No Little Plans II

We dream of an economically vibrant and environmentally healthy region; one whose concentrated areas of activity enable people of complementary talents to achieve high levels of creativity and productivity; a region where all persons have ready access to jobs; to housing near their jobs, and to good schools and job training; a region in which people are enabled and encouraged to find nourishment in a diversity and complexity of persons, interests, and tastes, and to enjoy an exciting array of cultural, recreational, and intellectual opportunities; and, most important, a region that undergirds strong neighborhoods, communities, and families so that they are enabled to nurture the intellectual, moral, and social development of children.
Chicago Metropolis 2020

Chicago Metropolis 2020 is the successor to Daniel Burnham’s 1906 Plan of Chicago.  (see No Little Plans I) Both were sponsored by the Commercial Club of Chicago. But contrast the above statement to Burnham’s famous “Make no little plans, they have no power to stir men’s blood,” and you will start to understand how they are different—and how they are similar.

The above quotation sounds like it was written by committee. It was. Six committees actually, within the club, informed by innumerable other committees, companies, policy groups, etc, that take three more pages to list in the acknowledgments. Such is our diverse urban life these days. (BTW, there is an online version of the document as well, quite different.)

Burnham, in his day only had to worry about stirring the blood of men, and you can bet they were all white men as well, property owners and from western Europe. I doubt that the hoards of immigrants pouring in from Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, and a dozen other countries that fueled the engines of industry were asked what they thought, although they were very much supposed to be the beneficiaries of Burnham’s concern about green space and slums.

And who is supposed to be stirred by our contemporary committees?  Leafing through the book gives a quick impression.

Lots of cute little kids. The study addresses the issues of “public education and child care, transportation, land use and housing, governance and taxation, and economic well-being”, but it’s pretty clear the intended audience is a diverse one.

Here’s an idea of the type of graphics used.  Quite different from the uniform pastels of the Burnham Plan.

And what about Burnham’s encircling parks and green spaces? In the back of the book, almost as an afterthought, is a five page description of how an “intermodal village center” might work in the Chicago suburbs, based on the protected “green heart” area in the middle of four major Dutch cities. I always like these conceptual drawings in the back of urban planning books, they seem like they might spur much creative thought.

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No Little Plans I

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.
—Daniel Burnham

Ah, the Burnham Plan.  More properly, the Plan of Chicago, first published by the Commercial Club of Chicago in 1909 in a limited edition of 1650 copies, then lovingly republished in 1993 as a reproduction. The followup document is Chicago Metropolis 2020, but more about that later.  You can read a scanned image of one of the original copies of the Burnham Plan in Google books, but then you will miss one of the most important parts of the book, if not the most important— how it looks and feels.

First the cover, as classic and black as the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and with gilded letters.

Then you open the book.  Handling the pages is a delight.  They’re thick, and an ivory color. Plenty of space is used for the illustrations.  Some pages are even blank—no rush to save money by crowding things together.

Burnham’s plan invokes the timelessness of Babylon, Egypt, Athens and Rome,  then the sophistication of city planning in Europe.

But mostly it’s a vision of “organic unity”

and the “Spirit of Chicago”.

A civic center for governmental activities was planned for west of the lakefront; today the University of Illinois stands on this spot.

The project was not commissioned by a governmental agency, but by the business leaders of the day.

“The Lakefront by right belongs to the people,” wrote Burnham.

I stopped short when I read that.  The book is full of purple prose, compound sentences, and phrases meant to be skimmed over, not parsed.  Then comes this  simple, clear statement about the lakefront. “Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.”

And that, in the end, is what Burnham is most remembered for, not just Chicago’s long, continuous, and public lakefront, but green space:  parks with lagoons, wide boulevards connecting the park systems, and forest  encircling the city.

I like this book, yes, and although it was quite expensive at the time (a paperback version is now available in time for the centennial), I have never considered reselling it. But you should see urban planning students with this book. Smitten, yes. I once saw a video a student had made superimposing Burnham’s drawings over a satellite image of the city. It was about a 1 minute tape, but they set it to loop and the other students watched it over and over for a good ten minutes.

Later:  The Commercial Club’s Chicago Metropolis 2020 in No Little Plans II

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Mecca goes Vegas

If you’re not Moslem, chances are you’ll never see the architectural wonders of Mecca.  The NYT has a short (7 photos) slideshow of the new and the old, including a tacky replica of London’s Big Ben, decked out in green Allah neon.

In a companion piece, the NYT also tracks the controversy over the latest architectural additions to the holy city: New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy.

It is an architectural absurdity. Just south of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Muslim world’s holiest site, a kitsch rendition of London’s Big Ben is nearing completion. Called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the centerpiece of a complex that is housing a gargantuan shopping mall, an 800-room hotel and a prayer hall for several thousand people. Its muscular form, an unabashed knockoff of the original, blown up to a grotesque scale, will be decorated with Arabic inscriptions and topped by a crescent-shape spire in what feels like a cynical nod to Islam’s architectural past. To make room for it, the Saudi government bulldozed an 18th-century Ottoman fortress and the hill it stood on. ….

“It is the commercialization of the house of God,” said Sami Angawi, a Saudi architect who founded a research center that studies urban planning issues surrounding the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and has been one of the development’s most vocal critics. “The closer to the mosque, the more expensive the apartments. In the most expensive towers, you can pay millions” for a 25-year leasing agreement, he said. “If you can see the mosque, you pay triple.”

….[The construction boom — and the demolition that comes with it] has been facilitated by Saudi Arabia’s especially strict interpretation of Islam, which regards much history after the age of Muhammad, and the artifacts it produced, as corrupt, meaning that centuries-old buildings can be destroyed with impunity.

Contrast some building projects of the past, Frei Otto’s tent cities from the 70’s:

made up of collapsible lightweight structures inspired by the traditions of nomadic Bedouin tribes and intended to accommodate hajj pilgrims without damaging the delicate ecology of the hills that surround the old city.

and Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill’s Hajj terminal at King Abdul Aziz International Airport, completed in 1981:

A grid of more than 200 tentlike canopies supported on a system of steel cables and columns, it is divided into small open-air villages, where travelers can rest and pray in the shade before continuing their journey.

Some say the new construction will change the spiritual experience of the hajj as well.

…. Many people told me that the intensity of the experience of standing in the mosque’s courtyard has a lot to do with its relationship to the surrounding mountains. Most of these represent sacred sites in their own right and their looming presence imbues the space with a powerful sense of intimacy. But that experience, too, is certain to be lessened with the addition of each new tower, which blots out another part of the view. Not that there will be much to look at: many hillsides will soon be marred by new rail lines, roads and tunnels, while others are being carved up to make room for still more towers.

“The irony is that developers argue that the more towers you build the more views you have,” said Faisal al-Mubarak, an urban planner who works at the ministry of tourism and antiquities. “But only rich people go inside these towers. They have the views.”

[image: NYT]

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Last week when I was at Taliesin, I was reminded that the Chicago Cultural Center downtown, aka the old library building, currently has a Sullivan exhibit.

Usually I try not to post imperfectly focused photos, but these were taken indoors without a tripod, and I have included any that give some idea of Sullivan’s style.

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Book sale

Yesterday I ended up at a couple of bookstores, and while I don’t usually blog about buying books, yesterday was just too much fun to keep to myself.

So here’s the list of what I scored:

Ruth Rendell, An Unkindness of Ravens (thanks, m-l)
Sara Paretsky, Bleeding Kansas
Dorothy Sayers, The Complete Stories
Roger Dixon and Stefan Muthesius, Victorian Architecture
Emil Kaufman, Architecture in the Age of Reason: Baroque and Post-Baroque in England, Italy, and France
Eight issues of The Tuilieries Brochures from 1931 and 1932 with outstanding photography:

French Architecture as Source Material
Provincial Architecture of Northern Franc
Some Small Houses from French Villages
Formal Design in Minor French Buildings (see Amazon listing)
Dijon–Capital of Burgundy
Saulieu of the Morvan
An Architect Revisits France
Falaise–The Heart of Normandy

L.C. Kalff, Creative Light
Arnold Lewis, American Victorian Architecture
The book division of the National Geographic Society, The Builders: Marvels of Engineering (1992 with the World Trade Center on the cover)

A little heavy on the architecture, yes.  I love looking at architecture books, but that’s not usually something I’m willing to spend money on.  But they all came from the dollar table at the Antiquarian’s book sale, and were 25% off to boot. How could I resist?

A nice assortment.  The first thing I started reading was the Rendell whodunit (or whydunit as the case may be).  From page two: “Joy Williams took him into the front room that she called the lounge.  There were no books.”  Somehow, you know this is not going to end well.

[The rest of the photos are clickable.]

Moving on to The Builders (1992), which I picked up because it had photos of pyramids, and bridges and cathedrals, on the front cover is a photo of the World Trade Center, with another inside.  These photos give me an odd moiré pattern when I look at them with various browsers, but are very nice viewed with zoom. And yes, I know they load slow, but they also have high resolution.

The cover photo is supposed to be “framed by an Alexander Calder sculpture”. Maybe World Trade Center Stabile (Bent Propeller)?–here are before and after pictures of the Calder sculpture.

[Note: the link is no longer working, but I will leave it up in case someone can find it in google cache–I have had no luck–or the wayback machine after a suitable amount of time has passed. In the meantime, no more Ms. Nice Guy with polite links to images of unknown copyright status.  Here are some images of the statue, if you see your image here leave a message and I will credit you.]

Creative Light is out of print.  This page demonstrates how light principles work in a church sanctuary.

And here is le Corbusier’s 1937 “brises soleil”  invention–facade of screens for protection from the sun (Ministry of Works, Rio de Janeiro).

Corb’s “Chapel of Ronchamp” uses semi-cylindrical towers to channel the light to the wall behind the altar.

His monastery at La Tourette uses “light cannons” to direct light.

The “Tulierries” pamphlet series has striking architectural photographs of various areas in France.  (And except for one or two issues, these are totally out of print and unobtainable.) This page is from Provincial Architecture of Northern France:

From Formal Design in Minor French Buildings:

Why again should we take French architecture of this particular period rather than that of an earlier time?  Precisely because the charm of the French Formal style depends upon intrinsic excellence of design rather than upon the charm of softening line and surface texture resulting ;from the decay of age as in the farmhouse type.  It is the spacing and  balance of the windows and their relation to the wall surface texture resulting from the decay of age as in the farmhouse typel  It is the spacing and balance of the wqindows and their relation to the wall surfaces that pleases us, not the irregularities of hand work.  The wall surfaces are as true as the machine-minded American workmen could make them; the lines of the ridge and the eave do not sag despondently.

In the last analysis is not this fad of living in imitation primitive farmhouses, surrounded carefully by all modern conveniences, a little ridiculous?”

Um, no.

But the photos are still incredible.

This one is from Some Small Houses From French Villages:

This type of photography simply doesn’t exist any more. Typically this type of photo was done with a 4X5 large format camera. In these days when the SLR has suddenly been replaced by the digital camera, who knows what the future of this type of photography will be.

As for the buildings, give me the key and I’ll be ready to move into any one of them.

Punch card

One of these photos is the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center, the other is an IBM punch card.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center at 71 W Van Buren Street in Chicago was designed by Harry Weese & Associates in 1975.

This looks like an example of Brutalism, which Weese was known for.  Brutalist architecture is characterized by blocky concrete buildings with repetitive angular geometries. The phrase was coined by Le Corbusier, who called it in French béton brut, or “raw concrete.”

This is not the only thing people have said looks like a punch card.  There is also Bicentennial Park at Ohio University designed by Maya Lin, and the Engineering Research Building at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The university where I grew up would throw away boxes and boxes of these cards; people used to make Christmas wreaths out of them, spray-painted gold.

Here’s also some tantalizing bits available in snippet view about Chicago architects that mentions the corrections building.