SAH Blog

  • Chicago's Pullman Neighborhood

    Nov 14, 2012

    This summer, SAH had two interns from the University of Chicago, Hannah Loftus and Kevin Robinson, who worked on SAHARA. Hannah and Kevin uploaded more than 900 images to SAHARA and worked on individual research projects documenting new Chicago parks and vernacular Chicago architecture, respectively. Read about Kevin's research below:

    Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood raises many of the issues frequently associated with contemporary urban living: gentrification, economic inequality, and preservation to name a few. The community, established in 1880 to house workers of the Pullman Company, is about twelve miles south of downtown Chicago. The residential area is roughly bounded by 111th and 115th streets at the north and south, and by railroad tracks and Cottage Grove Avenue at the east and west. The actual Pullman factory is directly north of this area. The town was the brainchild of George Pullman and architect Solon Spencer Beman. Beman’s design for Pullman fits into no discrete architectural style but creates a distinct visual identity for the town. Above all he sought “to design attractive and functional buildings,” resulting in a jumble of architectural-historical references.[1] There are clear American Queen Anne influences in many of the larger homes, while Rees points out Gothic details in the Hotel Florence, which is one of the most striking buildings in the neighborhood. The hotel, which sits on Arcade Park and is named after Pullman’s daughter, was off-limits to workers, as it was the one exception to the town’s ban on the sale of alcohol. Despite the lack of stylistic uniformity in Pullman, Berman created visual unity by using brick made of clay dredged from Lake Calumet, adjacent to the town. This unity is preserved in large part today as there are few recently-constructed buildings. A significant portion of the original late-nineteenth century buildings still stand today. What particularly interested me about Pullman was how, if at all, its architecture dating back 130 years structures the present community.

    Arriving to the neighborhood by train I was reminded of a phrase coined by a Russian author, Yury Olesha, who referred to artists as ‘engineers of the human soul.’ Although it might have been the industrial landscape that reminded me of engineering, I think that the expression came to mind because, bluntly put, the planned community seemed somewhat soulless. Despite the fact that the buildings all looked occupied, the streets were empty and none of the civic buildings seemed to be open on a weekday afternoon. The well-used recreational areas are at the peripheries of the neighborhood, while the more central town square and Arcade Park are empty and uninviting. At first I suspected that the buildings and spaces themselves fostered this disconnect: they seem to insist that they are at once historical and new. They want to remain connected to the good old days, but are also retrofitted for modern living. The ‘for sale’ signs that dot the streets signal new bricks and windows that replicate and replace the old. Pullman’s renovators and real estate agents seem to say that the past can be easily substituted with something that looks just like it, and more importantly that it can still be sold as ‘historic.’

    After some consideration I realized that even if I were to see Pullman in the 1880s that I would likely find the experience just as unsettling as I find it presently. I think on the one hand this is because Pullman is geographically sectioned off from surrounding areas by railroad tracks and Lake Calumet. These barriers are not only physical but gave me a definite psychological impression of the neighborhood as somehow existing in a vacuum or a museum display case. On the other hand, Pullman was a curated residential experience: its communal spaces were created for an imagined community rather than one that had already formed beyond the fact that it was meant for workers of one company. Amanda Rees notes that “Pullman’s singular innovation was the application of aesthetics, however, the visual ideology of the communities were not merely there to produce productive workers... it is clear that the Pullman community was to be a central element of the company brand.
    [2] Like advertising that tries to make us aware of a need that we may not have, George Pullman and the town’s architect Solon Spencer Beman not only found the idea of community necessary but something that could be enforced and controlled through designed space. That is not to say that community is a bad thing, but that this community was meant to be George Pullman’s, not the residents’. As a result, many aspects of the residents’ collective identity were given to them ready-made, denying them significant power to form a community that truly reflected them.

    On the one hand, there is no one way to use a home or neighborhood. The simple fact of living in Pullman does not require one to use the spaces in a particular way. George Pullman could only expect the residents of his town to use the town square; it would be much more difficult to force them to actually use it. On the other hand, living in Pullman does bring certain limitations. Some, such as its distance from downtown, cannot be changed while others, such as the stigma of being on the South Side, are socially mediated. I believe that this tension between what can and cannot be planned prohibits one person or one vision from completely structuring a community. Inevitably some aspect of the community must be planned. There is, however, always room for residents of a neighborhood to build a community ‘of the people,’ though how much room they have varies by place and time.

    My reaction to Pullman forced me to look back on a previous trip to Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in a new light. There I noticed rehabbed nineteenth century worker’s cottages alongside post-modern homes that borrowed from the neighborhood vernacular style generously. A notable example of the latter is 1336 North Leavitt Street (ca. 1998-2002), which copies the basic size and shape of neighboring homes but adds a bright blue trim. I wonder what motivated the architect or owner to design the house this way at all, whether it was out of a notional deference to the vernacular or if this quasi-historicism simply sells better. Certainly this home in particular is not one of the most attractive in the neighborhood—for example, the brick noticeably differs in appearance and quality compared to its older counterparts—but it raises questions about the identities of neighborhoods. In contrast to Pullman, Wicker Park has many modern homes that pay no deference to the ‘look’ of the neighborhood. The architect or homeowner’s stamp on the neighborhood seems much more forceful here. Obviously one modern home in Wicker Park cannot completely change its character, but I also cannot tell how much these homes exist in relation to the rest of the neighborhood. Is their purpose defeated when they no longer stand out, or are they conceived as monoliths? The modernist ‘make it new’ mentality is not only disconcerting here but somehow feels belated, as if we never stopped to think about what impact ‘new’ can have. Despite whatever misgivings I have about 1336 Leavitt, I know that it at least plays with and very intentionally departs from the neighborhood style. In a way, this home is less troubling than some of the more attractive and interesting modern homes. It doesn’t quite let us forget about the past, but it also lets us know that we can’t rely on it to understand the past.

    I wonder if some of Pullman’s residents ever stop to ask why they’re remodeling their 1880s homes. Do they want to replicate the original kitchen surfaces or do they install granite countertops? It seems to me that Pullman can go one of two directions. The first is the one we see most frequently with gentrifying neighborhoods, with a desire for new ‘modern-looking’ homes and rehabilitated ‘historic’ homes. This would make Pullman visually similar to Wicker Park. The second direction is one in which the residents don’t commit to either idea but play with them both (think Norman Foster’s Reichstag restoration). This play can be somewhat muddled, as with 1337 Leavitt, or it can give the residents room to deliberately and clearly articulate their own views on Pullman’s preservation, past, and future.

    Looking back on my visit, I felt that the model town begged to remind me of something. I think it asks us to remember both that it is there and that it has an important history. Certainly this history can inform how we preserve, restore, and develop Pullman as well as other neighborhoods. In the end, however, this plea to remember fell flat with me because it was so difficult to connect with the buildings. I wonder if this feeling fosters a sense of privacy that the residents enjoy. With the voices of Pullman and Beman drowned out by time, I believe that in time the residents can and will surprise us with their own solutions.

    About Kevin:
    Kevin Robinson is a 2012 Jeff Metcalf Fellow at the Society of Architectural Historians and a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying art history. He recently completed research on Kazimir Malevich’s painting techniques and is currently studying the sculpture of Anthony Caro. In his free time he pursues interests in Russian literature, competitive napping, and aviation.


    Crawford, M., 1991. Designing the company town 1910-1930. Thesis (PhD). University of
    California, Los Angeles.

    Crawford, M., 1995. Building the workingman’s paradise: the design of American company towns. New
    York: Verso.

    Buder, S., 1967. Pullman: an experiment in industrial order and community planning 1880-1930. New York: Oxford University Press.

    [1] Rees, Amanda. "Nineteenth-century planned industrial communities and the role of aesthetics in spatial practices: the visual ideologies of Pullman and Port Sunlight." (2012): 185-214.

    [2] Ibid., 186.

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  • Chicago’s Modern Park: a Trend of Purpose

    Nov 14, 2012

    This summer, SAH had two interns from the University of Chicago, Hannah Loftus and Kevin Robinson, who worked on SAHARA. Hannah and Kevin uploaded more than 900 images to SAHARA and worked on individual research projects documenting new Chicago parks and vernacular Chicago architecture, respectively. Read about Hannah's research below:

    Chicago has a rich relationship between leisurely space and the city as a whole. Make no mistake, the city of big shoulders is a city of many people and many buildings; however approximately 8.2% of total land in Chicago is dedicated to parkland. There are over 570 parks throughout the city, which each offer a wide array of amenities and design features. Notable parks include Grant Park, Lincoln Park, and Jackson Park; however, there are an abundance of smaller parks that add to the strength of the Chicago Park District as well. I was tasked with photographing four contemporary parks in Chicago to add to the SAHARA Database; I chose Ping Tom Memorial Park, Mary Bartelme Park, Henry C. Palmisano Park, and the Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

    What I found most helpful in examining Chicago parks came from an unrelated event; throughout our time at SAH, Kevin and I were fortunate enough to attend a lecture at the nearby Newberry Library in a partnership between the internship programs of the two organizations. This particular lecture, entitled “The Book as Object,” considered the physicality of books, and significantly focused on books published by architects or about architecture. Somewhat fittingly, a first edition of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago was included in the lecture. Although I was already familiar with his plan, I now considered the influential design in terms of contemporary implementation of urban leisurely space. Daniel Burnham envisioned Chicago’s parklands to be places for the people, especially considering the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Burnham also called to preserve parks on the outer limits of Chicago as nature preserves. What became evident here, that I considered as I visited the following parks, was what their relationship and purpose was to the City of Chicago. Exactly what does a design, both architectural and landscape, convey about its meaning in an overall context? What meaning can be assigned based on extraneous factors? I examined five parks in the City of Chicago, the oldest completed in 1999, and the most recent in 2010. I went in with some background of each park, and aimed to determine how the overall design is indicative of a purpose, intended or not.

    Ping Tom Memorial Park (1999) most carefully considers its surrounding neighborhood and cultural environment in its design; it is a clear union of park and community. The creation of Ping Tom clearly set out to address a missing element in Chinatown: a park. Construction for the Dan Ryan Expressway had previously demolished the only two parks in the surrounding area. Following the development of the adjacent area into Chinatown Square along the river by the park’s namesake, real estate developer Ping Tom, the Chicago Park District began to transform the six acres below 18th Street into spacious parkland, at the helm of Ernest C. Wong of Site Design Group. “Spacious” was apparent upon first entering Ping Tom; its six grassy acres were divided by a series of walkways, occasionally interspersed with boulders, ginko trees, and bamboo which encouraged tranquility. What was even more apparent, however, was the infrastructure. In the northern section of the park was a Chinese style pagoda next to a children’s playground. These made me evaluate the purpose of distinct elements of Ping Tom; it was an urban oasis, but also a vital part of the community, both symbolically through the surface design and practically through the green space and gathering points it provides. Unlike parks I later visited, Ernest Wong designs for the visitor and cultural environment. However, perhaps a mistranslation of his intent, Wong’s design is unfortunately a separate entity from the central business district of Chinatown. What I found particularly confusing was the fact that, despite on a Thursday afternoon at about four o’clock, it was largely empty; only the playground was being used, as well as the pagoda as a stop for Chicago’s “water taxi.” Perhaps this is a result of the obscure entrance, an opening in a chain link fence nestled in a residential subdivision. I am not sure how to reconcile these truths: Ping Tom is a representation and community space of Chinatown, yet isolated. This is one case, perhaps, where intended and actual use do not converge.

    Wong’s later design, Mary Bartelme Park (2010), further builds off the relationship between park and community, but in a noticeably different way. It does not necessarily focus on a cultural environment that Chinatown so readily offered, but perhaps a lifestyle-environment. The West Loop of Chicago is becoming trendier and wealthier; more and more young professionals and families with children are moving to the area. Mary Bartleme Park is situated on a single city block, surrounded by rehabbed industrial buildings turned condos and new construction. Before development, the site was a vacant lot; given the recent rise of the West Loop in residential popularity it was necessary to create an urban oasis. It is largely angular, with straight, crisscrossing pathwards, angled planter-walls, and most notably, square metal sprinklers (modern art, perhaps, when not in use). More importantly, it featured a dog park, children’s playground, and a wide array of seating, in addition to clean, grassy fields: Bartelme is a perfectly manicured park, meant to serve the urban community with the amenities it features for the surrounding apartments. I felt it was certainly beautiful, but lacked any sort of aim rather than being a small oasis. This park was the busiest of all the parks I visited; unlike Ping Tom, the main focus was on how the space would actually be used, and form appropriately followed.

    It was with Henry C. Palmisano Park (2009, previously and still synonymously known as Stearns Quarry) that I began to see a clear relationship between the park and land, as well as park and education, further encouraged by Jeanne Gang’s Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The land Palmisano sits on was previously used as a quarry from 1830-1969, and later a landfill for Chicago; the park’s design (again by Ernest C. Wong) feature both, in its large mound to the east of the park, and water filled quarry in the north, interspersed by metal and concrete walkways. Palmisano encourages sustainability, and recreates ecosystems native to the land: prairie plants, wetlands, a two-acre pond, as well as the birds and fish brought or attracted to the site. Rainwater and drainage is even directed to the pond instead of sewers. Drawing residents and non-residents of the Bridgeport community, Palmisano aimed to return to its ecological roots, and stress nature rather than a human imposition of what is important to the composition of a park. There was no playlot (although one was found in the adjacent McGuane Park) or any other significant infrastructure, the design of the park was dictated by the existing alterations to the land (the quarry and landfill), and native flora. Although perhaps unintentional, it commented on the permanent effect humans have on the natural environment, leading to its intentional effect: the role Chicagoans can play in encouraging sustainability.

    Jeanne Gang’s Nature Boardwalk (2010) falls in the same category as Palmisano; it aims to show off the natural environment and serve as a tool through which to educate its audience. It is less a community gem, as in the case with Palmisano. Situated directly south of Lincoln Park Zoo, it attracts a wide array of visitors, although largely on the youthful side. The Nature Boardwalk features pathways marked by metal railings surrounding the pond; the entire design is meant to exemplify the coexistence of urban and natural environments; it also meant to educate on the various plant and animal ecosystems found surrounding the pond. The most striking architectural feature is a honeycomb shaped, arched pavilion, which serves as a shelter for an outdoor classroom. The pathway, similar to Palmisano, is simple; however, the contrasting materials allows for a stark contrast between manmade creation and nature. Although I initially thought there could be a definite trend moving away from parks as community staples and parks acting as miniature nature preserves, this was not the case, as I saw with Mary Bartelme as community driven park and the most recently completed. The only trend was physical, in that modern materials and design components (walkways, structures) were futuristic and were clear impositions of man upon the environment.

    In comparing these four parks, I realized that while all were attractive in their own right, they were all for different reasons: Ping Tom as an extension of Chinatown, Mary Bartelme as a collection of amenities, Palmisano as a reminder of the importance of sustainability, and the Nature Boardwalk as a place of education. All were tranquil, relaxing, fun, an escape, whatever the park-goer wanted; this was inherent in being an urban park. Each fulfilled Burnham’s vision of being “places for the people.” However, a closer look at the design suggests specific reasons for the park. A park is the final product; it is shaped by a variety of factors that influence its design and intended use. For example, the audience of each dictates the form; each park had a similar audience (urban dweller), but was shaped differently to accommodate different aspects of the audience (urban dwellers in search of an urban oasis, or eager to learn about natural ecosystems). Other factors include the location of the park (Ping Tom, situated in an awkward proximity to Chinatown business distract, or Palmisano, on the site of an old quarry and landfill), space availability (Bartelme’s many amenities but single city-block), and surrounding culture (Ping Tom in Chinatown, Bartelme in the West Loop). It will be fascinating to return to the parks when they are no longer “modern” and see how they have served the City of Chicago.

    About Hannah:
    Hannah Loftus is a 2012 Jeff Metcalf Fellow at the Society of Architectural Historians, and fourth year undergraduate at the University of Chicago. She is pursuing a degree in Anthropology, but has academic interests in architecture, archaeology, and geography as well, and has previously worked at both the Oriental Institute and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. In her spare time, Hannah pursues her love of rock music and getting lost in the city of Chicago.

    Parks Documented:

    • Ping Tom Memorial Park- Ernest C. Wong, Site Design Group (1999), 300 W. 19th St., Chicago, IL
    • Mary Bartelme Park - Ernest C. Wong, Site Design Group (2010), 115 S. Sangamon, Chicago, IL
    • Henry C. Palmisano (Stearns Quarry) Park - Ernest C. Wong, Site Design Group (2009), 2700 S. Halsted St., Chicago IL
    • Nature Boardwalk (LPZ) - Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang (2010), South Pond, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL


    History of Ping Tom Memorial Park. Ping Tom Park Advisory Board.

    Kamin, Blair. "West Side Story: A New Park, with Dynamic Geometry and Bold Interactivity, Creates an Urban Oasis amid Wall-to-wall Condos." Chicago Tribune. N.p., 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. <>.

    "Mary Bartelme Park." Landscape Urbanism.

    "Nature Boardwalk." Lincoln Park Zoo.

    "Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo." Studio Gang Architects.

    "Palmisano Park." Landscape Urbanism. & Facilities.

    Chicago Park District, 2012.

    Smith, Carl. "The Plan of Chicago." Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: Newberry Library, 2004. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. < pages/10537.html>.

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  • Interview with James Caulfield and Patrick Cannon

    Oct 16, 2012
    Interview by Alexandra Markiewicz

    1. James, what led to your interest in photographing architecture? Have you done commercial architectural photography, or is architectural photography more of personal interest? 
    JC: My father was very interested in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and his enthusiasm was infectious. I always enjoyed bicycle rides around the Chicago area, particularly the North Shore, where I saw many notable buildings. At the U of I, I took a course in art and architecture. I have done the photographs for four books on buildings by Chicago architects with my colleague Patrick Cannon and would like to do more work for contemporary architects. 

    2. Patrick, how did you get involved in contributing these photos to SAHARA? How does it relate to your research and interests?
    PC: While at Northwestern as an English major and art history minor, I took a course in Chicago architecture taught by Professor Carl Condit, which included several tours of notable Chicago buildings. Even though I ultimately pursued a career in communications, I never lost my interest in architecture. When I moved to Oak Park in 1974, I became involved in what is now the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. When I retired, I proposed to the Trust that we produce a survey of Wright’s work in Oak Park and River Forest, which was published in 2006 as Hometown Architect: The Complete Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois. This led to subsequent books on the Prairie architects generally, Unity Temple, and Louis Sullivan. I joined SAH to gain access to its archives, and have used them extensively. When I became aware of SAHARA, I thought it would be an ideal way of sharing the book’s images with SAH members around the world.

    3. James, describe your methodology or artistic practice when it comes to taking architectural photographs.
    JC: I use only the latest and most sophisticated professional digital equipment. In documenting historic buildings, I shoot using available light, to insure that the architect’s vision is fully realized. The only artificial lights are those the architect included in the design. I combine exposures to include information that might be hidden in single exposures.

    4. What is your favorite photograph or series of photographs that you’ve shared on SAHARA and why? 
    JC: Of the many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings I have photographed, my favorite images include the exterior of the Heurtley House, the Winslow House dining room, the entry vestibule of the William Martin House, and the view of the auditorium of Unity Temple, taken from the pulpit. I was in awe when I took the photograph of the corner exterior of Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building in Buffalo, as I was when I stood on the stage of the Auditorium Theatre to photograph the immensity of that great space. 
    PC: While it’s difficult to single out any single image, I do think the photographs that Jim Caulfield took of Sullivan’s Guaranty Building are extraordinary. 

    5. You have contributed 512 photos to SAHARA! How do you envision your photos being used on SAHARA? More broadly, in what ways does architectural photography serve architectural historians?
    JC: My colleague Patrick Cannon and I were fortunate to be able to gain access and photograph buildings that most students and scholars would find it difficult to visit. Now they can, through our work. Also, we were able to photograph interiors that had not heretofore been documented. And, although we hope all these buildings survive, if some are eventually lost, at least this record will survive, thanks to SAH. 
    PC: Jim Caulfield and I hope that scholars and students will take advantage of our images in both their teaching and research or any non-commercial purpose.

    James Caulfield and Patrick Cannon have written four books together: Hometown Architect: The Complete Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois, Louis Sullivan: Creating a New American Architecture, Prairie Metropolis: Chicago and the Birth of a New American Home, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple: A Good Time Place.

    To view the images contributed by James Caulfield and Patrick Cannon, search for “Caulfield” or “Patrick Cannon” in SAHARA. When using the images for any non-commercial purpose, please credit James Caulfield. For commercial use, please contact James Caulfield to arrange use of the images. 
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