“I’m A Stranger Here Myself”

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

-Gilbert K. Chesterton


 

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As I write this reflection my classmates and professor have returned to their homes. Have I not? Well I have, but my trip home was a mere 20 minute train ride versus their 6+ hour drive. I’m Kelly Pachowicz, born and raised Chicagoan and a student in the inaugural class of Dr. Schramm’s two week course, History 4001- Chicago: Architecture, Technology, and Culture.

From the time I heard about the class I knew I had to enroll. As soon as finals were over I made my trek back home from S&T and the next day we started class. The agenda was filled and I was with excitement. Most of the places we planned to go I had never been to myself. I truly was going to experience my city-which I thought I knew so well-as I never had before. I did not stay overnight at Roosevelt University with everyone, so I did my typical local morning routine and would diligently take the bus to the ‘L’ train and then walk the remaining block to meet with everyone in the morning. And even though I have seen it countless times, the lake still is picture perfect; contrary to some belief, most Chicagoans don’t get the view from 18 stories up everyday.

The numerous tours we took showed us all more and more insight on the history of the city I call home. Admiring the ornament on buildings to walking through them, we got intimate with the ideas of architects that came to fruition. I had never been in such buildings as The Rookery (atrium redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905) or the Chicago Board of Trade Building (built in 1930 in all its Art Deco glory). However, there were buildings I had been in before like the Auditorium Theater. My high school graduation took place in one of the finest Adler & Sullivan buildings to survive, but now I was seeing it with new eyes, able to appreciate the details and notice all the peculiarities like the floor sloping due to the building’s settling.

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But overall, the only tour I had taken on my own before this class was the one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park. I drove myself that day and found parking a couple blocks away. I enjoyed my walk through the leafy University of Chicago campus and met the group there. The last time I was here was about a year ago, but the house still stood strong and true to its form and finest example of the Prairie Style. Each tour is different though, and with ongoing restoration, some things were different over the course of the year and so I was once again seeing a part of my city as a newcomer once more.

Chicago is only one of my homes, but it is the one I know the best. She welcomes you home and welcomes visitors to marvel at her sights. And even though I have lived here for over 20 years, there is still much to see and explore in technology, culture, and yes, architecture.

 

 

From the Middle of Nowhere to Historic Chicago.

Being raised in a rather small town and not getting out to large cities like St. Louis hardly ever, this experience was truly an eye opener. Small town living and the big city experience both have their pros and cons. For example I would never even attempt to drive around Chicago. Gravel roads are more my speed, but in Chicago you almost never need to drive with trains and buses and everything you could want within walking distance. One big difference that I want to cover is the history and atmosphere of these living situations.

One thing I love to do is to find a higher elevation and just look at the wide open spaces and take in the view, but as I sit in my room in Roosevelt University and look out the window I get almost the same feeling. The feeling that the beauty here is no accident that it was meant be like this. The difference I feel is that in Chicago it can still be improved and should be throughout the years. Below is two pictures of the opposing views; the first being of the Farnsworth House and the second is the one of a view from our boat tour of the Chicago River.

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I was lucky enough to be one of the last people to post on this blog, because I have gotten to experience everything and get to reflect on it all. I’ve noticed there is so much history here while back home I could tour the entire town and learn all of its history in probably one afternoon. Some of the more interesting things I learned was how the city commissioned so much public art around the business areas perhaps to distract from the less artistically designed buildings.

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I also really enjoyed all the different types of architecture. For example, The Frank Lloyd Wright home and similar style houses in Oak Park, IL, and his ever impressive Robbie House, currently being restored, which we were able to tour early on this trip. His prairie style houses is what defined American architecture in the early 1900s.

Furthermore, Chicago’s more modern architecture is really innovative and interesting. The building that caught my eye in this category was the aqua building. The design of the building is very cool in the way, to me, it appears to have flames up the slide. This is accomplished with the balconies being arranged all around the build in rounded shapes and placed in a strategic manner that guides the wind around the building, causing it to not have to be as structurally enforced and saving money. Also, all the windows that do not have balconies on their floor, or above for shade, have reflective glass which enhances the effect of what I see as fire. But the most interesting part of our Aqua building tour was the fact at the base of that building, and many surrounding buildings, there is a small park, stores, and even a school. This had such a great neighborhood atmosphere that seemed to be one of the few things that I seemed to leave back home.

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This trip was an experience I extremely enjoyed after a long semester and I will always remember the good time, great friends, and of course the amazing food. I have always been a small town kind of person, but coming here to Chicago has really given me a better appreciation for the city life experience. Lastly I want to say that it is important to step out of your comfort zone occasionally because the experience will give you a valuable perspective that you can use in the future.

Trip to the Historical Windy City

Over the course of the History 4001 class trip to Chicago, I’ve seen sights and visited places I’ve never had a chance to in my hometown of St. Louis. Since we in Dr. Schramm’s class arrived in Chicago last Sunday, we’ve been greeted with skyscrapers and apartments of many different heights as we went on various immersive tours hosted by organizations such as the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). The CAF building is no more than three blocks away from Roosevelt and is a gateway into Chicago history.

One of these tours took our group to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, as well as the surrounding neighborhood. This tour was of special interest to me since I consider Wright my inspiration and reason I’m interested in architecture. Though his designs were initially influenced by Louis Sullivan, his mentor, (though Wright may be loath to admit), his later projects invoke an Asian flair, with more natural tones and level roofs. What’s more is that he also created most of the furniture in the houses he designed. This was evident in the Robie house in Oak Park, which we toured last week. The house is considered Prairie Style, an American architectural style new in the early 1900’s that mimicked the vast prairie landscape of the countryside. The tour itself gave great insight as to how both Wright and his wealthier clients and their families lived in the late 1800s and 1900s, how the societal standards changed over time and affected the location and even inclusion of rooms that we may not have today. Each room and each piece of furniture of Wright’s homes contributed to his ideals of the close family unit and closeness to nature, whether that meant high-backed chairs to keep dining isolated from exterior distractions in the Robie house, or designing an entire room to accommodate for a tree’s path as in his own home and studio.

Another great tour we took was a river boat tour. We couldn’t have picked a better day as the sun’s warmth finally shone through after a week of colder weather. This tour meandered through the skyscraper valley of Chicago, highlighting the many styles and eras of architecture throughout the city’s history. It gave a new angle of the city and a look into how the city operated and progressed from the past. It was interesting to hear (again) how, over a hundred years ago, engineers managed to reverse the flow of the entire river in order to clean Lake Michigan of the debris and waste that had been collecting. Overall, the river boat tour was a nice and relaxing way to spend the day after a week of walking.

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During another tour in the city near the Aqua, there was a small community I really liked because of the modern architecture and how closed in and safe it seemed. A park and dog park were in the center and was encircled by nice-looking apartments on the lower level and restaurants and shops on a higher level. If I lived in Chicago, this might have my ideal place.

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Over the weekend, I had the chance to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, where they are able to immerse you in artwork and history with audio and extensive collections of art from all corners of the globe. My favorite section had to be the East Asian, specifically Chinese, art, which included works from ancient carvings and statues to dynastic paintings and pottery, but the entire museum had enough art to keep you exploring for hours.

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While not on tours or sightseeing in the Chicago neighborhoods, our class is staying at Roosevelt University, named for the titular President’s progressive ideals. The modern structure itself hosts amazing skyline views of both the city and Lake Michigan throughout the day, a view I can hardly find in the suburbs of St. Louis or Rolla. The whole building strives to be more eco-friendly, with LEED awards and recycling bins in nearly every room. It’s a nice change from Rolla, where some buildings could, well, use some renovation. Roosevelt is a great example of how far Chicago has come over the past century alone.

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From a swampy region to skyscrapers extending into the clouds, Chicago continues to exceed expectations as it continues into the future.

– Katie Mietzner

What is Next in the World of Architecture?

By Mitch Brady

As I reflect on the previous week of architectural tours and consider the rich history of Chicago, the various styles and forms of buildings through the ages make sense considering the available technology and the cultural context surrounding their construction. Every style was developed and employed to serve a need in Chicago, or came from the reaction of other contemporary styles to create something of an antithesis. Sullivan and Wright’s works compared to the half-dozen revival schools at the turn of the 20th century and the rise of Miesian mid-century modern and its fall to postmodernism are both well represented in the Windy City.

This poses the question however: what is next in the world of architecture? How will the needs of this new 21st century be met in the styles of buildings we create? What might this new style look like, and how will it distinguish itself to avoid another sequence of ‘neo- revival’ recycling?

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In Chicago, the answer may be right in front of us. Meeting needs has been a central driver of innovation in architectural technology and design. Chicago in the mid 1900s needed cost-effective, efficient spaces for office and commercial spaces, and from this Mies and others created the epitome of space efficient, stark, towering buildings. Today calls for a new efficiency, an ecological efficiency and the reduction of the impact of the building and its construction. Sullivan and Wright developed a design philosophy closely tying the structures to nature, and this philosophy can be extended not only to the inhabitants’ experience but the very systems of the building itself.

I can reasonably expect the buildings of the future to be much more green in practice, as well as appearance, as the several systems in a building become much more integrated with living biological systems to reduce ecological impact of operations. You can see this trend happening already with LEED certification and designs across the world ranging from residential to industrial that incorporate biological systems into the buildings’ own systems. (Ed.- Like the green roof on our own Emerson Electric Hall at S&T)

Another change I noticed while cataloging the historic buildings of Chicago was the choice of materials in each era of architecture. It seems to follow that with the use of new and innovative materials and processes, the contemporary architects literally achieved new heights in their designs.

In an extrapolation of this trend, the discovery a new building materials and techniques will likely make viable, or at the very least possible, designs never before made into reality. The rise in 3D printing may be commercially scalable in the near future to allow for affordable construction and a way to create new forms in buildings that have previously been unseen.

One last consideration is the development of a share-economy, and what that could manifest within the world of architecture. The days of sharing rooms, rides, and meals are upon us, with our mobile and computing devices soon to follow judging by the advances in cloud computing technology. When all of these belongings once so coveted in the 20th century become sharable between people, what’s to stop the living spaces from following suit? Residences have traditionally been a shelter from the elements, protection for our belongings, and an appreciating investment. These pillars of thought about property are starting to show signs of age in this connected century. Maybe some day soon, the very way we do business about where we live will change, and the design of those places are sure to reflect that.

[Links for further reading]

Biological Building Systems

3D Printing Construction

Share Economy

Chicago: A City of Opportunity both Past and Present

Its week number two in the Windy city and even after getting through day number eight the novelty of looking up at the skyscrapers and soaking in the views hasn’t worn off. My name is Lexie Brown and this is me adding my opinion about what we have experienced on this eye opening trip.

Over the weekend we had some time off from scheduled tours and class obligations to explore the city on our own. So of course all of us planned to sleep in on Saturday, though we weren’t given that option. That morning the Roosevelt campus we are staying in was used for the local firemen to practice sweeping a high rise building. This meant alarms going off at 9:00 am. Thankfully the staff warned us ahead of time and we all just left a little early to avoid the chaos. While we ate breakfast across the street there had to be at least 15 emergency vehicles that took over the street, you’d never see anything like that in Rolla. All in all while it was a bit annoying it was pretty awesome to witness from the outside.

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Since the dorms were being used all morning I took the time to check out the Chicago public library that wasn’t far from our building. I am coming to respect that everything is massive in the city. The library had nine open floors with a couple of sublevels as well.  Riding the zig-zag of escalators to the top I wasn’t sure they would ever run out of books. Then came the 9th floor, called the winter garden, it’s a magnificent open light court with plenty of seating for group or solo study. It had lots of open space and light that made me forget that I was in a library at all. If I was living here I know exactly where all my time would be spent.

Today was the first really warm day we have had up here in Chicago and Dr. Schramm had the idea of moving up our river boat tour to this afternoon rather than later in the week.  Turned out to be a fantastic day to spend out on the river exploring the views from a different angle (enough though several of us got sunburns from it (Ed. – me too!)). As we traveled around the city we got up close looks at places like the Trump tower, the Civil Opera House, and the public river walk.

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While the skyscrapers framing either side of the river were amazing my personal favorite part about this was the river itself; more precisely the history of it.  Back before 1900 the river that encompassed the city use to flow into Lake Michigan and back then that meant so did every sewage line, trash and runoff from the streets. Since the drinking water for the city came from the lake, a massive engineering project to turn the river around was designed.   Over a 100 years ago engineers managed to dig out a canal that connected the Chicago river to the Mississippi, and since water follows gravity, the river flowed away from the lake rather than toward it.

This masterful feat of engineering just reminds me all this time later than in a city like Chicago: if there is a will there is a way.

Travel Through the Past in Chicago

As I write this blog post late in the night with a window out to the city I can see all the layers of of the Chicago skyline. Each of these buildings give a glimpse to the past as to the style and mindsets of the people living and designing in the city. I can see the modern skyscrapers like the blue cross blue shield building. Its towering blue structure showing a modern office space and is lit up to support a cure for Huntington’s Disease. Then right behind it is the Aqua building.

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It is currently one of my favorite buildings in Chicago and shows a bright creative future for the the Chicago skyline. Everything about the Aqua is creative and well thought through. It gives me something to strive for when designing, it is a building that shows that attention to detail can be beautiful. With its curved balconies it gives a organic look and blocks the wind. The best part is with the wind blocked it saves on the cost of cross bracing for the wind, truly a triple threat idea that inspires me to think outside the box.

I continue to look out of this amazing view from this Roosevelt university dorm and see all of beautiful skyscrapers of the past. Not even a block from this window I can see the Chicago Architecture Foundation Building inside what was the Old Santa Fe building. A Great example of the beaux-arts style of architecture. I really love the fact that everything I am learning in this class is visible in the city. Just today we visited a Greek revival style home called the Clarke House which is the oldest home in Chicago. It had amazing classical architecture that gave you a glimpse of the culture of the 1800s.

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Then another home right next to the The Clark House which was designed by H.H.Richardson who was the creator of the Richardsonian style of design. You must have done some unique stuff to have a style of design named after you. I mean the castle like home that he built reminds the visitors of a roman building mixed with medieval castles and is nothing like anything we have seen.

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Even with all of the unique rock and crazy architecture it still fit in the neighborhood without looking too godly. I still think that having all of these amazing examples all around you really puts everything in perspective. You can see through each wave of new building designs how they influenced each other and how they were a expression of the lifestyles at the time. They showed how some presented their wealth in the day and how they used houses in the past. Different customs that have been lost to time show up in the design of the homes such as greeting rooms for callers to enter in. Also the separation between the servants and the home owners is extremely apparent in some homes especially the farther back in a homes past you go. I would have never even have thought about the customs of the home owners at the time or how they would have thought. I now realize how big of a factor the customs of the time weigh into the decisions of architects when developing a home. It really is a place for living and working so it makes sense that it should reflect the values of the age. I believe that without this class I would have not have come to this conclusion.

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Rated A for America

Hello all! I write to you from the 18th floor of the new Roosevelt University building overlooking Lake Michigan (it’s quite a sight). Since Dr. Schramm’s History 4001 class arrived in Chicago on Sunday (5/15) we have seen historical skyscrapers, modern skyscrapers, residential buildings, and much more. The most striking thing, to me, that we have seen has been the Frank Lloyd Wright homes/studio.

First, a little back story. Frank Lloyd Wright in his early years worked with Louis Sullivan, man with large ambitions and a love of modern architecture. During the 1893 Columbian Exposition that took place right here in Chicago many of the architects were creating Beaux Art inspired buildings. Beaux Art was a type of architecture that came from L’Ecole des Beaux-Art in Paris. Large, monumental structures that were actually quite striking littered the exposition. Louis Sullivan did not like that here in America we were still using someone else’s architecture. He wanted something uniquely American. Unfortunately for Sullivan he didn’t win the day.

Frank Lloyd Wright took Sullivan’s dream and ran with it (sometimes literally). He, too, wanted something distinctly American. To do this, Wright looked to the prairies of America. Their rolling hills, openness, and vast expanses inspired Wright to create the Prairie style home. Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park was a first look into his ideas. This building is geometrically striking with a large triangular section directly over the main entrance and large decorative pieces outside the studio. Initially, there is a real sense of enclosure when entering the home an that is by design. Wright was a master of purpose and everything in his homes served a specific purpose. He makes you feel like you are a part of the house, as if you have taken a journey to get there. It invokes memories of when I would climb under tress as a kid (and sometimes as an adult) and in the middle of the tree would be an open space enclosed by the tree’s branches. This “journey” is also felt when walking to the front door. He created long paths that made people view the whole home before entering. Inside he makes rooms within rooms and he makes rooms appear to disappear into the distance. A feature of the prairies is that they all go into the distance, never ending. Wright uses architectural elements and perspective to make rooms appear this way. They go on forever just like my desire to live in this next house.

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Wright’s home and studio was a great experience, but this next home he designed, the Robie house, accentuated all the elements of his first home and put them to the nth degree. A feature he didn’t accentuate so much in his own home was it’s length. The rooms that disappeared into the distance were a start to this thought process. The prairies are expansive pieces of land, so this would make sense. Wright used long bricks and emphasized the horizontal mortar while deemphasizing the vertical mortar. He also used low pitched roofing to emphasize length. On the inside he uses beams that span the entire length of the home. Also, the rooms seem to vanish with pointed window seats at the ends of the home. His walk-in areas had low roofs and were all around tighter spaces because he wanted you to feel a sense of relief when you stepped into the much more open living areas. Again, invoking those memories from my childhood. On top of all this he also incorporated open floor plans and day-lighting. These are two phrases we hear today. The lighting was absolutely ingenious. The walls in the living area were mostly windows (again, something we still hear about today). The roofs were designed in such a way that allowed sunlight to penetrate the length of the room in the winter and allow no sunlight in the room in the summer. That takes some intricate design work. With this home Wright really took all that he learned from his first home and applied it here.

With other homes Wright has designed, such as Falling Water or the Jacob’s house, his evolution as an architect can be seen. His love of American beauty and nature is emphasized more and more each time. I wish I had the time to talk about each and every design of his, but this is where I end. I encourage you all to learn more about this great American architect and visit all of his designs.

City on the Make

Hello from Chicago! Students from Dr. Schramm’s History 4001 course (Chicago: Architecture, Technology, and Culture) have been absorbing the sights and sounds of the Second City for a few days now, and I’m honored to bring you the course’s first blog post.

It’s difficult to believe we’ve only been here since Sunday evening. In that time, we’ve gone on six tours, become members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and eaten some amazing food. To get you caught up, I’ll do a bit of a day-by-day recap.

 

Monday

Monday, we trekked to the Chicago Architecture Foundation to become members and schedule our tours for the next week and a half. After completing that and exploring a little, we boarded the El to Chinatown for a quick and delicious lunch!

We had our first tour (Historic Skyscrapers!) that afternoon, and we learned about innovative and impressive buildings like the Monadnock and the Rookery.

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Tuesday

Tuesday began with a bus ride to the Chicago History Museum, where we viewed exhibits on touchstones of Chicago culture. After lunch in the Loop, we set off on the course’s second tour (Modern Skyscrapers this time). The tour provided insight into the work of Mies Van Der Rohe, notably Federal Plaza, as well as the Chase Building, Trump Tower, and (perhaps my favorite buildings in all of Chicago) Marina City. We also got to admire some of the amazing public art located in downtown Chicago. After some late afternoon free time, we took an enlightening tour of the up-and-coming Lakeshore East residential neighborhood, which perfectly embodies the city’s motto of “Urbs in horto” (City in a garden). We also learned about the phenomenal Aqua Tower, designed by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Jeannie Gang, as well as the details behind the reversal of the Chicago River.

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Wednesday

Today started quite early, as we had to hop on the Green Line to get to the quaint neighborhood of Oak Park for our tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. I’ve always admired Wright for his vision and devotion to not just building a home, but crafting a cohesive domestic environment. We also took a brief walking tour of Oak Park to learn more about the homes Wright designed for others. After a delicious lunch at a cafe in downtown Oak Park, we took the Metra south to pay a visit to the University of Chicago campus (and more specifically, to Wright’s magnum opus: The Robie House!)

The Robie House is one of the most incredible homes in Chicago. One of my favorite things about it (and Wright’s other residential architecture) is the way Wright maximizes or minimizes space; in transitional parts of the house (hallways, staircasess, etc), the walls are narrow and the ceilings low, so that when you step into a dining room or kitchen, you can almost feel the space opening up.

The Robie House is currently being restored by The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, so it will be interesting to come back in a few years and see what details have changed!

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In the next few days, we have more house and neighborhood tours, and next week we’ll be taking a river tour through the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which I’m sure will be fun and educational (as long as it’s not too chilly on the water!).

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