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Make graceful and lasting change

No Peddling

Cindy Tonkin - July 21, 2008

I liked this no peddling sign, especially backed up by the skyscrapers.

Architecture is god here. It is no doubt the source of a lot of tourist dollar as well.

This morning I spent 4 hours on an introductory architecture tour. I discovered that Mies van der Rohe is referred to as “Mies” by those who love him(pronounced meece, as in I hate these meeces to pieces). And everyone here in “Chicagoland” seems to love him.

He and the Bauhaus are responsible for the Carslaw style of building (steel and glass) which is clearly more attractive when in sympathy with the surrounds, and when people don’t muck up the design by inhabiting the place.

Visited the Mies-designed Crown Hall at the Uni of Chicago campus, which is a “universal space” – ie an empty hall people can turn into whatever they like.

The architect who lead the tour was agog with admiration, and I suspect the “great acoustics” she was so keen on translate into a massive echo chamber when 100 people have lunch or hang out there.

Toured Robie House, which is a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, completed in 1908. I really liked it. Frank (although no one called him that) was a little of a control freak perfectionist. He not only designed the space, the windows, the carpets and the light fittings, but also the furniture.

Over the intervening 100 years the place has been a little run down (used at one point for a seminary dormitory, since it had 6 bedrooms and a couple of big rooms – play room, billiards room, lounge and dining). The restoration plans took 2 years, the drawings another 2, approval a further 9 months… And so we saw 4 rooms. They are currently having trouble matching the sand used in the plaster, which is apparently imperative to the success of the thing..

Frank was 5 feet 5. He apparently wanted people to feel compressed and then released by his buildings, so the entrance hall is less than 7 feet tall. Nice and cosy, but a little uncomfortable for the 2 tall people on the tour.

This afternoon I checked out the Chicago Public Library, a modern building which “winks” at all of the famous buildings about town, taking architectural features from each and mixing them in a quite beautiful cocktail. Took lots of photos, will get them onto the site soon. They had an exhibition on fun parks and another on State St (that great street).

Museum of Contemporary Photography featured backyards. One series the photographer wrote an anonymous letter to people asking them to stand at their window at a certain time if they were happy to be photographed. So they were just a little strange and bordering on voyeuristic.

There were also a lot of shots of lawn mowing, turf unrolling, barbecues and picnics. My favourite was a series of shots a woman had taken of her own mother about the house, without the mother being aware of the camera.

So I’m seeing a lot of things today. Just a tad tired, so chilling out at a Starbucks with a rice crispy treat and a hot soy caramel. To each her own, right?

Back to class tomorrow, and the focus is scene work.

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