Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood..."

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die."

~Daniel Burnham, American architect and urban planner

Contemplating moving to a new place makes me want to enjoy the present moment in my current place even more. I've just discovered a cool website that helps culture mavens find wonderful places to visit in Illinois. There are interesting things to see EVERYWHERE in the world.

The website is called illinoisgreatplaces. It was created by the Illinois Chapter of the American Association of Architects to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their existence. I was pleased to see that I had visited every great place in my community but there is tons of stuff I haven't visited within a very short driving distance.

For example, there is an Egyptian Theatre in Dekalb, Illinois. Who could resist Egyptian Deco? Apparently, it was a big trend in architecture during the 1920s after King Tut's tomb was discovered.

I wonder if the desire to build great buildings can be caught. What makes a boom of architecturally-interesting facilities get started and continue in a city? I understand that the wealth of a period is instrumental, but wealth can be spent many different ways. Is the desire to create architectural significance viral, like obesity has been found to be?

What makes a committee of people working on a public building move forward together with boldness in one location and not in another? Do friends egg each other on? Are current builders having a conversation with past builders much the way Alan Ginsberg and Langston Hughes were conversing with Walt Whitman through poetry? If I was in the AIA, that's what I would want researched because the first thing greatness needs is THE WILL.

Chicago is an AMAZING architecture town. Everyone there is a fan and a critic. It's impossible not to be because greatness is everywhere. The AIA Foundation has outstanding tours everyday showing off Chicago's treasures. This picture is of Marina Towers, familiar to everyone who has seen the Blues Brothers movie. Chicago is blessed with a visionary mayor right now, Richard Daley, who is ALL WILL.

So much of architecture expresses a very masculine personality. Not that there is anything wrong with that. This is the Sears Tower, Chicago's tallest building. As more and more women become architects, will we some day be able to look at a building and instantly know "a woman designed that!" I hope so. It would be cool for my daughters and granddaughters to say "wow, that building is so feminine."

The illinoisgreatplaces website isn't perfect. It shows that there are only two significant theatres on the front page but actually six were chosen. The list of 150 places must be a fantastic upselling tool for architects. Imagine sharing this list with a customer and saying, "why build good when you can build great? Only six of your kind of building has made this list. Shall we try for greatness? Would spending 25-50% more result in 100% greater return to your community because of the traffic generated?"

There should be some sort of "amazing architecture" tax credit because the return to the community continues long past a developer's ability to recoup the cost. After all, what defines the thousands of communities across the world but their buildings?

Bengt Sjostrom Starlight Theatre in Rockford

Whoever heard of Bilbao, Spain until Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim Museum there? What picture instantly comes into everyone's mind at the mention of Sydney, Australia? The opera house. There are something like 14 or 15 cities in China with populations over 1 million yet no one has heard of them because they haven't yet expressed their collective personality through building. Hey Chinese cities, the world is looking forward to your self-introduction.

I was asking a friend active in the architecture association if there was a '150 web site' for every state. He said the Illinois chapter led the nation in doing this, but it was such a great idea that the national association has created a list of the most architecturally-interesting places in America. Fantastic!


Michael Carøe Andersen said...

yeah sometimes it takes the urgency of moving away to get round to appreciate all the local attractions.

I've had the fortune of visiting Chicago a couple of times and really liked the architecture - although I only covered the downtown area. My favorite is probably the Marina City just because it's so strange.

Alison said...

A couple of years ago, during one of Utrecht's (NL) annual arts festivals, one of the main squares featured an impressive seating stand topped off by the "Make No Little Plans" quote. It seemed appropriate for such an old and architecturally interesting city.

I'm glad Chicago has done this. It's such a great idea.

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing the link to that photo Alison. It's interesting to me that it was reproduced in English. I know the Dutch speak English very well, but I'm always fascinated by that choice. It does make for a beautiful quote in English, though. P.S. I like your Piet Mondrain-inspired banner on your blog!

Alison said...

I seem to remember the full quote was in Dutch on the side of the seating area. Honestly, they may have decided to go with the original English just for size reasons. "Maak geen kleine plannen" might not have fit as easily. ;)

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