25 Years: Coffou Cottage

This cottage was designed with a simple structural system, a horizontal red cedar rain screen on the north, and a wall of operable glass on the south. The open plan of the kitchen, dining room, living area, and porch intensifies views to the meadow and woods to the south while also maximizing solar gain in the winter. Radiant heat in the ground concrete floor is enhanced by passive solar gain and runs throughout the three-bedroom cottage. A fireplace positioned in the front hallway divides the bedrooms from the living area, and a custom sofa bench set into the wall across from it creates a traditional fireplace inglenook.

25 Years: R+D 659

To best optimize views and sunlight, this mixed-use project consists of two residential slabs set against the street and the highway—the resultant corner identifies the building’s entry while also marking an entrance to Chicago from the highway. The inner, overlooking residences are developed with full height glass and projected balconies to heighten their experience, while street side residences have floating spandrels and inset terraces to mediate their exposure. Similar materials, forms, and detail are seen in both the interior and exterior architecture of this building.

25 Years: The Fifth

In Royal Oak, Michigan, the tower of this building marks the community's commercial center, making a strong urban connection while creating unlimited vistas to the surrounding area from within. The residences utilize floor-to-ceiling glass with clear aluminum framing and inset balconies to extend their views while also mediating their exposure. Further enhancing the local context, the entry and adjacent commercial space align with the neighboring mercantile frontages—an arcade extends along the street to provide shelter for passing pedestrians.

25 Years: Claremont Furniture

In many of our projects, we have gone beyond the design of the building envelope and interiors and have created custom furniture and fixtures in response to a client's specific needs. When our residential or commercial clients want to create a complete aesthetic experience within a space, we have custom designed items ranging from furniture to lighting and plumbing fixtures, hardware, appliances and textiles. In doing this, we aim to create a cohesive stylistic experience within a given space. 

25 Years: Claremont House

Traditional materials of brick, concrete, limestone, steel, and zinc are used to form a non-traditional house on a lot on the north side of Chicago. The house further resists city conventions by uniting the front yard with the back through visual transparency, where sheets of glass more than ten feet high and fourteen feet wide terminate an open plan. A three-story volume of millwork separates the floors from the vertical circulation of the stairway and contains storage and equipment, neatly separating functional performance from open space.

25 Years: 550 St. Clair

Overlooking North Michigan Avenue, this multi-residential development contains a level of design detail typical of custom single family housing.  The forms, systems, and materials were selected to provide openness and privacy, flexibility of use, and functionality.  A translucent arcade leads to a wood entry vestibule and a lobby where glass, stone, and wood enclose a small garden and seating area.  The residential tower rises as a single eighteen story volume enclosed by window planes on the north, east, and south.  It is relieved at the corners by inset balconies delineated with translucent glazing.  

25 Years: Racine Art Museum

When we undertook the design of the Racine Art Museum, it was with a thorough understanding of the type of art that would occupy it, the environment required for the museum galleries, and the knowledge that our design would need to be a pivotal project in revitalizing a downtown community.  The design for the new museum redefines the existing structures with contemporary materials and a new spatial composition.  The facade is wrapped in translucent acrylic panels that are separated from the exterior surface—natural light subtly illuminates the surface of the building during the day, while lighting at the top of the facade causes the building to glow in the evening.  The iridescence of the acrylic panels by day and their lantern-like glow by night parallel the qualities of light and movement inside the museum. 

25 Years: Perimeter Galleries

With locations in both Chicago and New York City, our designs for the Perimeter Galleries create an optimal environment for viewing a changing array of artwork. A series of partitions along a floating wall separate the space into more intimate zones—these smaller "galleries" within the gallery draw viewer's in through fostering a sense of anticipation, light and depth.

25 Years: Carus Residence

Positioned on a large, flat site in north central Illinois, this house evokes agricultural buildings historically built in the Midwest. The L-shaped house is oriented towards the perimeter of the lot, acting as a privacy screen by protecting views into the pool area and yard.  Visual and tactile elements interconnect, resolving each room's function in a way that gives the project an uncommon sensibility. Cement board panels and varied sizes and applications of redwood siding are wrapped over a steel frame to create the exterior skin.

Sign of the Times

I first read about the controversy of the sign to be placed on the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago back in February in Crain’s Chicago Business and didn’t think too much about it, other than how absolutely crazy the big tower sign issue was becoming. The seriousness of this issue didn’t occur to me until four days later when Joe Cahill, also of Crain’s Chicago Business, wrote an opinion piece in favor of the sign and defending Donald Trump. My first reaction to his commentary was to remember the words of the late New York Times architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp. 

We live in relativistic times. And architecture is a deeply subjective matter. One of its glories is that even stupid people get to have an opinion about it. Nowhere is it written, however, that architecture must appeal to the lowest common denominator of taste. Or that there’s no difference between an opinion and an informed opinion, educated and uneducated taste, a prejudice and an idea.

What particularly struck me about Mr. Cahill’s opinion piece is that he quoted marketing professor Tim Calkins of Northwestern University saying, “He really has built a brand that means something. It stands for quality and elegance and luxury.” OMG! He really said that? Dean Blount should have taken a line from Donald Trump and told Professor Calkins, “You’re fired.” 

Mr. Cahill himself went even further, “Nobody knows more about branding than Donald Trump. He has turned his name into one of the most recognized brands in the world, reaching far beyond traditional real estate development.” Of course, it wouldn’t take much research to discover that isn’t true. The Donald has made his money in real estate, pure and simple, regardless of his forays into entertainment and non-real estate businesses. Even as a real estate developer, he has made some serious business errors to the detriment of others (while not being personally affected) and has a meager track record compared to other New York real estate developers. And by no means is he the wealthiest of them, not to mention he didn’t even come close to making the cut in Crain’s New York Business’ “Most Connected New Yorkers.”

I realize that Mr. Cahill might consider purchasing a tie with a Trump label attached to it—perhaps he is wearing one now—but for the rest of the world this is not a popular luxury item nor a coveted one. Perhaps he was seduced by Professor Calkins pronouncement that by Donald Trump “putting his name on these really spectacular buildings like the Chicago tower and similar high-rises in other cities…a consumer who is impressed to see Trump on an opulent skyscraper is more likely to try a cologne with the same name.” Mmmm, I guess next time I’m at Walgreen’s I’ll have to look for Waste Management’s new line of men’s deodorant, or BP’s skin care products. It’s unfortunate, if not embarrassing to his institution that someone like Professor Calkins cannot distinguish between good and bad branding, or even correctly define it in regard to its specific place in the market, but I guess now we know where the real estate people get these crazy ideas. Maybe the professor should look to someone immensely more successful in both business and in building a luxury brand than the Donald, such as Giorgio Armani who famously said, “Elegance is not about being noticed, it’s about being remembered.”

Which brings me to the point of why I am writing this. Why is everyone so upset about this sign in Chicago? Why should Chicagoans care? Well, because it is Chicago, and like few other cities in the world, architecture is Chicago’s brand. Chicago is one of the few cities in the world where you can stop someone in the general populace and more than likely they can point to a significant building and identify it by name. Not because there is a huge sign on the building, but because architecture is part of the public realm, it’s important to the city, and Chicagoans are proud of the fact they know something about it. And it is not only Chicagoans who appreciate the city’s architectural legacy, but also half a million people annually who take organized architectural tours while visiting, spearheaded by groups like the Chicago Architecture Foundation—the largest organization of its kind in the world. 

I understand why Kohl’s, Mariano’s, Burger King, Office Depot, Mr. Beef and thousands of other businesses need signs on their buildings. They are companies that would never consider architecture or, specifically, the good design of a building as part of their business strategy or success—quite the opposite—and they require something to mark their spot, like a dog and a fence. Nevertheless, for scores of high-rise buildings in Chicago, it is architecture that speaks to the public about the businesses that occupy them, and there is a tangible benefit and prestige for those that do. Where architects have been involved in the planning of a building’s signage, rather than a real estate broker, there seems to be a noticeable difference in quality and affect. A few dissimilar examples come to mind and in different cities: the Apple Stores designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, take your pick of which location but I prefer the Lincoln Park Store; the Inland Steel Building in Chicago (my favorite) designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; The New York Times Building by Renzo Piano; and in Washington, D.C., where the architect Cass Gilbert not only designed the placement of the signage for the Supreme Court Building, he penned the now famous lexicon that is inscribed in the entablature above the front entry, ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ 

When it was originally announced that Donald Trump was going to build a tower on the Chicago River, there was a shared gasp and a sense of angst that built up among Chicago architecture enthusiasts, but when it was completed, there was a collective sigh of relief from the same group. It was, in the end, an elegant tower designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and it fit well on the river. In fact, in spite of its little flaws, it became a new Chicago architectural icon and part of its brand. We have Mayor Daley and Adrian Smith to thank for that, more than the building’s developer. And for plastering a bad hairpiece on the side of the building and deteriorating the city’s brand, we have none other than Donald Trump to thank for that.

BL

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