The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sure happy it's Thursday

I've spent the last few weeks in my off-hours beavering away at a major software project, which I hope to launch this spring. Meanwhile, I continue to beaver at my paying job, with only one exciting deployment in the last six sprints, so things are good there. I also hope to talk more about that cool software before too long.

Meanwhile, things I need to read keep stacking up:

Finally, check out the World Photography Organisation's 2021 photo contest results.

Two local stories

As the State of Illinois starts abandoning the Helmut Jahn-designed Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop, the Governor's Office announced the state has purchased PepsiCo's old building at 555 W Monroe St:

The 18-year-old structure has 430,000 square feet of office space and has green certification for energy efficiency.

More than 1,000—and potentially 1,400—of the 3,500 state workers now based in downtown Chicago eventually will relocate to the new facility, starting in April, according to Ayse Kalaycioglu, chief operating officer of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, which manages the state’s real estate needs.

About 900 of the employees moving to 555 W. Monroe will be coming from the Thompson Center, leaving 1,300 in the structure named after the named the former governor who championed its construction and mourned its declining fortunes. But they won’t be there long, said Kalaycioglu and Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes in an interview late yesterday.

I'm sorry to hear so many people calling the Thompson Center "so old" and "dilapidated" given it opened in 1984 and sits directly across the street from the century-old City Hall. But: "In comparison, the state says the Thompson Center has $325 million in deferred maintenance needs now, a figure projected to grow to $525 million by 2026." (I took the below photo about a year after it opened.)

The other story is that seven new pizza places have recently opened in the city, and I may have to try a few of them. That square of Bill's Original Tavern Pizza at the top of the article made me hungry.

An unusual house up for landmark status

If you're interested in funky architecture, a modernist house in Galewood that actor Kim Novak won in a church raffle is up for landmark status—and that's not even the strangest part of this story:

Built in 1954 and known as the "Miracle House," the home on Nordica Avenue in the Galewood neighborhood resembles a giant robotic insect sitting on four bent metal legs. Those legs are 36-ton buttresses that support the building and its angled roof and are also exposed indoors as ceiling beams. 

The high-flying roof makes the living room about 30 feet from floor to ceiling and allows for a south-facing wall of windows in the second-floor kitchen.

[Owner David] Scheiner, who has owned the house since 1999, teamed up with Dan Lempa, a preservationist who grew up in a conventional ranch house down the block, to nominate it for landmark status to prevent demolition in the future. It’s not for sale or under threat of demolition now but stands on the equivalent of 6.4 standard city 25-by-125-foot lots.

The house is at 2001 N. Nordica Ave., just west of Oak Park Ave.

No debates unless...

Tom Friedman gives Joe Biden some good advice:

First, Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. Biden has already done so, and they are on his website. Trump must, too. No more gifting Trump something he can attack while hiding his own questionable finances.

And second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled.

Of course, Trump will stomp and protest and say, “No way.” Fine. Let Trump cancel. Let Trump look American voters in the eye and say: “There will be no debate, because I should be able to continue hiding my tax returns from you all, even though I promised that I wouldn’t and even though Biden has shown you his. And there will be no debate, because I should be able to make any statement I want without any independent fact-checking.”

We'll see. But really, Biden has no reason to debate Trump otherwise. (Note: I am a financial contributor to Joe Biden's campaign.)

In other news:

Back to coding.

Lunchtime roundup

You have to see these photos of the dark Sears Tower against the Chicago skyline—a metaphor for 2020 bar none. Also:

And oh! My long-running unit test (1575.9 seconds) has finished. I can get up now.

So long, Frank Lloyd Wright

Architects may come and architects may go, but usually their houses sell for more than the value of the land alone:

Twelve and a half years after it went up for sale, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Elmhurst sold yesterday for about the value of the land it’s on.

Built in 1901 and known as the Frank B. Henderson house, the five-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot house on Kenilworth Avenue sold for $825,000. It first came on the market in September 2007 at nearly $2 million.

The house won’t be demolished. An easement in the deed prohibits that, and the buyers are longtime Wright fans who confirmed to Crain’s today that they plan to move in. Nevertheless, the sale of a work by the 20th century’s best known architect, a house filled with his distinctive patterned windows, banded woodwork and oversized brick fireplace, for the mere value of the land is notable.

It’s the latest evidence of the ongoing phenomenon of artful Wright houses selling for below the overall market. The Elmhurst sale comes on the heels of the December sale of a Wright house in Glencoe at a little more than half the going rate for comparably sized homes in the town.

The house is on a 22,800-square-foot 2,200 m² lot, which breaks the sale price out to $375 per m². In January, a church a block away sold a buildable piece of its parking lot for $447 per m² to a family who plan to build a new house there.

Five other pieces of land or obsolete houses sold as teardowns, all in Elmhurst, have sold for between $208 per m² $20 and $479 per m² in the past several months, according to Crain’s analysis of real estate records.

Having toured a few Lloyd Wright houses, I know why: they're dark, weirdly laid out, hard to maintain, and often come with uncomfortable furniture he designed to fit in the houses. I'm not alone in thinking he was overrated, being too inflexible and narcissistic to listen to people who knew more about living spaces than he did. It's like he took the prairie style developed by his mentor, Louis Sullivan, and took it to such an extreme that no rational person would want to live in one.

So, great news for the buyers who got the house for a song. They will own it for about 10 years longer than they want to, I'd wager.

How's that open-plan house these days?

The Atlantic's Megan Garber looks at how the popular floorplan can make people crazy, which is what you get when architecture follows dudes liking TV shows with sledgehammers:

The popular open layout, for example, eschews walls and other spatial divisions in favor of openness, airiness, “flow.” (“Look how everything flows!” Brian Patrick Flynn, the designer of HGTV’s Dream Home 2020, says in a promotional video.) On the plus side, an open floor plan allows for constant togetherness. On the minus side … an open floor plan allows for constant togetherness. The style meant to reject domestic confinement can end up replicating some of the very flaws it was meant to mitigate, precisely in its eagerness to sacrifice privacy for openness.

“In general, it’s wonderful,” [Architect Susan] Susanka said of the open-concept approach to living spaces. “But when it’s done to an extreme, it makes it very difficult to live in the house, because your noise, whatever you’re doing, goes everywhere.” When the home involves kids, that borderlessness becomes even more acute. A child might need to be entertained or fed while her mom is on a conference call. An older sibling might be playing video games or watching a movie while her dad is trying to cook dinner. Another sibling might need a retreat from his co-quarantiners, and have no place to go. In an open space, one person’s activity becomes every person’s activity. Alone together, all the time: For many, that is the current state of things. The “See Also” section of Wikipedia’s “open plan” article cites only one related page: “panopticon.”

Last year, to mark the 25th anniversary of the launch of HGTV, the journalist and design critic Ronda Kaysen gave an interview to NPR. As she talked with the host Lulu Garcia-Navarro about the impact HGTV has had on American home design, Kaysen mentioned one of the design elements most readily associated with the network: the open-concept living space. “I spoke with HGTV executives,” Kaysen said. “And the reason that they are so big on open concept is because it gets the male viewers. Like, guys like to watch sledgehammers and, like, taking out walls.”

“Wait a second,” Garcia-Navarro replied. “Are you telling me that the open-plan concept, which we are all prisoner to, is because dudes like to watch HGTV and sledgehammers?”

Yes, was the answer. “Dudes will only watch HGTV if there’s sledgehammers,” Kaysen said. That assumption makes it way into the architecture. Openness remains the trend.

Me, I like my 1910s-era flat walking distance to just about everything. I've got real rooms!

Something to do when the sun's out

Chicago Tribune architecture critic offers an alternative to sitting on your couch and bingeing Netflix:

Here’s a suggestion: Go out for a stroll and take in some architecture.

Walks are allowed under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. You just have to be sure to maintain the social distancing that public health officials say is essential to halting the spread of the deadly virus.

If you know where to look, you might come across something fabulous. Not too far from where I live, for example, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frank J. Baker House, a Prairie style head-turner in the 500 block of Lake Street in Wilmette.

There are minor gems out there, too, like the Chicago Transit Authority "L" station in the 1000 block of Central Street in Evanston.

To get you going in the right direction on your walks, it helps to have a good guide. The one I highly recommend is the American Institute of Architects’ “AIA Guide to Chicago,” which, despite its 550-page bulk, is easy to tuck into your coat pocket.

I have this book, and I may go for a walk later today. Because my office, as entertaining as it is, has begun to feel cramped.

Pile-up on the Link Highway

I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:

I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.

Lunchtime reading

A diverse flock this afternoon:

Your coder will now resume coding his previously-coded code.