Printers Row Proposal for Dearborn and Polk

This proposal is one that is informed by the materials, scale, and character of the site and one whose intention is to engage and complement the architectural dialogue of Printers Row while adding to a narrative of place that was established by Dearborn Station and its neighbors.

Post by E. Oronia & M. McNicholas

Dearborn Station Tower detail
Dearborn Station Tower Details

Dearborn Street Station (sometimes referred to as Polk Street Station) sits at the intersection of Dearborn and Polk Streets on the southern boundary of Printers Row in Chicago. This former train station (now serving as retail and office spaces) is included in the National Register of Historic Places for its rich and important history, and it continues to serve as a visual and physical terminus to one of The Loop’s main thoroughfares. In addition to being a literal “landmark” with its prominent clock tower and bold red-orange brick, the station’s Romanesque architectural character sets itself apart from its surroundings in a manner that adheres to its original civic typology.

Dearborn Station
Dearborn Station Tower

In a similar way, Dearborn Station’s neighbor buildings in Printers Row are of an architectural idiom that corresponds to the printing and publishing businesses for which they were originally constructed. When one considers the design of these buildings and connects them with their contemporary, Dearborn Station, the harmony of the relationship from one building to each other stands out in what should be a successful model for proper city building. Because the built environment is a vital part of the design of a city (along with streets, public spaces, and uses) the architecture plays an important role in how successful a city can be.

The Rowe Building
The Pope Building

Until recently, the two lots on the north side of Polk Street, bounded, west to east, by Federal, Dearborn, and Plymouth sat vacant awaiting some form of development that would allow them to add (or detract) from the language of the neighborhood. The east lot had long-served parking needs, with historic photos even showing it as a waiting area for horse and carriage when Dearborn Station was the main passenger terminal Chicago. The west parcel has long been a wood-chip lot, hosting activities during Printers Row Lit Fest and Christmas tree sales.

PR Aerial Google maps
Aerial from Google Maps

Currently under construction, the east lot now hosts a new four-story single-family home with ground floor retail. The west lot has construction fencing up and is set to become a two-story building. While filling in these vacant lots is generally an improvement to the urban fabric, development in the city since the 1950s has established a long and sad legacy of ignoring Chicago’s distinct architectural character in favor of banal interventions that have eroded the complexion and personality of the city. The last ten years have been particularly unkind to the South Loop, with further real-estate-vernacular replacing older loft buildings that respected the street wall, provided appropriate scale and detail, and distinguished one neighborhood from the next.

Detail of Franklin
Lakeside Press Building
Lakeside Press Detail

Materials and scale are not the only factors to consider in the contribution to context, if the effort is in fact to bolster the character of a neighborhood rather than simply maximize a return on an investment or fill in an empty parcel. To that notion, we present our proposal for the (still vacant at time of writing) west lot, bounded by Dearborn, Polk, and Federal.

Northwest Before
Google StreetView of Parcel at Dearborn, Polk, and Federal

This proposal is one that is informed by the materials, scale, and character of the site and one whose intention is to engage and complement the architectural dialogue of Printers Row while adding to a narrative of place that was established by Dearborn Station and its neighbors (the Donohue, Franklin, Rowe, Transportation Building, and Lakeside Press to name a few). Serving the neighborhood with retail space on the ground floor, the upper stories are a mix of office and residential, both in high demand in the neighborhood. At eight stories, this proposal provides a balance to the street elevation with a similar scale as the Donohue across the street and the Rowe Building on the other side of its direct neighbor, the Franklin Building.

MGLM Printers Row
MGLM Proposal to Enhance Printers Row




Anniversary of the Tokobashira

In this designated time of reflecting on our blessings and acknowledging our gratitude, we’re thankful for wonderful clients that allow us the opportunity to get our hands dirty…

The tokobashira (rough hewn column on the right) has a little story behind it

Many years ago, today, Elizabeth and I were finishing up a walk in the woods with a specific purpose, beyond taking in the crisp air and thinning foliage of late fall in Northern Michigan. It was our Thanksgiving break, and after unsuccessfully attempting to procure either product or supplier of the correct size of tokobashira for a project she had designed and we had under construction, we decided we must procure one personally for our client.

Elizabeth selecting the finalists…

Disappointed that we hadn’t found anything suitable in the woods, we were passing through a parking lot adjacent to the burgeoning Village at Grand Traverse Commons (converted from the old Kirkbride facility – more on that in another post) and, quite fortunately, happened upon this pile of logs prepared for the oven of the local bakery – Pleasanton (their chocolate pistachio croissant is beyond compare!).

The Finalists

Enquiring inside if we might purchase a branch, we were told that if we only needed one it was “gratis” – so we gratefully pulled a few for comparison and sent photos to our client. He liked one best, and we loaded it into the ol’ SUV and brought it back to Chicago. Intended for the salient corner of a bookshelf, it needed a few specific characteristics, including diameter and shape.


After some requisite curing and a dry fit to make sure the bends and crooks lined up, we instructed the contractor to prepare the tokobashira in the traditional way, scraping to a smooth surface, and had them stain to match the rest of our design.


Notching into the salient corner of the bookshelf
The tokobashira slotting into the shelves near the pocket door

The result in the end is not only a story worth sharing, but the perfect complement to the room. In this designated time of reflecting on our blessings and acknowledging our gratitude, we’re grateful for generous bakeries (Pleasanton has become a fixture in our Traverse City visits!); we’re extremely thankful for wonderful clients that allow us the opportunity to design outside the typical traditional bounds and, in some cases, even get our hands dirty in order to bring a fun idea to life; and we hope your blessings are easy to count.


The Paris LDS Temple

How do you put into words the culmination of years of intense work and anticipation?

In honor of the Open House and subsequent consecration of the new Paris Temple, we wanted to pull together a little post on it. Trouble is, how do you put into words the culmination of years of intense work and anticipation? It’s proven very difficult to describe, so, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll (or March Hare, depending on whom you ask): we’ll start at the beginning.

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

It was 2011 when we first became acquainted with the project. None of this would have been possible without leadership within the Temple Department from Brad Houston, who made an incredible impact on Temple Design for a 5 year stretch, guiding it toward a Classical and Traditional idiom, with emphasis on respect for the culture and artistic traditions of the location for each temple. It was his guidance of design direction that facilitated a connection with our friends at MHTN Architects who were designing the long-awaited Temple.

It was a true privilege to be asked to design the Interior Architecture of the “main rooms” of the Temple. By “main rooms” we mean the Grand Stair Hall, the Ordinance Rooms, the Celestial Room, the Sealing Rooms, and the Baptistry, which you can learn more about here. Our work included the art glass ceilings in the Stair Hall and Baptistry;

The Stair Hall and Baptistry railings;

Columns, doors, cased openings, keystones, overdoors, and ceiling medallions;

Decorative painting; wall paneling; door and furniture profiles; mouldings & trim; reflected ceiling plans; the baptismal font itself;

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

And parts of the furniture like the carved details for the altars and end panels;

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

As well as designing a number of other significant elements, including the exterior doors and hardware;

And most notably, the art glass windows in all areas of the Temple.

Paris-Temple-glass2017-resizedThe design influences are based in the Classical and French Art Nouveau, commonly seen side-by-side in Paris, and elsewhere in France.

French Classical & Art Nouveau
Paris: Classical & Art Nouveau side-by-side

The Floral Designs

A hallmark of the Art Nouveau, we conceived the floral designs to explicitly root the Temple in France. Our goal was the “gesamtkunstwerk” – the “total work of art” or “synthesis of the arts” where all architectural elements and details work in unison to elevate the whole.

MGLM ParisTemple1
© 2017 by MGLM Architects, Ltd. All rights reserved.

There are countless artisans and artists who contributed to the beauty found in the building. Some we will sadly never meet. Others we had the pleasure of working with, including the talented Tom Holdman and his team of artisans in Utah and Mexico who executed the art glass designs. They brought wonderful suggestions for color and finish to the glass, including using gorgeous opalescent glass from Kokomo Opalescent Glass (KOG) in Indiana (operating since 1888).

We thought KOG was a great suggestion knowing that they won a Gold Medal for their window, awarded at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle which was designed by John La Farge, who incidentally invented opalescent glass. Matt is the Chair of the Preservation Committee for the Auxiliary Board of the Auditorium Theatre here in Chicago, and knew that KOG also provided some of the glass for the windows that won the Silver Medal at the same Paris Exposition, which were designed by Healy & Millet for the Auditorium Theatre.

According to Chicago Historian (and friend) Rolf Achilles, the Healy & Millet windows also won the “Purchase Prize” to be exhibited in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. It’s a much longer story, but the short version is that these windows were subsequently seen by the men who became the foremost European Art Nouveau artists & architects, and, along with some additional exposure for opalescent glass via Siegfried Bing, KOG received thousands of orders for their glass, which was used in Art Nouveau buildings all over France and Europe, and now, in the Paris Temple as well. Of course we are very happy to have furthered the Paris – Chicago – Art Nouveau – Art Glass connection!

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

We chose specific flowers as a thematic basis for each room, and used others as a leitmotif. These include Lavender, the Martagon Lily, the Water Lily, the Cornflower, the Lilac, the Hollyhock, and the Madonna Lily.

Lavender represents love, devotion, and cleanliness.

Lavender Blossom

On the stem, the Martagon Lily represents immortality, and used alone it is purity and innocence.

Martagon Lily

The Water Lily is emblematic of rebirth.

Water Lily
Water Lily

The Cornflower represents blessedness, hope in love, and friendship, but we also chose it for the special significance it has in France, being a National Symbol of Remembrance and the eternal symbol of those who died for France in The Great War (WWI). Every year fabric versions are sold to fund the care of veterans. Read more about it’s national significance here.

Cornflower – Le Bleuet de France

The Lilac represents Christianity and rebirth, as it often blooms around Easter.


The Hollyhock represents generosity, beneficialness, and plenitude, in addition to being a metaphor for spiritual development, as they require full sun to grow and develop.


The Madonna Lily represents purity, virtue, faith, and wisdom. Additionally it is often described as the basis for the Fleur-de-Lis, the National Symbol of France.

Madonna Lily
Madonna Lily

Our designs were inspired by the flora of the French countryside and our window motifs reference the work of the incredible French glass artists of the past, including Jacques Gruber, Emile Galle, Desire Christian, Les Frères Daum, and Albert Dammouse, among others.

In the design of the glass, Matt also referenced his own personal sketches from the garden of his family in Sussargues, France – made 10 years prior to the work on the Temple. You never know when old sketches will come in handy! Of course it is hard to produce such designs without inspiration from John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany as well.

The progression of the flowers within the windows is a metaphor for a faith-filled experience – starting at the base of the windows there are only buds, representing potential.

MGLM ParisTemple17
© 2017 by MGLM Architects, Ltd. All rights reserved.

As the eye travels up the windows the buds begin to open and culminate in a full bloom at the top.

MGLM ParisTemple4
© 2017 by MGLM Architects, Ltd. All rights reserved.

The upward growth is a metaphor for moving toward the light, the ultimate goal of faith being to grow closest to God, and the full blossom represents the fulfillment of potential. The blossoms also gather together as they bloom, representative of the shared experience.

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

The windows are designed to be seen together, across the multiple floor levels, from the exterior…

MGLM ParisTemple13

…which, as we intended, really comes to life after sunset.

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Before the Open House began, we were invited on a “VIP” tour with members of Church Leadership, and visited on the 11th of April. The photos truly do the building no justice. The rooms are ethereal and there’s an incredible sense of peace and grace in the building.

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

The entire building is so wonderful that there were moments we were moved to tears. Apparently we were not alone, as we heard more than a few stories of the tears visitors have already shed (of joy!). This is our hope for the years to come, that the beauty here exalts a mundane day into a magnificent one and continues to touch people on an emotional level.

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.


May The Fourth Be With You

Hopefully this digest of our process is helpful if you’re looking to undertake such an effort – and if so, May The Fourth Be With You!

In order to undertake a ceiling installation that takes inspiration from arguably the most popular film franchise in history, one must get in the proper spirit of the project. Just as the theme of hope runs rampant in the Star Wars movie saga, it was our own hope of achieving a convincing result that drove us during this meticulous albeit fun process. Our clients’ requested a room tailored to their young Star Wars fan, and so we conjured a star field ceiling in coordination with the design of the overall bedroom.


Our initial steps for the installation involved identifying the materials of the backdrop for the star field as well as the stars themselves. We started with a sea of optical fibers or fiber optic “fibers” (that’s how the Department of the Redundancy Department refers to them) to represent the stars.

Fiber optics lit and ready to roll

After debating heavy materials and cans of paint, we settled on a lighter touch. The black backdrop of “space” is made of two ¾” thick Gator Boards custom cut and carefully placed side by side.

Looks sparse, but wait…

We proceeded to divide up the boards into 28 panels each, in order to properly spread the optical fibers. Using a silver Sharpie, we clustered the stars to provide a more authentic-looking night sky – gravity does exist in space after all.


Once the star locations were marked, we proceeded to drill a tiny hole in each mark to accommodate the fibers. In total there were close to 280 optical fibers (or “stars” – though some are probably actually planets in truth) that we had to individually feed through the boards. That takes some patience. Once we had all fibers in place, the assembly was ready to be hung.

We need to take care to ensure the cables were not tangled and that the thicker and thinner fibers were spaced naturally. We also had to be extremely careful during installation as Gator Board, while rigid, is still easily damaged.  The boards needed to be drilled onto wood members in order to allow space for the sea of optic cables to run to and from their source.

Once the boards were in place, the fiber optic cables were then trimmed flush with the boards.

The final step of the installation came with the addition of the custom designed and CNC milled white frame that completed the appearance of looking out the window of a Star Wars spacecraft.

Custom frame in 2 pieces before installation

It was our hope that the ceiling installation would tie together the Star Wars theme of the bedroom and transport the young Jedi out of this world. Happy to report that he was indeed thrilled!

Hopefully this digest of our process is helpful if you’re looking to undertake such an effort – and if so, May The Fourth Be With You!

May the Fourth Be With You!

Inspiration Station :: San Saba

Built as affordable housing, this neighborhood on the Aventine is one of the world’s greatest examples of imbuing a pride of place with humble materials.

For your viewing pleasure: the San Saba neighborhood in Rome. Built as affordable housing, this neighborhood on the Aventine is one of the world’s greatest examples of a place, imbued with pride via humble materials and creative detailing. Using the most human and humane (read: civilizing or refining) building material ever invented – the brick – endless depth and variation was created, providing massive inspiration to us! We hope to you as well!

Architecture and the TdF

In many ways the Tour de France is analogous to the process of creating great architecture…

Today is the final stage of the Tour, which means the end of our month-long wake-up-early-to-catch-the-beginning-of-the-Stage and then media-blackout-all-day-until-catching-the-end-of-the-Stage that night. It’s been exhausting.

We’re big fans of the Tour for a few reasons. Every year it puts on incredible feats of individual performance and teamwork. The aerial architectural shots of France (and Belgium, England, Andorra, and Spain) let us see masterpieces of the vernacular and fantastic urbanism from a unique perspective. We also love it because in many ways the Tour is analogous to the process of creating great architecture.

There’s a Team Leader (the Client), for which all the teammates are working to help achieve victory. Without the Team Leader, the team doesn’t exist, nor does it have a goal to work for.

There’s the Team Director (the Architect), who is responsible for coaching, and the design of the strategy, tactics, and decisions for the team. Without a Team Director, the team lacks focus, direction, and oversight.

There are the Domestiques (the Engineers) who look after the team leader, provide a wheel to follow, ferry food and water, and even will surrender their bike if the leader has a mechanical problem. They are self-sacrificing, and rarely acknowledged individually, but without them, the Team Leader can suffer.

There’s the Peloton (other projects, permit departments, review boards, weather, schedule) which is comprised of all the other squads and competes against the team for time and resources. The Peloton represents all the aspects that can hinder or derail the team from accomplishing its goal.

There’s the Time Limit which is obviously equates to the Schedule for the project. (“We need to be in the house by the holidays!!”)

And finally there are the Stages of the race (Project Phases): some are flat, easier, and made for sprints, and some are longer or much more grueling, like producing the Construction Documents or obtaining a permit in Chicago.

So what’s the point? Great accomplishments can rarely be achieved without a great team, particularly when epic efforts are required! Congrats to all the riders who finished the Tour this year, and to Chris Froome for his third win!


The Tales Buildings Tell

Renovation and Additions afford the opportunity to fill-in the missing chapters that have been torn out of a building’s monograph, but ya never know what’s behind a given wall…

Buildings tell stories…all kinds of anecdotes, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” if you will (to repackage Sergio Leone’s famous Spaghetti Western).

Renovation and Addition projects afford the opportunity to fill-in the missing chapters that have been torn out of a building’s monograph, but ya never know what’s behind a given wall. The following are a selection of images we have collected from projects over the years – for example one half of an intact double-hung window buried inside a wall, and even used by the electrician!

The demolition process judiciously reveals a building’s past, and the following are some (profound!) words of advice/observations/thoughts to consider should you be contemplating a renovation or addition:

  1. Basement and crawl space floors comprised of compacted soil are common in buildings of a certain era. If warranted or desired, a vapor barrier can be installed and (in addition to) a screed slab which can help regulate humidity issues in addition to several other benefits. However, a building does need a continuous foundation if there is a basement. Believe it or not (please note sarcasm), soil should not be visible between the top of the basement floor to the bottom of the building’s exterior wall. Concrete, concrete block, stone, even wood are acceptable materials – NOT soil!
B-20150518-PL Blog
Basement demo!
  1. If interior sheathing (e.g. drywall) is removed from an exterior wall, there are few exceptions that warrant being able to see the neighboring building. We’re advocates for natural light and ventilation, but not via this method in particular…
D-20150518-PL Blog
Look – you can see the sky through the wall!
  1. It’s not uncommon for older buildings to show signs of “settlement” issues (e.g. cracks in walls, doors that don’t close/open properly, etc.). Key to addressing such structural “character” is to determine whether or not the building is actively experiencing this issue as greater problems may be forthcoming (a topic we’ll address in separate blog posts!). As it relates to rectifying uneven subfloors (the stuff under carpet, wood, tile, etc.), Crate and Barrel cardboard boxes are not an acceptable material for addressing such an issue, hopefully for obvious reasons. No matter how rigid it may be, paper is not a structurally sound material! And fastening it with nails does not justify such an undertaking!
F-20150518-PL Blog
Inventive but incorrect use of Crate & Barrel boxes!

While the above is intended to be a comical jab at poor construction and quasi-educational, we recommend consulting with a qualified professional for any concerns you may have with your own building!

Urbanism To Me

Urbanism is people-watching. Urbanism is walking the dog at night. Waiting for the bus in the rain, comparing boots and disliking umbrellas.  Streets with or without cars; paths for wheels; sidewalks for eating, or shopping, or strolling. Bundling the baby in a stroller to get to daycare on cold mornings.  Riding the train to work.  City living and dreaming of owning a yard.  Visiting relatives in the suburbs to remember it’s not worth the yard. Traveling and walking, walking, and more walking.  Skyscraper views out the window, due South.  Baseball park views due North.  Fire-escape gardens and neighborly noises.  Studying strangers on the street corner. Calculating the groceries that fit in one backpack and 4 reusables bags. Anonymity amongst familiar crowds. Parallel parking and paying to park. Big parks, small playlots, and potted plants. Towers with elevators, third floor walk-ups, carriage units, roommates in houses with envious gardens, and double-loaded corridors. I’ve had the great fortune to experience life from all of these perspectives, which has catalyzed the urbanist in me. I’d love to know, what is your urbanism?

Submitted by JS ::: This is the first in a series of short posts that intend to further shed light on each of our interests.

Things Are Looking Up With Stile Liberty!

Two years ago, E and I had the great fortune of spending a month in northern Italy taking in the Stile Liberty masterpieces there, as well as many of the anonymous-but-still-magnificent fabric buildings that fill the cities we visited. Our primary method of transportation was the original one: walking. In doing so, not only did we attempt to destroy ligaments and tendons, and in the case of E, discover old-but-previously-unknown sports injuries, but we also had an opportunity to observe architecture from all distances and at nearly every scale.


What became more and more apparent  to us was the disappointing lack of scale and depth that contemporary architecture utilizes. Or more accurately, ignores. As we power-viewed block after block, mile after mile, in complete agony and ecstasy, we were shocked and appalled at how mundane and banal contemporary architecture has become. Mind you, this shock was not because of what we were seeing, but rather, we were comparing architecture seen here to what we know and experience in other environs. (More on that “knowing” in another post).

The Stile Liberty, Stile Floreale, or Italian Art Nouveau is an extension of the Classical Tradition and as such we were viewing the progression of the “humanist” architecture, frozen in that moment in time. And the details were so sumptuous, so supple, that the only way to describe it really is through metaphor: what we saw and experienced in artistic detail on buildings 100+ years old, is the functional equivalent of finding a computer in an archeological dig.

Let me explain that a little better: Given what we know now about how architecture and urbanism affect our daily existence, THIS kind of architecture and detail might as well be from the future. By that I mean, IF buildings are designed to maximize the human experience and promote health and welfare (AS THEY SHOULD BE), and given what we now know about the way our built environment impacts us, architecture going forward from this knowledge, that is to say architecture of the FUTURE, would be designed following the details seen here, from the PAST. And so finding these buildings in neighborhoods over 100 years old, is the equivalent of finding something futuristic, or more accurately, designed to help humans in the future, in an archeological dig.

I have always been aware of the lack of detail, the lack of depth, the lack of scale in contemporary architecture. Hell, I think everyone is to a certain extent, while not always able to put a finger on it. But these beauties made it all more depressingly conspicuous – what with how they all contribute to the built environment, all work to celebrate their place, and all add visual delight to users and passers-by. All replete with architectural ornament.


After marking the “must see” buildings, we would take a cab or public transit to the most remote mark on the map (at least remote from our hotel) and begin walking back. What happened though, which wasn’t expected, was that we were continually drawn down streets and around corners by a glimpse of something great. Before long, it became a game between us to find the most interesting architecture first, but part of the fun was that it seemed impossible. We were constantly finding something new and interesting. CONSTANTLY.


More to the point (of this article at least), it wasn’t just a matter of being drawn down the street and then doing the dance of trying to capture as much of the building’s facade as possible in a single photo while negotiating traffic, locals, parked cars, dog shit, and street poles or lamps. After getting the “overall” shot, I was continually and inevitably testing the patience of E drawn across the street right up to the face of the building by some element or another, and what I discovered in those moments is what you see in these photos. It gave me the chance, or perhaps the eyes, to contemplate the elements that make the difference between good architecture and bad architecture so discernible.

That difference comes in the delight of interacting with architecture not just from multiple distances and observing its multiple scales, but also its multiple angles. So many different ways to view a single building, not the least of which was looking directly up! To be fair, contemporary architecture tries to do this on occasion, but generally only as what I call, a “single move.” In other words, if the building engages from multiple angles, and encourages the viewer to walk around it, it fails miserably on the other measurements: multiple scales, details, proportion, ornament, texture, materials, etc. It is a single move, and to use an analogy from figure drawing, it is akin to simply portraying the shadow of the model. Compelling from one perspective or two, but ultimately banal.


So this is my demand for the world and our goal at MGLM: Architecture which operates at all scales, speaks (nay, sings!) across all distances, employs ornament and detail, draws the viewer closer in wonder and delight, and contributes beauty to the fabric of its environment.  Can you dig it?

Post Script:

The AIA has a current social media campaign that is identified by #ilookup and attempts to elevate the profession by talking up the lofty ideals and efforts of architects. But how is the general public supposed to be inspired or encouraged when the contemporary tripe that is constantly built is nothing worth looking up at, much less looking up to?