Posts Tagged ‘chicago’

COLLECTED: Tsunami stones, future cities, and 2 new hypothetical Chicagos

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 6, 2011 at 10:00 am


NEW YORK—James A. Reeves, a good man all around, recently helped create Urban Omnibus‘ 50 Ideas for the New City.

Enumerated lists are always handy (something I learned in law school), and the Fifty Ideas imagery taps into the bygone optimism of the World’s Fair and the muscle of the New Deal. A few months ago I came across a W.P.A. poster that said, “Real Americans Don’t Carry Debt!” and it struck me how much the government asked of its citizens in the past—and how much people were willing to give in return. Donate your aluminum. Roll up your sleeves. We can do it. With this spirit in mind, I drew dozens of ugly little napkin sketches which Kristina Kassem transformed into beautiful illustrations.Big American Night


THE JAPANESE COAST—As we dialogue about the future of our built environments, we would be remiss to not look back at the wisdom of our ancestors, who did not exist in some glorious golden age, but dealt with most of the same problems we deal with today. For instance: tsunamis. Earthquakes have shaken the Earth all throughout history, and any undersea rift will send waves rippling out, gaining mass and momentum until finally crashing into continental land mass. BLDGBLOG reports on ancient markers that helped the Japanese avoid destruction.

The stone tablet has stood on this forested hillside since before they were born, but the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face: ‘Do not build your homes below this point!’ Residents say this injunction from their ancestors kept their tiny village of 11 households safely out of reach of the deadly tsunami last month that wiped out hundreds of miles of Japanese coast and rose to record heights near here. The waves stopped just 300 feet below the stone… Hundreds of so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation.BLDGBLOG


CHICAGO—Pruned released a slew of fictions over the past week, more installments to its (Im)possible Chicago series. Two of the five—#10 and #14—got me. The first paints a scene where enormous, near apocalyptic wildfires sweep through the Windy City every ten years. The second is more veiled, an alternate but more possible—imminent even?—version, rendered through a highly detailed list, painting Chicago as a tech-addicted, marginalized, universalist ghetto.

(Im)possible Chicago #10

Every ten years the fires come. Starting from Land Grant Fire Ignition Stations strategically gridded on the outskirts of the city, they come howling, coronal, as though the prairies have sprouted solar prominences arcing and looping eastward towards the lake.

First they stream through the fire avenues of the Emerald Necklace, extended, renetworked and planted with highly combustible trees and shrubbery for this decennial event. Once a neighborhood is surrounded, the flaming noose contracts and gorges on the trapped kindling. … Most residents stay to ride out the firestorm, however, holed up in their thickly concreted bungalows. They only need to stock up on food and water for a week and, most critically, tap in to the city’s underground network of O2 tunnels to supply their bunkers with breathable air.

To pass the time, they tune in to The Burn Channel, watching Anderson Cooper survey the ongoing conflagration inside his Nomex suit. A solitary astronaut on the surface of Mercury. They check when the nearest firefront will singe through their street, scorch their gardens and evaporate the past decade’s ornamental fads from their home’s exterior. The sights of skyscrapers collapsing are eagerly anticipated. Correspondingly, they participate in online public forums to design a new city. All aspects of the city in waiting are decided by popular vote. … Whatever city they get next, it will be yet another fleeting thing, turning fugitive in ten years’ time.

:: :: ::

(Im)possible Chicago #10

Inside the walls, in the once sprawling city reduced, Rome-style, to a tiny enclave, are cybercafes where the mafia farm for World of Warcraft gold, McDonald’s with hot pot dining tables, ping pong halls, mobile repair shops selling jailbreak iPhones, e-waste recycling sweatshops, four-star capsule hotels, brothels inside Youth Hostels, pieds-à-terre, dormitories where college students cram into multi-level bunk beds, apothecaries, antique shops filled with Ming ceramics of questionable provenance, IMAX 3D movie palaces built in the Art Deco Chinoiserie style, chapels for Western-style white weddings, acupuncture centers, discothèques and Dance Dance Revolution arcades, coin-operated pissoirs, shadow puppet theaters, landscape architecture offices, mausoleums with the embalmed bodies of Richard M. Daley and other former mayors, topiary gardens, haberdasheries where tourists get outfitted with a Mao suit in just a couple of hours, Grant Achatz’s take-away, droning server farms, car dealerships, exoplanet radio observatories, Freemason lodges, aviaries and apiaries, abattoirs, salt mines holding the collections of the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute of Chicago, cave pharms, slave labor camps, POW camps, the Obama Presidential Libraries, Apple Stores selling iPad knockoffs, bootleg DVDs and dumplings at the Genius Bar, sentient golf courses, baseball batting cages, foreign news bureaus of CCTV, favelas, Buddhist temples on the grounds of Protestant cemeteries on the grounds of the Holy Name Cathedral, which rents out one of its towers as a Falun Gong meditation center, the other as a synagogue, fog water catching stations, zeppelin loading docks, Boeing manufacturing plants, Starbucks, emergency AC cooling centers, bôiteries, karaoke bars, oxygen bars that always fill up whether or not there’s a methane alert, the venues for Postopolis! Chicago, AM radio stations, fabulous fabulous ballrooms for drag shows, hot-body contests, mock same-sex weddings, Chinese opera performances and the Miss Transgender USA beauty pageant, fishmongers, cordwainers, cobblers, tea houses, calligraphy schools, English language schools, elite boarding schools, charm schools and gao kao preparation night schools where students hook up to oxygen tanks in the hopes of increasing their concentration, National Ethnic Minority Theme Houses, outdoor escalators, sky elevators, wetland safari travel agencies, hutongs, fully immersive Cave Automatic Virtual Environments (or CAVEs), H&Ms, Zen-inspired spas, hipster boutiques, white guy rental agencies, watering holes for foreign consular workers, consulates, organ harvesting clinics, sanitariums, orphanages and missionaries, branches of the Louvre, the Guggenheim and the Tate, helipads, satellite campuses of the world’s leading universities, studio spaces in which guests for A Date with Luyu are interviewed via satellite, crematoriums and cremation ghats, windmills, grottos, giochi d’acqua, betting shops, bakeries, abortion clinics and cinemas that play all the films of Jia Zhanke all the time.—Pruned

“With that, here’s crime for the evening”

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 1, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Logan Square is a Chicago neighborhood on the back end of a total transformation. It’s gone from a largely Hispanic neighborhood populated by local Latino bakeries, furniture stores, and currency exchanges to a neighborhood so popular it got a write-up in The New York Times travel section. But like all neighborhoods in flux, a lot of the old remains, just behind the glossy facade of the new. One person who’s made it his job to examine one aspect of this—the neighborhood’s substantial amount of crime—is a fifteen-year-old boy who keeps a blog called the Avondale and Logan Square Crime Blotter. The amazing part is in his About section:

About me: I am a 15 year old male, with a condition known as Autism. You’d think a 15 year old like myself would be comitting lots of crime, or thugging outside, but I don’t do that in any way. I’d rather STOP crime in my neighborhood. … My hobbies are watching TV, going out on weekends to travel to various places in Chicago (also to take photographs of CTA buses, my favorite hobby of all time), being with family and friends, being on the computer, and of course, listening to Zone 12 on my police scanner.

Here’s a recent post, so you can see what one is like. There’s something beautifully sad yet comical in his tone, e.g. “So, with that, here’s crime for the evening.”

Good evening, everyone, it’s 6:37pm. What a day. I’ve been out for at least 5 hours. This morning, I went out to the community garden at Milwaukee and Monticello for a few hours to help garden, but not without stopping at McDonalds first for some breakfast, and after gardening, getting a haircut. So yep, I’ve been out. And it’s beautiful out. Most of today was in the 50s and 60s with sunshine. Right now, it’s in the lower 70s with clouds. Anyway, I’m going to monitor 25 from now until 10:45pm, then I’m switching over to 17 until midnight. So, with that, here’s crime for this evening.

7:06pm – Beat car 2524 has a traffic stop at 2810 N Avers.

7:07pm – Disturbance. 3741 W Shakespeare. Three men standing outside, loitering. They may be gang members.

7:45pm – Gang disturbance. Fullerton and Kostner. Several of them flashing gang signs.

7:46pm – The 7:45pm job is now coming in as a “battery in progress”. A female was hit in the face and is bleeding.

7:53pm – Check the well being. Diversey and Lawndale. Possible intoxicated caller said something about males in the alley.

7:59pm – 1) Criminal trespass. 2447 N Ridgeway. Three males in the vacant apartment. 2) Gang disturbance. 36X0 W Diversey. Six to eight males in black and yellow flashing gang signs.

8:18pm – DUI driver. Belmont and Hamlin. Black Honda Accord with a plate of L219057 is speeding towards Ridgeway with a drunk driver in it. He ran several lights.

8:20pm – Beat car 2525 is asking for a call back at 2447 Ridgeway.

9:13pm – Battery in progress. Diversey and Lawndale. Seven males beating on one in the alley. This intersection call also just had a gang disturbance call with males on the corner flashing.

9:28pm – Wires down. 4104 W Wellington.

9:46pm – This is just for information only, but there was a shooting on Beat 1731 last night. It happened around 1:35am at 3459 N Milwaukee Ave. Gunshots were fired outside of the location, then the victim was found, shot in the stomach. He was very uncooperative and didn’t give any information.

9:51pm – Loud music disturbance. 2705 N Monticello.

10:17pm – Gang disturbance. 3700 block of W Shakespeare.

10:19pm – 1) Gang disturbance. 2000 block of N Avers. They’re in Mozart Park and at the corner of Dickens and Avers. 2) Gang disturbance. Diversey and Kildare. Gang meeting going on in the alley.

10:35pm – Battery in progress. 4400 block of W Diversey. Calls coming in at Kostner and Kilbourn for a large fight, possibly gang-related. Multiple, multiple calls on it. Calls are coming in for near the Burger King as well.

10:37pm – Beat car 2525Robert is giving a slow down on this big fight. They’re scattering.

10:45pm – Now monitoring 17…

10:50pm – Loud music disturbance. 3524 W Melrose. Loud party.

12:00am – I’m gone for the night. I’ll be back in the morning with 25. Have a goodnight, everyone, and be safe.

Freezing the Chicago River for a month-long frost fair

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Pruned, a blog I’ve recently stumbled upon, began a series last June called “(Im)possible Chicago.” Each is essentially an alternate version of the Windy City, the collection “a series of hallucinatory joyrides through one hundred and twenty five asynchronous Chicagos,” as blog author Alexander Trevi puts it.

Most move a little too quickly to truly compel. They feel like the creative writing exercises of a college sophomore—too neatly odd, too contained by one new idea. All plot and no character development.

But I liked one: (Im)possible Chicago #3: Forever Open, Free & Clear v2.0. Trevi writes:

“Over a century since retail magnate A. Montgomery Ward sounded the battle cry to defend the city’s mandate to keep its lakefront a public common that is “forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstructions whatever,” a similar call to arms was made for the Chicago River, to make it forever free of industries, private developments and sewage.

… Not every building was cleared away, but at least now one can stroll the entire length of the river. In fact, starting at any point, you can walk or bike or jog uninterrupted on both banks. … Along the way, you might encounter kayaking parties setting off from mini-harbors, anglers, community theaters staging avant-garde interpretations of The Odyssey, and triathletes in training. … Every four years, the entire river is artificially frozen for a monthlong frost fair.”

It was the last image I enjoyed most. Growing up in rural Kansas, near a creek that did often freeze over, I can imagine the joy and awe Chicagoans would have if their river were completely frozen over, able to be crossed, played on, skated down—from a family’s home in Ravenswood all the way to State Street.

It wouldn’t be inconceivable. We dye it green once a year. We can freeze it every four.

Music Scene #1

In Thoughts on April 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Cities have voices. They can yell, moan, whisper. But often we can only hear it with the help of someone else. A translator.

Eric Eberhardt, the creator of You Are Listening To… [], a website that “pairs live streams of police dispatch with vast, ambient music,” is one such person. He favored a tight focus, eschewing the sounds we normally associate with urban areas—layers of human voice, the drone of traffic noise, and the aural glare of sirens—and instead giving us a constant but unheard conversation.

Check it out. If you live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or Montreal, you can listen to your own city. But I recommend the last, regardless of where you are, because police chatter in French is fairly mystical to the Anglophone.


Music Scene is a new series of posts concerning themselves with the intersection of Chicago’s built environment and music, sound, or noise. If you’ve noticed something unique about this small convergence, I’d love to hear about it.

REGURGITATED: Nuclear Reconnaissance

In Excerpts on April 15, 2011 at 7:25 am

During the height of the Cold War, anti-aircraft missile batteries surrounded many of the major population centers in the United States. Built under the Project Nike program, these rings of military bases formed defense shields against a nuclear attack from Soviet long-range bombers.

Chicago had a total of 23 batteries — the most among the Nike program cities. … Most of the sites were built on the urban fringes of the city and away from densely populated areas. … But what’s really interesting about these Chicago emplacements (and what really piqued our interest in the very first place) is that three of them were inserted into prime parkland area along the shores of Lake Michigan.

The launch area of Site C-03, for instance, was built on Belmont Harbor; its control area was on Montrose Harbor a little further to the north. Just a few yards away from its arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles were high-rise lakefront apartments. One wonders if residents in those buildings regularly spied on the missiles preening upwards on their launchers during test runs. Surely they must have been treated to the spectacle of a simulated nuclear armageddon.

Another battery, Site C-40, was built on the northern end of Burnham Park, near McCormick Place and Soldier Field. The third, Site C-41, was located in the similarly genteel surroundings of Jackson Park, the very same park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and in an earlier era hosted Daniel Burnham’s White City during the World’s Columbian Exposition.

It’s interesting to think that in the backyard of the Museum of Science of Industry, students from the nearby University of Chicago might have taken leisurely strolls among picturesque lagoons and arcadian meadows while soldiers, in their restricted enclosures, hurriedly scampered about during a readiness drill, the sounds of birds twittering and frolicking mashed up with alarms blaring. Closer to the lake, people threw frisbees around while radar towers looming above them tracked the skies for any incoming apocalypse.

—From “Sunday in the Park with Chicago’s Cold War Missile Defense Shield

A TBE SHORT: The Inland Architect, 1883-present

In Excerpts on April 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I used to work in the building above. The Monadnock. 53 W Jackson. I’m still in there about twice a week. For meetings with our design staff. I didn’t know until I discovered the above drawing that it was designed by Burnham & Root, the firm that became a household name thanks to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City.

Why I bring up the Monadnock now:

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Inland Architect and News Record was a giant in its field. The Chicago-based magazine chronicled the rise of the skyscraper and followed national developments in numerous other building types, from railroad stations to mansions. Now, the Ryerson and Burnham Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago are announcing that they’ve  digitized 5,000 architectural images from the magazine, originally published between 1883 and 1908, and are making them available via the libraries’ digital collection database.

That’s architecture Blair Kamin. He has more if you want it. If not, here’s a spread from the Inland Architect’s inaugural issue, in 1883, ten years before the Columbian Exposition:

On the fence, under the El

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

Blair Kamin on a proposal for Lakeview, the Chicago neighborhood, revealed last Tuesday:

“You’ve undoubtedly heard of the High Line, the much-praised Manhattan public space built atop a dormant elevated line. Well, Chicago is thinking about a low line, a pedestrian path that would be built beneath the CTA’s Brown Line elevated tracks between Southport and Paulina Avenues. It would have native landscaping and would aim to connect the Southport and Lincoln Avenue business districts.”

At first, I thought it was interesting that anyone would think that a ground-level pathway, no matter how well designed, could be as attractive as walking through Manhattan’s West Side 30 feet off the ground—the former is something Chicagoans experience on a semi-regular basis; the latter is a totally new pedestrian experience. Plus, the Brown Line isn’t an abandoned track; the roar of the train will frighten away people looking to escape the abrasive, everyday sights and sounds of the city.

But I do enjoy the tunnel-like shape created by the tracks, a highly iconic element of Chicago’s built environment. And reading more about the project on a WBEZ blog, I like the ideas of dedicated bike lines and permanent space for farmers markets, as well as the long-term plan to encourage businesses to locate closer to public transportation.

And then I stumbled upon the blog of one of the architecture firms actually doing the design work. It turns out they weren’t imagining some bucolic leisure park. They simply saw an opportunity to connect two areas of the city in a fresh and innovative way:

“While out on a photo shoot in November we had to get from the Southport Brown line station to the Paulina station on foot.  Instead of walking down to the next street we walked under the El tracks, and only after that did it occur to us that this is space we [could] use.”

Continuing, they highlight the fact that despite its placement beneath the El tracks, the walkway would be a pleasant alternative to they typical grid of sidewalk routes—a shortcut of sorts offering new vantage points.

“The proposed path would connect the once dissociated shopping streets of Lincoln and Southport Avenues, while increasing available open space to residents…and above all, [be] a space for the local community to interact away from traffic.”

Whether people would truly “interact” here, I have my doubts. But in reality, the use of public space is an end in itself, as it represents a public interacting with its city, which is the beginning of people interacting with other people. My friend Phil can talk about such interactions all day.

I do have to say, after reading about people textures, I can’t look at architectural renderings the same way. Note the butterfly and the bright colors and the basic lack of grit or grime. It’s understandable; renderings are essentially advertisements. But it’s still fantastical enough to be disconcerting in an odd way.

Time will tell the future of the potential path through Lakeview. If you live in the area or are interested in this, you can go here to subscribe to updates or lend your voice to the discussion. Also feel free to lend your thoughts here.

Threats to a magnificent seven

In Excerpts on March 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

“Every year, Preservation Chicago announces its “Chicago’s 7″ list of Most Endangered Buildings. The purpose of the Chicago 7 is to raise public awareness about the threats facing some of Chicago’s most at-risk architectural treasures, whether they are a single building, an entire neighborhood, or a thematic category of buildings, such as Great Chicago Warehouses or Chicago’s Religious Structures.”

The list.

Chicago’s quirky curbside conventions

In Thoughts on February 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

A unique quirk of Chicago’s built environment is its system of “dibs.” In a way as childish as it sounds, during times of immense snow cover—like that following this year’s Groundhog Day Blizzard—people will place random objects in their parking places, saving them until they return.

Objects can be anything; mostly you see chairs, tubs, garbage cans, or crates. Sometimes laundry baskets (which we resorted to). I saw in one photo what appeared to be a giant, stuffed panther. Not taxidermied—Tigger-like. Now, as temperatures hit nearly 50 degrees, people are finally forgoing the etymologically obscure practice. But given that it’s only February, I doubt this is the last time we’ll the streets littered with odds, ends, and other paraphernalia.


Photo. More.

Trans-Office Communications System #3

In Thoughts on February 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Sean Conner‘s most recent dispatch: “FORECAST: YETIS.” Except without the colon because he ran out of room.

There’s been no word from the 7th floor since initial contact, but we received another reply from our as-yet-unidentified 9th-floor correspondent: “ViVA!” Again with the one lowercase letter…

If Sean’s forecast is correct, we’ll probably seek higher ground via our anonymous neighbor. How we’ll cross the street is a question we’ve not yet answered.