Tag Archives: illinois

WMS Boathouse at Clark Park

WMS Boathouse at Clark Park in Chicago, Illinois, by Studio Gang Architects, 2013

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang Architects (SGA) have been infatuated with water for some time now – metaphorically, in the rippling facade of the Aqua Tower; directly, in landscape projects like the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo; or on the large scale, in projects like Reverse Effect, which proposes re-reversing the Chicago River, among other tactics, to improve the ecosystem of Lake Michigan. A recent addition to the above water-related projects in their hometown of Chicago is the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, situated along the Chicago River about eight miles north and west of the Loop.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Like Reverse Effect, the boathouse is envisioned as a means of remediating one of Chicago's waterways. As SGA describes it: "By creating a key public access point along the river’s edge, it supports the larger movement toward an ecological and recreational revival of the Chicago River." This building and access point will hopefully "transform the long-polluted and neglected Chicago River into its next recreational frontier." Chicago – flat and gridded – has long oriented itself toward the lake, whose length in the city is public and almost entirely recreational, be it beaches, museums and parks (one of which is being designed by SGA for the old Miegs Field). So it's no wonder that the river – reversed in the early 1900s so that pollution wouldn't flow into the lake, the source of the city's drinking water – has been neglected.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

SGA's design separates the project into two buildings: a two-story Field House on the south and a one-story Boat Storage on the south; in between is a courtyard that aligns with the access down to the water on the west. Each building has a distinctive serrated roofline that "translates the poetic motion and rhythm of rowing into an architectural roof form, providing visual interest while also offering spatial and environmental advantages that allow the boathouse to adapt to Chicago’s distinctive seasonal changes." The main driver of the form is sunlight, such that "the roof achieves a rhythmic modulation that lets in southern light through the building’s upper clerestory."

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

The reading of the forms is aided by the muted palette of exterior materials, notably zinc and slate, which give the building a sense of solidity while also accentuating the interior spaces when lights glow from the inside in the evening. The palette inside is just as spare, with plywood used for the walls and ceilings and exposed concrete on the floors. It all adds up to an inexpensive building ($8.8 million) that hardly looks cheap.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Site Plan/First Floor Plan

Longitudinal Section

Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, by Studio Gang Architects, 2010.

On a recent trip to Chicago a good deal of my agenda revolved around the work of Studio Gang Architects. I visited their studio, got a tour of the Radisson Blu at Aqua Tower, and visited the exhibition Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects at the Art Institute of Chicago. Much of it is documented in the Insight feature at World-Architects, but here I wanted to delve into another one of their projects I visited, the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Like many of Jeanne Gang's post-Aqua projects, the Nature Boardwalk has received a fair amount of press, but much of it centers on the open-air pavilion that sits on the east side of the pond. While I'm also guilty of honing in on the pavilion with my camera, here I'll discuss the larger plan for the pond as well as the design of the pavilion itself.

The name Nature Boardwalk should tip people that the project focuses on a linear path, one that follows the edge of the Lincoln Park Zoo's South Pond. The pond was created shortly after the zoo's founding around 1870, before which the land was a cemetery, as Lynn Becker describes. Over the years its hard, engineered edges and shallow bed contributed to the unhealthy nature of the oxygen-starved pond. Gang and her team of consultants, including landscape architect WRD Environmental, worked to transform the 14-acre landscape into "a native Midwestern, self-sustaining ecosystem, featuring an array of prairie plants and 100 new trees." The primary means to achieve this and increasing habitat for wildlife are via a "re-engineered pond with naturalized shorelines and depths that welcome wildlife." (Quotes from WRD website.)

Having lived in the area about 15 years ago, and not returning to Chicago since 2007, I was amazed by the change. Basically I did not recognize the South Pond. Its softened edges and snaking boardwalk completely changed the character of the place, making it resemble a piece of nature that predated Chicago's build-up rather than a human-made landscape. Walking the boardwalk is a great experience, as it zigs and zags among the plantings and sometimes juts out over the water. And the changes are not just visual, as the transformation of the pond has already increased the diversity of the place's wildlife, both for residents (fish, turtles) and migratory creatures (birds).

The pond has become a laboratory, a barrier-free zoo exhibit, and a classroom. The last is primarily served by the pavilion (technically, and unfortunately, the Peoples Gas Education Pavilion), which straddles the boardwalk on the east side of the pond. Gang was inspired by the form and related structural strength of milkweed pods. This inspiration can be found in the fiberglass domes that shield the 17-foot-high (at its peak) structure that is made from curved, laminated wood pieces bolted together. The alien presence sits on axis with the John Hancock building to the south, shielding the classes and others that use the space from the high summer sun. Openings at the base of the structure aid in natural ventilation across the space. The pavilion adds an exclamation point to the Nature Boardwalk, but more importantly it provides an excuse to stop for a while and take in the zoo's "return to nature."

Poetry Foundation

Poetry Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, by John Ronan Architects, 2011.

While the Poetry Foundation only dates back to 2003—its establishment aided by the generosity of philanthropist Ruth Lilly—its roots go back much further: to 1941, when the Modern Poetry Association, out of which it evolved, was founded; and to 1912, when Poetry magazine, which the foundation publishes, printed its first issue. The organization's mission is to "discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience." A large part of this is accomplished through the foundation's new building in Chicago's River North neighborhood, designed by John Ronan Architects.

Although the two-story building sits in the midst of residential high-rises, the black corrugated metal wrapper (oxidized zinc, actually) gives the foundation a strong presence on its corner. Three things are happening with this exterior: solid panels provide a border at the ends and along the top; perforated panels give glimpses beyond; and a cutaway at the corner reveals the glass and wood inside and allows access to the building. Yet moving underneath the cantilevered corner reveals that the entrance to the building is not at the corner, where it might typically be located; instead one is drawn along a narrow exterior walkway to the garden beyond.

This garden, which was designed with Reed Hilderbrand and sits behind the long, north-facing expanse of perforated metal, is accessible even when the building is closed (floor plan). Strips of grass are cut into the paving, defining the location of now young trees. Visitors meander among these bits of nature toward the entrance in a glass wall parallel to the zinc facade. From within the garden and its path four things are put on display: first the performance space along the path (photo below right), then the two-story library on the west side, then a colorful mural of Poetry magazine covers behind the entry's glass wall, and finally the city itself through the perforated metal. Of course one's experience of these parts of the building overlaps, but Ronan has managed to instill a bit of control to the entry sequence (even as nearby high-rises seem to peer over the walls into the garden), an in-between zone that readies one for a visit to the foundation. The gauzy glimpse to the street is an especially poetic image, celebrating the city while toning down its sights and sounds.

Public spaces inside the building are limited to a few on the first floor: the performance space, a small gallery, and the library. As mentioned, each one of these spaces faces onto the garden through full-height glass walls, in effect making the outdoor space the most important part of the project. As the trees mature, the character of this space will soften as will the hard edges of the building. This is hinted at by the bamboo that is shooting up through the open stair that connects the public spaces to the offices upstairs. Admittedly, I did visit on a cold autumn day well after the trees had lost their leaves, but the presence of nature in the garden is an important one, both for softening the architecture and offering up juxtapositions—natural vs. artificial, garden in the city, etc.—that are potentially poetic and surely enriching.

1617 North Wolcott

1617 North Wolcott in Chicago, Illinois by Studio Dwell Architects, 2009.

The Wicker Park and Bucktown on Chicago's northwest side are popular neighborhoods with an epicenter at the three-way intersection of North, Damen, and Milwaukee Avenues. A few blocks to the east of the intersection, and a half-block north of the excellent Quimby's Bookstore, sits this narrow four-story residence designed by Studio Dwell Architects. The popularity of the area is evident in the house itself but also in Ranquist Development's larger Urban Sandbox of which it is a part. This fairly cohesive modernist streetwall includes houses to the north also by Studio Dwell and and a multi-family project on the south designed by the Miller Hull Partnership.

The four-story house at 1617 North Wolcott locates the main living space above the ground-floor's four-car garage (off the rear alley), work/studio spaces and the front door. From the street the entrance is tucked under the cantilever of the top floors, accessed alongside a small rock garden. The dark masonry on this level is the only place that veers from the rest of the building's white masonry and cedar cladding. This dark base gives the impression that the upper floors float above it.

The intention was to create a home that no matter the mood or frame of mind of an owner, it makes them forget even their worst day; to create a light filled retreat in a tight urban setting; to create a residential Light Box. -Studio Dwell Architects

This "Light Box" appears crisp and abstract owing to the composition of the window openings on the elevations -- primarily on the front -- and the articulation of the masonry. In the case of the first, the double-height living room is the only space that receives a window, the effect of its opening enlarged by the addition of the wood rectangle besides it; above it the master bedroom receives light from the side. With the masonry, it is articulated in a stacked bond, so the white box appears to be covered with a simple grid; this approach counters a reading of the exterior as masonry, which would occur if running or some other bond were used.

The Light Box effect continues inside in the way the architects shaped the four-story volume to bring light into the various spaces, while also creating usable outdoor space. This starts at the rear of the house, with the terrace above the garage. In the center of the plan, facing south, is a small light well that serves three floors and provides an outdoor eating area next to the kitchen. Even the side wall at the front of the house is set back from the property line to allow the windows for the master bedroom. Lastly, the third floor is notched at the back to create a terrace and two generous spaces on the roof round out the varied outdoor spaces provided the residents. Minimal finishes of white and wood make the interiors an almost mirror of the outside, two sides of the same Light Box.

Kam L. Liu Building

Kam L. Liu Building in Chicago, Illinois by Studio Gang/O'Donnell, 2004.

Approaching the Kam L. Liu Building of the Chinese American Service League from the Chinese Gate and other familiar parts of Chicago's Chinatown, one notices three things: the building's titanium-cladding, a decorative sunshade and balcony on the west exposure, and the lift bridges and their massive counterweights to the north. Designed by local firm Studio Gang/O'Donnell (now Studio Gang), the east-west oriented three-story building accommodates numerous programs in its 38,000 s.f. for the Chinese-American population, especially recent arrivals.

The image above illustrates the proximity of the lift bridges - just past the "L" tracks and the Chicago River - and their impact upon the building and its context. Studio Gang/O'Donnell's solution seems to mediate between this industrial area to the north and the colorful pagodas and other traditional Chinese touches on buildings to the south.

The decorative sunscreen on the west facade also serves a function, to cut down on the strong western sun entering the double-height community room that the exterior expresses. Its articulation - full-height verticals with staggered horizontals and additional, tightly-spaced vertical fins at the top and bottom - is reminiscent of traditional Chinese lattice-work, while also fitting in with the structural expression of the bridges beyond.

On all four sides of the building, the titanium cladding is a two-story wrapper above the one-story base, helping to create a pedestrian scale but also creating a contrast between the sparse base and the square titanium panels, turned 45 degrees and overlapping slightly to help keep water out and as an interesting effect. Again this element refers to traditional Chinese architecture through its decorative articulation of an ultimately functional part of the building, while also relating to its industrial neighbor through its materiality. The Liu Building is an understated and well-thought out building that contributes to its neighborhood and Chicago's contemporary architecture scene through its subtle articulation of parts.

[Google Earth link]

Lipson Alport Glass & Associates Headquarters

Lipson Alport Glass & Associates Headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois by Valerio DeWalt Train Associates, 2004.

Marketing and branding firm Lipson Alport Glass & Associates renovated an existing one-story structure in Northbrook - a North Shore suburb twenty miles from downtown Chicago - into their headquarters. Chicago architect Valerio DeWalt Train Associates' design adds a two-story bar beside the old building, also adding a new studio and renovating the existing into studios and support facilities.

With nearby access to - and visibility from - the Edens Expressway, the building recalls one of the architect's most well-known buildings, the 3Com Headquarters in northwest-suburban Rolling Meadows which is situated at the elbow of Highway 290 and the Northwest Tollway. In a recent Chicago Tribune article by architecture critic Blair Kamin, designer Joe Valerio refers to these buildings as "rear-view mirror buildings", referring to the response of drivers as they see an unfamiliar-looking building on the side of the road. But the design in Northbrook exhibits a restraint that is missing in Rolling Meadows, possibly making the former a better building.

The most striking characteristic of the design is seen in the image at left, the 50-foot cantilever over the main entry and drop-off. Providing shelter and a memorable experience, the cantilever reverses expectations, perching a solid mass above a transparent, glass box instead of the opposite. Treating the whole upper floor as a truss, the effect is reminiscent of MVRDV's WoZoCo Housing in its favor of sculptural treatment of the mass over a structural or tectonic treatment, separating the firm from the Miesian tradition favored by some Chicago architects, but at the sake of finding an appropriate design solution to the client's wants and needs.

Blair Kamin's article also praises the interiors and the courtyard that's created by closing off the "U" of the existing building with the new mass. Artificial and natural light seem to mingle in the mixture of transparent and opaque workspaces throughout the project, apparent in the lobby image at left.

Growing up in Northbrook, I can say that few contemporary buildings exist that illicit any "rear-view mirror" looks by passersby. So it's refreshing to see architecture there that starts from the typical suburban bland and ends up with a unique design statement.

[Google Earth link]

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Chicago, Illinois by Eifler & Associates Architects, 2001.

Local firm Eifler & Associates Architects (with landscape architect Wolff Clements & Associates) received a 2003 Design Excellence Award from the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for its restoration of the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (formerly the Rookery) in the Lincoln Park Zoo on the north side of Chicago. Designed by landscape architect Alfred Caldwell in the 1930's, the Lily Pool consists of two interlocking pavilions overlooking the water with paths meandering between indigenous plants and entry gates.

Since its completion, the pavilions have undergone various renovations, including roofing repairs and changes and reparations and replacement of the framing. This patchwork of fixes disappeared as the architects restored the pavilions to their original forms, subtly reminiscent of Prairie School architecture but devoted to blending with the Midwestern landscape of its setting. Their limestone walls appear to be built from the limestone ground they sit upon, the same stone of the water's edge. The wood framing of the pavilions blend into the surrounding trees regardless of the season, particularly the autumn when the burnt leaves come closest to the wood's color.

In Chicago in the early 20th century, like many other cities in the Midwest, nature was dwindling because of human settlement and a lack of sensitivity and understanding for the unique aspects of the regional landscape. Motivated by this change, Caldwell approached landscape architecture as a means for humans to appreciate the natural beauty of their surroundings via conservation of the indigenous landscape. The Lily Pool became an urban oasis, a place for serene introspection in the midst of the city's bustle. Not only could people appreciate the water, trees and flowers, but also the birds that were attracted to the food plants and weedy vegetation.

Almost 70 years since the completion of Caldwell's design, the pace of human settlement is even quicker, but appreciation of nature is growing as well. Regionally, prairie style gardening is popular as people grasp the beauty of indigenous plants over manicured lawns and fertilizers. Chicago's City Hall boasts a green roof and even bees whose honey was auctioned to raise money for a local art's program. And all year long people can visit the rededicated Lily Pool, whose restoration and improvements may extend the reach of Caldwell's ambitious vision to generations in the 21st century.

[Google Earth link]

McCormick Tribune Campus Center

McCormick Tribune Campus Center in Chicago, Illinois by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), 2003.

The first completed building in the United States by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), and only the second building on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus since the sixties (beat by one month by Helmut Jahn's design for a dormitory across the street to the south), the McCormick Tribune Campus Center straddles Chicago's well-known elevated train tracks to connect the educational and residential areas of the campus designed by the great Mies van der Rohe in 1940.

Rem Koolhaas's design was chosen in February 1998 from a field of five finalists - including Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, Helmut Jahn, and Kazuyo Sejima - in an international competition to design the new campus center, the focus of a new campus master plan by Mies's grandson Dirk Lohan. A possible reason for selecting Koolhaas is because his design comes closest to balancing the Modernist principles of Mies with contemporary, avant-garde architecture, whereas the four other architects' designs split between the former (Jahn and Sejima) and the latter (Eisenman and Hadid). While this is only speculation it helps in considering the school's wishes to be of its time without completely abandoning its past.

The winning design is comprised of two elements: a concrete tube, clad in corrugated stainless steel, that wraps the "L" to dampen the train noise and the main building, a one-story, 110,000 square foot structure containing the program spaces (Welcome Center, dining, auditorium, meeting rooms, bookstore, cafe, post office, offices, convenience store, and campus radio station) under the tube. Movement through the main building is along diagonal paths located according to research analyzing the walking patterns of students across the site. Seeking to accommodate students, the paths intersect to create island spaces and nodes of activity for the students and faculty.

Although the plan appears confusing, the building's interior spaces are surprisingly legible, mainly due to the predominance of diagonal views across the spaces stretching both in plan and section. By seeing across and through to other spaces one is always aware of his/her location in the overall building, with color playing a role: orange is prevalent on the west facade, green is used in the central dining area, and red saturates a narrow ramp of computer terminals, for example. Throughout the interior a multitude of unique materials are used, including wire mesh between panes of glass that bends light, wall coverings that create the illusion of movement, and translucent fiberglass with a honeycomb core for walls and tabletops.

In combination with the wide palette of materials, graphic designers 2x4 created a consistent graphic language for the Campus Center based on the international symbol for a human, with large scale graphics in some areas and, most strikingly, portraits comprised of the miniature symbols describing the different activities taking place in the building. What appears to be an image of Mies van der Rohe at the northeast entry (image at top) is actually made up of these small symbols. When split by the automatic parting doors they become Koolhaas's humorous play on Mies's lasting influence and stature at IIT.

Complications arose in the Campus Center's construction when preservationists protested to the architect's intention to reuse the Mies-designed Commons Building at the northeast corner of the site as part of new building, in effect destroying its pristine form. Since state funds were used for some construction costs, a ruling was made by Illinois in favor of the preservationists, so Koolhaas had to redesign a portion of his design to meet their demands. Fortunately this compromise does not affect the quality of the new building, and fortunately the Commons is accessible via the Campus Center in two locations and will be restored to its original state inside, extending the uniqueness of Koolhaas's design and its mutual existence with the ghost of Mies.

[Google Earth link]

Chicago Prize

Chicago Prize in Chicago, Illinois by Dan Rappel, 2003.

Last week's dose featured a project that responded to the City of Chicago's Central Area Plan (CAP) by providing parkland over the Kennedy Expressway. This week's feature is the first-prize winning scheme for a competition, also responding to the CAP and sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Club, to design a parking garage adjacent to the Kennedy. The following text and images (click for larger and expanded views) are by the winner Dan Rappel, with Kevin Shellenbach and Isabela Gould.

Grounded upon sustainable strategies in both form and program, this entry alleviates traffic as it symbolically addresses Chicago's urgent need for new, creative solutions to congestion in the Central Area Plan.

The movement of parking to the periphery of the central area represents a starting point, but we can achieve more by eliminating congestion than by simply displacing it. The level of growth anticipated by the Central Area Plan demands a multi-faceted approach to the corresponding growth in transportation burdens: undertaking infrastructure improvement, adopting sustainable planning principles, and influencing personal transportation choices through education and incentives.

Instead of a program of 1,000 parking spaces, this entry offers parking for an equivalent number of commuters by providing 500 multi-occupant vehicle (carpool) parking spaces, and proposes that these spaces be offered at below market rate. This solution will influence personal transportation choices through market principles.

Two split parking levels totaling 20,000 s.f. are located below ground (click for plan). A public park and two bus terminals occupy grade. The park consists of three types of landscape "ribbons": one lawn-like grass and two non-aggressive native grasses. As the ribbons engage the highway they vary in height, transforming into revenue-generating advertising space (click for section). The ribbons also act as a wind machine, not only supplying the garage with tempered ventilation air through earth tubes, but also agitating and filtering the expressway air with "cleaning strips".

[Google Earth link]

Kennedy Expressway Green Corridor

Kennedy Expressway Green Corridor in Chicago, Illinois by Perkins + Will, 2003.

Ralph Johnson, of the Chicago-based firm Perkins & Will was commissioned by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to participate in their exhibit Invisible City, where Johnson and two other Chicago architects (Brad Lynch of Brininstool + Lynch and Joe Valerio of Valerio Dewalt Train) created designs in response to three different city master plans. Johnson chose the Central Area Plan and responded with the Kennedy Expressway Green Corridor.

Although submerged west of the Loop, the Kennedy Expressway is a physical barrier between the east and west, the former primarily office space and the latter mostly residential. Bridges link the two sides physically, but the neighborhoods lack the continuity of other parts of the city. Johnson's project looks at the possibilities that might arise for both office and residential development if an approximately 1.5 mile length of the expressway were covered with parkland. Spurred in part by Perkins and Will's recent completion of the Skybridge residential high rise adjacent to the Kenndedy, Johnson expanded part of the Central Area Plan which proposed covering a much smaller portion of the expressway.

The basic plan of the project features the aforementioned green covering over the expressway - punctured by openings for exhaust and views to the roadway below - that extends to embrace adjacent developments, and additional towers that help to define the corridor as an appealing frontage for future development. Johnson's towers are articulated to further the sustainable basis of the park, with raised gardens and facades fronting the park shaped to act as wind scoops to circulate and clean the air, along with the park, of the submerged expressway.

Although no chance of realization for the project currently exists, the effect of the project is twofold: to illustrate the creative possibilities of the City of Chicago's Central Area Plan and to create a dialogue within the city (if not beyond) for architects and the city to propose large-scale, sustainable solutions to existing problems within the city fabric. With the recent expansion of office spaces west of the Loop, and the concurrent expansion of the University of Illinois and other west-side developments, Johnson's Green Corridor is a relevant, if dreamlike vision for the future unification of these two areas.