Daily Archives: October 2, 2015

IIT

Last day in Chicago, time to do the serious architecture geek afternoon.  Knowing how much Greta would hate it, I dropped her at the Shedd Aquarium and walked down to IIT;  for you non-architects, the Illinois Institute of Technology, where Mies van der Rohe designed the campus plan and many of the buildings.  (Also, our former dean Frances Bronet is now the provost there, so I thought I should check it out to see how it compares to Lawrence Hall.)

I had a jarring introduction to the campus, one where you start to question your grip on reality.  Having just walked four miles down Michigan Avenue after a lunch of Chicago pizza and a beer, when I got to the campus I went up to the first building I saw that wasn’t a locked dorm, looking for a bathroom.  Straightforward glass and steel facade, I went inside and found a bathroom right  by the entry.  I emerged, turned the corner, and came across this:DSCF9914Toto, I said, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.  I walked out a different door, and saw this:

The reason Koolhaas wanted this site - Eurolille comes to Chicago

Aha, I said, it’s the Koolhaas building.  Reassured that I had not stumbled upon a break in the space/time continuum, I continued on in search of Miesian order.

The campus was as expected, relatively low buildings in a highly-ordered site plan, where the mature vegetation provides the relief from the Miesian grid.  Similar to other American urban campuses, where there is a definite end to the city fabric as you enter acedemia, pleasant and relaxing after the bustle and decay of lower Michigan Avenue.  The buildings (whether by Mies or SOM) are all variations on the Miesian theme – strictly rectilinear, repetitive bays, with inflection in the facades according to function.  It’s like the Goldberg Variations – how many subtle change can you make within a rigid and limited system.  Quite a few, and it is definitely not for non-architects.DSCF9886 DSCF9881

DSCF9880

DSCF9903

The famous power plant, cf. Charles Jencks

The famous power plant, cf. Charles Jencks

Then you get to the apotheosis, Crown Hall.

The money shot

The money shot

You’ve all studied it, you know exactly what it’s going to be like, and it is still a surprise, spatially, tectonically, and especially in terms of use.

Studio - everyone sits together at long tables!

Studio – everyone sits together at long tables!

The faculty zone is much neater than the studios

The faculty zone is much neater than the studios

The classic corner detail

The classic corner detail

Nice model, they probably use it a lot

Nice model, they probably use it a lot

The basement studios aren't as nice as the main floor, but still better than many I know. But why did they have to have basement studios at all? Probably making it a two-story building just didn't look as good.

The basement studios aren’t as nice as the main floor, but still better than many I know. But why did they have to have basement studios at all? Probably making it a two-story building just didn’t look as good.

It is a great building, where you feel the expanse of space (there are no internal columns or full-height walls, as the roof is suspended from exterior girders), and the light washes through the building uninterrupted.

But having had enough of Miesian order, I decided to revisit the Koolhaas.  A fun building for a student center, angles and ramps and colors and chaos, with an elevated train in a tube on the roof. Then I started to wonder, how different is this really from the 1970s wing of the EMU on the UO campus (which was just demolished), or any of the other 60s student unions that ultimately derived from Erskine’s student union in Stockholm?  Was Erskine the first wave of dissent from universal space, and Koolhaas represents the second?

DSCF9939

Almost like being in Seattle

Almost like being in Seattle

DSCF9929

Koolhaas has set up the screens in the cafe that constantly play Judge Judy on a loop.

Koolhaas has set up the screens in the cafe that constantly play Judge Judy on a loop.

This is real.

This is real (albeit warped), not a strange photo collage.

Mies would not have approved.

Mies would not have approved.

The strange refracted orb/view/sun follows you down the hall.

The strange refracted orb/view/sun follows you down the hall.

Urinals in hell

Urinals in hell

That last overwrought bathroom did me in, and I ran in search of one more bit of Miesian serenity.  I found the famous chapel, which was simple and elegant, not at all the minimalist joke that Jencks decried.DSCF9951

But when I went inside, I encountered thisDSCF9952

a roomful of architects (in their ceremonial black garments), worshipping at the First Church of Mies, Architect.

I left quickly before they noticed me, and returned to the messy world of the South Side of Chicago.

The Original Nutella Cafe

At Eataly in Chicago, we went to the first ever Nutella Cafe. As the name implies, it is a cafe entirely devoted to Nutella products. Crepes, creme brulee, cookies, all made or slathered with the hazelnut chocolate spread we all love.

P1040056 We tried a brioche spread with Nutella, and a coconut Nutella cake. The brioche was soft and buttery, complemented nicely by the sweetness of the Nutella. The coconut cake was more intense. The Nutella seemed to be trying to overpower the coconut, and the coconut pushed back. They warred for control of your taste buds in a way that I couldn’t tell if it was good.

P1040059They’ve now opened a second Nutella Cafe in New York City, so if you see an Eataly in either city, I’d highly recommend stopping by.

Chicago 3: downtown form

The evolution of the city’s form over the past 150 years was an issue that kept coming up for me.  I think it matters in two ways.  First, at the street level, there is marked contrast between those areas in the Loop that were developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the block structure being set, and new buildings mixing in with old.  They are superb, with the urban-canyon density that says Big City to us.DSCF9529

Then there are the areas where the streets/blocks/buildings were developed in the postwar era, such as the area east of Michigan and north of Grant Park, which is all postwar buildings, some good (the Aqua) but mostly banal.  It is truly desolate – pointlessly large windy plazas, a lack of scale (massive buildings everywhere), constant shadow, needlessly wide streets, no street life. This seems to be the pattern that is being repeated in other areas now, such as directly north of the river.

the 20th century meets the 21st

the 20th century meets the 21st

The weird multi-street-levels of downtown Chicago produces some strange places, like this.

The weird multi-street-levels of downtown Chicago produces some strange places, like this.

If, as Bob Stern says, "Architecture is a conversation across time", the 21st century is clearly saying "up yours."

If, as Bob Stern says, “Architecture is a conversation across time”, these buildings are clearly saying “up yours.”

The Aqua does a great job of punctuating all the rectilinearity, from many perspectives.

The Aqua does a great job of punctuating all the rectilinearity, from many perspectives.

The second way in which this evolution plays out is at the level of building form, tectonics, detail, composition, etc.  Here again, the areas where there is a monoculture of post-war buildings are terrible – everything is the same, large expanses of curtain wall, no detail, every building obviously maxing out the zoning envelope.  The area on the river between Michigan Avenue and the Lake is the most glaring example of this – huge boring buildings, punctuated by the aggressive and simplistic Trump Hotel/tower thumb-in-the-eye.DSCF9730

In contrast, those areas where there is a blend of scales, styles, eras, sizes, etc., are amongst the most beautiful city districts in the country.  One is always coming across places where the juxtaposition of the characteristics can be seen, a type of vertical collage that is unique to Chicago.DSCF9996

DSCF9506 DSCF9530 DSCF9599 DSCF9600 DSCF9607 DSCF9814

Even the Trump horror can be tamed by a varied context such as this:

DSCF9831 DSCF9834 DSCF9990 DSCF9998

DSCF9663

The variety and contrast is endlessly entertaining.  Perhaps we should write zoning ordinances that don’t focus upon the rules for one proposed building, but that somehow can acknowledge the overall gestalt of a neighborhood, and only allow buildings that will contribute to the greater whole.

Chicago Deep Dish Stuffed Crust Pizza

Fifteen times thicker than New York style, and twenty times Neapolitan, Chicago deep-dish stuffed-crust made me understand why pizzas are called pies. We tried two different places; the famous Giordano’s, and Exchequer. Giordano’s took longer to bake, nearly an hour, but it was worth it. Each slice was more of a cohesive unit, the cheese not slidding off as much as the slice from the Exchequer, which required the assistance of a fork. I don’t think stuffed crust was the right name for either of them. Both pizzas were really a thin crust, covered in an inch and a half of sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, sealed in with another layer of crust, then topped with more sauce and cheese. They were by far the heaviest things I’d ever eaten in my life, with not an air pocket or light ingredient to be found.P1030940
Although both were good, Giordano’s was undeniably better, living up to and surpassing its reputation. I’ve decided that Chicago pizza is the equal of New York style, just very different. All pizzas styles are created equal, but all pizzas are not, as the horrid pizza I was forced to consume in South Dakota showed me. Seriously, it was so bad, we didn’t even take back the leftovers to eat for breakfast.

Additional Note on Breakfast Pizza
I’ve decided that New York pizza and bad replicas of it should have their leftovers be eaten cold the next morning, and Chicago and Neapolitan should be reheated. For Neapolitan, use a toaster oven, and for Chicago, heat in a microwave until the inside is the temperature you want, then finish off in a toaster oven to restore the crispiness of the crust. Or if you’re really patient, which I am most certainly not in the mornings, simply heat it in an oven until it reaches the desired temperature.