Past, Present and Future use of Public Space

My morning began as other Chicago mornings…. breakie in the Intelligentsia café.  The baristas are getting to know me and my daily order by heart. ( I feel like the Norm character on the 80s TV. program “Cheers”) . On one hand I feel guilt for not trying different places. On the other hand, I feel guilt for trying something different during my short time in the city and having the new choice be a less than satisfactory experience.  Yes, there is comfort in the familiar.  Besides, the coffee is ever so tasty.  Sigh.  Such an emotional struggle going on in my head at too early an hour.

Federal Plaza, Chicago

After breakie, I am trotting over one block to the Federal building.  Much of the plaza is under construction,  and viewing Alexander Calder’s Flamingo  sculpture is hampered by protective plywood and netting.  However, the short building in the plaza  (popularized in various movies, including Ferris Buller’s Day Off),  is a post office.  I am planning to mail out my post cards from this  spot.  Not only is it a famous spot,  though really the only post office I can find.   ( Many office buildings in Chicago have ornate mail collection receptacles in the main lobby, by the elevators, as well.)

I was excited for today’s lessons.  Our NEH/National Louis leaders will be discussing   the past/present and future of public space.   We will be looking at the progress ‘caused’, or perhaps ‘inspired’ , by  the World’s fair in 1933-1934.

Within a span of 40 years, Chicgao hosted two world’s fairs  that celebrated  the European discovery of the Americas and the 100th  birthday of Chicago , respectively.  Both fairs were organized during prosperous times, yet opened during  two of the worst economic depressions which America had every experienced.  It is documented that these fairs  did more than offer an occasion to celebrate;  they employed people during a time when many were struggling with being out of work, also, it provided a brief escape from the hard times of everyday life.  The Century of Progress, in 1933,  symbolized hope for both Chicago and the country.

Me, South Lakefront Park, Museum Campus, Chicago, IL

Importantly,  the fairs serve as examples of hope public places can serve a multitude of purpose: building community, entertainment, sparking the down turned economy, as well as offering a glimpse into a possible dynamic future.

The 1933 Fair lasted two years, to accommodate the mass number of visitors.  Scientists penned the Chicago 1933 ‘s fair  as

Science finds,

Industry applies,

Man conforms.

During the morning lecture,  we examined primate sources: various photos from the actual  1933 fair, postcards and advertising flyers  as well as maps and admission tickets.

Sue the Dinosaur, Field Museum, Chicago, IL

After the planned morning lecture ,  group  spent the afternoon on a  scheduled  trip across the street to the south end of the Lakefront park, were much of the 1933 World’s fair  was constructed ( though was built to be torn down after the fair’s closure).    We walked down to Roosevelt Ave and Michigan Aves  to observe the redevelopment of the park,  the extensive bike trails, the soft ball fields, the sculpture,  the  pathways leading to the Museum Campus.  The group then broke up around 12.30pm near Soldier Field to tour various public spaces, including Field  Museum,  the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium .  I elected to visit the Field Museum and Sue the Dinosaur ( if one ever has the opportunity to visit , I would recommend it highly.)

From there,  I returned back to my dorm room to rest and reflect and have a late/mid afternoon lunch and to compose my thoughts.

Shortly around 7pm, I ventured out again to try to visit theChicago Public Library and  sat down to absorb  the space;  how it was being used, who was using it,  how it was causing others to behave/react. My roomate ,  Rebecca, joined me.  We visited with Jessica, the children’s librarian on duty in the children’s  reading room.  She was speaking so passionately about reading and inspiring children to read that she was an the verge of tearing up.  Which, of course, casued me to get slighty weepy as well, as that is the name of the game for all librarians who work with young people….to inspire our children to be reading. …to inspire and uplift.

Me, Chicago Public Library, 9th Floor Winter Garden, Chicago, IL

Rebecca and I visited all nine floors of the public area of the library, including the magnificent roof top winter garden room.  Again, a public space  used to inspire cultural awareness, civics mindedness,  to uplift the soul and inspire.  Daniel Burnham  approve of this building ‘s attributes which adher to the 1909 plan.

Since it has been a long day out in the sun, I am not only sunburnt,  but rather  a bit tired from all the fresh air. A little snack then bedtime amongst the skyscrapers.  Boy, those were sure tasty cupcakes……

Grant Park and Chicago’s downtown lakefront as a public place

Another morning breakie at the Café Intelligentsia.  Another café au lait and a chocolate croissant. Is it wrong to enjoy such a simple breakie so much?  Their coffee is outstanding.  The customer ahead of me had a deep conversation with the barista about the quality of the beans.  Further proof that coffee consumption is not a socialize addiction but on the verge of a religion.

After posting a blog for Day 2 of my NEH program, I am very much looking forward to Day 3.  Today’s schedule will take us on a walking tour of the north end of Grant Park as well as an afternoon seminar of the history of the park.  I am very much looking forward to meeting up in the park for a picnic lunch today with my fellow NEH Skyscraper alumni and our CAF leaders from 2009.  Today can be summarized as a ‘park day’.

Rebecca and I , Buckingham Fountain, Chicago

Before heading off to class, I dashed back to my room to pick up my roommate, Rebecca.  She is a middle school math teacher from Kalamazoo, MI and we have been getting on like a house on fire these past few days.  Not only are we roommates, we are table mates in the classroom and have no shortage for things to chin wag about.

As the class gathered, we summarized the previous days learning,   by defining Daniel Burnham’s   impact, of who he was and of his many roles.  From approx 9.30am until lunch time, we divided off into two groups.  Larry Bennett led a walking tour of Millennium Park.  From Michigan Ave South to Buckingham Fountain, along Lakeshore Blvd, to the skating rink/ playground area in the North East corner of the park, over the British Petroleum walk designed by Frank Gehry to the Pritzker Band shell (also designed by Gehry.  Today’s goal was to look at what the latest developments in the park have been realized and observe how they are being used and how.

Lunch was a lovely treat.  Several participants were also past participants of the Skyscraper program ( as I was two years ago in 2009),  met with the Chicago  Architecture Foundation  NEH program leaders,  Jean Linsner and  Jenn Masengarb for lunch in the South garden of the  Chicago Institute of Art.  It was a lovely sunny day, a quiet relaxing garden, steps away from the frantic traffic of Michigan Ave.  We enjoyed catching up on what we have all been doing and of how the Skyscraper NEH program has been implemented in our schools.

CAF NEH Leaders, Jean Linsner and Jenn Masnegarb

Sugar Bliss, Chicago

Mrs. Pullen,  I was able to find time at lunch to make a selection at Sugar Bliss, on North Wasbash, across from Marshall Field’s/Macy’s department store.  While the daily flavor selection is overwhelming, I will warn you that vanilla is never JUST vanilla.  Delish.

Returning to the classroom for 1pm, Dr. Bennett   continued his seminar on the nature of public places using Grant Park as an example of discussions between open spaces versus urban development and the need for each.

To wrap up the afternoon,   our teacher leaders discussed what the parameters of the weekly assignment as well as the final project.  Web services such as: Prezzie, Weebly, Glogster, Museumbox and Wikispace were all demonstrated.

With my homework completed for the weekly assignment, I then trotted across the street to the Chicago Institute of Art to take advantage of the free admission day.  Sadly, I was turned away due to my cupcakes.  Expectedly, I could not take my gourmet Sugar Bliss cupcakes into the museum.  However, I was not allowed to ‘check’ my cupcakes in the storage area.   What is the world coming to? The coat check lady suggested that I quickly eat the cupcakes to be allowed in.  She obviously did not fully understand the importance of gourmet cupcakes. Oh well,  the art institute will be on my itinerary another day…..sans cupcakes.

Due to lack of Internet connectivity in my room,  I have been  writing my text in the evening, then posting in the mornings at breakfast ( usually a free WiFi spot.)  Thus,  my postings will be brief at this time.  It is my aspiration to elaborate on what is learned in the classroom by synthesizing my notes and posting this information when I return home.  Frankly,  I do not feel it  a good idea to be trotting around at night with my electronic equipment seeking a WiFi spot.

Chicago, its downtown lakefront, and public places in perspective

Freddy enjoy breakfast, University Center

Today began with a quick breakie in the University Center’s Cafeteria with Freddy Falcon.  I was flattered to have another resident ( I think that she belonged to a religious order), perhaps in her mid sixties ask if I was ‘here with one of the kid groups’.  What an odd question.  My first  thought was that my grey roots are in need of attention from my hairdresser, so why would someone ask me this?  The question was then repeated, with a glance down at my stuffed Freddy Falcon doll.  Oh. Now I get it.  I quickly smiled at her and informed this fellow diner that I was here with a teacher’s group.   Though secretly, I was flattered to  be thought of as younger than my recent 40 year birthday would dictate.

Dr. Mark Newman, Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Art wing

Despite the morning rain storm,  40 fellow educators from around the country met to begin our week’s program,  Chicago’s Downtown Lakefront as a Public Place: Exploring Public Places in Local, National and Global Perspective. We split off into two groups to walk along Munroe street to Lake Shore Blvd to  visually compare  20th century  urban planning styles versus 21st Century planning styles.  Our workshop leaders, Dr. Spirou and Dr. Newman described the Lakeshore park area as a former swamp, built on trash from the  1817 historic Chicago fire.  The park is frames my modern skyscrapers to both the  North and South,  though the  towers to the west are a mantel of historic buildings,  one of which  we are learning in, the national Louis  University offices in the  former Chicago Electric and Gas Co. building designed by Daniel Burnham.

National-Louis University, Michigan Ave. Chicago

After the tour, we re-group in our classroom, to compare and contrast,  the  Crown Fountain vs the Buckingham Fountain;  the Frank Gehry designed  band shell vs the Petrola band shell.  Again,  looking at styles from the early 1900s  as well as the 2000s.

After regrouping from our lunch break,  Perry Buis Spoke on the topic of  Why Chicago became and important city?  It is both a national city as wella s a global city.

Finally for the afternoon,  Larry Bennett  spoke  of the City’s Beautifcation Movement.

Chicago Riverwalk, North Wasbash Ave. Chicago

By 4pm, I will admit to being tired.  Yes, the University Center is extremely clean and quiet,  though I personally find it difficult to get comfy and be able to sleep  in a new place the first night.  So,  after taking a pre supper power nap,  I trotted out to Wasbash  and Wacker street to enjoy a quiet supper at the South Water kitchen restaurant.   Admittedly, this is more of a after work type of gathering place,  though I choose it for its location.  My window table afforded me a view of the   Trump Tower and the two Marina Towers from the mid 60s.   Again, a great contrast in styles, as is evident  just about everywhere one turns in Chicago.

Due to lack of Internet connectivity in my room,  I have been  writing my text in the evening, then posting in the mornings at breakfast ( usually a free WiFi spot.)  Thus,  my postings will be brief at this time.  It is my aspiration to elaborate on what is learned in the classroom by synthesizing my notes and posting this information when I return home.  Frankly,  I do not feel it  a good idea to be trotting around at night with my electronic equipment seeking a WiFi spot.

Chicago, here I come….in one fashion or another…..

I finally made it to Chicago.  Finally.  If one thing I have learned is that 1) always be polite and smile  and 2)  when travelling, be prepared to roll with whatever may come.

Today was no exception.

As I entered the Sarasota Airport, the Leivia family was dashing past, a Saint Stephen’s School family, trying to make it to their gate.  I think that Lloyd and Larrisa were surprised to see me, just as I was them.

Air Tran flight out of Fort Myers, during a rain shower

While waiting to board my plane in Sarasota,  numberous calls came over the PA  system announcing over bookings and please to check  bags in lieu of over crowding the overhead bins.  Yes,  my flight was over booked.  I voluntarily agreed to give up my seat ( as I am hoping someone else who do if I were travelling with companions).  In  exchange, I was driven to Fort Myers to catch a direct  to Chicago flight which arrived  twenty minutes later than my original flight from SRQ (connecting in ATL).  I also rec’ved a round trip ticket for future travel as well as an upgrade to  first class.  What a treat!  First class afford one a few extra feet of leg room space.  ‘ Yahoo!’ cheers the 5 foot ten librarian with excessively curly hair!  Extra leg room is a definite plus.

Thank you to Stephanie at SRQ Air Tran ticket counter for  making these arrangements and kudos to Rosemary from Diplomat taxi for getting me to Fort Myers airport on time for my 3.11 pm departure.

As with many things in life,  my unexpected  travel plans had another silver lining.  I sat across the aisle from an elderly couple celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.  It was lovely chatting with two people who were so happy and in love.

Freddy getting ready for bedtime

Freddy getting ready for bedtime

After checking in at the University Center, kitty corner from the  Chicago Public Library,  I began to settle in, meet  my roommate,  Rebecca the math teacher from  Kalamazoo, MI.  If my detoured travel plans are any indication,  this week will be filled with many new and wonderful adventures.  Learning more from the Chicago NEH fellowship, the Park as a Public Place  will be a rewarding week.

The only draw back is that I miss Eoin dude terribly.  He was ‘bootlipping’ it when I left him at the airport.  Perhaps the promise of something from the Lego store on Michigan Ave will cheer his spirits.

Remaking tradition: what is modern?

NEH Grant Day 6/Friday July 17th

Today’s topic is ‘remaking tradition: what is modern?’

We will be looking at …. what are the tenants of modernism? How do early Chicago skyscrapers compare and contrast with the work of Mies van de Rohe who drew on a tradition of architectural forms to reinvent the skyscraper after WWII?

Reliance Building

Reliance Building

Our morning lecture  was delivered by  Mr. Douglas Gilbert, of Harboe Architects, The Design and Restoration of the Reliance Building.  As a lead architect on the renovation of the historic Reliance Building in 1995, Gilbert  will discuss how this building with its unusually thin curtain wall, is often seen as an important ‘protomodern’ building in American architecture.

Skyscraper was not intended by one person in one place. Power of intention appears over time , thorough the  building’s  life span. The is a gap in building construction in the Chicago Loop between  the 20s- 50s.  During WWII,  many people construction workers went off to war, money was scarce, resources ( such as steel) were scarce.  Modern styles buildings in Chicago  examples are Prudential and Inland Steel Building, Federal Center.

Harboe Associates worked on Reliance Building restoration  in 1995,  also the Rookery renovation (17 Adams Street). Discuss building with its thin curtain wall, is often seen as an important “protomodern’ building in American architecture. Reliance I typical of Chicago School style,  large pane windows with two  slender levered windows on either side to open for ventilation.  Currently, it is Chicago building code that these windows open  is the space inhabited is a space for residential purpose ( namely hotels, condos etc.) Also the defined arch indicate a typical Chicago School.

Great Fire occurred in October 1871.

Post fire 1880s-  architecture  began to become innovative in style. For example the Monatuck Building  in 1882.  While not highly ornate,  the thickness of the walls   at the base  are 16 feet thick  to allow for load bearing capacity.  The accentuation of the columns on the  front and back façade to e are recessed in and not  draw attention to vertically , yet,  width is accentuated by the  piers  which are drawn out.  This visual trick   gives the impression of the building being high, though not too high, as that the word ‘skyscraper’ scared many in the 1880s.  With the advent of Otis’s safety elevator,   buildings could safely transport people up and down with minimal effort, yet with  easing fears for safety. As business grew, only way to go was up.  Technological advances allowed for this.  Also, as business grew, it was possible to house the entire organization in one building.  Manotuck was seen by some as one of the first skyscrapers. Little ornamentation exists on the Manutock building.

terracota tiles in need of renovation

terracota tiles in need of renovation

Home Insurance Building (1883) stacked floor building, first to use a metal skeletal frame to carry the load of each floor.  Jenny’s design is seen  as a the first skyscraper for this very reason, not only because of its height, but  this use of steel and skeletal framework, which is still used to this day.

Tacoma Building (1886) need to cover columns and spandrels, almost all glass in walls very little  masonry.

Skeletal frames allowed for  a quicker construction time,  building could be built in stages.  As steel frame is going up on higher floors,  lower levels which already had their skeletal frame could  being  installing walls,  doors, trim, etc. Early 1890s architects more commonly began to express themselves vertically before, architects tried to lower height of building visually as not to  scare people, tapering of building floors was common

Reliance Building was owned by William Hale in 1880s. Hale bought property and was interested in  land devlopement yet was also involved  in the elevator industry as an associated of Otis.  Safety features such as a motor control ans safety  brakes increased public’s confidence in elevator usage. Burnham  and Root were hired to design  the office building.  Tenants on top floors would not move out until their leases ran out. Thus, the architects, jacked up the higher levels and began building on the lower levels. Root dies in 1891 of ammonia.  By 1894, Hale  wants to knock off the top and re build the  now vacant portion. Charles Atwood died in 1895 ( opium addict).

NEH Chicago-Day6 017The Reliance Building is an early example of a curtain wall. It is typical of the Chicago School:  iconic, minimal masonry, large windows.

By 1980s, building was in disrepair, a seedy area, filled with tarot card readers and  less savory occupants.  By the   1990s, the City of Chicago bought the building with TIFF monies ( regional tax funds generated from soley that area of town).  Monies were used to clean the exterior of grim and soot to show the white terracotta   exterior cladding.  Idea was to sell to a developer to manage.  Interior was kept as closely to the time period as possible, yet  challenge lies in matching with modern day building code requirement. Hence, the bird cage elevator system is new,  with a wrought iron  grill framing a  the elevator shaft.  The shat is covered in   the required  materials, yet painted and light in such a manner to give the appearance  of sunlight and airiness behind the grill.  The grill design is carried over to the  stainless steel elevator doors in a black grill etching. The tile flooring was replaced and recreated to  compliment the original design,  Turkish masons  recreated  the pattern on a  gluey web,  and shipped. When the mosaic tile was received, it was rolled out in a sheet , matched  pieces to fit, then cemented and grouted.  The result is an intricate rose coloured  diamond pattern gleaming on the lobby floor.  Lightening was replaced from the old gas lighting  to modern and safer electric.  The lightening fixtures are exact replicas of the originals .

The huge Chicago school glass windows required  replacing, as that the originals were  a ¼ of an inch thick and not wind bearing (  unsafe when the winter winds blow in the windy city).   New insulated glass fabrication occurred. Increasing safety and energy standpoints. Rollerwave and distortion on the float glass and heat strengthening,  thus giving the glass a slight aged distortion. A recreated cornice , designed to compliment the original  was installed.  While it sticks out three feet form the building, it will accommodate window washers and their  hanging scaffolding.

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Mr. Douglas Gilbert, Architect

Our group then walked over to the Reliance Building for a guided tour with the CAF docents. Buildings in need of restoration or which were in the process of being resorted were pointed out.  By the by, teachers can stay in the Hotel Burnham , located at 32  N. State Street ,(what is now the renovated Reliance Building)  at a greatly reduced rate of 75$ per night, during  specific dates.  Call the hotel directly to book reservations at 312-782-1111 to ask for the “teacher time out” program. During our tour of the Hotel Burnham, Mr. Gilbert was on site to answer any questions.

Sugar Bliss

Sugar Bliss

We broke up for lunch by 12.15 with a promise to be back for 1.30pm.  Since I was one block away from the  famous Sugar Bliss, I made a bee line right away  to pick up two ofNEH Chicago-Day6 046 the most schrumpous cupcakes  of my life.  One was  regular size, vanilla, with a cream cheese frosting and coconut sprinkled on top, the other was a min cup cake, chocolate with chocolate/cappuccino flavouring.  I cannot articular in words just how wonderful both cupcakes were.  This is a definite stop  on any Chicago tour.  Right across the street from  Macy’s ( the old Marshall Field’s  store).  To Mrs. Pullen, my Head of School and fellow cupcake aficionado,  I have a brochure  for you to take note of its location.  While I can hear my mother in my ear claiming that cupcakes are not a nutrition lunch,  I did purchase a sandwich  at the café Around the Cornerin our Santa Fe building.  I then proceeded to the Art Institute  of Chicago’s garden for some reflection time in a splendid leafy green garden .   And yes, I enjoyed my cupcakes.  Immensely.  After admiring the  sculpture, I then returned to class  for our 1.30pm lecture.

NEH Chicago-Day6 048NEH Chicago-Day6 050Our afternoon lecture  was delivered by Paul Stienbrecher of Interactive Design Inc.  Paul’s lecture Mies  in Chicago : Why not all Glass boxes are alike.  As a member of the renovation team of Mies van der Rohe’s Federal center,  Steinbrecher will discuss modernism and Mies’s work in particular, as well as Chicago’s reaction to the glass and steel box. I think that it was a collective feeling by the group that  a bit more time could have been  focused on modernism and post modernism. While both styles did not happen during the  20s and 30s, at a time when Chicago’s skyscrapers came into being,  many of our children  can and do relate to the shiniest of modernism style.

Federal Building is best described as very linear, with little ornamentation.  One could almost ascertain that the reflections cast from neighbouring building onto the Federal Buildings windows are an ornamentation of sorts.   The entire ‘pad’ is covered in the same  travertine  from Minnesota,  both sites spread over  two blocks, for it was  Mies’ intention that the buildings in their simplicity appear  as if they are floating or hovering  over the site.  This out door flooring continues   uninterrupted as the interior flooring as well.  The glass walls often meet with a steel   vertical column in the middle of the column.  The  corners of the building appear infinite as the  glass corners do not meet  a column, but just simply end.   By standing on the plaza  the viewer’s eye can pick a random  line in the travertine  squares and follow the    seams  to meet up with a post  in each of the buildings in both directions. This echoes  an architect’s primary  rule of measurement: never cut a brick; plan a room size around the sick of the brick.  Thus, let the materials speak.   A geometric 90 degree angle  pattern is present.

Louis Sullivan believed that ‘form followed function’.  Mies thought this to be ridiculous. As a rational form, building can take shape of what it is  employed for.  Modernism in Miees is a standard. After WWII, anything you do in creation is evidence of rational design. And a rational act  has organization. We think in terms of who we work, not nature. Attempts at being natural does nto work.  Modernism is a different way of looking at the world (seeking answer in resolute).

We then  proceeded to the Federal Building  to compare and contrast  the current  building and the previous building on this site, the Old  Chicago City Hall.

NEH Chicago-Day6 054Mr. Stienbrecher was one of the best lecturers this week, if not one of the best two, hands down. He was engaging, interesting, and very knowledgeable on the subject matter of Mies and his buildings.  I thoroughly enjoyed his  presentation.

A best practise field study  at the Federal Center of a guided observation, comparison contrast and sketching exercises.

Today’s discussions defined what is modernism.  We discussed   that the greenest building is the one which is currently standing by making use of  what you already have. By tearing out existing materials to replace with more materials is merely  creating  a higher level of consumption  and not addressing reduction of need.    How long can we use the term modern?Do we still call the building constructed int he 50s modern?  And for how long?  Post modernism is a mishmash of borrowed styles to create something new to reflect  what we are thinking at that time. Though again, how long can we use  the term post modern?  What will be the next style which emerges from modernism/post moderism?   it could be stated that architecture has little to do with forms by is a battlefield of the architect’s spirit.   Architecture  reflects uses  and needs of user at a given time.  In the case of the Federal Building,  the architecture reflects what the government means to us, to society at the time.  Who decides if architecture is tasteful?  Who decides if it stays or goes?

Sarah reading between the lions ( librarian humor)

Sarah reading between the lions ( librarian humor)

Supper  at Ginoadarnos was planned but did not happen. Sorry Chicago friends with whom I work.  Yes, this means you Joni.  I will atone  for this horrible crime in the near future.  Upon dismissal it was threatening to rain, so, I ducked in to the  Art Institute  ( it was a freebie Friday, no charge for admission).  In addition to the many fantastic pieces of art work which I have studied during my undergraduate years,  I was totally  in awe of an exhibition of  art from the 2006 to 2009 Caldecott award winners by the lower level stairwell. ( For those of your who might not be aware, Caldecott awards are given out each January to honor the best in children’s book illustrations). Such a treat for me!

NEH Chicago-Day6 059I then walked over to Macy’s ( the old Marshall Field’s building)  to get a better photo of the famous Louis C. Tiffany glass mosaic ceiling,  built in 1907 . It is  the first dome to be built in favrile iridescent glass as well as being the largest glass mosaic containing over 1.6 million pieces.  “Favrile” (handmade) and the “iridescent effect” was obtained by mixing different colors of glass whilestill hot during the manufacturing process,  patented in 1894 by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

On my way back to my dorm room on State Street, I ducked into Filene’s Basement to  escape the rain.   I can remember enjoy shopping at Filene’s when we lived in Vermont, though I had no idea Filene’s Basement existed.  ( Of course it does?  How else would the building be supported without a basement?! Ha.).  A number of good deals.  After about 30 minutes, I  was able to get back to my dorm without getting  wet .  I began packing, working on this blog as well as working on my workshop evaluation.

No Chicago pizza, Joni. I hang my head in shame.


The rise of the modern design firm…. Holabird and Roche: a case study

NEH grant-Day 5/Thursday July 16

Willis tower, formerly Sears Tower

Willis tower, formerly Sears Tower

Today’s Chicago Tribute ran a full page article, an open letter from the CEO of the Willis Group to all Chicagoans. The renaming of the Sears Tower was  the morning buzz during our discussions.

How does the story of the architecture firm of Holabird and Roche ( now Holabrd and Root) serve as a lens for investigating the relationship between Chicago’s architectural and urban history, and its becoming a modern city? How can an architecture firm systematised the skyscraper?NEH chicago-day 4 006

Dr. Robert Bruegmann, University of Illinois at Chicago  delivered a lecture Holabird and Roche: Architects and the City. By highlighting the 15 years of research on the architecture firm of Holabird and Roche the intent is to illustrate the firm’s architectural history with the urban history of Chicago. A migration  from rural to urban, mechanisation and the industrial revolution in the 19th Century in America are all factors which causes a push/pull   help form the  perfect storm to create  the desire for skyscrapers.

The Home Insurance Building (1855) designed by William Lebaron Jenny  is seen as the  creator of the first skyscraper. There exists a myth that the Great Fire  created the skyscraper city.  Truthfully,  what happened was that the people effected rebuild exactly the same way ( which is common after a disaster) as that the infrastructure is already in place, economics  drove a need  for shoppes to get back into business quickly.

Transit  ( as part of the infrastructure)  was needed for skyscrapers to work.  Since many people had gone to live out in the outskirts of the city,  travel into the downtown core to get to their jobs. Thus street cars were  installed int he 1880s, the first elevated line came about 1890s.

Mantouck Building was build in the 1880s for the Brook Brothers of MA.  They were motivated to make money and were not looking for design or a monumental icon.  Elevators became important in transporting people vertically within taller and taller buildings.  Otis , the elevator maker,  demonstrated a ‘safe’ elevator at teh World’s Fair in 1853. Telephones and telegraph increased communication both within the building as well as between distant buildings.  This would allow  a business’s head quarters in one city and the actually  factory in another. Fire proofing allowed iron to provide a stable skeleton for a skyscraper, though by in casing it in mason (cement) would insult the metal in case of fire.  By 1890s, steel is the standard building materials for skyscrapers. it is stronger and a lighter material.

Why was is said that Jenny had the first skyscraper?  To glorify Jenny would build the cache of the birth of Chicago as a skyscraper city.

Several building booms  and then busts have occurred in Chicago ( and often felt throughout America).   1925-1929 building boom was halted   by the the Great Depression in 1929. A 1950s building boom, Post WWI,  ground to a halt during the oil crisis in the 1970s.  Building happening in 1980s and 1990s ceased during an economic downturn  due to  September 11th’s bombing attacks in New York.

Marquette Building

Marquette Building

George Fuller revolutionised  the building industry by becoming the first constructor to construct a tall building, making his profit by  finishing the building prior to the contracted time.  Contractors were first used  on the Marquette Building.

Architectural firms became more responsive to clients and the city’s needs. Chicago was not intent on creating the monumental skyscraper, but made a contribution. Architectural firms ran along the lines of a business, intent on making money  from their clients.

William Holabird was a West point grad with a business background. Martin Root was a cabinet maker but considered the genius in the firm. Both met when hired to work in Jenny’s architectural firm, then struck out on their own just before  the Great Fire, and today has celebrated their 129th anniversary.

Workshop participants  then received a guided tour of the architectural office of Holabird and Root in the Marquette Building. My group was  lead by Architect Intern, John Howard,

John Howard, Architect

John Howard, Architect

(hmm…that name sounds familiar?!) . Our group was shown some of the current projects which are  being design by this world reknowned firm.  Many of the current projects are for post secondary educational institutions, as that they tend be a more stable investment of time and energy, less to than a business which is at the wims of the economy. They are also working on a municipal library in Ohio and a Federal training campus in Arlington, VA  where civil servants will receive diplomatic training before being staffed in an embassy.  While the construction site is located in another state, one of the senior architects must travel  to the site each month of   measure the progress of the construction.

The lobby is decorated with a fantastic Tiffany Glass Company mosaics in lobby. Each panel depicts the life of Father Jacques Marquette and his settling of Chicago. While this building was constructed in the shape of a letter “E” with allows a maxium amount of sunlight into the offices.  The Elevator banks are located int eh center of the “E”.

Lobby of the Marquette Building

Lobby of the Marquette Building

Running late,  our group was excused  to pick up a quick lunch, then bring it back to eat in the classroom.  Dr. Julie Goldsmith from the NEH , held a feedback session as to the progress or needed improvements. A number of participants voiced the lack of bathroom breaks, the rushed schedule, that the CAF’s famous boat tour was absent from the schedule of events,  the lack of respectful tone which had been felt by some, a lack of information regarding our expected lesson plans to produce, a lack of break time refreshments as well as a lack of information regarding our reimbursement cheques.  Having said that, this is the first time that this program has been offered, and thus it is a learning experience for everyone. The quality of speakers has been highly scholastic and all are very energetic and informative lectures.

Our master teachers then returned to the room to contribute our program.  The group then discussed  several primary sources, such a post cards and how teachers can incorporate post cards and census reports into their lessons.  Participants then verbally shared their ideas..  We began to work in primary sources into our proposed themed lesson.  I am hopeful that clarification of the expected format will happen tomorrow, Friday.

We viewed a 20 minute silent video from the Holabrid and Root  architecture firm, filmed in what is estimated as the 20s. This was capturing a parade and the construction of the Montgomery Ward building. It was amazing to watch the lack of safety standards, workplace standards which we take for granted. On many construction sites it was not uncommon to lose one worker per floor of the building.  The class collectively gasped as  we viewed footage of one workers operating a bellows, stoking a fire to  form the rivets, then throw the rivets up to another worker. the second worker was called a ‘bucker-upper” and was responsible for  catching this glowing hot rivet in a cup, then pass it to another worker to put in place and secure.

After dismissal, I then walked up North Michigan Ave. to further look at  the skyscrapers.  From street level, there are a number of things to watch for: other pedestrians, cars, taxis turning on a pedestrian light and such.  though looking up, the beauty and ornateness can easily be lost .  As I reached the John Hancock building, it began to rain , and I without my Gortex.  Bummer.  Since the red line subway was several blocks away, I decided not to go up  to the lounge in the Hancock Center to have a drink and enjoy the view, for fear that the rain showers would become a heavier rain.

skyscraper chart

Skyscrapers as visual icons

NEH grant-Day 4/Wednesday July 15, 2009

July 15 th is always a special day in the year. It is my anniversary. Not my wedding anniversary ( that’s November 8th, right Scottie?), but my work anniversary.  It is a special day I always share with Paula Heap, who began work at Saint Stephen’s the same day as I, on  July 15th, 2004.  Happy anniversary Paula. I have left a message on your telephone, as I do every year. Silly, perhaps.

It had rained last night, so the walk to class  at the Chicago ArchitectureNEH Chicago-Day 4 001 Foundation was under a cloudy sky.  The view of our skyscrapers was very mystical amidst the clouds.

Today’s workshop theme   will discuss how  and why were architects visually representing skyscrapers in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries?  How did these images inform and influence public opinion and the design of buildings to follow?

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Lauren, a master teacher, touring the exterior, Chicago Tribune Building

Dr. Katherine Solonson  of the University of Minnesota  delivered a discussion  entitled  The 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition.  Dr. Solomonson explored the impact to the 1922 Chicago Tribune tower competition had on the architectural community as well as the citizens of Chicago.The  Tribune’s editors, Robert McCormick and Joseph Patterson  predicted a new for a new building  to ‘sell class appeal to the masses, not just newspaper”.   The acquisition of the site North of the Chicago River on North Michigan Avenue was possible with the adventure of a new  bridge to promote traffic Northward. McCormick and Patterson had enlisted in the war efforts  during WWI, were the  witness some limited exposure to European architecture  in Germany (Gothic) .  Both men were great fans of the Gothic style. While this was an open design competition,   there was some persuasive actions by the newspaper men.  The newspaper ran  photos of famous buildings  from other countries as a means to drum up enthusiasm,  Gothic style ran three separate times.  A subtle hint. By 1919 the Tribune  also saw this as a stimulus plan of sorts, to help restart a post war economy all the while  restart the  Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago  urban plan ( of which we are celebrating its centennial this year) to develop  North of the River.

The  goal of the competition  was to inspire future development in the city as well as  to secure the more beautiful office

Chicago Tribune Building

Chicago Tribune Building

building in the world.  McCormick and Patterson’s broader aspirations were to  position the Chicago Tribune as the greatest newspaper in the world ( as per their masthead), to position Chicago as the greatest city in the world,  to position American as the greatest nation in the world and finally to erect a skyscraper that  symbolized all of the above , within the city’s building codes.  This competition was capitalising on  the public’s ‘skyscraper mania”.  Architects were  challenged to  create a skyscraper  that was representative of the American identity, using new technology, aspiring new development and architecture style. The foot print of the North Michigan Ave site was 100 by 100 feet square, thus lending itself to a tall tower construction, only way to build was up. This building needed to have a set back, and that the top 40 floors had to be empty as per Chicago’s building codes of the time.  Beauty, distinctiveness ( an icon in which to advertise) as well as being

Sculpture based on Aseop's Fables

Sculpture based on Aseop's Fables

practical and efficient were qualities the selection committee was looking for. We then looked at the submissions of Adolf  Loos, Gropius and Meyer (Germany), Jules Van den Hende ( Dutch) and Ludwig Hilberseimer ( Germany).  The impact of the competitions was a win win for America.  The design by Howells and Hood was selected as that is heavy in Gothic design qualities and thus became a WWI commemoration. A number of cornerstones are stones found by Patterson and McCormick from the battle field in Belgium.  Louis Sullivan was of mixed feeling  of the design.  On one hand, he adored the vertically and spiritual aspirations and not just materials qualities.  It was a vertical integration in Daniel Burnham’s master city plan.  On the other hand, Sullivan did not like the design as that it was heavily Gothic,  a style borrowed from Germany, and not furthering a new independent uniquely American style. He viewed the Gothic design of the Chicago Tribune building as  looking back on the past and not looking forward in an innovative fashion. Howell and Hood’s design garnered their design firm the  100, 000$ prize. ( it was hinted that Howells’ wife was on the Chicago Tribune’s Board of directors and this might have played in Howell’s favour.)

The second runner-up, who received 20, 000$,  still impacted American architectural history.  Eliel Saarien’s, a Finnish architect, designed a submission expressed  height and structure, was a spiritual aspiration. Despite  coming in second in the Chicago Tribune competition,  he decided to move to Michigan and worked at Cranbook School.  His son, then when on to become an architect and designed the TWA  terminal as well as the St. Louis Arch.  Thus,  America and the national architectural identity benefited from the runner up.

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Lunch was a quick sandwich outside in the Chicago Art Institute  gardens across the street.  By now, the sunshine had come out and  theNEH Chicago-Day 4 004 skies had cleared.

Our afternoon session was a fun one.  We walked across the street to the Institute , and walked through the art research library to meet with the Archivist and look at several  primary sources, blue prints for  some of the city’s skyscrapers.  We had a short period of time to look around the  center  hallway, at the display of  pieces of former Chicago buildings, pediments,   cornices, stained glass windows etc.  Many of us, also had a chance to  quickly see some of  the Art Institute’s most famous paintings in the Impressionist collections.  Dr. Julie Goldsmith, a Senior Program officer of the NEH, joined us at the Institute. She was attending to view the progress of this program, as that her bailiwick is the selection and dispersal of grant monies to fund these programs all across the country.

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Joel Berman a local architect, demonstrated a best practise How to sketch like an architect.  Mr. Berman  discussed how illustrations influence the way we perceive buildings.  he introduced the group  to various drawing techniques for classroom use.  We  walked out side , across the street into Grant park (yes, where

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

Mr. Joel Berman

Mr. Joel Berman

President Obama accepted the nomination last November).  Beside the  famous Buckingham Fountain (of Married With Children television fame), we  sketch snap shots of what is around us, looked at how to capture detail in an architectural sketch.

To summarize today’s  topic,  corporate buildings wanted to present a building to grace the city and image of the Chicgao Tribute building  to act in the public interest, according to Daniel Burnham’s 1909 City plan.   Architects and clients were interested in investing in beauty. New developments in architecture help to develop the American identity, in a post WWI era.

Supper was a fantastic ruben’s sandwich at Berghoff’s, on 17 W. Adams Street,  as per Dr. Esparza’s suggestion.  This restaurant, housed in a historical building from yesterday’s docent tour,  is famous for the Germanic foods.   The wood panelling, the ornate mosaic floor tiles give the interior an old world, turn of the century feel.   After placing my order, I could  imagine  it being a place were women might not have been allowed at one time,  such as a gentleman’s smoking club or such;  an “old boys club”.  And the ruben’s sandwich wasn’t  half bad either.  Saucy, but not too drippy. Yummie. Do they deliver to Florida, I wonder?

Sugar Bliss, Cupcake emporium

Sugar Bliss, State Street, cupcake emporium

Then to Sugar Bliss, on State Street, in an homage to Mrs. Pullen.  It is a little known fact that my Head of School is a fellow cupcake gourmand.  Sadly, the shoppe was closing as I arrived.  I left with a promise to return tomorrow.

The remainder of my evening was spend looking around  the Macy’s across the street.  While, yes, we do have a Macy’s inNEH Chicago-Day 4 024

Bradenton, and a better grade store in Sarasota, this location was the former Marshall Field’s building.  The interior  is decorated with Corinthian columns,   a mosaics tile ceiling, nothing like our Sarasota store. Ironically, this Macy’s location houses a Sarah’sNEH Chicago-Day 4 025 Pastries and Candies emporium,one of Martha Stewart’s favorite bakeries in Chicago.

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Unifying the design of the tall building

NEH Grant- Day 3/Tuesday July 14,2009

What a busy day….. after breakfast, I ran over to Dunkin Doughnuts to grab a coffee and used my coffee card.  Since I had five punches on the card,  the DD corporation owed me a coffee….maybe they do not use this card in the area of the world, as that the cashier examined it  very closely, almost with a microscope…I am not sure what she was looking for.   It was a strange encounter,  though without my coffee, I could not guarantee anyone’s safety until that first sip! ha.

neh-day3 052Today’s workshop theme was ‘unifying the  design of the tall building’.  How did technology in the late nineteenth century  impact the look and functions of the modern skyscraper?  What role did Louis Sullivan play in refining the skyscraper typology?

A short discussion warmed up the class.   Democracy  gave architects the freedom to express themselves, claimed Louis Sullivan.  Design is never an architect’s whim as that someone else is paying the bill for the design of the building and thus the architect must accommodate  the client’s needs.  Sullivan published a series  of articles “Kindergarten Chats’ as a monthly journal  to an architect intern.   It was his way of teaching others. What is style? “Listen to the brick, it will tell you what it wants to be,” claimed Sullivan.  By this he meant that buildings will react to what they want to be  (not enslaved to be, but inspired to be ).

So today, while walking, participants were challenged to  examine  the height of buildings.   Do we hide or celebrate the height of our buildings?

We also discussed various stages of design. Beaux Arts style happened in the 1890s, at the time of the World’s Fair.  The Chicago School of steel and terracotta skin followed.  By the 1930s Art Deco  design was  being employed.  In 1910s, architects were adding ornamentation, 1920s  saw art deco style being used.  Though by the 1950s,  sleek and chrome, a modern style  was being used. By then, ornamentation was seem as not being honest with the design of the object.Aesthetic change occurred  during WWII and a need of a lack of decor and ornamentation  happened due  to a shifting public view.  of course,  the war caused a lack of money and supplies, which also might have driven this desire to  seek out simplicity and  modern technologies.

Mr. Carmicheal our CAF docent

Mr. Carmicheal our CAF docent

The day’s activities began with a 2 1/2 hour walking tour of  the downtown  Chicago Loop, examining  various skyscrapers with a Chicago Architecture Foundation docent.  These individuals are  exhaustively trained over a one year period. Thus, their knowledge and ability to answer architecture questions is immeasurable.  Our docent was no exception.  Mr. Tom Carmicheal  cannot be praised enough for his patience with participants lagging behind to take photos,  for his knowledge in answering many questions and his good spirits. Of all the docents to be paired with, our group was a very fortunate group.

So much was learned during our walking tour of historic Chicago  skyscrapers  from 1885-1935.

We looked at a number of builindgs this morning.  First up was the Chicago Art

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

Institute, which was built for the World’s Fair in 1893 by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in the Beaux Art Style.  (It is only one of two buildings still standing from the World’ Fair, the Institute of Technology is the other example, which we did not visit.)  This Beaux Arts  style is evident in  the mesh of Greek and Roman styles. The triangular Greek pediment, the  rounded Roman Arches.  (Greek Architecture tends to be  angular in feel, while Roman tend to display rounded  characteristics.)  Both styles used the three  colum designs :  Doric, ionic, Corinthian . The Art Institute uses Corinthian, with the spray of  protruding laurel leaves.  Beaux Art styles gives  the view a sense of hierarchy, the eye is directed  to the entrance, to the center of the building.  The Institutes walls are load bearing  with a  skeletal frame  holding up the roof.  The guarding lions were placed at the entrance in 1894.  The lion to the right is named attitude of defiance,  the right,  on the prowl.

The second building on our tour  houses a recommended restaurant , by Dr.neh-day3 002Esparza.  While I have yet to dine at Berghoff’s, I am sure that the food will be as  wonderful as the architecture.  17 West Adam Street  is the second oldest Chicago School of Architecture building in the city, built in 1872, it is constructed of sandstone.  The current restaurant is housed in two neighbouring buildings,  including  what was once the Palmer Hotel, a lower rise  that is 4 stories tall, with thick load bearing walls and parts of its covering are cast iron.  This iron facade was not popular, as that much of the  iron facades melted right off  the building during the Great Fire,  thus rending them  structurally inhabitable. City codes after the fire changed the materials which could be used   during reconstruction.  In effect, the downtown loop is not a fireproof area, build with materials of the time which were seen as  non flammable.  By the by, the second oldest  restaurant in the city is the Walnut room in Macy’s on State Street. At this stop, we further clarified   the Chicago School of Architecture.   These buildings have abase  ( often 2 stories tall with street level retail), they have a shaft ( office space) and a capital ( an ornate terracotta top or cornices, which were removed as a liability  and replaced with a glass fiber with reinforced concrete materials).

neh-day3 006The Marquette Building on Dearborne and West Adams was designed by  Holabird and Roche in 1895. it is a Chicago School  Style with a steel skeleton structural frame, tripartile.A metal frame holds the building up, as is expressed on the outside with the exaggerated piers.  the walls, thus, are intended for protection.  It is clear the inside of the structure is   mimicked on the outside.  Chicago windows are on display here.  They are often a very large piece of glass, with two double hung windows on either side to allow for ventilation from the outside  in.   The Marquette building is  E shaped, to maximize offices having  exterior windows for ventilation as well as light. This building is currently owned by the McArthur Foundation ( commonly know for their funding of  PBS programming).  As a point of neh chicago-day 1 041reference, this building faces onto the Federal Plaza,  where a large red Alexander Caulder Sculpture resides.  You might recognise this  area from the movie The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keaveu Reeves several years ago. A Tiffany mosaic and bronze friezes decorate the area above the elevators.

Beaux Art decoration beings to appear on the Marquette Building… of this decor have been mimicked on the Harold Washington library building.

Art deco came into being in the 30s. The Bank of America building ( as it isneh-day3 008 currently know by its current tenant) was completed in 1934 as the LaSalle bank building.  Built by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, it was one of the last buildings to be constructed during the depression  and then  skyscraper construction did not  pick up again until the 1950s, during to WWII, a lack of money and lack of materials.  When looking at a Beaux Arts building, such as this example, one can see a two tone colour scheme created byt he limestone and granite.  it gives a very vertical feeling.   A staggering of floors,  or setbacks, allow this building to  be built taller without over powering those on the street.  The tower is up to 40 floors and gives a taller impression with an additional 23 stories and rounded corners.  In 1906,  Marshall Field died (of the department store ), leaving in a trust of 106 million to his two sons.  While they could not touch this money until their 55 birthday,  trustees invested the money including in the construction of this building.  many luxury details can be found  in the marble lobby.  the lobby lighting echoes a wedding cake shape, based on the  style found on the Normandy luxury cruise liner in the 1920s.  Clocks are  in a Cartier style.  This  huge  Art Deco style building occupies  one city block. The whole lobby has a “Fred and Ginger’ feel , for lack of a better descriptive word.

Let’s be clear, Art Deco and Art Nouveau are two separate styles. Art Nouveau is  often a decorative curly tendril foliage design which was very popular in Russian and France.  It is definitely an organic form of  ornamentation style. A rt Deco has   roots in the Arts and Crafts movement. it tends to be more angular and influences home designed and domestic architecture.Let to prairie design.

neh-day3 023neh-day3 026Some of the other buildings we visited were the Rookery. An 1888 Burnham and Root design which  demonstrates  the development of skeleton framing. the interior  atrium was renovated by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chicago Board of trade 1930 by Holabird and Root is another Art Deco  style.  Ceres is the statue on the top , a tribute to grain trading which helped build the city.

Monadnock building 1891 and 1893  by Burnham,and Root, Holabird and Roche  as the tallest  commercial building in the worked with masonry load bearing walls. North and South sections   are different  in skeletal framing.

Fisher Building was briefly visited, as building we have looked at yesterday.

Lunch was a quick sandwich from Au Bon Pain, back in time for the afternoon lecture.

Our afternoon lecture, The Early Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan, was delivered by Tim Wittman of the  School of the Art Institute of Chicago.   Mr Wittman discussed the impact of architectural and technological advances, ( steel, telephone, elevators, fire proofing) that made skyscrapers possible in the 1900s. He highlighted Louis Sullivan’s design principles and explored  how architects struggled with guiding aesthetic design principles  for the new building form.   Sullivan was  seeking an identify for the American architectural  style.  He turned to an organic form which celebrated nature.  Frank Lloyd Wright was a successful draftsman in Sullivan’s   firm,  yet, Wright took the organic design one step further to  geometrized the design.

Then our group discussed  a few best practises. How to better guide building observations and place based architectural experience for students.  We observed and wrote observations  comparing the Manhattan Building and the Old Colony building.

Chicago Tribune Building

Chicago Tribune Building

To wrap up the day, our  workshop group walked past the Carson Pirie building ( most of the decorative ornamentation is currently under scaffolding during a renovation process).  Our final designation was over the Chicago river to the Chicago Tribute tower.  While we did not discuss it too much, the visit was indented as a visual introduction to a building which we will be studying during the next day.  The building ‘s design was a competition in the 20s. While other designs were rejected, the runner ups when on to do other influential things…more detail to follow tomorrow.  What is  very striking is the tongue in cheek  concept of this building telling a  story. Many stories to tell exist both within the building  as a daily newspaper is produced, as well as the building itself telling stories. Portions of famous buildings from around the world are attached to the Tribune building .neh-day3 066neh-day3 068neh-day3 070neh-day3 076neh-day3 079neh-day3 071

Walked along N Michigan Ave, also known as teh Magnificent Mile,  bought some lego for Eoin and came back to my room to work on my blog. I hope that I am being detailed enough to enlighten those who read this, though worry about bogging down with too much detail. I trust that some one will leave a comment expressing their concerns either way or any questions which might exist.

Blue Ridge Parkway Post Drive and Farewells

Saturday July 12th, 2008  was a day of quickly packing up the remains of our dorm rooms, of saying goodbye to some, for others it is a ‘see you at the next NEH workshop’.   We packed up,  had a quick breakfast and then boarded the bus for a final  drive along the parkway. We re-visited several of the stops we made on our first night here.  Obviously the weather was a major difference We enjoyed sunshine and bright weather today.  We recorded our impressions in our journal ( which was submitted once we returned home).  We reflected on the various lectures from the past week and how it affected our enjoyment of this road.

Amy from Philadelphia and I on the BRP

Amy from Philadelphia and I on the BRP

We then returned to the Campus to complete a on line evaluation for the NEH.  After that, I snuck out to take a few more snaps of campus and the pretty area.  I think that if I had the opportunity, I would love to spend four years studying for a degree here.  The opportunities to learn and grow would be invaluable.

By 2.30pm, I was on the road with a few other participants to the Greensboro Airport , in Greensboro, North Carolina for a 8pm flight. perhapss a long time to wait in an airport, though it was lovely to have the quiet time to sit and read quietly.

My airplane  in Greensboro, North Carolina

My airplane in Greensboro, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway and its origins….

The morning of July 7th, 2008  began with a breath taking vista as I left my dorm to go to breakfast on the campus of Appalachian University, here in Boone, North Carolina. I am amazed at the state of ‘pretty’ which exists on the campus. Perhaps that is a generic term, though the university has been well thought out and is moving towards a definitive direction to stimulate learning in this area.

I cannot go any further before proclaiming my delight ….a brand new library facility has improved the campus and student’s access to information.

Belk Library, Appalachian University

Belk Library, Appalachian University

Opened in 2004, Belk Library consists of five floors, a central rotunda which funnels light to the main floor, fireplaces, coffee shoppe and technology to optimise learning ( abundant computer terminals, on line databases, projection devices, wired auditoriums etc.) Of course, I gravitated to the basement level, which was anything but damp and dingy, lower level windows brightened a children’s collection space.

Main Lobby Rotunda, Belk Library

Main Lobby Rotunda, Belk Library

This facility not only services university students in the school library and elementary education programs, but also the Town of Boone’s children. Traditional story times and other such programming bring the local children into this building and exceed their information needs.

The morning began with a lecture by Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant, author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History . Dr. Whisnant produced an over view of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the reason for it’s being, history of its creation and touched on the notion of framing views of nature by taming the natural world. What is the public good? How do you identify it and achieve it fairly? Is imminent domain fair for who exactly? All environments and landscapes have an arena of politics behind it. Existing interpretations and stories should be looked at with a critical eye. This discussion touched on the creation of the parkway for the good of certain parties, though with power, such as Hugh Morton, owner of Grandfather Mountain a privately owned piece of land with a right of way to the BRP.

Proceeding this , a small break out discussion group met to look over further primary sources, including a handwritten letter from Mr. S.A. Miller, an Appalachian farmer pleading to President Roosevelt to save his farm land. Again, the theme of imminent domain and fairness came into play.

After lunch, we departed for a tour of Grandfather Mountain to admire the

Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor's Center, North Carolina

Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor's Center, North Carolina

views and better understand the shape of the landscape. A stop at the Linn Cove Viaduct Center documented the final section of the BRP, completed in 1987. This viaduct, near mile post 290 ( or known as Section 2H) was estimated to cost $4 million to construct, though came in at $10 million. Part of the delay in completion of this final section of the parkway was the debate over the routing of the Parkway to Grandfather Mountain.

Sarah Potwin, Grandfather Mountain, 5200 feet above sea level

Sarah Potwin, Grandfather Mountain, 5200 feet above sea level

We then returned to campus for supper and time to read. As part of my course requirements, I am to write a lesson plan which will include material from this week’s workshop. Currently, I am playing around with a theme of fairness (imminent domain might be a big word for my elementary students) and how fairness cannot be achieved for all. I am also looking at incorporating a geographical element into my lesson, though at this point these are simply vague notions.