Category Archives: Architecture

Custom Iron Work and Lucite Handle, 1714 W. Division, Chicago

S-L and I were walking last week and we noticed– for the first time– the great custom facade on this building.

The iron grate work over the front doors have a staggered pattern of cylinders:

Custom Iron Work and Lucite Handle, 1714 W. Division, Chicago

They look to me like slugs of metal from some other process, as if the person who made it just saved up scraps on a shop floor until they had enough for the whole job:

Iron Work Detail: Custom Iron Work and Lucite Handle, 1714 W. Division, Chicago

Then there is a marvelously intact lucite door pull:


Really well-done. Complete set here.

The Hidden Wonders of Brutalist London

I like Brutalist architecture, mainly because it is an expression of human capacity for newness. Having attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Walter Netsch-designed “Instant Campus“, I also have a pretty good window into the deficiencies of the raw concrete mode of creating human space.

Everywhere I go, I try to see and capture examples of Brutalism. One of the characteristics of the style is that it is international– bricks and concrete formed in practical forms with a focus on the human structure of the occupants tend to repeat their forms all over.

I’ve found concrete wonders in Paris, Dublin, and Rome in the last year or so. In have a very loose criteria of  documenting Brutalist buildings:

  • Poured concrete as a major component of its structure
  • Interesting geometric shapes formed by poured concrete or well-cut brickwork
  • Architectural elements like repeating patterns in brick or concrete and an emphasis on a particular interior space

The loose criteria allows me to capture many of the hidden structures of the 60s and 70s. I can find some dating to the 80s, but these are usually only as a co-incidence of a desire for affordable construction or retrofitted circumstances. What I like to do best is go past the superstar buildings built by the masters descendant from Le Corbusier and see how the techniques, forms, and materials of Brutalism serve people today.

Toward that end, here’s what I’ve harvested from walking about 60 miles in the city of London with my wife over the last week:

Dowgate Fire Station on Upper Thames just west of the London Bridge is a real favorite:

Dowgate Fire Station

If all were right in the world, the extended window on the second floor would contains the office of the fire chief (sort of like how the Mayor’s Office protrudes from Boston City Hall):

Dowgate Fire Station

I like the faux flying buttresses here:

Dowgate Fire Station

mondial-houseThis fire station is actually just a small portion of a larger structure, the Mondial House, which was criticized by none other than Prince Charles as “the dreadful Mondial House”. The only thing dreadful about it was that they pulled their punches and clad the place in white polyester, so as to hide its concrete goodness. Here’s an amazing page on the Internet with more detail on the fire station.

Just south of the fire station is One Swan Lane, a pretty classic Brutalist structure with an exaggerated presentation of the building’s physical plant:

Attractive Woman With Packages, One Swan Lane, London

Bonus: One Swan Lane is also the HQ of Groupon UK (cc/ @andrewmason):

Groupon HQ at Number One Swan Lane

Here’s a view of One Swan Lane from London Bridge at dusk:

View from London Bridge, Dusk December, London

Just for the heck of it, here’s a car park in Spitalfields, included just because I like it:

Spitalfields, London

The London College of Fashion has some brutalist tendencies in its use of vast fields of concrete:

London College of Fashion

I’m pretty sure this is where Rick Astley stays when he is in London:

This is where Rick Astley Stays When He is in London.
Here’s a great example, on the corner of Gloucester Road and Canning Place, of how one can mimic styles using multiple materials. There are three types of rounded balconies in this shot: one with detailed brickwork, one in poured concrete, and the original reference (in Kensington Gatedating to 1894), in the background:

Brick Brutalist w/ Curves

Here is a true hidden Brutalist wonder– the Lancaster Hall Hotel/ YMCA. Exquisite decorative concrete:

Lancaster Hall Hotel London at Night

Poured concrete sections stuck together to form an awning entrance that is so common in London:

Lancaster Hall Hotel London at Night

This isn’t exactly a hidden wonder, because it is the last work of a relatively famous Scottish architect who specialized in brut, Sir Basil Spence. It is the Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, tucked into a residential area:

Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, London, by Sir Basil Spence, 1977

Here’s a great detail that shows the care given to the brickwork and also exposes some of the maintenance issues you can have with this type of building:

Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, London, by Sir Basil Spence, 1977
An example of a Brutalist building next to a classic ancient piece of architecture is St. Pauls Station, just north of St. Paul’s Cathedral (in background):

Brutalist Building Near St. Pauls, London

Nice touch: some  concrete benches across from St. Pauls Station building:

Brutalist Bench Near St. Pauls, London

A concrete building on the North Wharf with decorative pebbles in the mix. The building cantilevers nicely over the sidewalk and a staircase that heads to the basement in a way that evokes both Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van Der Rohe:

Hidden Brutalism, London

Lastly, a shot from a passing taxi on the way to Charring Cross

Brutalist Office on the Way to Charing Cross


Architectural Landmark Permit Details for Flagship Walgreens Store at North, Milwaukee, and Damen in Bucktown

The new Walgreens opened at 1601 N. Milwaukee in Bucktown/ Wicker Park, located in a building that I’ve written extensively about this building here is opening today.

Here’s the press release: Walgreens Restores Chicago’s Historic Noel State Bank Building into Flagship Store.

And some relevant snips on architectural detail:

Throughout the last two years, Walgreens has worked closely with the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks on the building restoration. The exterior is clad entirely in ornamental terra cotta. Large windows are divided by rising pilasters topped with Corinthian capitals, and a prominent cornice wraps around the rounded corner of the building.

Extensive restoration took place on the building’s coffered plaster ceiling, which features abundant non-symmetrical hexagons that frame griffins and other ornate designs, all of which form into successive yet subtle Star of David patterns. At the center is a large stained glass window with a six-point star design. Walgreens also restored the interior columns topped with pilasters and the original bank vault, which will be repurposed as a “Vitamin Vault” in the store’s health and wellness section.

Here’s the text of the instructions from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks when they approved the construction in March 2011, along with some images that support the work they’ve done:

1601 N. Milwaukee (Milwaukee Avenue District – 32nd Ward)

Proposal: Proposed rehabilitation and conversion to a retail use of a 3-story limestone bank building, including masonry repair and repainting, enlargement of ground-floor window openings, window replacement, and new retail tenant signs.

Action: Approved unanimously with the following conditions:

1. The fourteen ground-floor window openings, proposed to be enlarged, are original character-defining features on primary (street) elevations of the building, and the size of the openings shall not be changed. However, given that the existing windows are not historic, and in furtherance of the intended retail use of the building, the replacement ground-floor windows need not match the original configuration but may be undivided picture windows with minimal framing designed to maximize the amount of glazing areas;

The large windows stacked on top of the smaller look-in windows are a great feature on the thin city sidewalk w/ no parkway along Damen:

1601 North Milwaukee at Night, Interior Lit, September 2012

2. As proposed, all new replacement glass shall be clear glass. Existing and proposed dimensioned window and door details, and their proposed finishes, shall be included in the permit plans;

Clear as a bell:

East Windows Detail of New Bucktown Walgreens

3. The fixture plan shall be further studied. Areas behind the windows should be kept open and unobstructed to allow transparency and views into the building. Additional information about the build-out behind the windows, any proposed window signage, and merchandising installations shall be provided for Historic Preservation staff review and approval as part of the permit application;

Unobstructed views in and out of the east side of the store through to the cafe / deli area.

View from Second Floor Balcony, New Bucktown Walgreens

The west side of the building has the escalators and are otherwise clear of fixtures or store shelves.

Column-Topper Detail, First Day of New Bucktown Walgreens

4. Masonry cleaning, repair, and replacement details shall be included in the permit application plans. Samples of any replacement stone, patching, and mortar shall be reviewed and approved by Historic Preservation staff prior to order and installation. Any new limestone shall match the unpainted limestone in color, texture, and finish; and any new mortar shall match the historic unpainted condition in color, profile, and composition;

Sometimes they had to clean the masonry even after they had done their full whitewash of the exterior:

Noel State Bank Building, 1601 N. Milaukee

5. A conditions analysis of the paint and stone shall be performed by a qualified materials engineer/conservator to determine the appropriate paint product type, color, and finish for the existing painted limestone. The analysis and paint specification shall be submitted for review and approval by Historic Preservation staff prior to order and application;

Here’s a look at a plate holding the signage up– matching the new paint color of the limestone:

External Signage of New Bucktown Walgreens

6. As proposed, no exterior light fixtures shall be mounted to the stone facades;

Instead, they mounted the lights on the signage itself:

External Signage of New Bucktown Walgreens

7. The location, size, design, and attachment details for the large “W” sign shall be further studied so as not to obscure character-defining features such as windows and to ensure that it will not adversely affect the building or the district. [A possible location is the wall area below the proposed window location.]

Here it is:

W Sign on New Bucktown/ Wicker Park Walgreens

Situated directly over the round window above the main entrance:

Noel State Bank Building, 1601 N. Milaukee

The four signs proposed above the doors should be relocated to the flat stone jambs above the door and below the beaded stone molding, or could be relocated to the flat stone pilasters next to the doors and designed to appear like plaques. The other proposed sign areas, the two locations along the stone sign bands at the parapet and the proposed projecting banners mounted at the stone pilasters are approved in concept only. A rendering showing all proposed signage shall be submitted to Historic Preservation staff as part of the continued review. All future signage including material, color, attachment details, sizes, lighting and other information shall be reviewed and approved by Historic Preservation staff prior to order and installation. The signs shall be designed with as few attachments to the masonry as possible, and with attachments preferably located at the mortar joints; and,

I’m not sure exactly what they’re referring to here— I think I have to take a look at the agenda and other meeting materials to get a better idea.

8. The proposed use of the building requires a zoning change for the portion of the lot which is currently zoned M1-2. The Commission takes no position regarding the merits of any requested zoning change.

Overall, this is a really nice store that is very sensitive to the surrounding streetscape and complies with the goals set forth by the Commission on Landmarks. Win.


Popcorn Plant for Sale

Over the weekend, Shawn-Laree and I went to the Barker Family Reunion at her cousin’s house near Middlebury, Indiana. We had a great time.

After dinner, the day-long rain had cleared and we took a walk in Middlebury, and we came across the Wanberg Popcorn Company.

I loved this place. It was completely custom: a factory made to make popcorn, and popcorn only:

Employee Entrance, Popcorn Plant

Surrounded, necessarily, by grain elevators:

Dirt Path and Grain Elevators at Popcorn Plant

Deeply customized for the task at hand, including the Hutchinson Portable Grain Auger:

Grain Elevators With Hutchinson Portable Grain Auger

I looked this up, and discovered it was an American invention by a Kansan names Mayrath:

Martin Mayrath lived on his father’s farm near Dodge City, Kansas. As a young man he worked on the family farm and was aware of the strenuous labor associated with shoveling grain. In 1943, Mr. Mayrath invented the portable grain auger. By 1945, patents were issued to Mr. Mayrath for several of the key concepts still used in grain handling today.

Early production was accomplished in Dodge City, Kansas. In 1956, a new factory was built in Compton, Illinois. This new manufacturing facility was located in the heart of the grain-producing region. In 1973, Mayrath Industries was purchased by TIC United. Subsequently, Mayrath was moved to Clay Center, Kansas and in 1989 manufacturing was combined with Hutchinson Manufacturing to form Hutchinson/Mayrath, a Division of TIC United.

With timbers set in dirt to guide the auger where the concrete apron ends:

Timbers Laid as Track for Portable Grain Auger

I loved the posters posted with pride in the lobby (“It’l pop”):

Posters at Popcorn Plant for Sale

Mainly it was the sign: “Popcorn Plant for Sale”. Not a plant, not a factory, but a popcorn plant:

Popcorn Plant for Sale

God bless America.


My Churches of Rome

Last month our family spent eight days in Rome. We rented an apartment near the Pantheon and went all over the city. In the course of spending my time in the city that surrounds the seat of my religion, I developed a desire to be more devout. The idea is so appealing to me— to have inside oneself a depth of commitment that allows you the freedom of purpose and clarity of mode.

My Catholicism is definitely deeper. We spent time in St. Peter’s Cathedral and I visited a set of churches near our house a number of times. I wanted to document all of that here and just capture thoughts and facts about each place. Here’s a complete set of 140 pics of my churches of Rome.

Santa Maria del Popolo church was one of my favorites.

Santa Maria del Popolo Church

Here’s all pics and a snip from Wikipedia:

Santa Maria del Popolo is an Augustinian church located in Rome, Italy. It stands to the north side of thePiazza del Popolo, one of the most famous squares in the city. The Piazza is situated between the ancientPorta Flaminia and the park of the Pincio. [The Porta Flaminia was one of the gates in the Aurelian Wall as well as the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum (modern Rimini). The Via Flaminia was the most important route to the north of Ancient Rome.] The church includes works by several famous artists, architects and sculptors, for example RaphaelGian Lorenzo BerniniCaravaggioPinturicchioAndrea BregnoGuillaume de Marcillat and Donato Bramante.

The buried relics, topped by skulls + crossbones worn by parishioner feet, reminded me of both the original sacrifice and the devotion of daily masses.

Santa Maria del Popolo Church

We finally got in to the Cerasi Chapel. Wonderful. The perspectives are so uncomfortable, off-kilter. The Crucifixion of St. Peter has so much labor and effort and grunting. Photos are not allowed of these paintings.

The painting depicts the martyrdom of St. Peter by crucifixion—Peter asked that his cross be inverted so as not to imitate his mentor, Christ, hence he is depicted upside-down. The large canvas shows Romans, their faces shielded, struggling to erect the cross of the elderly but muscular St. Peter. Peter is heavier than his aged body would suggest, and his lifting requires the efforts of three men, as if the crime they perpetrate already weighs on them.

The Conversion on the way to Damascus is painted with perfect looking-up-from-ones-knees perspective as well.

The painting depicts the moment recounted in Chapter 9 of Acts of the Apostles when Saul, soon to be the apostle Paul, fell on the road to Damascus. He heard the Lord say “I am Jesus, whom you persecute, arise and go into the city” (see Conversion of Paul). The Golden Legend, a compilation of medieval interpretations of biblical events, may have framed the event for Caravaggio.

Caravaggio’s first version of the Conversion painting is in the collection of Principe Guido Odescalchi. It is a much brighter and more Mannerist canvas, with an angel-sustained Jesus reaching downwards towards a blinded Paul.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto are two right across the piazza.

There was a performer doing a Statue of Liberty imitation in front of the place.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Here’s all shots I’ve got of the place and Wikipedia snip:

They are located on the Piazza del Popolo, facing the northern gate of the Aurelian Walls, at the entrance of Via del Corso on the square. The churches are often cited as “twin”, due to their similar external appearance: they have indeed some differences, in both plan and exterior details.
Looking from the square, the two churches define the so-called “trident” of streets departing from Piazza del Popolo: starting from the left, Via del Babuino, Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta. The first two are separated by Santa Maria in Montesanto, the latter by Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

The origin of the two churches traces back to the 17th century restoration of what was the main entrance to the Middle Ages and Renaissance Rome, from the Via Flaminia (known as Via Lataand Via del Corso in its urban trait). Pope Alexander VII commissioned the monumental design of the entrance of Via del Corso to architect Carlo Rainaldi. This included two churches with central plant, but the different shapes of the two areas available forced deep modifications to the projects.

Both were financed by cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi, whose crest is present in the two churches.

We went by here a few times, including once on our way to Villa Borghese. One day we made some sketches on the stairs there while waiting for a restaurant to open.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

The Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio (La Maddalena) is located just north of the Pantheon, so I went there a number of times by myself just to sit.

Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio (La Maddalena)

Here’s all pics I took and a snip from Wikipedia:

The Order of Saint Camillus de Lellis had a church at that location in Rome since 1586 and in the 17th century started the construction of the current church, which was completed in 1699 in the Baroque style.

In seventy years of work several architects were involved including Carlo QuadriCarlo Fontana (who is thought to have designed the dome) and Giovanni Antonio de Rossi. It is uncertain who designed the curved main facade, which was finished circa 1735 and is Rococo, an unusual style in Roman church facades. It also displays motifs reminiscent of Borromini. Early guide books credit Giuseppe Sardi with the its design. Between 1732 and 1734, however, as architect of the congregation of the Ministri degli Infirmi, the Portuguese architect Manuel Rodriguez Dos Santosdirected the completion of works at the church. The historian Alessandra Marino believes that it is to Dos Santos, rather than Giuseppe Sardi, that the design for the highly unusual façade decoration should be attributed.[1]. The architectural historian Nina Mallory has also maintained that Sardi is unlikely to be the designer of the façade.[2]

To the left of the church is the monastery, constructed circa 1678, by Paolo Amato from Palermo and completed by C.F. Bizzacheri in the early 1680’s.[3]

The church is devoted to St. Camillus, who is the Universal Patron of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians, so there is an intensity to the place. Many people who mill through and pray at the various chapels leave remnants from loved ones for whom they seek healing. There is also a certain opulence and formality to the place, which is not uncommon in Rome, but seemed more pronounced here.

Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio (La Maddalena)

Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio (La Maddalena)

I often went to another church very nearby, and it always blew my mind: The Church of San Luigi dei Francesi.

San Luigi dei Francesi

Here’s my pics and a Wikipedia snip:

The Church of St. Louis of the French (ItalianSan Luigi dei FrancesiFrenchSaint Louis des Français,LatinS. Ludovici Francorum de Urbe) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and titular church in Rome, not far from Piazza Navona. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France. The church was designed by Giacomo della Porta and built by Domenico Fontanabetween 1518 and 1589, and completed through the personal intervention of Catherine de’ Medici, who donated to it some property in the area. It is the national church in Rome of France.[2][3] The currentCardinal-Priest of the Titulus S. Ludovici Francorum de Urbe is André Vingt-Trois.

There are three amazing Caravaggio paintings in this place.

The church’s most famous item is, however, the cycle of paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, painted by the Baroquemaster Caravaggio in 1599-1600 about the life of St. Matthew. This include the three world-renowned canvases of The Calling of St MatthewThe Inspiration of Saint MatthewThe Martyrdom of Saint Matthew.

The beginning of this video shows the three paintings as they existed in July 2012:

RomeSnips2 (Sunday) from Daniel X. O’Neil on Vimeo.

Another amazing church was Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Here’s my pics and a Wikipedia snip:

The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere (ItalianBasilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere) is a titular minor basilica, one of the oldest churches in Rome, and perhaps the first in which Mass was openly celebrated. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, The first sanctuary was built in 221 and 227 by Pope Calixtus and later completed by Julius I [1][2]

Here’s a shot of me sitting in sunlight (face is more washed out than I wanted to be) along with Caleb photobombing in ORD Camp T shirt:

Santa Maria in Trastevere

What I got out of the faded medieval paint of this place was the sheer will be to Catholic.

St. Peter’s Cathedral always moves me.

My pics (Wikipedia snip not necessary)

La Pieta, especially:

St. Peter's Cathedral, Rome

One surprise was to see that the crypt of Pope John Paul II is located right next to La Pieta. Here’s me, there:

In St. Peter's Cathedral

Good thing they’ve got guards:

In St. Peter's Cathedral

Last on my list is The Pantheon, which is actually a church by the name of Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs.

Pantheon (Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs), Rome

This place is a wonder. The poured-concrete, negative-space oculus astounds me.

Light Through the Oculus (Pantheon/ Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs), Rome

And in the end, it is just a church.