Tracing / Traces: Architecture and the Archive 2019
On Saturday, November 9, 2019, five Chicago-based architects and urban designers selected items from the Ryerson & Burnham Archives located within the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the third edition of our Tracing / Traces event. Participants discussed their selections in relationship to their practice.
Kelly Bair, co-founder of BairBalliet, selected items from two projects by the offices of Harry Weese and Bertrand Goldberg. The first item selected was the pamphlet for the dedication service of Harry Weese’s First Baptist Church located in Columbus, Indiana, and completed in 1965. The church is one of the four architecturally significant churches located in Columbus, the other ones designed by Eliel Saarinen, Eero Saarinen, and Gunnar Birkerts. The project challenges architectural typology and it was selected as a reference for a house in Los Angeles that Bair’s office worked on. Her approach, together with that of Kristy Baillet, co-founder of BairBaillet, tend to be quite different with interiority and volume being Kristy’s interests, and massing and profile Kelly’s interests. Weese’s First Baptist Church merged those interests and that’s why it was selected. The dedication service itself reads somewhere between an architectural description and a real estate brochure, something that Bair found quite interesting.
The other two items selected by Bair were related to the Affiliate Hospital Center project in Boston, a project by Bertrand Goldberg Associates that spanned almost two decades, between 1966 to 1984. This project could be considered as “all top” and “all bottom” with the middle being disintegrated or nonexistent, something that had also been explored by BairBaillet in a previous project. The project for the Affiliate Hospital Center came at an interesting time for Bertrand Goldberg Associates, a few years after the opening of Marina City and right before Prentice Women’s Hospital, so it explored some of the prefiguration of Prentice, such as the base and the quatrefoil plan. For Bair, the photograph of the model shown during the event was hard to contextualize within the larger masterplan by Bertrand Goldberg Associates that was loved by the Harvard Hospital board but rejected by the management and staff. Ultimately, the project was broken into several pieces, with a portion built in the late 1970s.
The second photograph selected from this project by Bair showed a space that is outside of the building but wedged in between buildings, with Goldberg placing as much emphasis on the space between building as within the building itself. It also created a confusion whether you were looking at a column or a wall. Another interesting aspect for Bair was the contrast between the casual undulating wall of the first floor and the rigorous grid that takes place above that floor and that starts to structure the tower above.
Urban designer Gia Biagi, principal of urbanism and civic impact at Studio Gang Architects, selected items that explored the idea of scale and inheritance, focusing on the Plan of Chicago by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, emblematic of thinking at a larger scale. The Plan of Chicago was always a reference when Biagi worked in the City of Chicago, holding posts at the Park District that included Director of Planning, Director of Strategy and Policy, and Chief of Staff.
The first item was a map of the Plan of Chicago that she found interesting for several reasons: parks came before transportation and other infrastructural elements; its orientation was striking as west was up (the caption kept it in that orientation), contrary to the traditional way of viewing Chicago with north up; the lake, while important in the plan, was not articulated in the map as it had the same color as the margin of the book; it showed a radial system coming out of the central business district, a perspective different from the idea of a gridded city. Biagi stated that maps are arguments and the act of deciding what to show and how to show it is an argument.
The second item selected by Biagi was called “Men and Their Views” and was a summary of responses to an opinion poll regarding the widening of Halsted and Twelfth Streets and the recommendations in the Plan of Chicago. The item showcased the problem of who gets asked in a poll (in that case just powerful men), an issue that resonates today: Who gets invited to the table? Who has power? Who do we listen to? Biagi mentioned that we are always talking to people who have high stakes and have power. The challenge is to ask and build trust with those who have the same high stakes but have less power. The item also made us think about the streets and how they are shaped. Streets are one the spaces in the public realm that we all share and that we inevitably encounter. We think about them differently than parks, a place where you go. How wide the streets get is something encoded in the city. We don’t often change them, and their dimensions can reflect and inherit the thinking of those that have institutionalized racism.
Finally, the third item was a page with the handwritten notes by Daniel Burnham for the pitch for the Plan of Chicago. Biagi noted that it was interesting to read the notes that one takes ahead of making the pitch for a project. In this case, Burnham was making a pitch in his hometown, Chicago. It is important to think about the pitches we make when we work locally but also when we are dropping in on other cities as experts and we don’t have those built-in relationships with local people.
Architect Judith de Jong, founder of De Jong Urban Projects, selected items that relate to her interest in architecture and the city, and in particular architectures and urbanisms of mass culture. Chicago has two important examples of both: the first is one of the photo albums created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition; and the second one, a magazine issue and a brochure of the Old Orchard Shopping Center is Skokie, Illinois.
The photo album was done by Charles Dudley Arnold, the official photographer of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, who created nearly eight hundred platinum photographic prints between 1891 and 1894. Burnham was acutely aware of the importance of the event and commissioned Arnold to document the complete process. A key goal of the Fair was to project a new image of Chicago as a place of high culture rather than commerce. It was a reaction in particular to the 1889 Exposition in Paris, only Chicago wanted to it be better in quality and larger in size. De Jong focused on the attractions of the Midway Plaisance. Given how important image was for the Exposition, it was important to accommodate and to design the relationship of these elements to each other and to the fair. Among the attractions, the Ferris Wheel, a 264 ft tall structure with 36 cars that could each accommodate 60 people, so the attraction had a capacity of 2,160 people when it was full. It was at the center so people could have great views from the Midway and back to the Fair. Along this central spine, there were entertainment attractions like the captive balloon, an ostrich farm, food stands, and restaurants to name a few. This is the area for mass culture attractions. Besides these attractions, there were also ethnological villages. They had them at the European Fairs at the time, including the one in Paris. The organizers had originally hired ethnographer Frederic W. Putnam to be in charge of these displays and they were meant to be educational. However, they ended up being sponsored by commercial concessionaires and, as a result, they were generated based on stereotypes and for profit instead of education. Some of them were relatively benign but some of them were quite exploitative, especially when there were people involved. For example, the Eskimo Village had sixty Inuit. They were paid but the living and working conditions were very poor, from food to having to wear fur coats all year round, even during the hot Chicago summer. They hired an attorney and they won the lawsuit that allow them to break their contract. All this is important as there is an emerging recognition that mass culture attractions are as important, even if not in the same way, as high culture attractions. It is important to demonstrate that the organization of mass culture attractions could be designed in a relatively cohesive set. The term Midway has become synonymous with the organization of attractions and Midway had an explicit influence in Coney Island. George Tilyou, who built a mechanical horse racing ride on Coney Island, attended the World’s Columbian Exposition. Inspired by the attractions, he returned home, purchased a Ferris wheel and other rides, resulting in Steeplechase amusement park.
The second set of items came from the opening of the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie in 1956 and they were part of the Norman Schlossman Collection. The mall was designed by Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett with its landscape designed by Lawrence Halprin. It was developed by Philip M. Klutznick, who was also one of the developers of Park Forest, the first significant suburban planned community located on the South Side of Chicago. The mall was co-developed with Marshall Field & Co. in the vein of the malls designed by Victor Gruen. It was an outdoor mixed center with retail, that included grocery stores and restaurants, and a seven-story professional building. It was described as a regional business district. There was a careful consideration of the public and collective space. The first item for this project selected by De Jong is the September 1957 issue of Architectural Record dedicated to shopping centers. In a text included in the issue, James S. Hornbeck stated that “Marshall Field & Co. is pleased indeed that many people come to Old Orchard on Sundays—when all the stores are closed—simply because it’s a pleasant place to be. This is good business.” The second item of the set seems more like an advertising book prepared by Marshall Field & Co. and the developers distributed when the mall opened. Both items were highly selective, one more disciplinary and historically accurate, and the other one as a mass culture piece about the evolution of shopping. But they both get at the relationship between downtown shopping and Old Orchard as a place to not only shop but also hang out. De Jong stated that the malls that are remaining today are those that are effectively urbanizing. Old Orchard Mall is an early example of a mall that has continued to evolve and what malls need to do to survive.
Joshua G. Stein, founder of Radical Craft, selected several items that focused on the history of terra cotta as a way to explore his interest about what to do with these techniques at this point in time. Using his selections, Stein discussed the history of terra cotta that started in Chicago. The first terra cotta manufacturing plant was based in Chicago and opened in the late 1860s. After the Great Fire of 1871, there was a great need for fireproof architecture. Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. was founded in Chicago in 1878, becoming the largest manufacturer in the United States. The plant was located at Clybourn and Wrightwood Avenues by the Chicago River. Between the 1880s and the 1920s/1930s, there were a series of competing terra cotta businesses in Chicago and in every major market in the US. WWI and the Great Depression slows down the production and closes most of these businesses with only a few that survive making the extruded terra cotta that is used in institutional buildings from the 1960s, beautifully glazed but absolutely unornamental terra cotta. Stein concentrated on searching for more information about the American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Co., which was based in none other than Terra Cotta, Illinois. Founded in 1887, it immediately became a competitor for Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. Architect Louis Sullivan would be bidding his projects to all of these firms, with friendly competition taking place up until the Great Depression. The items that Stein selected were images of the process to create the terra cotta pieces.
Some of the documents were from the Guaranty Building in Buffalo and others were of the Farmer’s Merchant Union Bank in Wisconsin. These were the shop drawings that were used to understand how much things were going to cost to produce and the complexity that they needed to manage. One of the reasons that terra cotta would become so popular was that it was much lighter than stone but would look more or less like stone to the general public. As we walk through the Loop in Chicago today, we can see many buildings that look like granite and they are not granite. Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. actually had a patent on a particular spray of glaze that produced the granite patterning. The drawings that Stein selected were a way for the shop to communicate back to the architect to make sure that they represented what the architect, in this case Sullivan, was looking for or to confirm that all of the dimensions were correct. There is correspondence in the archive between Sullivan and Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. that document this exchange. The photographs captured the sculptors and other skilled and unskilled labor working on the different processes of the production of terra cotta.
Along with the photographs and shop drawings, Stein selected two original artifacts from the Guaranty Building. One of them was a piece of the Guaranty Building that was damaged by a fire in 1970. The piece was an unglazed tile so its surface was charred by the fire. Because of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the ideals of the White City, all of the terra cotta that was produced right after that event was all white. One of the benefits of the glazed terra cotta is that it can be easily cleaned. With all of the coal being burnt in Chicago you would see all of these façades that would turn black and they could easily be washed down and be white again. The Guaranty Building is a U-shaped building and the interior courtyard is all white glazed terra cotta to reflect light to the inside of the office floors, but the outside pieces are unglazed. A project like the Guaranty Building would have been about 400 tons of terra cotta. The plants were working on several projects at the same time. American Terra Cotta & Co. would have had up to 350 laborers at its peak, but larger plants like Northwestern Terra Cotta Co. would have had somewhere in the range 1,500 employees at any one time. All the terra cotta manufacturers closed by the 1960s. American Terra Cotta Co. was one of the last to close, with the manufacture of terra cotta being discontinued in 1966. Gladding, McBean was the only terra cotta manufacturer that made it through to the present day. In the 1980s, the need for restoration was an emerging market established to replace all the damaged components of old buildings. In the United States, Boston Valley Terra Cotta is one of the major manufacturers along with Gladding, McBean, with others in Europe. Boston Valley Terra Cotta, located outside Buffalo, was basically founded to create the replacement pieces for the Guaranty Building. They started in the 1980s reproducing exactly the same techniques that were used in the 1880s, so there is something interesting that in a century, there were almost no technological advances. Ten to fifteen years later, they started incorporating digital fabrication, basically for mold and pattern making. Boston Valley Terra Cotta is now working on the FDNY Rescue Company 2 project with Studio Gang Architects. Boston Valley Terra Cotta are working on new buildings and has become a more thriving practice. Stein mentioned that today, digital fabrication allows us to think again about ornamentation and to think about how to do something innovative with very basic materials. Stein’s own work has been interested in using some of these exact techniques but using molds that are produced using digital fabrication.
Architect Dan Wheeler, a founding principal of Wheeler Kearns Architects, selected two sets of items that were very personal to him and one that was a new interest. The first grouping of items was from Harry Weese, the person that gave him the confidence to open his own office. Dan worked at SOM and, at some point, there was a fork in the road and Wheeler asked Weese for advice. He was struck by the number of sketchbooks by Weese available at the Ryerson & Burnham Archives so he selected a sketchbook from each decade, starting in the 1930s when Weese started his travels in Scandinavia, and finishing in 1981. In 1952, when Weese was 37, he wrote down what he felt an architect’s creativity was as a kind of treatise. He was putting on a page those things that he wanted to live up to. One of the sketchbooks is a Cummins Design Manual where he designs every aspect related to the Cummins company based in Columbus, Indiana. The last sketchbook discussed the Vietnam Memorial competition. Harry Weese was the one that went back into the archives after the competition was already under way and pulled back a project that had been discarded. Ultimately, Maya Lin would become the winner of the competition in part thanks to Harry Weese, and because Weese missed the airplane due to a snowstorm in Chicago. His full bandwidth of interests is clearly demonstrated by each of his sketchbooks.
The second grouping was about Chicago-born architect Arthur A. Carrara, who Wheeler knew because Carrara renovated his 1870s Victorian home in 1959/1960 for Madge Freidman, who did all the weaving for Frank Lloyd Wright. Carrara’s father was an Italian immigrant who worked in one of the companies that supplied terra cotta ornament for the buildings of Louis Sullivan. In 1930, while in high school, he visited a Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. After studying architecture and engineering at the University of Illinois, he briefly trained under Herbert B. Beidler as well as under John S. Van Bergen, formerly a draftsman in Wright’s office. In 1946, he opened his own practice focusing primarily in residential projects and Wheeler selected several sketches for the houses as well as the unbuilt Allstate Home Owners House (aka “Growing America House”) published in the April 1959 issue of Home and Highway Magazine. Wheeler donated his house plans, dated 1960, a set of 1/2” scale drawings, locating every detail down to floor grills.
The third grouping is a current interest of Wheeler’s. It is about St. Procopius Abbey and Monastery located in Lisle, about an hour away from Chicago. The building was designed by New Orleans-born architect Ed Dart and completed in 1967. Dart studied at Yale University with Paul Schweikher, Breuer, Neutra, and Saarinen. He designed 52 houses, 26 churches, and in 1965, when he was 43 years old, he consolidated his practice with that of Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett, where he assumed the role of principal-in-charge of design. The plates for the monastery selected by Wheeler showed beautiful hand drawings and a strong confidence in terms of the geometry. Wheeler was particularly taken by how this complex situates itself on a hill. Dart was using the 30/60/90 triangle to develop a language of a monastery. He and his wife lived in Barrington Hills where Harry Weese built his second home. Unfortunately, in 1975 he died of a stroke at the age of 53, passing at his prime similarly to architect Doug Garofalo and landscape architect Peter Lindsay Schaudt. Overall, Wheeler tried to connect the dots and understand that all is a continuum and that we have to look back and bring forth all the stories that have taken place before us.
Thank you very much to Nathaniel Parks, Tigerman McCurry Art and Architecture Archivist at the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, for his help in organizing and displaying the selected items as well as his generosity providing access to the archives.
For previous editions, please visit:
– Tracing / Traces: Architecture and the Archive 2018
Archive selection by Paola Aguirre (Borderless), Sarah Dunn (UrbanLab), Grant Gibson (CAMESgibson, Inc.), Geoff Goldberg (G. Goldberg + Associates), and Ellen Grimes (FlohrGrimes).
– Tracing / Traces: Architecture and the Archive 2017
Archive selection by Stewart Hicks (Design With Company), Sean Lally (Sean Lally), Ann Lui and Craig Reschke (Future Firm), Margaret McCurry (Tigerman McCurry), and Alison Von Glinow and Lap Chi Kwong (Kwong Von Glinow Design).
About the Ryerson & Burnham Archives
The Ryerson & Burnham Archives’ collections are notably strong in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century American architecture, with particular depth in midwestern architecture. Architects such as Edward Bennett, Daniel Burnham, Bruce Goff, Bertrand Goldberg, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright are represented in a broad range of papers. Major architectural events, such as the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, The Century of Progress International Exposition of 1933–1934 in Chicago, and the World’s Fair of 1939 in New York, are also represented in an individual archive.
The event is free with museum admission. Please, check coats and bags before entering the library.
This event is a partner program of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.
MAS Context is supported by private donations. For information about how to support MAS Context, please visit: www.mascontext.com/support