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!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!


Mardi Gras is arguably the best use of a city street to have ever been conceived.  The typical unkempt medians of New Orleans grandiose boulevards (lovingly called neutral ground) are used year long by streetcars and joggers save for 2 weeks when the 4 mile parade route transforms into a magical scene.  Carnival is a season filled with as much joy and pride as Christmas for most New Orleanians.  Spanning more than just a single calendar day, it encompasses far more than the stereotypical scenes that outsiders tend to imagine. More than anything else, it is a celebration of family, history and a city with a culture that is, in this writer’s opinion, unmatched by any American city today.


While the vast majority of people in the French Quarter during Carnival are tourists and wandering from location to location, the Locals have had “their preferred spot” along the parade route for many of generations.  Young and old crowd the streets, staking out their territory on either the sidewalk or neutral ground, waiting for one of the many parades which roll by rain or shine.


Krewes throw elaborate balls throughout the week. Crawfish boils spread along the sidewalks. Ladders, chairs, and benches line the curb.

MG Band

Massive floats, lively musicians, horses, dancers, and flambeaux carriers process along the thoroughfares day and night.  Young kids hang out above the crowd on brightly painted ladder boxes, teens throw snappers against old brick walls, college kids bring out their couches, and grandparents sit on balconies taking in the entire scene.


What helps make Mardi Gras so unique is that it seemingly stops New Orleans “business as usual” in its tracks. The event takes over the city – nothing else matters and that is good.


When the crowds finally disperse and the sweepers come through, the city is perhaps the cleanest it’ll be all year (with the exception of the few beads that hang from tree limbs until hurricane season comes again).   It is a wonder how such a laissez faire metropolis pulls off one of the greatest, most organized events every year. Undoubtably one of the reasons why is because the city and its public rights-of-way are allowed to be commandeered as people see fit.

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If you do ever have the privilege to attend, wander as much of the route as you can – you are sure to find the most eclectic variety of people co-existing in one jubilant festival and it all takes place on New Orleans’ cracked, sinking, oak-lined and beloved streets.  Two members of of MGLM’s crew have strong ties to the Crescent City (hence the bias in this post) and both certainly have been affected by the city’s wonder and architectural charm and significance.


We wouldn’t recommend seeing this incredibly city for the first time at Mardi Gras – you’ll miss too much of the rich heritage that is reflected throughout the city’s building stock, historic neighborhoods, streets and public spaces.  But Mardi Gras or no, New Orleans should certainly be on every urbanist or architect’s must-visit list.



A Machine for Turning Coffee into Designs

How does MGLM make it through demanding (and sometimes unrealistic) deadlines? With the world’s most popular drug of course. To paraphrase the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos, here at MGLM an architect is a machine for turning coffee into designs. We recently used these to help complete more than 40 art glass designs.

MGLM and Lavazza Cremespresso

Our preferred delivery system, and coffee of choice in deadline conditions, is Lavazza’s Cremespresso. The coffee purveyors at our local Lavazza Espression – 27 W. Washington St., Chicago – know us by sight. We need an account there.

Note to Lavazza: we are now accepting sponsorships!

MGLM receives an ALA Design Merit Award

MGLM receives a Design Merit Award from the Association of Licensed Architects!


This delicate North Shore addition adds six new rooms and an elevator – all of which function as petite gallery spaces for the homeowners’ Asian Art collection.


Each room was conceived in an entirely different aesthetic, including Japanese, Chinese, western European – even one room in the form of European-interpretation-of-Asian: a whimsical muraled “Chinoiserie.”



Adler and Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre

Detail in the Auditorium Theater, Chicago
Detail in the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Detail in the Auditorium Theater, Chicago
Detail in the Auditorium Theatre, Chicago

Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. We were honored to have exclusive access while taking these photos!

In the beginning…

MGLM Architects has a passion for all things designed.  Our focus and training has been in Architecture, Urban Design, and Ornament but the desire to bring beauty to all things has expanded our work to include the arts, furniture, textile, and industrial design.  MGLM approaches each project individually, analyzing and evaluating the challenges specifically, and designing solutions uniquely tailored to resolve the issues.

A little bit about us: we enjoy challenges, obstacles, and Portillo’s Beef-n-Cheddar Croissant (but we disagree on the peppers).  We are passionate about design, sketching, painting, woodworking, and chocolate.  We love Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Arts & Crafts, and Art. We have an affinity to Voltron and the Ghostbusters.  We work late and enjoy outdoing one another at costume parties.  We believe nothing beats a Lavazza Cremespresso and a soft macaron, except a happy client.  We are prone to superlatives but we always mean it. What some might call fantastic, we call design-as-usual.  We hope that you will contact us to see what we can do for you and your particular project.

In the meantime, please enjoy the posts here.  We intend this to be a collection of the things that inspire and impassion us.  We hope to spend some time highlighting projects, issues, ideas, fantastic (and sometimes horrible) details, and things we find interesting.