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« "Again and Again" | Main | Glass Staircases »

May 13, 2008

Trip Journal

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here I am in the Midwest, acting as sherpa for my wife who has never been here. Below are a few short thoughts that might (or not) get expanded into real blog posts.

* The touristy part of Chicago is much nicer than it was 15+ years ago when I was last there. Clean, fairly friendly. Lots of really tall condo towers or hotels-cun-condos going up. The Daleys, despite other faults, know how to run the place.

* Milwaukee was another matter. Hollowed out downtown. Some large blocks razed down to dirt. Everything has moved to the 'burbs. Call it a region without a center.

* Madison, Wisconsin also disappointed. Here you have the state capitol building and the University of Wisconsin on each end of a half-mile street. I was expecting State Street to be nice. Instead, its highlights were the campus book store and Potbelly's sandwich shop.

* Springfield, Illinois isn't much of a town, but has several places of interest. There is Lincoln's tomb and his house (the guide noted that the bannister of the main stairway is the one thing you can touch that Lincoln himself surely also had touched). And there is his presidential library and museum. The latter is overdone and I might do a rant about new museum displays. Not far are a nicely restored train station and a large Frank Lloyd Wright house that, unfortunately, was closed yesterday. Oh, and my father was born in Springfield 100 years ago minus two weeks. So it was high time that I got there.



posted by Donald at May 13, 2008


But have you been to the Milwaukee Art Museum?

Posted by: Tatyana on May 13, 2008 1:27 PM

How was the Art Institute? I think I told you my American Gothic and Nighthawks story before. Also, did you visit Bacino's for pizza?

Posted by: AP on May 13, 2008 4:27 PM

No visit to Minneapolis/St. Paul?

Posted by: Rtother on May 13, 2008 7:10 PM

Tat -- Not enough time. We got to Milwaukee late afternoon on Saturday and were off to Madison and points south the next morning.

AP -- Didn't get to that restaurant. The Art Institute was wrapping up a big exhibit of Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper, and I might post something on the latter; it was quite comprehensive.

RTother -- Sorry, but Mpls-StP was too far from our orbit. I've been there, but not in 20 years, and should try to get there again.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 13, 2008 8:09 PM

When visiting Madison (where I work) you should have taken a look at Monona Terrace:

Posted by: Lester Hunt on May 13, 2008 10:21 PM

Your post on glass staircases remind me of my experience with glass-floor balcony hanging 33 stories above the street at a nightclub in Dallas. Although the balcony was freely accessible to anyone inside the club, almost everyone seemed to treat it as a thrill ride, and many of the women couldn't stand on the balcony for any longer than 10 seconds or so (unless they were drunk, of course). I guess the thinking in designing this feature was guided by the question,"if there is such a material as structural glass panel, then why not use it to create a one-of-a kind memorable experience at the top of a major tower near downtown?"

Well, why not? I think the architect's reasoning for using a glass stair for its ambiguity is in my mind, is as perfectly sound as any other. What drives me to design in a modernistic style is a rejection of having to limit spatial and structural opportunities made possible by technology to classical rules that were derived from more traditional building methods of masonry and wood. I'm currently going insane right now detailing the design of the Duany-Plater Zyberk-influenced building, where we are mimicking masonry-insired moldings and cornices with a modern yet drab exterior insulation finishing system (EIFS). If this latter material had existed 2000 years ago, I'm sure the Greeks would have used in a very different way.

It's interesting that there is this earnest desire to limit the experience of architecture to the reiteration of the principle of gravity and solidity rather than encouraging an infinite variety of experiences and perceptions. Steel, concrete, glass, and other amazing materials have become abundant and have enabled designers countless ways in expressing techtonic relationships. Why straight-jacket all of these materials with traditional architectural vocabularies?

Posted by: corbusier on May 14, 2008 2:02 AM

The Frank Lloyd Wright house in Springfield is very nice. I am originally from Decatur, Illinois, about 30 miles east of Springfield. Although living overseas now, I went to see it a couple of years ago on a visit to the folks back home. I don't know anything about architecture, but I do know that it was a *home*, not simply a vanity display piece. Here's a link to the site for the house:

Posted by: Laikastes on May 14, 2008 3:40 AM

Donald - you missed the best, I'm sorry to tell you. Calatrava is even more stunning in the drab environment of Milwaukee. Next time skip everything else and devote at least 3 hrs to it.

Corbusier - agree with you 100%. I came to conmclusion, after years of collecting impressions and listening attentively to all camps, that so called New Classisists are cowardly, untalented, undaring, opportunistic sellers of cheap knock-offs.
Oh, btw: that fraud, Nikos Salingaros, is wiggled his way into serious architectural/urbanist panel here in NY. I received an invitation - and declined. As long as they continue invite people like him - totally unqualified chatterer - they'll miss on serious professionals' attendance.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 14, 2008 9:50 AM

Donald -- There's much about the midwest I like, but that doesn't include a lot of what's become of their smaller cities over the last 50 years. Most seem hollowed-out, irrelevant, desolate, etc. But it's not like I've done a comprehensive survey or anything. Is that how they struck you? I hear nice things about Iowa City, btw: nice college town, real neighborhoods, etc.

Corbusier -- Where classical patterns go, it seems to me that you're seeing them as a consequence of a failure of technology. Isn't it possible that they also represent real discoveries about how people like to live? After all, many of these cities and buildings are still high on the usual "We gotta go there before we die" list. Anyway, it seems to me that overdoing the "technology sets us free" angle opens up the "Hey, now that we have synthesizers, let's throw out tonality!" possibility. But this may be personal. Personally I couldn't care less if architects feel excited, thrilled, creative, etc; wish 'em well, of course, but what I really care about is whether they're helping create livable, comfortable and non-alienating spaces and buildings. If not, well then, screw 'em.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 14, 2008 11:48 AM

Daley has managed Chicago well in many respects. The tourism thing has been a big succcess. But our city is cruisin' for a bruisin'. The police department is severely undermanned and underfunded. The tax burden (highest sales tax in the country) is crushing. The real estate bubble is verging on implosion (condos for sale everywhere, and more under construction). And the corruption...

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on May 14, 2008 7:04 PM

You'd never think that the Chicago Police Dept is underfunded, with the way they hand out bundles of parking and traffic tickets (meter-maids with guns). Most of the city cops are borderline crooks anyway. They've also got lots of new tasers and military assault rifles.

Chicago is a Potempkin Village. Drive outside of downtown, to the north, west, and south sides, and you see the huge amount of poverty and the abandonment of the city by manufacturing and business. Chicago is an empty shell, really. And mayor Daley has to be the biggest crook ever to sit in City Hall.

Posted by: BIOH on May 14, 2008 10:55 PM

BIOH: they don't actually have any of the M4 carbines yet. That's just smoke and mirrors from the brass. They don't have enough tasers, either. Or enough working patrol cars. The police pension is about 50% underfunded.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on May 20, 2008 1:28 AM

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