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.

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