SAH Blog

  • Civil Rights Memorials- Day Three

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    Oct 10, 2009

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    By Martin J. Holland

    We had a special treat arranged for us this morning- Perdita Welch had been able to arrange a visit inside Mrs. Rosa Parks’ home at the Cleveland Courts public Housing in Montgomery, Alabama.

    Photo: The Rosa Parks’ home.

    The Cleveland Courts were constructed in the early 1940’s to counteract the lack of affordable and adequate housing in the south. The apartments still serve as public housing today.

    Photo: Interior shot of Mrs. Rosa Parks’ home.

    We then visited the “Brick – A – Day” church, also known as the First Baptist Church of Montgomery, which played a central role in the struggle for equality during the civil rights era. The “Brick – A – Day” nickname came from the donation of home-made bricks made by the congregation membership to the rebuilding efforts after a fire destroyed the church in the early nineteen hundreds. The reconstruction effort lasted for five years, from 1910 to 1915 when the church was finally completed. Reverend R.D. Abernathy, a central figure of the civil rights movement, and close friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also the pastor of this church from 1952 to 1961.

    While there, we had the good fortune to have an organ recital performed for us by Mrs. Essley Gomiller. She served as the church’s organist for some forty-nine consecutive years. I was able to record a small snippet of the tail end of the recital. Please click on the image below this entire post to play the movie.

    Photo of interior of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery.

    Photo of exterior of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery.

    Our next stop was the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, which is located just a stone’s throw from the State capital. This proximity is of critical importance, as Dexter Avenue has had a very troubled and difficult past. On the low end of the street, a slave auction market was established just after the founding of the city, and the site of the church itself was once the headquarters of a slave trader.

    Photo of the State Capital and a memorial recognizing the swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861.

    Photo of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church.

    Dexter Avenue Church had its first worship service in 1889 on Thanksgiving Day, but its planning can be traced as far back as 1877. The church had been without a minister since 1953 when Rev. Vernon Johns left Montgomery. However, R.D. Nesbitt Sr. one of the church’s deacons had heard of a powerful, young preacher in Atlanta who he wanted to bring to Montgomery as the church’s new pastor. That young preacher was Martin Luther King Jr., and he was barely twenty-four years old. The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church was also the only church that Dr. King ever pastored.

    It was also in the church’s basement that the decision to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was made on December 2, 1955 a day after the arrest of a young seamstress named Rosa Parks. Originally intended to last just a single day, the boycott lasted three hundred and eighty one days, and involved the creation of ride sharing for some forty thousand African Americans day.

    Photo: Interior of the Dexter Avenue Church.

    Just up the street from the historic Dexter Avenue Church is the Civil Rights Memorial Center, whose outside memorial was designed by Maya Lin in 1989. The memorial is to the forty plus people who lost their lives in the fight for desegregation, and to the landmark legal rules that officially ended the discriminatory practice on a national level.

    Photo of The Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin.

    Our last stop in Montgomery was to visit the parsonage that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called home while he was the Pastor at the Dexter Avenue Church. The home, on South Jackson Street, was squarely located in the center of the black middle class neighborhood of Centennial Hill. The home, built in 1912 became the parsonage used by Dr. King when he accepted the pastoral responsibilities of Dexter Avenue church in 1954. If you look closely at the photograph of the exterior of the home, you will notice that the windows of the left hand side do not match the windows on the right. The reason that this is the case is that on the evening of January 31, 1956 a bomb was thrown onto the porch and the resulting explosion destroyed the windows and damaged much of the exterior of the home. Despite shrapnel being stuck in the interior walls, thankfully no one was injured despite Mrs. King and her children being present in the home at the time of the bombing.

    Photo of Dexter Street Parsonage Museum.

    Photo of the bombing plaque.

    We left Birmingham for Selma, but just outside of the city limits of Birmingham we stopped off at a roadside memorial dedicated to Viola Liuzzo. Viola Liuzzo was a housewife from Detroit Michigan who, after seeing the police brutality that met the first effort of African Americans to walk from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, decided that she had to drive to Selma to offer any assistance that she could. While driving local protest organizers home along highway 80, a car containing four Ku Klux Klan members (one of whom was a police informant) open fired on the vehicle, killing her instantly. The memorial was paid for by the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and was completed in 1991. Due to numerous defacements, including the painting of the Confederate flag on the memorial, a fence was established around the memorial’s perimeter in 1999.

    Photo of Viola Liuzzo Memorial.

    As we entered the city limits of Selma, we stopped briefly at the memorial park on the far side of the Edmund Pettis Bridge, where the SCLC established a series of memorials to the key figures in both the national and local civil rights movement.

    After a walking lecture provided by Dr. Upton in downtown Selma, we stopped by Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) (1869).The church was the starting point of the protest march against discriminatory voter registration procedures, which resulted in massive disenfranchisement of African American voters. The protest march was to start in Selma, and go all the way to the state capital of Montgomery. On March 7th, 1965 these protestors were met by local police enforcement with tear gas, billy clubs, dogs, and mounted horsemen who beat them mercilessly in front of national media. That particular Sunday became to be known as “Bloody Sunday”, and drew national and international attention to the plight of African Americans in the south. Blacks exercised their right to vote during reconstruction, however in the early part of the twentieth century, state officials saw to it that they were systematically purged from the state and local voter rolls. Practices such as severely limited hours for voter registration, poll taxes, and intense literacy requirements dropped the number of eligible black voters from some 164,000 immediately after reconstruction to a mere 3000 in 1965. In the single month following the passage of the civil rights act of 1965, more African American voters registered to vote within the state of Alabama than did so in the previous sixty-four years.

    Photo of the exterior of the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma.

    Photo of the interior of the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma.

    Our last stop of the day in Selma was at Live Oaks Cemetery, where we met a self described historian and preservationist by the name of Patricia Goodwin. The cemetery was dedicated in 1829, and provides the final resting place for many confederate solders, and at least one large confederate memorial is present. Ms. Goodwin told us of difficulties that she experienced with her efforts to place a memorial to Nathan Bedford Forrest within the city of Selma, and she viewed the predominately African American city council as being the major detractors of her efforts. For half an hour the group listened to her descriptions of the events that led up to the memorial’s placement within the cemetery, but it became clear that her central role in the fundraising and the construction of the memorial made the events that she experienced incredibly personal. When she was challenged on some of the basics regarding the life of Nathan Bedford Forrest, such as his involvement with the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, and the possibility that he served as the first Grand Wizard of the group, she denied any involvement that he had with the Klan. When asked about a particular inscription on the memorial that refers to him as being a “wizard in the saddle”, Ms. Goodwin stated that that term was used by one of his former foes, out of respect for Forrest’s military prowess. W alking under live oaks draped with large tufts of dangling spanish moss I was struck that despite the end of the civil war some one hundred and forty four years ago, many of the wounds are still festering.

    Mrs. Goodwin in front of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Memorial.

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  • Civil Rights Memorials- Day Two

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    Oct 9, 2009
    Friday, October 9, 2009
    By Martin J. Holland

    We started today looking at the benefits of the wealth generated along Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Our first stop was the Alonzo Herndon Museum Home.

    Photo: The Alonzo Herndon Home

    Herndon first made his money through being a barber, and slowly, through hard work, started to own a series of barbershops throughout the southeast. His most famous location was in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree, where he employed some twenty-six African American barbers to cut the hair of his powerful white clientele. The wealth that he earned through his establishment went back into the black community, and assisted him in amassing prime real estate locations in the south, and also providing the capital necessary to start Atlanta Life insurance.

    Our tour then took us through the educational institutions that were established to teach the young minds of the rising black middle class. Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College were founded to address the necessity of providing excellent post secondary education to African Americans, so that those students would become the next generation of community, political and business leaders. Remember at the time of their respective founding, no black students were allowed to attend post secondary educational institutions in the south.

    Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. statue at Morehouse College.

    Photo: Sisters Chapel at Spelman College.

    We also had a brief visit to Booker T. Washington High School, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to high school as a young man. Again, because of racial segregation, King had to travel miles to attend this all African American high school, even though there were numerous white high schools that were much closer to where he lived.

    Photo of “Lifting The Veil” at Booker T. Washington High School. ( A copy of statue of the original statue is at Tuskegee University.)

    We then departed Atlanta for Tuskegee, home of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, and the Tuskegee Institute founded by Booker T. Washington (now Tuskegee University).

    Photo of Tuskegee Town Square.

    We then walked the grounds of Tuskegee University, including the George Washington Carver Museum. The history of the University is fascinating. Lewis Adams, who recognized that while slavery had been abolished by the emancipation proclamation acts of 1862 and 1863, noted that freed slaves often possessed little formal education or marketable skills to support themselves or their families. Adam’s strong lobbying of the State of Alabama’s democratic party resulted in the establishment of the Institute in 1881, and he hired the young Booker T. Washington to serve as the first president of the school. The school proved to be a critical destination for many African Americans, as the school not only provided formal education, but also real world, “hands on” experience. Many of the buildings on the grounds were designed by the first African American architect in the United States, Robert Taylor, who had graduated from MIT in 1892, and the labor for the construction came from the Institute’s student body.

    Photo of student laborers constructing a building at the Tuskegee Institute.

    After a long, and full day, we headed to our next destination, Montgomery Alabama.

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  • Civil Rights Memorials- Day One

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    Oct 8, 2009

    “Sweet Auburn”

    Thursday, October 8, 2009
    By Martin J. Holland

    As we gathered for lunch at the Hampton Inn and Suites in downtown Atlanta, Dr. Dell Upton gave a wonderfully insightful lecture on memorials and the act ofcommemoration as a foundation to what we were about to experience over the next four days. Of particular interest was his observation that memorials often reflect the social, cultural and historical perspective not of the time that they were supposed to be marking, but rather of the current conditions of when they were actually being established. Thus memorials to the civil rights era that were constructed in the late twentieth century reflect the ideals and perspectives of the 1980’s and 1990’s that were interpretations of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Applied on a broader level, Upton’s observation explains a great deal why sites like the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City, or the Memorial to Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania are still so hotly contested, and their cultural meanings still uncertain.

    Professor Upton also noted in his lecture how the traditional forms of memorialization seem to be strangely out of place for the civil rights movement. In a systematic approach, Upton showed numerous examples of traditional memorial statuary, and revealed their reliance upon metaphors of military prowess and conquest for their meaning. The seated equestrian, the heroic lone figure, the group action pose— all find their respective origins in military conflict. Dr. Upton wondered just how appropriate such visual metaphors were for a movement that practiced nonviolence, and saw great success in mundane, yet critical actions such as voter registration, community organization and peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

    Photo: Dell Upton giving his introductory lecture.

    After the lecture and a substantial lunch we headed off to Auburn Avenue, which was and remains a center of black middle class life and culture. The act of racial segregation, combined with discriminatory business laws that intentionally restricted access to capital for African Americans, made Auburn Avenue a central node for the black middle class. It was here that Atlanta Life was based, an insurance company established by Alonzo Herndon in 1905 to provide African Americans with financial tools and security similar to those enjoyed by their white middle class counterparts. Professor Upton showed members of the study tour the numerous and complex spatial interrelationships that black businesses utilized before the civil rights movement to ensure that monies generated by black owned businesses would stay within the African American community, and how black reinvestment into AuburnAvenue was an absolute necessity given the overtly hostile attitudes and discriminatory practices by whites towards black owned businesses.

    Photos: Atlanta Life then and now.

    Auburn Avenue was also the birthplace and the final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We toured the home where he was born, and noted how, on that particular section of Auburn Avenue, there were a range of housing stock that encompassed the urban poor through to the wealthy. Our docent for the tour of Dr. King’s birthplace told the story that when Martin Luther King Jr. was a child, he saw first hand the wide financial disparity experienced by African Americans on this very street. On one side, small, two room, “shotgun homes” were the dominant housing stock, while on the other side of the street,large mansions were the norm. This inequitable relationship within the African American community stayed with Dr. King, and was a constant reminder of not only how far African Americans had come, but also how far was still left to go.

    Photo: Dr. King’s Birthplace in Atlanta.

    Photo: Small, shotgun homes on Auburn Ave.

    Photo: The upscale homes just across the street from King’s birthplace.

    Photo: The tombs for Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

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  • Civil Rights Memorials - intro

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    Oct 8, 2009

    Civil Rights Memorials and African-American Urban Landscapes in the Twentieth Century South.

    October 8-12, 2009.

    By Martin J. Holland

    This is the first of three accounts by SAH fellowship recipients discussing the recent SAH study tour that examined civil rights memorials in the South. For those of you interested in a day by day, moment by moment account of what we saw, I would strongly suggest that you subscribe to Twitter, and sign up to get tweets from theSAH_Study_Tour which will not only provide you with what occurred from October 8-12, 2009, but with any luck, all future SAH study tours as well. It is a great way to feel part of a Society of Architectural Historians tour, even if you are unable to attend.

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  • The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner - 9 August 2009

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    Aug 9, 2009

    Catherine Boland

    The Legacy
    August 9, 2009

    It’s difficult to believe how quickly this tour has gone by! On our final day, we took a look at the legacy of the 1909 Plan of Chicago.

    We began our day with breakfast at the SAH Headquarters, the Charnley-Persky House (Sullivan, 1892). I was amazed by the striking interior space and spent a great deal of time exploring the house.

    View from ground level

    Stairway to second level
    Enjoying the balcony of the Charnley-Persky House
    From left to right: Kristen Schaffer, Peter Ambler,
    Jonathan and Linda Lyons, William Mullen


    Then over to the Madlener House for a lecture entitled “Planning Then and Now” by Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Robert traced the development of city planning in Chicago from the 1909 Plan to the Chicago Metropolis 2020 plan. Since Burnham, the efforts moved away from the City Beautiful and became more concerned with housing and transportation in the 1930s and 1940s. Movements against urban renewal grew strong in the 1950s and 1960s. Issues of historic preservation became a concern and in 1968, the Chicago Landmarks Commission was established. The 2020 Plan returns to some of Burnham’s ideas (e.g. transportation) but also tackles issues such as school systems and social reforms. Robert’s lecture led us to think about Chicago as representative of other American cities.

    Our next talk was on “urban nature.” Sally A. Kitt Chappell of DePaul University delivered a lively commentary on Burnham’s legacy of the green space in the city. One of the things that struck me was Charles Graham’s renderings of the World’s Columbian Exposition and his focus on the public spaces. I was reminded of something Kristen had spoken about on our first day of lectures – Burnham wanted to make his buildings a wall for the street. With this in mind, it is easy to see just how important public space was for Burnham. Sally highlighted the ways in which green space had a positive effect on the city: wasteland became recreation areas, vacant lots and rooftops became gardens, median strips became places for greenery, etc.

    Sally A. Kitt Chappell
    Dennis and Sally share a laugh

    Following her lecture, we went on a walking tour of Lincoln Park, one of the city’s oldest designated open public spaces (est. 1864).
    Entrance to Lincoln Park (from the base
    of Saint-Gaudens’ Lincoln statue)

    Our first stop in the park was the Chicago Historical Society (Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, 1932) and we admired the ceremonial entrance facing the park. We strolled past the Prairie-style Café Brauer (Perkins and Hamilton, 1908) on the way to the Lincoln Park Conservatory (Silsbee and Bell, 1894).

    Lincoln Park Conservatory
    Café Brauer

    The formal gardens in front of the conservatory contrasted with the informal “Grandmother’s Garden” across the street. The conservatory was another world in itself with ferns, palms, orchids and other exotic flowers (even including a confined Venus fly-trap).

    Inside the Conservatory

    The final stop on the walking tour was the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (Alfred Caldwell, 1937), another perfect example of a green space where one could escape the congestion of the city.

     Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond
    Me in front of the Lily Pond

    After a few hours of free time (and a few cool drinks to escape the day’s heat!), we reconvened below the Wrigley Building for a River and Lake Sunset Cruise with commentary by Phil Gruen.

    Tour coordinator Phil Gruen (with microphone) and members of SAH
    Wrigley Building
    View from the Chicago River 

    Being on the water allowed me to think about the ways in which the relationship between the natural and built environments is such an integral part to the fabric of the city. The city continues to develop, a fact that was evident in the growing number of skyrise developments along the waterfront.

    As we glided out onto Lake Michigan and saw the expanse of the city, I thought about the development of Chicago – how far it has come since Burnham’s Plan. The cruise was such a fitting end to our study tour and I would like to thank SAH for the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful learning experience.

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  • The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner - 8 August 2009

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    Aug 8, 2009
    Catherine Boland

    The Plan
    August 8, 2009

    After focusing on Daniel Burnham’s architecture during yesterday’s activities, today we focused on Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. Carl Smith of Northwestern University led the morning’s lectures. He stated that what was novel in Burnham’s plan was the idea of the beauty and health of a city as being integral to a city’s financial success. This progressive proposal — that a great space makes great people — was the impetus for the City Beautiful movement and the Plan of Chicago.

    Carl outlined the six main issues of the plan:
    - Development of the lakefront
    - Creation of highways outside of the city
    - Improvement of railways
    - Systematic arrangement of avenues and streets
    - Acquisition of an outer system of parks
    - Development of centers of intellectual and civic life

    Burnham tried to reconcile different interests and address pertinent issues as he considered the long-term development of the city of Chicago.

    Following Carl’s lecture, Dennis McClendon provided us with a closer look at the Plan through the use of lantern slides of city and area maps and Guerin’s renderings. Dennis spoke about the reasons why the plan succeeded – mainly because of its limited scope (it wasn’t trying to address all social issues) and by promotion (through the use of Guerin’s renderings, publications, etc.). These lectures were a great foundation for the afternoon’s motor coach tour where we were able to see the Plan in action.

    The planned itinerary became a little more sporadic as we tried to beat the traffic caused by Lollapalooza and the Chicago Bear’s Family Day. I did not mind at all – it was great to see the city alive with people.


    Passing under an elevated rail track

    We started at “Museum Campus” which contains the Field Museum (D.H. Burnham and Co.; Graham, Burnham and Co., Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, 1912-20), the John G. Shedd Aquarium (Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, 1929) and the Max Alder Planetarium (Ernest Grunsfeld, 1930). From here, we took photos of the city and were able to see just how much of the city was extended into the lake by means of landfill.

    View from Museum Campus
    Tour participants taking in the sights.
    Dennis was a whirlwind of information – he knew something about everything we passed, not just areas relating to the 1909 Plan. The motor coach took us past areas we had seen during the morning’s lectures. One area that particularly stuck in my mind was Ogden Avenue, the only diagonal street executed from the Plan of Chicago. It was meant to extend from Lincoln Park to Old Town but over time it had been abandoned. By 1993 it was pushed back to Chicago Avenue. We were able to see its ghost running through a corner park and small residential street.

    In addition to the planned diagonal avenues, major streets were widened to accommodate traffic. The widening of these streets, such as Western, Damen, and Ashland avenues, was executed unlike the planned diagonal avenues. Dennis pointed out that most of the remaining buildings on those streets had facades from a later period.

    We drove through Lincoln Park on the way to Graceland Cemetery, where Burnham was laid to rest after his death in 1912. I was struck by the beautiful lakefront and green spaces as we left the noise and congestion far behind. The difference was incredible and yet we were only a mile out of the city. The skyscrapers loomed in the distance but it felt as if we were a world away.

    Graceland Cemetery
    John Notz met us at Graceland Cemetery to give us a tour. He was involved in the restoration of Burnham Island on Lake Willowmere in the cemetery.
     
    Burnham Island
    Not only was the cemetery a peaceful setting, but it also contained some beautiful mausolea and headstones. In addition to Daniel Burnham, other prominent individuals laid to rest in Graceland include John Wellborn Root, Marshall Field, Ludmig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan (who also designed two mausolea in the cemetery) and William Holabird.
    Ryerson Mausoleum by Louis Sullivan

    Getty Mausoleum by Louis Sullivan
    We drove back into the heart of the city to Wacker Drive, where we were able to see how traffic was divided into the double-decker road system. Freight traffic was meant for the lower level of the drive while the upper levels were reserved for pedestrian and automobile traffic.

    Keeping on topic with the transportation in the city, we stopped into Union Station to admire the original waiting room (Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, 1916-25).

    Original waiting room of Union Station
    The space was grand and monumental. In the Plan, Union Station was part of the effort to place rail stations near the proposed civic center. Today, most of the station’s activity happens in the newer building that faces the Chicago River. It seemed there were plenty of people, however, who were enjoying the space of the original waiting room.

    One of the completed projects from the Plan was the straightening of the south branch of the Chicago River – an astonishing undertaking. We drove over the straightened section and saw the area that was intended to become the site of a consolidated rail facility. The consolidation of the rail companies into one large facility was never realized.

    The straightened section of the south branch of the Chicago River.

    The motor coach tour was an excellent complement to the day’s lectures. We were able to see what parts of the Plan were realized, such as the widening of streets and lakefront expansion, and what aspects of the plan never came to pass.

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  • The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner - 7 August 2009

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    Aug 7, 2009

    Catherine Boland

    The Architecture

    August 7, 2009

    The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, located in the Albert F. Madlener House (1901-2), provided the setting for our lectures each morning. The first day of the tour began with a welcome from the Executive Director of SAH, Pauline Saliga, and from the tour coordinator, Phil Gruen. After an introduction to the weekend’s events, we were treated to a lecture from Kristen Schaffer of North Carolina State University, one of the leading Burnham experts. Her talk focused on the relationship between Burnham’s architecture and his city planning. Kristen proposes there is continuity in his buildings and his city plans – the provision of public space. Burnham favored the hollowed square plan with an atrium in the center was exemplary of Burnham’s attitude of the public nature of private space. It was this attitude that extended into his plans for the city.

    After lunch, we were joined by geographer and historian Dennis McClendon to take a walking tour of Chicago’s Loop, the city’s downtown center. The rainy weather did not stop Dennis and Kristen from providing an intriguing commentary as they took us on a tour of significant Burnham buildings that illustrate his philosophy of urban architecture.

    Our first stop was the Rookery (Burnham and Root, 1885-89). For a building of such great height (eleven stories), the foundation needed to be solid enough to rest on Chicago’s marshy soil and was therefore made of interlinking concrete and iron. The more traditional façade features a Romanesque entry arch, rustication and terra cotta ornament.

    The Rookery

    Detail of the Rookery

    La Salle Street Entrance

    with Richardsonian Romanesque Arch

    It was in the interior, however, that we were truly able to understand Kristen’s commentary on the public nature of private spaces. As we entered into the atrium, we were struck by the openness and airiness of the space. Despite the dreary day, the amount of light filling the space was incredible.

    Atrium of the Rookery

    The atrium was renovated by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907. The original iron staircase, railings and supports were encased with gold-incised white marble. However, one iron support is exposed to allow visitors to imagine what once was. After seeing a photo of the original atrium and seeing the exposed support, I can’t help but feel that the atrium lacks the airiness that Burnham and Root intended.

    Light fixture by Frank Lloyd Wright

    Original iron support exposed

    One of the most thrilling parts of the tour was the private viewing of the office of Burnham and Root on the eleventh floor of the Rookery. The original fireplace, where the well-known photograph of the two architects was taken, remains in situ.

    Burnham and Root in

    their Rookery Office
    We were also able to enjoy a viewing of the banking hall of the Illinois Merchants Bank (Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, 1923-24) thanks to Ed Hirschland and the Bank of America. This banking hall is now closed to the public but would have once been a ceremonial space for those entering conducting banking business. The bank became known as “Chicago’s Temple of Commerce,” a fitting title for the neoclassical-inspired design. The Grand Banking Hall on the second floor displays a frieze of eight murals by Jules Guerin (1924), who was the principal renderer for Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. The murals exhibit the foundations of various countries’ economies and in the background are the buildings of the White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This was a poignant backdrop for a building by Burnham’s successors.

    Running between raindrops, we headed over to the Monadnock Building (Burnham and Root, 1889-91) to marvel at the load-bearing masonry construction. The enormity of the six-foot-thick base of the building was best observed from the interior where you could see the thickness of the walls from the interior storefronts. Instead of an atrium, light would have filtered through the vertical shafts containing iron staircases.

    Monadnock Building

    The exterior of the building tapers inward

    as it reaches the cornice and then bows slightly outward.

    The unornamented façade features bay
    windows that provide light on the interior.
    We admired the facades of a number of other buildings, including the Fisher Building (D.H. Burnham and Co., 1895-96) and the Old Colony Building (Holabird and Roche, 1893-94), before heading over to the Reliance Building (Burnham and Root, 1890-91; D.H. Burnham and Co., 1894-95).

    The Old Colony building undergoing

    a much needed cleaning.
    Reliance Building
    Detail of façade of the Reliance Building
    Instead of a structure focusing on walls and mass, the Reliance Building features volume and glass. The curtain wall and large plate-glass Chicago windows give the building an airiness not seen in the exterior of the previously seen Burnham designs, but rather an airiness often experienced in the atria of those buildings.

    The desire to get out of the rain took us into the Marshall Field and Company Store (D.H. Burnham and Co.; Graham, Burnham and Co., 1892-1914). The store was converted into a Macy’s into 2005, much to the chagrin of Chicagoans. The stone façade gave no indication of the two striking atria on the interior. The south side atrium features a mosaic dome by Louis Comfort Tiffany and the north side atrium topped with a skylight.

    South side atrium
    North side atrium
    Here, we were able to understand Burnham’s ideas of public space even more fully. Shopping at Marshall Field’s (or, dare I say Macy’s) becomes a ceremonial event and a place to see and be seen, just as banking became a ceremonial event in the Illinois Merchant Bank.

    With the walking tour coming to a close, we briefly looked at the People’s Gas, Coke and Light Building (D.H. Burnham and Co., 1910-11) and the Railway Exchange Building (D.H. Burnham and Co., 1903-04) before heading to the Cliff Dweller’s Club at 200 S. Michigan Ave. for a private screening of clips from Judith Paine McBrien’s upcoming Burnham documentary, Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City. The film will be premiered in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 7.30 PM.

     

    Views from the Cliff Dweller’s Club

    We ended our day with dinner at the Cliff Dweller’s Club, thanks to SAH member, John Notz. From the terrace, we took in striking panoramic views of the city. We were also able to enjoy the sounds of the city, thanks to the Lollapalooza Festival in Millennium Park. It was a wonderful end to a stimulating day. Starting the tour with Burnham’s buildings provided some insight into his work and his ideas that were a necessary preparation for the following day: looking at the plan itself.

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  • The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner - intro

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    Aug 7, 2009

    The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner
    Chicago Study Tour, August 7-9, 2009
    Catherine Boland

    On the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of Daniel H. Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, there is perhaps nothing more fitting than a tour celebrating Burnham and the Plan – its precedents, execution, and legacy. This three-day excursion was coordinated by Phil Gruen of Washington State University and included lectures, tours, and commentary by Kristen Schaffer, Dennis McClendon, Sally A. Kitt Chappell, Carl Smith, and Robert Bruegmann. Tour participants were immersed in the architecture of Burnham and his contemporaries and his successors. Discussions focused on the reasons why some elements of the plan, such as lakefront expansion and development of the arterials of the city, were realized, while others, such as the creation of a civic center and the consolidation of railways, were not. Over the course of the three day tour, we moved from a focused study of Burnham’s architecture, to his 1909 Plan of Chicago, and finally to planning in general. Throughout these three days, tour participants were able to experience the city of Chicago not only through our own eyes but also through the eyes of Burnham.

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  • Home Delivery Part V: Burst*008 and a Concluding Note

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    Jan 22, 2009
    by: Mrinalini Rajagopalan 


    {Looking from the interior of the Burst*008 house towards the porch}
    {From top to bottom: The Burst*008 house, System 3 and the Micro-Compact House as seen from the third floor of the Cellophane House}
    For the last stop on the tour we were again fortunate to have the architects explaining the design process to us. Burst*008 (designed by Douglas Gauthier and Jeremy Edmiston) is another triumph of the possibilities of computer-aided design and building. The house structure is comprised of multiple interlocking plywood ribs that could be compared to a kite or accordion. This structure can be shipped flat to the site and then expanded easily, and become stable once the “skin”–i.e. the external surfaces of the house are stretched over it. The interior layout of the house is conceptualized along three living zones: an outdoor deck; living/ dining/ and kitchen zone; and smaller spaces including the bath and storage areas. These zones also have different requirements in terms of ventilation and light which are accounted for in novel ways by the design of the structure. The first prototype of this house, Burst*003 was built as a summerhouse for a family in Australia and from the walk-through it was apparent that the house was an elegant solution that combined the ethos of prefabrication with pragmatic needs for a modern lifestyle.
    In conclusion, it must be said that Home Delivery was a remarkable exhibition which took the viewer through a truly inspiring history of the modern pre-fabricated home. It is not enough to say that the exhibition delivered on account of the historical as well as geographical range of its examples, but also that it did so with an elegance that allowed the visitor to relate to this rich history with an immediacy. Indeed, so many of the examples shown at the exhibition brought into sharp focus various contemporary concerns regarding rapid urbanization, over-population, environmental degradation and sustainability. It would not be too presumptuous to say that Home Delivery impressed upon each of its visitors the solid notion that the question of mass-produced housing has been a key note in the imaginary of modern, post-modern and contemporary architecture, and that it will continue to pre-occupy the minds and talents of architects for many generations to come. 
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  • Home Delivery Part IV: System 3 and Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans

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    Jan 22, 2009
    by: Mrinalini Rajagopalan 



    {Left: Detail from the Digitally Fabricated House for Post-Katrina New Orleans/ Right: Front facade of the Digitally Fabricated House}

    {Left: Staircase of the System 3 house–in case the units are stacked on top of another/ Right: Looking from inside the living space of the System 3 House–from left to right: the micro-compact house, the Cellophane house and the Digitally Fabricated House}
    System 3 (designed by Oskar Leo Kaufman and Albert Ruf/ KFN Systems) is a single-level dwelling unit that debuted at the Home Delivery exhibition. The house is a combination of modular systems (such as the kitchen and the bathroom module) and other elements (walls, interior partitions, etc.) that can be packed and shipped flat. Like the other examples in the exhibit, System 3 continues to respond to contemporary concerns of mass-produced housing such as sustainability, flexibility and cost-efficiency while trying to maintain a superior level of craftsmanship–which was demonstrated by the clean lines of the architectural design and the precision of the interior and exterior details.
    Responding to the post-Katrina housing crises in New Orleans, Professor Larry Sass and his students at the School of Architecture at MIT, came up with the Digitally Fabricated House (DFH). Capitalizing on the speed and precision of laser-cutters, the prototype for this type of housing takes on the vocabulary of a typical shotgun house and also gestures to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s notion of a “decorated shed.” The design also took into consideration the lack of resources in a post-disaster site, which meant that although the individual pieces of the house are produced via a laser-cutter, they can be put together without nails or complicated construction equipment. Indeed, the project designers claim that the entire house can be erected on-site by 5 people using only rubber mallets and bowtie fasteners in under a week.
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  • Home Delivery Part II: Pre-Fab Housing as Social Intervention

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    Jan 22, 2009
    by: Mrinalini Rajagopalan 


    {Top: Jean Prouve’s Maison Tropicale rebuilt in New York, 2007 (www.djhuppatz.com)/ Bottom: Teddy Cruz’s housing project for the U.S.-Mexico border (Estudio Teddy Cruz)}
    The modern history of mass-produced housing is also of course a social history, where house designs responded to larger political, environmental and cultural shifts. For example, Walter Gropius’ design for Copper Houses was aggressively marketed to German Jewish emigres to Palestine, many of whom could not take any money out of the country. The Copperhouse Co. argued that the house was light enough to be carried to Palestine and if it was seen by the home-owner as inappropriate or unnecessary the kit could be melted down and the copper sold for cash.
    Jean Prouve’s prefab houses: the Maison Tropicale and Maison Coloniale were shipped to the Congo and other French colonies, reminding us of the ways in which architectural forms have served not only in the transfer of technology but also in that of establishing cultural distinctions and setting social norms. The picture of the Maison Tropicale posted above is from D.J. Huppatz’s blog on culture and architecture, where he has written an interesting piece on the building’s recent “discovery” in the Congo and its appearance as modernist art object in New York in 2007.
    The prefabricated dwelling unit has also been a constant trope within the various dystopic visions of the modern city. Archigram’s Living Pod; Peter Cook’s dwelling units in the Plug-In City ann Richard Rogers’ design for Dupont–the Zip-up House are only a few of prefab designs attempting to wrestle with the anxieties of over-populated, polluted and chaotic urban centers. A contemporary rendition of these schemes can be seen in California-based architect Teddy Cruz’s project: Manufactured Sites–for houses along the U.S.-Mexico border. One part mass-housing scheme and one part social-commentary on the co-dependence of U.S.’s high-luxury economy and unregulated Mexican labor, the project appropriates the border as a space where detritus from the First World is trafficked and revalued as elements of housing in the “developing” world.
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  • Home Delivery Part III: Cellophane House and Micro-Compact House

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    Jan 22, 2009
    by: Mrinalini Rajagopalan 




    {Top: Architect James Timberlake speaks to tour participants about his design for the Cellophane house/ Center: Looking into the “living” space of the Micro-Compact House/ Bottom: The Cellophane House as seen from the patio of Burst *008}
    Perhaps the most novel aspect of the exhibition were the five full-scale replicas of prefab houses erected on a 54th street lot in Manhattan. The first stop on the second half of the tour was the Cellophane House (designed by Kieran Timberlake Associates) where James Timberlake who led tour members through the house cited inspirations for the design as ranging from Le Corbusier’s L’Espirit Npuveau (for its attempt to deliver modular living to an occupant); Buckminister Fuller’s Dyamaxion House (as a provocation to lifestyle norms); Jean Prouve’s Maison Tropicale (for its innovation in terms of assembly and disassembly); and Phillip Johnson’s Glass House and Richard Meier’s glass condominiums in New York (for their expansive use of transparent surfaces). Even as it draws upon these influences the Cellophane House also responds to contemporary issues such as green building practices, sustainability, and the recycling of buildings materials. The house itself is designed in what the architects call “chunks”–prefab components which are then bolted onto the structural steel-frame via moment connections. 70% of the Cellophane house was erected in 6 days and the rest of the construction was completed over the course of two weeks.
    Micro-Compact House (Horden Cherry Lee Architects) was a 76-square foot gem in the middle of the 54th Street lot. Envisioned as temporary housing unit for the global traveler, student or single urban resident, the brushed aluminum surfaces and the modular design which lends itself easily to stacking of multiple units of the house belie influences from the British high-tech movement (Richard Rogers and Norman Foster) as well as the Japanese metabolists (such as Kisho Kurokawa’s Nagakin Capsule Tower in Tokyo). At a total 76 square-feet, Professor Barry Bergdoll suggested that the Micro-Compact House might be considered the ideal dwelling of the future designed for the “person who could give up all possessions because they had e-mail.”
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  • Home Delivery Part I: A Story of Scientists, Inventors, and Architects

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    Jan 2, 2009
    by: Mrinalini Rajagopalan


    {Images: Top: Interior of the Lustron House (www.ohiohistorycentral.org)/ Bottom: Buckminister Fuller’s Dyamaxion House (www.tslr.org)}
    Home Delivery is a two-part exhibit: The first part took place within the MOMA building and incorporated plans, models, and design solutions of prefabricated housing schemes while the second part comprised of 5 full-scale examples of prefab houses that were erected on a lot on 54th Street in mid-town Manhattan. Our tour led by the curator, Professor Barry Bergdoll, began in the MOMA with the first part of the exhibition, where it quickly became clear that the history of modern dwelling is not just one fashioned by architects, but a story whose cast of characters includes inventors, scientists and corporations. For example, the exhibition showcases Thomas Edison’s designs for a poured concrete house that used a standard, reusable concrete mould. Edison’s prefabricated house design came on the heels of that other American icon of mass-production–the Model-T car, and was later followed by Buckminister Fuller’s inventions for the Dymaxion and Wichita Houses. These were the first pre-fab houses that featured standardized services (kitchen, bathroom, etc.) were modular elements as well.
    Early kit houses manufactured by Sears Roebuck & Co. were very popular in the early 1930s and companies like Lustron, which utilized technology from an armaments factory were able to popularize the prefab house even further. This legacy is carried on today with the Japanese design company, Muji offering prefab houses for around U.S. $ 115,000.
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  • Kahn Tour: Illumination

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    Sep 13, 2008
    by: J. Tobias

    Despite his pronouncements on “silence and light,” in his 1931 sketching article Kahn is surprisingly silent about light.

    The works we visited, however, speak volumes. Compare, for example, a modest early building and two major, later works: the Trenton Bath House (1954-1959), Yale University Art Gallery (1951-1953), and the Yale Center for British Art (1974-1977).













    The bath house was designed for summer use, and the strong, high light of July emphasizes the structure’s mini-monumentality. Here one can imagine the legendary light of Greece, recalled by the bath house’s cruciform plan, open promenade, and central fountain (now lost).

    It should be noted here that Anne Tyng played a significant and under-appreciated role in the bath house design, contributing among other things geometry and the elegant corner entries to each changing room, all of which underpin the light effects. An associate recalls that “…Kahn was having trouble with the design [and] Tyng was heard calling…that she ‘had something.” Kahn walked over and…’immediately saw that Anne’s design was it.” (See Carter Weisman. Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style, p. 93.)

    Entering the changing room at Trenton, Tyng’s corner entries transition beautifully to the shade and cool of the changing area (while eliminating need for doors and their maintenance). Yet the skylight brings in a soft light (eliminating the need for fixtures, too). In contrast, sharp slivers of light pierce the rough concrete walls, stabbing through the gap between walls and floating roof.

    How different from Kahn’s museums at Yale, especially the diffuse glow in the galleries of the Yale Center for British Art. Natural lighting was a shared goal with the clients. In fact, it was a requirement for the painting galleries. The desire for a domestic scale was also a factor (presumably the corresponding light effects were desired as well). In the preliminary phase of the design, Kahn visited homes of patron and collector Paul Mellon, as well as the Phillips Collection, a house-museum in Washington, DC. The YCBA glow is the product of the large-span skylights and their deep pyramidal wells. The 20-foot spans help to break the spaces up into room-sized galleries, but moveable, floating partitions and louvered windows keep the feeling open and of course, light. The skylights illuminate the top galleries and atrium. In turn, atrium overlooks allow light to enter galleries on lower floors. White oak panels and smooth concrete complete the effect.





















    In this rendering I tried to capture the glow and minimal shadows. Watercolor is an excellent medium for exploring light effects, for its luminous quality comes from the paper’s reflectiveness. Watercolor filters this light like stained glass, unlike opaque media.

    Kahn’s sketching article features mostly pastels and charcoals (all reproductions are in black and white, unfortunately). His European pastels express the feel of light on rough materials, and they seem a particularly appropriate choice for eroded stone and sandy landscape. (An aside: these sketches are striking for areas of vibrant color. Less well known is that in later life, cataracts affected his color vision. After treatment, Kahn declared, “I haven’t seen colors in years!” (Weisman, p. 86)).



























    The raw concrete of the Yale Art Gallery evokes the feeling of ancient stone, but without the bright light of their sites. The somber feeling is much different from the YCBA. At the Gallery the low, heavy concrete ceiling grid (innovative though not structural) and peripheral windows strongly absorb light. Here material spends light, leaving little for art. (Apparently there was enough light to spend some of the art materials, however–several works have been damaged over the years). The one exception is the well-known barrel stairwell, with its side-lit skylight. Here the light is diffused by glass block and curving walls. The light penetrates down several floors, giving a sense of ascent and descent.






















    As a student of museum history, i wonder if Kahn knew of historical precedents in natural lighting for museum galleries. Certainly he experienced the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Frank Furness, 1876). Did he visit Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, the glass-domed remainder of the Centennial Exhibition (H.J. Schwarzmann, 1876)?















    One wonders in particular if he was aware of John Soane’s inventive use of indirect light, in his wonderful house-museum (1792-1824) or at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (1814), known as the first purpose-built art gallery. Probably not. His influences tended to be ancient and his guidance internal. According to several sources Kahn said, “I am an interesting kind of scholar because I don’t read and I don’t write.”

    One imagines that Kahn would have appreciated Soane. Both architects were intuitive and idiosyncratic. Both sought the sublime. Both appreciated but transcended ancient precedents. Both were influential teachers. And they both developed unprecedented techniques for indirect natural illumination.

    Someday I hope to visit the Kimbell (1966-1972), known as Kahn’s greatest achievement with light. What is the combined effect of Texas sun, barrel vaulting, and Kahn’s ingenious skylights? How does this change our perception of the works on view? And can I sketch in the galleries?

    On this note I end these posts on “The Value and Aim of Sketching.” I hope they’ve conveyed some of the value of the SAH Kahn Tour.

    Image (top): Jennifer Tobias. Trenton Bath House.

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    Image (second from top): Jennifer Tobias. Yale Center for British Art.
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    Image (third from top): Jennifer Tobias. Yale University Art Gallery.
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    Image (fourth from top): Memorial Hall, 1875 (H. J. Schwartzman, 1876).
    Image (bottom):
    Dulwich Picture Gallery (John Soane, 1814).

    See Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21.

     

     

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  • Kahn Tour: Narrow Views

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    Sep 13, 2008
    by: J. Tobias




















    No object is entirely apart from its surroundings and therefore cannot be represented convincingly as a thing in itself…

    What about when the object surrounds you so tightly you can’t represent it convincingly as anything?

    Kahn’s Richards Medical Building at Penn (1957-1965) is a hard building to love. It’s also a hard interior to draw. Why? The interior is so tight that it lacks vantage points. And forty years on, it’s even more crowded, with mystery machines lining the halls.

    This helps to explain why most published images are exteriors (see the 1991 Kahn exhibition catalog and the documentary My Architect, for example.) One exception is the view looking out from a floor-to-ceiling hall window and into a cantilevered lab space. It was the only interior published in an entire issue of the MoMA Bulletin devoted to the building (most other images concern structure). The same image is reprinted in the 1991 book, also the only interior view.

    This made the behind-the-facade tour a rare and intriguing opportunity, And the interior is fascinating, especially the labs. Such as a “vintage” model, decommissioned to redirect the building’s limited air supply to working labs, such as a lively one we visited. It would be fun to return and sketch the ghostly abandoned lab, its notoriously inefficient windows looking out on to a rusticated pile nearby. A modern ruin.

    A hard building to love–but its caretakers seem to. The way one might love an Edsel. Maureen Ward, Director of Facilities Planning and Space Management at the Medical School, even jokes with her counterpart at the Salk Institute (1959-1965), Richards’ well-behaved younger brother: there Kahn had a chance to work out all the kinks.

    Image: [Malcolm Smith or George Barrows]. Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art. v. 28, n. 1, 1961, p. 22.

    Quotes from Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21
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  • Kahn Tour: Deep Structure

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    Sep 11, 2008
    by: J. Tobias

    While Kahn understood that “Drawing is a mode of representation,” he saw photography as a means of “imitating exactly:” “Photographs will serve you best of all, if that is your aim.”

    Today we tend to think more critically about photography as an imitator of reality. We’re more likely to see it as just another mode of representation, a “truth effect.” We intuitively understand drawings as representations, but most of us learn about architecture through photographs, and it’s easy to forget that they, too, are interpretive. As a librarian, scholar, and sketcher, visiting the sites of iconic photographs allows me to compare representations with subjective reality. Visiting Robert Venturi’s “Mother’s House” (1959-1965) was a chance to experience a much-photographed work that directly engages the notion of architecture as image and sign.










    Bill mentioned that Venturi’s design drawings tend toward fully-formed elevations, rendered quickly and in rapid succession (so unlike Kahn’s searching, mutable charcoals). True to form, the Vanna Venturi House facade is at first glance a flat image, an iconic gabled house. And its published imagery responds in kind, invariably represented by a frontal photograph. (Notably, several in the tour group had themselves photographed straight-on in front of the house).

    Published photographs of the Venturi facade are often juxtaposed with an oblique view of the rear, which of course complicates and contradicts the facade. Ironically, the complexity of the back makes it hard to illustrate frontally. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to draw it. The challenge would have been to communicate its volumes within the limits of a frontal view, making a joke of his joke. I like to think the architect would appreciate it.

























    I approached the facade from a literally different angle–the sharpest I could find. The diagonal lines of the result remind me of Ed Ruscha’s gas station prints, as in Standard Station (1966). Ruscha is contemporary of Venturi and similarly interested in popular imagery. In this series Ruscha exaggerates the machine aesthetic and corporate symbolism of the American gas station (think Walter Dorwin Teague), stretching it into the hard-edged Pop of strip culture. The artist and architect remind us that three dimensional buildings are always/already also two-dimensional signifiers.

























    A particularly complex space I’d like to have taken more time to untangle is the front window/overhang/ledge. Is there even an architectural term to describe it? It sneaks up on you, hidden behind the broken pediment and cross beam. Yet it heralds the spiral vortex around which the house spins, bringing you up the stairs in a dance with the chimney. Here’s my take from second floor, heading up to the stair to nowhere.

    Unlike most of the works we visited, in person I found the experience had a sort of photographic quality, as if I could only see it through the filter of published imagery. Perhaps this is because one tends to stand at photogenic vantage points, as if the building was designed for (or through) them. Living there might feel different, but as a guest I couldn’t kick back in front of the fireplace.

    In their works Venturi and Ruscha (as well as cultural studies theorists) ask, To what degree is subjectivity influenced by culture, specifically media culture? Am I me or mediated? The architect and artist most likely believe in mediated individuality. Kahn no doubt believed in pure subjectivity, especially as expressed through sketching, where “…the presence of our own individuality causes [things] to appear differently than it would to others.”

    Image (top): Rollin LaFrance. Robert Venturi. Vanna Venturi House (1959-1964).

    Image (middle): Jennifer Tobias. Robert Venturi. Vanna Venturi House (1959-1965).
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    Image: (bottom): Jennifer Tobias. Robert Venturi. Vanna Venturi House (1959-1965).
    Creative Commons License

    Quotes from Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21.

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  • Kahn Tour: Rowhouses and Estates

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    Sep 11, 2008
    by: J. Tobias

    …not only pompous estates but the monotonous repetitions of the row house, should arrest our attention.












    Kahn grew up in such Philadelphia row houses, moving seventeen times in two years (usually due to trouble paying rent). Kahn’s moving personal story is well known, but class-oriented analysis of his oeuvre arrests little attention from the scholarly community. Perhaps this is because many of us (self included) speak from its upper end.

    Kahn may not have built “pompous estates,” but private houses are a significant part of his legacy. (His work in south Asia also involves social stratification, but on a scale I’m ill-qualified to address.)

    In these terms, one sees striking differences between an early public project and several private homes we visited. The former is a product of the Depression era, when public housing was one of few opportunities for first wave modernists to test their ideas on a large scale. Many of Kahn’s later, private houses reflect post-war prosperity and the luxuries it afforded.

    In the public realm, Kahn assisted Alfred Kastner with the Jersey Homesteads in Roosevelt, New Jersey (1935-1936) and his Architectural Research Group proposed a garden city development to replace a South Philadelphia slum (1933), one perhaps not so different from the Northern Liberties of his childhood.

    Public projects were ideal testing grounds for “machine housing,” ostensibly efficient, low-cost, construction based on industrial principles. Machine housing, however, is different from a machine aesthetic, its much-criticized assimilation into upper-class lifestyles.

    Both housing types are a function of class. From this perspective, one can analyze how modernist precepts are applied differently for different social strata. While Kahn is considered primarily an expressionist, his expressions draw upon the “deep structure” of the modernist language. Analyzing the relative application of machine production and machine aesthetic is one way to see this in play. In spareness, for example.

    All Kahns works lack ornamentation, of course. But where is this driven by efficiency and where by aesthetics? In the Homesteads, spareness reflected the goal of making homes affordable for textile workers. They could choose between twelve models, but those models were chosen for them.















    On the other hand, the spareness of the Margaret Esherick House (1959-1961), especially its interior, evokes the rigorous spareness of traditional Japanese architecture. Esherick could choose any form (and architect, for that matter). She chose and underwrote the craftsmanship required for Kahn’s design.


















    Another manifestation is scale and its expression in program (functional spaces and their spatial arrangement). Quite simply, the Homesteads are small and private houses large. As a result, program was scaled accordingly. In one of the Homesteads we visited, the entry, living room and dining room are “open plan,” the modernist way of saying “no walls.”























    On the one hand, Modern materials enabled larger spans and the elimination of interior bearing walls, so the open plan offered light, air, and flexibility unknown in traditional construction. But in the Homesteads, this meant an entryway separated from the living room by only a change in flooring material. In Kahn’s private houses, including Esherick’s, entries take many elegant forms sensitive to transition from exterior to interior.

     

    In his 1931 article on sketching, Kahn states that
    The simplest form, be it but a moulding, is only part of a creative process. It is the interwoven relation of that moulding to the rest of the creation which makes it significant.

    In modernist terms, each element of a work is correctly considered in relation to the material and metaphysics of “the rest of the creation,” or in Kahn terms, to its “will.” As a whole, his works certainly reflect these notions. What the child of North Philly row houses could not have seen then, and perhaps never saw, is that the expression of will (both spirit and clients’) is partially determined by socioeconomic factors.

    Image (top): Alonzo D. Biggard. Frankford Elevated, Site of Bent 68, West Side of Front Street [Department of City Transit-1598-0], (1915). This and other excellent historic photos of Philadelphia are found at

    Image: (second from top): Jennifer Tobias. Esherick House (1959-1961).
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    Image (middle): Arthur Rothstein. New Jersey homesteader in her living room. Hightstown, New Jersey. (1936).
    Image (bottom): Russell Lee. Nathan Katz’s apartment, East 168th Street, Bronx, New York. Mr. Nathan Katz is an accepted applicant to Jersey Homesteads (1936).

    Quotes from Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21.

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  • Kahn Tour: Scumbling the Small Stuff

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    Sep 10, 2008
    by: J. Tobias





    To make a sketch…requires…the making of many impressions and notes ‘on the job.’ You must then get away from it all to work over and crystallize your thoughts in order to develop the picture in the form of a readable design.

    On a study tour, time really is of the essence. The pace forces one to both slow down (observe) yet speed up (get impressions). Here are two takes on Kahn’s Jesse Oser House (1940-1942). The first is “on the job” (With tour manager Kathy Sturm in the foreground, keeping us on schedule). The second follows “get[ting]away from it all” and developing the drawing into a “readable design.”

    There is no value in trying to imitate exactly…We should not imitate when our intention is to create–to improvise…I have learned to regard it as no physical impossibility to move mountains and trees, or change cupolas and towers to suit my tastes.

    In this spirit I can exaggerate perspective, manipulate shadows, and literally furnish the mise en scene. Scholarship requires getting the facts exactly right. Drawing requires no footnotes. But Kahn knew that interpretive drawing must, in the end, respect the subject:













    I try in my sketching not to be entirely subservient to my subject, but I have respect for it…

    Any study tour shifts, like a drawing, between the “big picture” and telling details. It would have been a pleasure to linger on the idiosyncratic details of the Furness library at Penn–its crockets, wedge mouldings, and patterned brickwork. But the situation called for the big picture, with the rest improvised later, if the drawing “wanted” it. Furness invented a formal grammar all his own, so can’t I riff on it a bit?























    I try to evolve a composition, and make every sketch count for as much value to me as may be gotten out of a design problem.

    Site visits are an excellent way to study details. Archtiecture may start with a room, as Kahn would say, but it ends with building codes, HVAC, and electrical outlets. Consider the air vent detailing in the cupola of Temple Beth El (1966-1972). Two practicing architects in the tour group were disappointed by the execution: surely Kahn wasn’t responsible! Based on their observations, I indicated the vents but downplayed them. Or should they be drawn as they appear?

    Images (top): Jennifer Tobias. Jesse Oser House (1940-1942)

    Image (middle): Jennifer Tobias. Frank Furness. Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania (1888-1891).
    Image (bottom): Jennifer Tobias. Temple Beth El (1966-1972).
    All images Creative Commons License.

    Quotes from Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21.
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  • Kahn Tour: Time and Materials

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    Sep 10, 2008
    by: J. Tobias

    In his oracular style, Kahn said that “material is spent light.” I think of the glowing coals as the reverse: light is spent material. Or rather, the glow is the material in the process of being spent. The word “transfix” incorporates this moment of transformation: trans (motion) plus fix (stasis).

    Did I learn that as a child, Kahn used this coal for drawing, for lack of other material? (Paging a volunteer fact checker–I think it’s in My Architect). His use of soft charcoal (and carpenter pencil) is also well known. With this ever mutable powder, he could explore an idea and wipe it away in an instant, or push it around with his fingers like a sculptor with clay. See, for example, his perspective of the unbuilt Mikveh Israel Synagogue (1961).

    Perhaps it’s no accident that Rodin is a recurring theme in Kahn’s biography and article. He writes, “The drawings this great sculptor made took form with his eye on the final results in stone.”

    In situ drawing, on the other hand, deals with the final results, the (literally) concrete. Here materials spend light on actual mass and volume. The hard lines and colored washes of my tour sketches try to reflect this.

    During the tour someone quoted…someone…who said that Kahn worked on a project until he got fired. In this spirit, his drawings are not so much unfinished as transfixed.

    Image: Jennifer Tobias. Trenton Bath House (1954-1959).

    Rodin quote from Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21.

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  • Kahn Tour: "The Value and Aim in Sketching"

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    Sep 9, 2008
    by: J. Tobias

    In 1931 the young Louis Kahn published his thoughts on “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” (T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May, 1931. p. 18-21.) Sketching my way through the SAH Louis Kahn tour presented an opportunity to reflect upon these Values and Aims.




    In his article Kahn states, “The capacity to see comes from persistently analysing our reactions to what we look at…” My entries here analyze some of my reactions in words and images. The process has helped me to “see” Kahn better. Perhaps blog readers will see something new in Kahn, too, or have reactions of their own.





    Image: Jennifer Tobias. Center City, Philadelphia. near Kahn’s office. PSFS Building in background. August 2008.





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