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.


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.

“God, Country, Notre Dame” – A Live Drawing for Auction


One of our principals recently executed a drawing live at an auction to fund academic scholarships. Only took 7 hours (socializing included). Here is the time-lapse:

Gingerbread Architecture

Guest Post by MGLM’s Gingerbread Starchitect Mallory Mecham

Dec. 24, 2013

December is a time of year filled with holiday traditions, from the religious to the secular to the…architectural?

In my family, gingerbread is a tradition we take very seriously. Each year on Thanksgiving, we’d break out the bottles of molasses and bags of powdered sugar and whip up several batches of gingerbread and royal icing. We’d make a village that included four small, basic gabled-roof houses and one large church, complete with a steeple and stained glass window.


Over the years, my interest in architecture grew, and our villages grew more and more elaborate.



We diversified our patterns, added dormers and chimneys, and got more creative in the styles of the houses.


It seemed a natural progression to apply this family tradition to the work we’re doing in the office. This year I made a quarter-scale model of an Arts & Crafts house that the office had designed for a competition.

MGLM TBS Side Elevationx

It has a lot of great architectural elements that presented some interesting challenges for the gingerbread/icing construction method – bay windows, columns, engaged dormers, a cantilevered wing with arches and brackets – but as in full-scale architecture, it was these details that really made the gingerbread house special. The following are some photos of the process:





And some photos of it all coming together.



As you can see, it has its similarities to actual construction! Foundations, walls, then the roof.





Despite a few mishaps – broken walls, misshapen edges, and a near collapse – the house came together.





While it may not stand the test of time (it is gingerbread, after all), it brought some holiday cheer to the office and some novelty to a time-honored tradition.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all from MGLM Architects!

Traditional Khmer Art

Now that the Mayans were proven incorrect and the world hasn’t actually ended, we thought a post on some architectural art we commissioned might be nice. Coincidentally it is of the mythical Hindu god Kala, who, according to legend, consumes all living things during the advent of winter. If you subscribe to the myth, Kala is currently consuming the northern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere – you’re next!

K1 Sketch
Above is a sketch one of MGLM’s principals generated during a trip to Cambodia in 2011. Two MGLM principals were there to discover construction techniques and develop relationships with artisans and contractors to execute designs we completed pro bono for the Charitable Education Organization and NGO, PEPY. They are a great organization that is doing essential work in Cambodia. If you know anything about Pol Pot or the history of the country, you know how important their cause is.
K2 Sketch
Carved onto a significant number of lintels in many of the Cambodian Temple Complexes around Siem Reap, Kala represents change. In a way, it is the Cambodian version of the Latin maxim: Carpe Diem. It is a reminder that all things come to an end, so we should appreciate and make the most of the time we have. The sketch is an interpretation of a couple different lintels, and draws heavily from the most intricately carved temple buildings at Banteay Srei. The pink/red sandstone allows for incredible detail. In the sketch, the stylized curls going into Kala’s mouth represent the world. They are covered with the traditional Pnhee Plueng – the Fire Flower. The rest of the carving also utilizes the fire flower motif.
K fireflower2
While in Cambodia, our fantastic guide introduced us to an artisan school which is hard at work keeping alive the traditional Khmer arts. It is located at a Buddhist Temple and run by a very well respected monk, with whom, and his head artisan, we had the honor and pleasure of an audience. The story of the meeting we’ll save for another post. We gave them the sketch and, through our guide who translated everything, described how we would like it carved in wood, and what its dimensions should be. We left there assured of how highly skilled the artisans are but not sure how the carving would turn out.
You can imagine our delight when this arrived 6 months later! The piece is perfect. The shipping cost was not exorbitant, making this something we are pursuing further.
The detail and depth is amazing as is the care for its overall quality. We have plans to commission a number of other carvings, and we are also accepting requests. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to take advantage of this amazing resource, but more importantly, help keep traditional arts alive.
K eyes2