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.

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Dearborn Station
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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.

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The Rowe Building
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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.

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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.

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Detail of Franklin
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Lakeside Press Building
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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!).

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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.

 

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Notching into the salient corner of the bookshelf
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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May the Fourth Be With You!

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!
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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…
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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!
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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!