Buildings are not Christmas trees, they should not be decorated for Christmas?!?

    Jon Miller, president of the storied Chicago architectural photography firm Hedrich Blessing, loves Chicago's John Hancock Center.  He likes the horizontal white light that for most of the year tops off the building as it meets the sky.  But around this time, when they change the light to red and green for Christmas, it kinda drives Jon nuts.


    "I just wish they wouldn't change the colors, on top, that's all.  I want to make sure I become public with that, because, I don't think that buildings are not Christmas trees.  I think they're buildings; and you don't change the colors seasonally.  It just seems very backwards to me.  You know, that you would take such an international sophisticated piece of design, and then do something so kind of cleverly silly.  I don't know, maybe I just take it too seriously.  But I don't like things that change the way a designer intended something to be. Cuz it's kind of like, well, it goes "Duh, duh, duh, duh" (sounds out the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.)  Not "duh Duh duh duh" (alters the opening bars.)  Right?  But that's just me.  That's just my Larry David side coming out."    - Jon Miller 

    Is he being curmudgeonly like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm?

    Do you agree with Jon, or do you like when they light the John Hancock Center in Chicago and other great buildings with red and green for Christmas?


    I spoke with Jon Miller as part of a project with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

    We're gathering stories of life and work in the John Hancock Center in Chicago.  If you can tell a great story about Chicago's John Hancock Center, please get in touch.

    So, just for Jon and the season, we put new koi in our pond on the upper right. They're red and green.  Like the parking ramp at Trump Tower Chicago:

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Mies gets the butterflies

    A new installation by Bik Van der Pol – a house with hundreds of butterflies 
    inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s popular Farnsworth House – 
    was chosen to inaugurate the new wing of the MACRO museum in Rome.

    Floating, like the house itself,
    on their wings of desire. .

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The preeminent Mies van der Rohe website in the world

6pm tonight! Chicago Debates - The Malling of Chicago. See you there.

    A new and lively series of debates on what makes a great city and region.

    From the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

    Our first great debate will be:

    click for better view

    I'll moderate an opinionated panel of experts.  Pro and Con.

    We'll debate three important projects changing, improving, destroying, remains to be seen - tell us your thoughts - on the "malling" of neighborhood life in Chicago.

    Audience participation is encouraged.  At the live event, and on the website.

    All the information you need to participate is right here.  Don't wait. Do it now.

    We'll debate one project on the North Side, one on the South Side, and one downtown.  Our terrific panelists are: 

    click for better view

    The Malling of Chicago - Good or Bad? 

    Chicago defined the "City of the Century" in the Twentieth Century. But is Chicago becoming the "Suburb of the Century" in the Twenty-First? 
     Are big-box retailers eating up our neighborhoods? Or are they the perfect solution to the problem of food deserts and widespread unemployment?  
    Is the land of Sullivan and Wright becoming generic Anyplace, USA?  
    Or do mixed-use developments replace historic buildings that no longer serve their purpose, ultimately enlivening the neighborhood by providing much-needed amenities?  
    Are we becoming less of a city in which to stroll? Or do the adjoining green spaces planned for many mixed-use developments make Chicago, in fact, more walkable?
    Join leading voices from architecture, design, business and politics at Goose Island Wrigleyville as they debate the pros and cons of mixed-use development and big-box stores in the city of Chicago. 
    If you care about our city, be a part of the debate.  If you care about the quality of life here, be a part of the debate.  For no-holds barred, real, thoughtful, lively, solution-oriented conversations, be a part of the debate.

    We may be losing our Mayor, but we'll maintain the mojo.  Be a part of the debate.
    Chicago Debates.   
    I hope to see you there, 

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A John Lautner house: needs plenty of water, does best in bright sun

    After Jim Goldstein bought the Sheats Residence in 1972, he hired John Lautner to renovate it and to adapt this single-family house for a family to his purposes.  Both men hailed from the Midwest: Lautner from Michigan, Goldstein from Wisconsin.  Jim Goldstein was happy to leave behind his native landscape.  He's glad to be in a warmer climate. He wishes L.A. were even warmer than it is.  So every week he fills his house with flowers flown in from Maui. 

    Goldstein said John Lautner, who died in 1994, agreed with all the changes Goldstein wanted to make to the house, including the decision to tear down a second Lautner house next door, for new construction partly based on a Lautner design.  (Goldstein says Lautner thought the now-demolished house was not one of his best.)  The one thing he says Lautner did not agree with was Goldstein's landscape plans.  Goldstein wanted tropical.  
    The koi pond, over which you cross to enter the house.
    Lautner, no lover of L.A., wanted pine trees, like the ones he grew up with in Michigan.  Lautner recommended a landscape designer but he didn't do tropical.  He recommended another but he couldn't do tropical.  Goldstein found his own landscaper and the result is a Brazil-like micro-climate on the acres around his house.  Species from exotic lands around the world grow here, with the help of four full-time gardeners.  Imagine the water flow, here in arid L.A.  

    I had just been to Disneyland, and couldn't help making the comparison.  No insult intended to Lautner and the Sheats-Goldstein house, which of course is a deeply philosophical work.  But here goes: both the house and Disneyland are products of eccentric genius.  Both feature highly artificial lush landscapes with water features, to inspire a happier, other-worldly, vacation-like mood.  Both are fully designed environments- down to the smallest details.  Both hold "Rosebudian" memories.  Walt Disney reclaimed aspects of the small town Main Street of his youth in Marceline, Missouri.  Lautner always reclaimed aspects of the family home he helped to build as a youth, named "Midgaard" by his mother, meaning "midway between earth and heaven."  

    The master bedroom of the Sheats-Goldstein house.
    At Disneyland you "fly" over London on the Peter Pan ride.  Here you "fly" over L.A. 

    And Jim Goldstein installed something like a "ride"- with his James Turrell Skyspace.

    Jim Goldstein in the Skyspace he and Turrell put together. 

    Here's Jim Goldstein, seeming to levitate, in his otherworldy, orgasmatronic James Turrell Skyspace-  with LED lights and music.
    How does a man get like this?  I don't mean levitating, I mean in love with Lautner.  Jim Goldstein said, "As a boy, growing up in Wisconsin, my best friend lived in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright."  The Adelman House. 

    Sheats-Goldstein house is like the Adelman house too.  Both are of concrete, with wide overhangs.  (Adelman is one of Wright's "low-maintenance Usonian" houses.")  Both have interior furnishings by the architect.  And semi-covered exterior walkways.  The Sheats-Goldstein straddles a hill, the  Adelman house overlooks a ravine.  Both are sited to take maximum advantage of the natural light.  

    The power of Wright.  (Me, from childhood on I spent a lot of time in and around Wright's works, and seriously so from the age of nine.  It hurts so good.)  

    In 1935, John Lautner wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright: "If there is anything that I value in this world, it is my connection with you... I can hardly say or do anything without connecting it with you and your ideas."  

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Rain after Thanksgiving, from my car window. Pacifica, California, 2010

Mies, this is Andy. Andy, this is Mies.

    The best videos I've seen of Andy Warhol's clouds in Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall last summer. An event sponsored by the Mies van der Rohe Society of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

     By "zeldazonks".  My own video of this was more spare.  But I still like my stills of the Clouds in Crown Hall. 

    Viewed in winter, these summer clouds look even better.

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What to wear to see Crown Hall or, G-d is in the Bifocals

Romantic Residence in L.A. - The Sheats - Goldstein Residence by John Lautner

    It was a dark and stormy day...

    Well, "dark and stormy" by Los Angeles standards.   

    Not sunny and no bright blue sky.

    We had been invited to visit Jim Goldstein at his John Lautner-designed house, first named after the family that commissioned it, and now commonly called the Sheats - Goldstein Residence, given all the care and money Jim Goldstein put into it; and also perhaps in recognition of his opening it up to those interested in such things.  On this gray day of fog and drizzle driving there on the 101 felt more like being on the autobahn in Prussia.  In L.A. if it rains, you take a moment to remember what and where windshield wipers are.  

    Jim Goldstein, the owner and great caretaker of the house greeted us, 

    in colorful coat by John Galliano, short pants and bright yellow sneakers, topped it off with a baseball cap.   

    Gray and rain bring out more complex emotions in the Lautner house.  To see it this way is a privilege.  It tests your love of Lautner.  The house, less overwhelmingly gorgeous, feels more intimate.  You get to know it better,  like a lady without makeup.  You see sides of the house you didn't know where there.  More moods to the experience. 

    I had known, in sunny weather, how the great roof framed a view of nature and sent my soul flying out to the treetops and beyond.  Now I saw how in the rain, the triangles on the underside, became like abstracted leaves of a tree.  

    The cement ribs became the structure of the leaves.  We stood under it as man and woman in nature gather under trees to keep dry.  The roof was now one large leaf keeping us dry.  You thank it.  Because of the design and because the side is open you are much more aware of the goodness of this roof - especially in the rain.   You experience more fully in this contemplative condition how the individual triangles merge into one large triangular roof.  The parts combine into the whole. 

    The oculi, in sun allowing light to pass, transform into abstracted raindrops on the leaf.  Light becomes liquid.       

    Move farther inside.

    I know of no better cave than this place.  Radiant heat in the floor keeps you warm from your feet up to your head.

    Lautner too was moody.  The dwellings he designed are not gee-whiz pads for James Bond; they are ruminations, on our relation to nature, to changing light, to materials, to the metaphysics of geometry, the parts to the whole, organic to inorganic, solid to spirit, house and human to landscape and heaven.  

    It's easy and pleasant to forget this under the sun, when all is perfect and warm, as is so often the case in L.A.  

    John Lautner didn't like it here.  Jim Goldstein once asked him how he would improve the city.  

    "I'd make a huge concrete boulder and roll it down Mulholland Drive," Jim Goldstein says Lautner told him.    

    I think Lautner would approve of the German Romanticism felt in his house on this day. His Austrian father had filled him with the German philosophy he'd studied in studied Göttingen, Leipzig, Geneva and Paris.  His Irish mother, an artist, filled young John Lautner with Nordic myths. 

    This great architect of mid-century Los Angeles roadside eating and hillside homes, could never anchor himself in this sun-drenched sprawl, but drew inspiration from the nature and dwellings he knew back home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; and of course from having worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, in Wisconsin.  More on that in the next post.   


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Greet the Light

    Inside the James Turrell / Jim Goldstein Skyspace, on the lush grounds of Jim Goldstein's extraordinary and lavishly maintained Sheats / Goldstein Residence.

    The house is a John Lautner design in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.  Mr. Goldstein had hoped to have James Turrell and John Lautner design the Skyspace together. Both work with cave-like sheltering enclosures, looking outwards to bring in and worship the vista, the light and the heavens. Lautner and Turrell had a few discussions, but did not collaborate on this.  That was not meant to be.

    Mr. Goldstein was extraordinarily generous today to allow me to bring this year's USC Annenberg / Getty Arts Journalism Fellows to his house, and to spend time sharing it with us.  We thank him.

    As we walked up the driveway, leaving behind this particular paradise, some were giddy, some were glad, all were grateful.    
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Supermodels of Architecture

meta Morphosis

Gropius Gone, Gropius Reborn

    Good buildings live on, 
    long after fools smash them asunder. 

    Sadly, this is gone forever:

    But reborn as:

    This is the first in a series of sculpture/furniture pieces that are based on the architecture of Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus. Specifically, I am making IKEA models of all eight mid-century Modern Gropius buildings that are currently being demolished by the City of Chicago.     
    Thus spoke Jeff Carter, the man who made this "Cabinet for Walter Gropius" ("Das Kabinett des Doktor Gropius"?)  Brilliant work.

    The collection of buildings to which he refers is mostly gone.  They made up the campus of Michael Reese hospital on Chicago's South Side.  Walter Gropius and others designed them, Sasaki contributed the wonderful landscape.   In a bone-headed move, the city demolished this beauty, partly to make way for the 2016 Olympic Games.  In the end those games were awarded to Brazil, not Chicago.

    The photo at the top is of the late Michael Reese Power Plant.  Here are the other Michael Reese buildings.  And more photos and information on the campus, with a video I made in front of the Power Plant, of the man valiantly attempting to save all this.

    I can't wait to see Carter's other Reeses pieces. What a living room that will be.

    - = - = -

    Thanks to Jeff Jacobs of Design Organization for suggesting this for HB!.

    PS - Although it's not threatened, Jeff, would you make me an IKEA Crown Hall?  Or an IKEA Prentice Hospital, which is threatened?
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Renzo Piano speaks about his "grand projet" at LACMA

    Read my Q & A with Renzo here.


    And a coda to Frank Gehry's closing comment on Renzo Piano's wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, facing  Millennium Park.  Before saying he likes the galleries, Gehry told me, "Renzo's Modern Wing is kind of serious.  I don't think he came to the park to play." 
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"Le Corbusier" in L.A.

    Top:  Le Corbusier - Chapel at the Monastery de La Tourette, near Lyon, France
    Bottom: Wolf Prix / Coop Himmelb(l)au - Central Los Angeles High School #9 

    Then this:
    Wolf Prix: When I was 18 and ready to go to university my father sent me to see Le Corbusier’s Monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette near LyonFrance. It is an extraordinary building. When I saw the monastery’s chapel I was speechless. I decided – if this is architecture – I want to be an architect.   
    Prix's tower has a energy that spirals upward.  In the same 2008 interview he tells Vladimir Belogolovsy:
    Wolf Prix: When I was 10 or 11 my father took me to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and showed me the famous painting by Pieter Bruegel of the Tower of Babel. I was thrilled by this picture, but it bothered me that the tower didn’t have a spire. In other words it was unfinished. I think the duty of every architect is to finish the Tower of Babel.

    Each time I see this high school tower rising over the freeway it thrills me.  It excites, captivates, intrigues, scares and puzzles me.  I'm always trying to figure it out -- (scroll and scroll).  The Corb connection helps.  

    And this connects the high school even more strongly to the Rafael Moneo-designed cathedral across the freeway.  Like much of Moneo's work, his cathedral for L.A. is heavily Corbusian.

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Aren't Expo's supposed to show the World of Tomorrow?

Modern in Moline - John Deere World Headquarters in Cor-Ten steel, by Eero Saarinen. "Nothing rusts like a Deere."

    John Deere World Headquarters
    Eero Saarinen
    Moline, Illinois.  Opened 1964

    Eero Saarinen's John Deere World Headquarters looks better and better as the years go by; as do all of Saarinen's works.  The approach is carefully choreographed as you rise up out of a valley, and first see man-made lakes.  Saarinen created a working monument that glorifies with dignity industry, technology and craftsmanship, all in balance with nature.  The building is in, of, by and for the land- the land which is this building's reason to be.  Thomas Jefferson would be proud.  The offices seem to be satisfy the workers needs for light, calm, and dignity.     

    The Deere brochure says,

    John Deere and Eero Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect who designed the building, both created masterpieces in steel. Deere used steel to forge the plow that tamed the prairie; Saarinen used it to build a structure that reflected the character of the company that bears Deere's name.

    Deere's plow had to be strong enough to till Midwestern soil.  The building is not of shiny steel like many office buildings of the day, but rather, rugged Cor-Ten® steel, made to rust.  Cor-Ten dated to 1933 and was developed for the railroads.  John Deere World Headquarters was the first use of Cor-Ten in such a major architectural application.  Over the years here it has picked up ever more hues of the Land of Lincoln, and of the all important oak trees, among which it nestles.

    Saarinen's large "universal space," half-buried in the earth like a plow digging in; the exhibition space where they display the John Deere combines, tractors and plows.

    This elegantly detailed glass box is the fanciest farm shed in the world.  Since the late 1930's John Deere has hired industrial designers to make their products aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.  With the building, as with the products, one marvels at the design and engineering.

    In the showroom you will also find one odd wooden bench, I saw just one.  Its oddness recalled for me the prow on Saarinen's Ingalls hockey rink at Yale, though I don't know if Eero Saarinen had a hand in designing this bench.  It is sculpted as if over time human bottoms have polished indentations into the wood.  One seats one's bum in it, in this natural material, much as the building itself is embedded in the land.  

    I was surprised to learn that Saarinen's first proposal for John Deere headquarters was an inverted pyramid.

    Saarinen sketches for John Deere headquarters, 1957-63

    This struck me as I've recently returned from the Shanghai World Expo where the national pavilion of China is an inverted pyramid.  I'm glad Deere didn't go with that, it would have likely dominated the nature, and created too much space where the sun don't shine.  As built, the John Deere building has an Asian feel to it with a harmony, equilibrium and delicacy that especially when the lights are on can remind one of the Golden Temple in Kyoto; in the end this is a fine American work- rugged and right for the frontier - its "sticks" and "logs" of steel stacked, fastened, and demonstrating its will to endure.

    The critic John Jacobus places the John Deere headquarters in "a particular American pictorial vision of a metallic industrialized building style set in an ordered, uncluttered landscape - the vision of Sheller, Demuth and Hopper."

    The surrounding landscape by Hideo Sasaki and associates is as brilliant as the building -  balancing structure and building art with land, water, trees, brush, sky, water and air.  Sasaki's mid-century works are American masterpieces; often better than the acclaimed "land art" created by "land artists" in the following decades.

    Sasaki knew Illinois, he had studied at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1946 (Sasaki and his firm have done design and landscape work there for decades). He later worked at the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill.  (I regret that it was a Sasaki landscape that was brutally ripped from the earth earlier this year at the campus of Michael Reese hospital in Chicago.) John Deere had begun to make smaller tractors for lawns and gardens just before work on the headquarters building began in 1955, so it's appropriate that much of the landscaping is well-trimmed lawn.  

    Alexander Girard composed the huge mural on the display floor with memorabilia from company history.

    Even if I hadn't just seen proud and optimistic China, re-visiting John Deere reminds me of the  American commitment to greatness, pride and belief in the value of creating a place of beauty, when corporate America had the fortitude to create such a showplace as this pilgrimage temple to agribusiness.  Such work strengthens us, shows us we are made of, and what we are capable of as a nation.  I know that spirit still exists here. Maybe we just have to dig around to find it.


    "Nothing runs like a Deere" says the ad, but I try.  I leave what is wrongly called the "rust belt," and until I stop again: well, if John Deere is where rusty Cor-ten steel architecture started, see here where it has gone.  I leave Moline, and cross the Mississippi. 
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What's Chicago without a little Frank Lloyd Wright?

    Heading west from Chicago, looking for modernity, had to stop at


    No, that's Bruce Price in Tuxedo Park, New York (1885/86).

    I stopped at

    Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois - 1889/98.  Restored to its 1909 appearance.

    Wright pushes six panes together, lifts the arch above them and all but begins to make a modern ribbon window!

    The triangle reminds me of Venturi's post-modern house for his mother, in which he also plays with the windows, and I loved the proto-post-modernism or maybe more mannerism, in Frank Lloyd Wright's Studio, when he stops the posts before they rise up to meet the heavy beams.

    How does it all stand up?  Show off!  Between the posts and beams, tranquilly repose, at least now, houseplants, as calm as the magician's girl about to be sawed in two, or the innocent bloke standing unknowingly under a grand piano.  At first you're shocked to see it, then your eyes tell you it will all be alright.  The man in charge here has some talent, indeed, is masterful.  Look up and you'll see chains holding his dome together, a wink in the studio perhaps to architectural history, to the medievalism of H.H. Richardson or even to the Renaissance when Filippo Brunelleschi famously circled chains around the base of the otherwise impossible to construct dome of Florence Cathedral.

    I hadn't been to Wright's place in a while, not since the business and marketing of Frank Lloyd Wright really took off. Sure I'd seen the recent knicknacks and novels, but I didn't realize there's a whole lotta Loving Frank going on.  Is this nostalgia?  People catching up with homegrown American genius?  A new definition of the "Ken Burns effect"?  On this day Italians abound.  I overhear one U.S. couple ask another, "Didn't we see you at Monona yesterday?   (Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin- a post-Wright Wrightian work for all Wright-lovers.)

     At Unity Temple you wander on your own.  Led and conducted by Wright's rigorous, flowing and "musical composition" you absorb this sacred space as you will, pass through it as you like, and as it passes through you.

    At the FLW Home and Studio you first enter the gift shop to buy tickets for the tour.  That's a sad sequence of spaces confusing the soul seeking beauty.  Next it's a docent-led tour.  You can't but marvel at the creativity here, the modernity and the genius; that Wright designed in this place Robie House, the Larkin Building and Unity Temple, and that he designed his house in so many ways to instill creativity in the six children he raised here with his wife Catherine.

    The docents are well-informed and tell Wright good stories, but I would also appreciate the option of visiting in silence.  Facts can be learned before you enter, on YouTube or a smartphone.  The architecture can only be experienced here; and you've made the effort to physically come here.  Let the architecture do its thing.  If conditions are right and you're quiet and open, architecture can do things to you that nothing else can.

    So now I head in the direction indicated by the prow of Wright's Robie House.  As we all do at a certain point in our lives, I head west.
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