Sunday, March 20, 2011

George Grant Elmslie

George Grant Elmslie should be an architectural legend. He worked for Louis Sullivan for nearly two decades. His work with William Gray Purcell was at the height of the Prairie Style. Whenever Elmslie is mentioned, it is in the context of Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Sullivan. Personally, I never was a fan of Wright, but you can't ignore the guy's importance. People forget that Purcell and Elmslie made made more Prairie homes from 1910-1920 than Wright did. The later buildings that Louis Sullivan designed after leaving Dankmar Adler also had a heavy influence from Elmslie. He supposedly designed most of the cast-iron ornament on the famous Carson Pirie Scott storefront.

Recently I had the chance to drive down to Aur
ora, IL, where there is small concentration of Purcell and Elmslie buildings. The influence of Louis Sullivan on this work is hard to ignore, but these buildings are not something that Sullivan would design. While I could go on, I'd rather just post some of the photos I took. All were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i and a Tamron 10-24mm lens. It was a little too light for good photos, but I can't simply turn off the sun.

William H. Graham Building, 1926. George Elmslie

Old Second National Bank, 1924. George Elmslie.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Yesterday I had the privilege of getting an in-depth tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, IL. The tour was led by Don Kalec, who contributed much during the restoration of the building. Don is an architect by trade, and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute. He spent most of the tour explaining the restoration and rational behind it. What I find problematic is that the house was restored to how it existed in 1909. That means many of the other alterations done after 1909 by Wright himself were destroyed to restore it back to 1909. Not only does it mean that many parts of the house were removed, but much had to be rebuilt that no longer existed. The question of what is real is my major gripe with this method. While it is important that this house is significant for when the Wright family lived there, it also must be noted that another 101 years of this house's history occurred after 1909.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio was built in 1889, that means that the vast majority of the home's history occurred after the chosen date of 1909. I also worry as to what is really original. Take the kitchen for example. Most of the tiles are new, the wall paper is new, the foundation is new, the wooden decoration above the table is new. A lot of it is based off of 100 year old, vague photographs. This is possibly creating a false sense of history. Many tourists think of the cathedrals in England as these great medieval treasures, but they are really 19th century restorations on what idealized gothic architecture should be. At the same time, preservationists don't want to preserve part of the FLW Home and Studio that is not original nor uninvolved with FLW. So the question is; what do we preserve? Or more importantly, what do we not preserve? What do we recreate? What cannot be recreated? I do not have answers to these questions, but they are surely something to think about next time you visit a historic site.

The Frank Lloyd Write home and Studio

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chicago's Bucktown

Bucktown is on Chicago's NW side and is about three miles from the loop. For those unfamiliar with the loop, it is the central area of Chicago and aptly named as such because of Chicago's elevated subway which forms a loop shape from above. With that being said, the area is primarily residential with some commercial development around Armitage Ave. Bucktown gets its name from the apparently large amount of goats that used to preside in the area. For those familiar with the area they will notice that much of the historic architecture that once existed here is long gone. While many residents will argue that this is a vast improvement of the area, I would argue that it, in fact, is not.

Historic architecture is what creates a sense of place. Bucktown has very little sense of place. if it were not for the few "landmarks" that existed here, it would be impossible to distinguish it from any other new development on Chicago's north side. There is this common misconception that historic buildings are worse than their modern counterparts. While there are basketcases that truly do require intervention, many historic buildings can be just as habitable as new construction with a little bit of finesse. New construction, at least in Chicago, almost always requires a building to be torn down. After this occurs, a new building has to be built. Think about the cost and resources that are wasted by dismantling an already existing structure. It is much more "green" to use an already existing building and renovate the interior to satisfy the wants of an owner. This also allows the neighborhood to keep its already existing character - the very character that makes it one of the 77 existing Chicago neighborhoods.

Bucktown is becoming a utopia for young, wealthy, families that tend to overlook the past. They want modern amenities and rooftop terraces. This can be achieved with adaptive reuse of old buildings. Instead, the neighborhood has become a hideous display of modern, lifeless condominiums that leave little to be desired. This has become the tale of much of Chicago, and it is alarming to think that these historically diverse areas are becoming cookie cutter eyesores to be inhabited by suburban yuppies.

The Maproom: one of the last historic structures in the area is also one of the best beer selections in the country.