October 2006

This week I finally made it over to the MCA to check out Sustainable Architecture in Chicago: Works in Progress and Massive Change. Today’s entry will just be about the Sustainable architecture portion. A good Massive Change overview can be found here.

At first glance, the Sustainable Architecture exhibit seemed to fall short – due in part to its remote location in the museum and the small footprint it occupied. But, on further exploration, the projects themselves are very interesting and show the wide results that can occur when designers consider the role their buildings play in the environment. I will only touch on two of the seven projects presented.

SOM Chicago’s Zero Energy Tower is the only project featured that is not being built in Chicago.

Studio Gang’s Ford Calumet Environmental Center is located on the far southeast side of Chicago.

Both projects are influenced by nature’s ways: the tower by biomimicry, and the environmental center, more specifically, by a bird’s nest. Ultimately, I think this is the goal of the sustainable movement – to have the built world operate as much like the natural world as possible.

Other projects the exhibit included:
Hyatt Regency Lower Wacker Exhibition Hall and Riverwalk Renovation Project by Gensler
Near North SRO/Mercy Housing Lakefront by Murphy Jahn
Pacific Garden Mission by Tigerman McCurry Architects
Greenworks Headquarters and Eco-Industrial Park, by Farr Associates and Christy Weber Landscapes
Aurora Master Plan, by UrbanLab, Sarah Dunn + Martin Felsen


October 16th was the 50th anniversary of the ground breaking at Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Park. Read the Detroit Free Press article here.

A great series of architectural photos of LP can be found here.

I really love this project. I visited Lafayette Park about four years ago – MAGNIFICENT!

It continues to be a success because the people living there take personal ownership of the place. I think personalization of a place is more easily achieved with this type of architecture. Having studied architecture under a version of Mies’ curriculum, principles of good site planning and building planning (putting things where they work best) were primary: the “style” was secondary. The architecture does not pre-scribe the aesthetic for its owners. Rather, it serves as a canvas for life to be lived well upon.

The other aspect that I think adds to LP’s endurance is Alfred Caldwell’s landscape. In this book, there are side-by-side images of the original plantings and how they looked at the time of publication, which is really cool. Having the private and public green space in Detroit offers opportunities to commune with nature, in your own back yard. I also think Caldwell’s naturalistic landscape design is the perfect counter point to Mies’ simple architecture. The chaos to the calm.

Yesterday I went on the Emerging Chicago Architecture bus tour, organized by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. We began at the CAF, with a brief presentation/introduction on the new Spertus Institute building by Mark Sexton (in the image below, with a white shirt and dark jacket) of Kreuck + Sexton.

Mark Sexton of Kreuck + Sexton

618 S. Michigan Avenue
Spertus explains their story.

21st Century Interpretation fo the Bay

Many factors of the design are definitely contributing to the community at large. First, the new facility is built on a previously vacant lot, so the land marked Michigan Avenue wall will become more contiguous. Second, the facade (under construction, shown above) is Kreuck + Sexton’s 21st century interpretation of the bay, present in many of the buildings along Michigan Avenue, and employs glass similar in size to the typical sizes of glass as it’s neighbors.

Spertus’ program encourages interaction and welcomes visitors. Unlike many of the historic neighbors along Michigan, the top two floors (9th and 10th stories) of Spertus are the public galleries and sky garden, which offer uniquely public high views of Lake Michigan, Grant Park and Millennium Park.

The architect is also pursuing a Silver LEED rating. Green Bean tells us more about the materials and systems employed.

After a brief tour of the South Side, we made our way down to the Gary Comer Youth Center, designed by John Ronan (pictured below, in the protected entry of the center)and completed and opened earlier this year. Blair Kamin gives an overview here.

John Ronan

Gary Comer, the founder of Lands’ End who grew up in the Grand Crossing neighborhood where the youth center is located, donated approximately thirty million dollars to design and build a home for the South Shore Drill Team.


The world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright gas station and I share the same hometown. I ended up in Mies van der Rohe’s one room school house in Chicago.

My personal interest in architecture and design is both broad and deep. While studying architecture, I explored materials, structure, personal and public space. Along with my classmates, I spent one year of studio developing a sustainable plan for a Chicago neighborhood that incorporated pedestrian friendly organization, community gardens, localized water treatment and effective solar orientation. My professional experience has also allowed me to collaborate on a number of projects, ranging in scale and scope, from historic preservation of entry doors to the multi-use re-development of a twenty-six acre parcel of land.

I want to use this blog to explore the complexity of larger-scale developments, not just architecturally, but socially, environmentally and politically.