Monday, July 18, 2011

Midwest MidCentury fights


I'm duplicating this post across two blogs, because two parallel battles are being fought right now over MidCentury buildings in Chicago and St. Louis.


In Chicago, a well-publicized fight has been going on for many months over the fate of the Prentice Women's Hospital at Northwestern University Hospital's downtown campus. Prentice is a high-rise building by Bertram Goldberg, the same architect who developed the corn-cob Marina Towers on the Chicago river, and two other complexes in a similar idiom south of downtown. The building has been vacated by Northwestern Hospital, which originally expressed a desire to demolish it, though no plan for using the land has been developed.

In St. Louis, Midtown's "flying saucer" building - originally a gas station, now a Del Taco fast food outlet - has been the center of a much swifter controversy, as the owner announced plans to demolish it and build a new retail building in its place. The St. Louis community immediately rose up in righteous grassroots wrath. Driven by an unholy alliance between MidCentury architectural preservationists and fans of Del Taco chain (a mainstay of late night food, particularly for students at nearby Saint Louis University), the issue has flared across local news and been debated at the level of the city council.

Several interesting parallels stand between these buildings and their champions. Both are from the 1960s, built of concrete, and defined by dramatic cantilevers and round forms. And both lend themselves to diagramatic simplification in the form of the line drawings up above - a simple, clear expression of the buildings' big ideas, a clear illustration of the dramatic simplicity that defines them. Those two drawings summarize one of the big trends in Modernism - simple, bold design moves, with dramatic but carefully considered lines and proportions.

Such representations are eminently useful in getting people to see past the more transitory elements of the buildings. A number of St. Louis residents have commented about bad memories or experiences with Del Taco, and called for demolition - as if the building itself were responsible for the business within it. Likewise, Prentice has the maintenance issues one would expect of any building that's approaching 50 years old, with stained and spalling concrete in need of cleaning and repair.

Finally, both buildings are fine examples of the growing need for Midcentury awareness and preservation. Nobody is building these things anymore - once they're gone, they're gone forever.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A lesson in etiquette

This is completely off-topic and meta, and I know I shouldn't let this topic bother me so much, so I'll keep it short.

I write this blog for free, for fun, in my spare time, entirely on my own - photographs, research, writing, everything. I try to gather as much info as I can before posting, but I have my limits. If I waited till I'd done an NRHP-level research document, there wouldn't be anything here.

So I get kinda pissed off when a poster who is otherwise giving useful information feels the need to append snotty comments like these:

  • "Please do your research before posting."

  • "Three minutes of research would tell you that..."

  • This is called "being a jerk", and it's rude and unnecessary. For me, it obliterates the pleasure of finding out more about a building, and it rather spoils things for the vast majority of commenters who are playing nice.

    Also - it's very easy to find information about something when you already know all about it. Try starting cold sometime, like with nothing but a street address or even less. You'll find it's a lot tougher.

    So, in summary, don't be a jerk - to me, to other people online, to other people in real life.

    Sorry for the diatribe - back on topic now. Wait'll you see these cool Art Deco churches I've got coming up!

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat

    One of Chicago's great cultural treasures, in my irreverent opinion at least, is the band Mucca Pazza. Billing themselves as a "circus-punk marching band", this group of 30 musicians and performers employs all the trappings of a high school marching band, including their own mini-squad of cheerleaders, but with a wild abandon that represents what high school band might have looked like if the teacher had left and never come back, and the most energetic students took over running the show.

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat 2011

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat 2011

    Mucca Pazza does indeed march during their shows, and dance, and spin, and run about through the crowd in every direction. At any moment you might get a cheerleader waving pom-pons in your face or a 5-second guitar solo played almost for your exclusive benefit. Some of the musicians wear amplifiers, with helmet-mounted megaphones on their heads, broadcasting their sound in one particular direction, and perhaps sending it to different areas of the crowd like a rotating tornado siren as they turn about. Groups of horn players might position themselves in different areas and play back and forth across the crowd. A trombone player might need the space between you and your neighbor for his instrument's slide. The show you get depends on where you are, and will be different for every member of the audience.

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat 2011

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat 2011

    The band's energy is frenetic, and improvisation is everywhere. It's enough to make any standard rock band look dusty and tired.

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat 2011

    I happily bought their album, but listening to a recording on speakers cannot remotely compare to the experience of being surrounded by musicians playing their hearts out and having a blast doing it. And there's no cheerleaders, either.

    Mucca Pazza at Tour de Fat 2011