Archive for the ‘Louis Sullivan’ Category

Renzo Piano gets all Midwestern, at the Art Institute of Chicago


Coming soon to Hello Beautiful! – a sneak preview, with images, of the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. (It’s due to open May 16, 2009.)

For now, here’s an image of the east facade, as seen from Grant Park.

For a while during construction, this facade- which faces Grant Park and Lake Michigan to the east- was just stone, and rather blank. I thought it a shame. Why deprive visitors to the Art Institute, of what would be great views, surely from the upper floors?

If we’re going to build such a tall building in the park, we at least should give ourselves some new vistas in return.

I was relieved when they mounted this glassed-in modernist ornament.

But I couldn’t quite figure out why I liked it as much as I did. Yes, it’s a nicely designed and crafted piece of ornament, which in modernist tradition will be functional. It is less solid than the wall, thus it brings out the essence of the stone. It even offers transparency; which we always find interesting. It creates desire, a good thing for an art museum. It also creates a satisfying, three part facade. The parts are nicely proportioned to each other and to the whole, and we “hear” a nice rhythm, of solid / void / solid. This is far more musical than a plain stone facade would have been.

But it has more power over me than those reasons would cause, and I was trying to figure out what it is. So I walked around this facade, looking at it from all angles, until I saw

the great relic. The arch from Louis Sullivan’s demolished Stock Exchange.

Yes, that’s it. The way Renzo Piano placed this form-follows-function ornament on the facade, and the way it contrasts to his minimalist stonework, reminds me of Louis Sullivan’s Midwestern “Jewel Box” banks. Such as this one in Grinnell, Iowa.

Merchants National Bank, 1914

Go to the Art Institute and see if you feel it. Renzo Piano channeling Louis Sullivan.

(Much more on Piano’s Art Institute wing soon.) .

Happy New Year! Past and future architecture.

In with the old, in with the new.

And isn’t that what makes cities great?

What I’m looking forward to in 2009: The grand opening of Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Above, on the left – Piano’s Modern Wing due to open May 16, 2009.
Above, on the right- Right, Louis Sullivan Arch from the entryway to the Chicago Stock Exchange (1893, demolished 1972.)

Here’s another photo of the new wing-

And the blade of a bridge Piano designed to cross the street from the Art Institute to Millennium Park, and back-

Yes, that is Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Bandshell and trellis you see above.

Neatly engineered, this bridge shoots across the many lanes of Monroe street. Of course the bridge will be modernist white when finished. And doesn’t the city look great, in this winter photo taken yesterday? That gleam, rising on the left, is the still-rising Trump Hotel and Tower. You do see it even from afar.

I’ll have more on Renzo Piano in Chicago soon. Including views inside the galleries.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a fine ’09 – together.

Sarah Vowell on Chicago Architecture


I am very gung-ho on the history of Chicago architecture. It was a great joy to attend the School of the Art Institute as a graduate student, to get out of the El every morning next to Louis Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott building. I can never get enough of the buildings of Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. And I loved being able to go to the Art Institute every day—how sort of grandmotherly it is, in a good way. It was always so endearing to watch the school children tramping through there like they owned the place. And I do miss the music as well. I’ve never been able to find a live band in New York as consistently thrilling and funny and fun as the Waco Brothers.

read more here

And in this New York Times video, Sarah Vowell tells why Sullivan inspires her, artistically and politically.

“It’s not just, you know, roccoco frippery.” – Sarah Vowell

Thanks to Lynn Becker of ArchitectureChicagoPlus for the video link.


If Sullivans inspire so in Chicago, and your town had one, would you not cherish it?

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa stands

Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings Bank of 1911. It’s about a block from the river, and suffered greatly in last summer’s floods. Damage to the main floor and basement are reported.

So what do you do about this? Pauline Saliga of the Society of Architectural Historians writes,

Apparently the city fathers of Cedar Rapids are considering endorsing a plan to build levees in downtown which would require demolition of many historic structures, including City Hall, a county courthouse and the SULLIVAN BANK.

Below is an email from one of the people who is spearheading an effort to find alternate solutions. She has created a blog where you can sign a petition protesting the potential demolition of their historic downtown. Please take a moment to express your outrage at the thought of demolishing Sullivan’s bank for a flood wall.”


In happier Sullivan news, the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin has the story on a newly discovered Louis Sullivan building in downtown Chicago!

(I like that this post on Sullivan is tripartite – “base, shaft, attic.” Like his tall buildings. The blog, like the skyscraper, must be, “every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.” And good that it all rests on that quote. I guess Sarah Vowell’s head would be the capital. Not bad.)

photograph of the bank: Einar Einarsson Kvaran

Now I’ve seen everything

You can buy one here.
A question.

How do we go from



A proud and cotton-y thing?

Will we rebuild Louis Sullivan’s K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist Church?


Twenty-six months after the tragic fire that consumed Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler’s masterpiece K.A.M synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, aka Pilgrim Baptist Church, not much progress can be seen in the rebuilding effort.  Some 40 million dollars may be needed. The Governor is having a hard time getting the one million bucks he’s trying to donate into the correct basket.  

Here’s a report – with pretty good video – from a year ago, precious little has changed, precious Lord.     

We can do better than this. 


Louis Sullivan’s last building restored

The Krause Music Store

on North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago

I looked at it right before I left Chicago. Any time you can look at a Louis Sullivan, do.

And to hear Tim Samuelson tell an unforgettable story of Sullivan’s days as he designed it, click here.

The recent restoration has just received the 2007 Landmark Award for preservation excellence by the City of Chicago. And it will also receive the 2007 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award. Now owned by the nice and appreciative folks at Studio V Design, Krause was just added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed in 1922, the storefront was commissioned when Sullivan was elderly, living alone, in ill health and nearing the end of his life. His last work, this design was drawn when he was in the midst of writing his autobiography, and reflecting on his life and career. His initial depiction for the facade was on a cocktail napkin.

Painfully neglected in his later years, for 65 yr. old Sullivan it demonstrated the existence of a still vibrant talent. He cleverly designed a storefront with a recessed symmetrical entry that provided shelter, as well as, focused attention. The facade also showcased Sullivan’s enduring ability to depict intricate geometric designs and curvilinear plant forms in terra cotta.

The primary architect for the building was a former Sullivan draftsman. William Krause a successful music salesman who commissioned the building, committed suicide in the showroom/apartment in 1929. Shortly after Krause’s death the building became a funeral parlor, which it remained for more than six decades. Interestingly, the new owners held four separate ceremonies to spiritually cleanse the building, including using a feng shui master and a Hindu priest.

-Keith Dinehart, of Goldberg General Contacting Inc. who restored the building (and provided these photographs) in conjunction with preservation architect McGuire Igleski + Associates, and the architectural firm of Wheeler Kearns.


Krause at dusk photo by Steve Hall © HedrichBlessing.


Photographs of a lost city

The story I did for National Public Radio on the new book of Richard Nickel’s photographs of buildings by Louis Sullivan and others being demolished; a city, a way of life, a way of seeing the world (based on nature) – vanishing

is right now the #1 most e-mailed NPR story of the last twenty-four hours. (Finally dethroning, the scintillating, “Sneaky Parasite Attracts Rats to Cats”!)

The book I reported on is a must-see. Very poignant. Mr Nickel could see through buildings. And through society’s motives.

Richard Nickel self-portrait, 1950s. Richard Nickel Committee


Corb and Sullivan


What does Le Corbusier’s Firminy Church in France have to do Louis Sullivan’s K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago?

Besides that you see they both sport a great arch.

Well, Corbu died without finishing Firminy. But the local government recognized its cultural importance and committed funds so it will stand.

In Chicago, we didn’t protect Sullivan’s church and

didn’t it burrrrnnnnn, children, talk about burn oh my Lord….

Now they want to rebuild on the site, but maybe not exactly to Sullivan’s design! That’s bone-headed. It is Louis Sullivan’s church that needs to stand on that corner on the south side of Chicago.

Rebuild it the way it was and consecrate it to culture.

The French paid to complete the unfinished Corbu church, then “consecrated it” to culture.

Read “When is a chapel not a church?

Money grafs:

“In 2003, although without enthusiasm, the local government restarted construction, but not as a chapel. It is against the law in France for the state to fund a religious building, so it is now a cultural centre with a cross on the roof.

This is a building that defines us as a world community. It is as important as the Sydney Opera House, or Bilbao’s Guggenheim, the pyramids, St Peter’s in Rome, Angkor Wat and Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Or Sullivan’s K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist Church. So lease the land in perpetuity from the congregation, give them the church building they want, and which will better serve their needs, and turn K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist into a cultural center to serve the memories of Sullivan, Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, gospel music and the community around it.


By the way, I also like this graf from the same link, about Corbu’s Firminy:

Le Corbusier was a master at using big, tough, harsh materials softly. His genius is in the way he could provide in a single building an explanation of the human condition that contains so many histories. At Firminy, there is the original cave, the sophisticated geometries of renaissance and Gothic churches, the sculptural forms of Asia and Africa, and the simplicity of abstract modernism. Strangely, one of the world’s most beautiful chapels may never be consecrated.

K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist by Louis Sullivan to be reborn – as what?


Most of the church nee synagogue burned to the ground, due to negligence during maintenance, a little over a year ago.
Today Deacon Robert Vaughn named Johnson & Lee, Ltd. as the architect for the rebuilding.

Architect Christopher Lee announced that ,

preliminary reconstruction plans range “from replication to doing something unexpected, but really nice.”

Well, I’m glad it’ll be “really nice.” Sorry to be cynical, and maybe the story will turn out well, we must make sure it does.

Visit Johnson & Lee, Ltd.’s website to see what they’ve designed to date.

They’ll work with the highly-respected Quinn Evans Architects, of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Washington D.C. That firm has worked on the restoration of two buildings with important historical connections to African Americans, one in Detroit and the other in Topeka, Kan.

Today architect Christopher Lee promised to respect the work of Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. What does that mean specifically?

We did not respect Adler and Sullivan and their gifts – or ourselves – when we didn’t protect Pilgrim Baptist and it burnt to the ground. Let’s respect ourselves now by rebuilding at 33rd and Indiana, Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler’s moving design, completed in 1891. We’ve got to raise public and private money for that. Walking through K.A.M. Pilgrim Baptist and hearing gospel music sung there tells us who we are and who we were and who we can be.

Involve John Vinci in the restoration. He knows the place inside and out, has detailed photos and drawings and has already restored it once.

And consult with Chicago’s Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson, (audio link). He’ll also make sure the Sullivan spirit survives.

Pray for funding.

Then please, rebuild K.A.M. to Adler and Sullivan’s original design. If they could do it so magnificently in 1890-91, why can’t we today?


Awaiting the requiem of winter’s snows

It’s been a rather snowless December in Chicago, not like during my youth. Louis Sullivan’s words come to mind,

A summer has departed: – never that summer to return; a great life has passed into the tomb, and there, awaits the requiem of winter’s snows.

My friend the Sullivan expert Tim Samuelson tells me to visit Graceland Cemetery after a snow, to find this

Louis Sullivan’s tomb for Martin Ryerson. Tim describes how it’s designed so the snow gently gathers in those curves by the ground. Appropriate for a tomb, no?

I’m reminded of how the Japanese put little sculptures in their gardens, with curved roofs, to catch the snow, to display its whiteness and exalt its snow-ness.

I’ll meet you there.


*from a prose-poem by Louis Sullivan called “Inspiration.”