June 6, 2005
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA, Editor-in-Chief
Model shots of Pianos
$278 million addition to the Chicago Art Institute (top
Mimes from Redmoon Theater
perform during the festivities at the museums groundbreaking.
Renzo Piano discusses his new
All photography © Robert Ivy.
The lakefront glistened and gleamed.
Volleyball games studded the beaches. Michigan Avenue swelled
with turistas-whole families packing in to buy, buy, buy,
or simply stroll the clean streets. Rollerbladers whisked
by tottering oldsters, as Chicago took in the air, the week
they gave out the Pritzker in the award's own hometown.
The city manages a sort of cohesive positivism-a
distinctly American characteristic-unthinkable in New York.
That optimistic willingness found expression in the past two
days, orchestrated to show the architectural capital city
off to advantage. It all began with a literal bang.
That sound came from a cannonade of confetti,
announcing the groundbreaking for the long-anticipated addition
to the Chicago Art Institute. The iconic Beaux Arts treasury
of pointillism, which cloisters around greening courtyards,
had commissioned Renzo Piano to design significant new component
in its northeast quadrant, a $278 million light-filled structure
surmounted by a light-as-a-feather brise-soleil the architect
likens to a "flying carpet."
With two-thirds of the funds committed,
the board signaled that it was time to raise the curtain.
It should prove to be a great place to view art, while downstairs,
out of sight, subterranean storage will protect the valuables.
A knife-like bridge, added to the plan, will connect the museum
with Millenium Park across the street, offering a chaste counterpoint
to the Frank Gehry bridge already in place.
The city launched the addition with fanfare,
including a medley of lyrical African songs by the locally
famed Chicago Children's Choir, by a troupe of mimes from
Redmoon Theater, who paraded, banners aloft, and by Daniel
Burnham himself, recreated by an actor, who read from his
works. The Mayor spoke; museum board chairman John Bryan spoke;
Director John Cuno spoke; the city glistened and gleamed.
We repaired upstairs to view Piano's beautiful drawings and
models in an exhibition entitled, "Zero Gravity."
Following lunch, the Institute sponsored
a lively symposium in the Harris Theater, in which Charlie
Rose tried to get Piano, Frank Gehry, and Ada Louise Huxtable
to take the bait. They refused, but provided their own show
on their own terms. Huxtable, always intellectually stimulating
and true to her thoughts, kept the conversation on track.
Gehry got the biggest laugh. His story in a nutshell follows,
When speaking in Rome, he was confronted
by a young man who chastised him for his lack of contextual
sensitivity in Bilbao. Gehry politely asked if he had been
to Bilbao? "No," he replied. "
Up!" You can catch the full interchange on a forthcoming
Charlie Rose show.
As evening settled in, guests poured
into the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the centerpiece of Chicago's
phenomenally successful Millennium Park. Daylight, shifting
toward yellow, painted the tops of Chicago's Michigan Avenue
palisade of tall buildings, each distinct, each a story and
a personality in its own right. Tuxedo-clad invitees mixed
with the public in the amphitheater for the presentation ceremony,
an unusually appropriate move by the Prize, given the civic
location of the ceremony.
Tom Pritzker personalized the award,
anchoring this prestigious international encomium firmly within
his family's commitment to architecture, much as his family
has maintained a stewardship of resources for Chicago through
gifts like the pavilion. Lord Palumbo, the new jury chair,
spoke eloquently and without note one, and Thom Mayne, the
man of the hour, spoke passionately about his own beliefs
on the profession all had gathered to acknowledge. He was
visibly moved by the proceedings, this self-styled "young"
architect of 61 years.
Tout Chicago, including social, commercial,
political, and architectural types turned out for the dinner
that followed-a teeming star-fest held on the tented terrace
above the Pritzker Pavilion. Appropriately lubricated, the
Miyake and Armani-clad glitterati sauntered home into the
blue evening, while Chicago, and architecture, rang up one