afterwords we were able to mingle with the award winners, their families, architects and designers with food, drink and a three piece jazz band to set the atmosphere. Many professionals who were involved with the
Converge/Exchange Symposium back in March were there as well.

To find out more about the winners and their organizations check out their websites. After reading up on them you may want to lend a hand.

Growing Home for Outstanding Efforts in Peace.

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization for Environment

Fuller Park Community Development for Community Development

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chicago Model City Exhibit Opening

Well you missed the free wine but this free exhibit runs until November at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. You can find the Chicago Tribune Report about the exhibit on Blair Kamin's blog so I won't go into too much detail here but have provided some pictures.

The Drake sign is missing. The truss around the model carries an LED lighting system to simulate the different times of day. This picture brings to mind a certain Metropolis cover featuring a certain Jeanne Gang.

Can you find the bean?

Navy Pier was lopped off due to space constraints. The intent is to update the model whenever something is proposed or built. What if the other two piers get built? Crain's recently reported on CAF's recent endeavor to find new and larger space.

All in all, I was impressed at the scale of such an undertaking. Columbia Models does some incredible work but I've never personally seen anything of this magnitude. One other comment I heard was, it's too bad we can't get close to the center to see the detail and density of the loop. The model in Shanghai has a glass top that you can walk on to see every part of the city. There's still time.

I hadn't been out to the Santa Fe Building in a while but always admire the atrium housing the exhibit. It's a wonderful space. I can't imagine what it was like to be open to the sky in the old days.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Featured Event: Bus Trip to Black Oaks

As a follow-up to the Mumford Awards, ADPSR has chartered a bio-deisel bus to depart Chicago this Sunday, June 14th at 9am for The Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living. Look for architects and activists from all over the country this time due to the Mumford Awards being held the provious night. It will return at 5pm. Please RSVP to to reserve your spot. More information.

The Inaugural Post

The idea for this blog came from a conversation I had with Krisann at Chicago Architecture Foundation. We both agreed it was strange that there wasn’t a central location for architects, designers, etc. to find volunteer and community service opportunities.

Like many architects and other members of the AEC industry, I recently found myself with plenty of time on my hands and so approached the AIA hoping to find such a central location or service. While they don’t have a system in place, I was given several contacts with whom to follow-up. It was surprising to me the amount of leg work that was needed not only to find organizations appropriate for architects but also whether or not they were in need of volunteers at the moment.

I’ve been hearing stories of potential employees offering to work for free. Well guess what? There’s an outlet for that. It’s called community service. This site is a resource for people looking to keep busy while making on impact on their community. And if you are busy, maybe you can still put in a couple of hours a week. It’s also a resource for not-for-profits and community groups to post their events. The calendar of events will be kept plenty current with the hopes that not-for-profits will get the volunteers they need and volunteers will find a group they’re interested in.

While there are many sites out there that list volunteer opportunities, none are specific to the skills and experiences of architects and designers. I’ll also be writing about some of the events and experiences of the people involved. Topics of posts will eventually be expanded into other areas of the profession.

Through all of the doom and gloom in the media today, look for these posts to be bright spots. Money is tight for everyone right now, not-for-profits included. But in this current climate one thing the AEC industry does have is plenty of labor. So let’s get to work. People need you.

Steven Pantazis