Quick Review: Bertrand Goldberg retrospective

The Art Institute of Chicago currently has a Bertrand Goldberg retrospective, the first of its kind. Goldberg is well known in Chicago for several works of architecture: Marina City on the north bank of the Chicago River as well as the Prentice Women’s Hospital, which has been in the news lately because of a discussion about whether it should be preserved.

Here are a few photos from the exhibit:

A few thoughts about Goldberg’s work:

1. His primary design form, concrete cobs or wavy walls around a circular core, are quite unique. However, I can’t imagine any building today being built in this style. This has definitely aged.

2. The exhibit portrayed him as a visionary because of his interest in reviving the city through large, self-contained developments. This sort of sounds like New Urbanism but the scale is quite different as are the aesthetics with large concrete surfaces. This reminded me more of Le Corbusier or the arcologies found in Simcity. The self-contained nature of these developments might stop people from fleeing to the suburbs but it wouldn’t necessarily push them to interact with the wider city.

3. Goldberg is known for a few high profile works but also designed a number of other things as well including lots of hospitals, some houses, public buildings, and household items like chairs.

4. My biggest critique of the exhibit: the buildings and designs are given without context. Take Marina City. It definitely is iconic and interesting. Yet, how did it get built? How was the land acquired and the project pushed through the city government? How did it affect the surrounding neighborhood? What is its legacy beyond its walls? For example, the developer for the project was Charles Swibel, a man well-connected to Mayor Richard J. Daley and an unsavory character when it came to things like public housing. While the exhibit suggested Goldberg was trying to help the city, did he really do so in the long run? What was needed was the perspective of an urbanist who could provide some commentary about the overall effect of these buildings. While the exhibit mainly focused on design elements, it really is also an opportunity to assess how Goldberg’s design helped or hindered American cities.

Contrasting styles: Emanuel vs. Daley in with whom they meet and consult

The Chicago Reader has an interesting piece looking at who Mayor Rahm Emanuel meets with – and how this differs from Mayor Richard M. Daley’s approach:

In many ways, Emanuel’s schedule strikingly contrasts with his predecessor’s. Richard M. Daley is a Chicago guy, born and raised. Except for his college years in Providence, Rhode Island, he’s stayed here all of his life. And it shows in the people who had his ear: in addition to pols and big-shot business leaders, his meeting schedule was packed with the ministers of small churches, local school leaders, and owners of neighborhood businesses like the local sausage shop (see “Daley’s A-List”).

Emanuel, on the other hand, grew up in the north suburbs, went to college in New York, and spent the better part of the last two decades in Washington, first as an aide in the Clinton White House, then as a congressman, and finally, for almost two years, as Obama’s chief of staff.

Much of his mayoral schedule is taken up by meetings and calls with wealthy out-of-towners, many of whom have donated to his campaign. Indeed, it seems Emanuel has learned from his mentor, President Clinton. Under Clinton, the White House was open to big donors who got to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom. In Emanuel’s case, he either invites them into his City Hall office or makes time to hang out at one of his favorite haunts…

Some days, Emanuel meets with more multimillionaires within an afternoon than most of us will cross paths with during our entire lives. On June 30, for example, after the mayor spent 30 minutes in his City Hall office with U.S. Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, he took 15 minutes to meet with Marc Lasry, the billionaire CEO of Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund operation. That was followed by 45 minutes with Stephen Ross, a New York-based real estate mogul and owner of the Miami Dolphins.

There could be two ways to view this:

1. This is good for Chicago. Due to Emanuel’s connections outside of Chicago, the city will benefit. The new mayor may spend a lot of time with out of town millionaires but these people could bring money and jobs into Chicago through this connection.

2. This is bad for Chicago. Emanuel is less involved with the “little people” of Chicago that are important for getting things done and working the patronage machine. Emanuel is more of a corporate mayor (having less time for local leaders) while Daley at least mingled with the commoners and neighborhood leaders knew they could meet with him at certain points.

I wonder how much of this should be chalked up to different styles of leadership, personal history, or simply a shift in what it means to be a politician today where Daley was following the example of his father while Emanuel is operating under the idea that politicians and businesses need to work together (perhaps the Bill Clinton model?).

More on MLK in Chicago in 1966

After reading about Mayor Richard J. Daley in American Pharaoh, I learned more about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s time in Chicago in 1966. His time in the city was short but very interesting. Here are the things that stuck out to me:

1. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had quite a debate about whether they should bring the Civil Rights Movement to Chicago or not. Several issues were at play: they had won legal battles in the South eliminating legal segregation but it was unclear whether they could win against informal (yet very established) segregation in the North. Also, Daley’s reputation was well-known. King decided to come to Chicago anyway over the arguments of others.

2. King based his movement out of the West Side of Chicago, living (though not all the time) in a tenement apartment in Lawndale. The West Side was a newer ghetto created when the population of the Black Belt became too large and other parts of the city were closed off to blacks. King set up there in part to avoid the black politicians who always supported Daley on the South Side. These politicians were willing to support Daley and the machine in return for being able to control their own wards. Thus, King was not fully supported by the black community when he operated in Chicago.

3. Daley played both sides successfully in 1966 and throughout his career. While Daley became known for supporting police brutality against anti-war protestors at the 1968 Democratic Convention, he tried to co-opt many of King’s efforts. Even though he came from an ethnic white neighborhood, he never fully came out and said blacks couldn’t move into such neighborhoods. At the same time, the city’s policies were aimed at avoiding this (particularly decisions about public housing). Daley controlled enough of the black vote on the South Side that he never had to support Civil Rights. Interestingly, his son gave a similar response to a question about segregation in Chicago earlier this year: he started talking about how Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and immigrants and they all move around and seek a better life.

4. King and his followers tried to reach out to Chicago’s gangs, not really a concern for the movement in the South, but this proved difficult. By this point, more gang members and others thought violence was a better response.

5. Daley met with King several times with a number of other interested parties present. These meetings didn’t go anywhere fast.

6. At a march in Marquette Park on August 5, 1966, King was struck by a rock in the head and knocked down. Others yelled, “Kill him, kill him” while “another heckler threw a knife at King.” After escaping the scene, King said, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the south, but I can say that I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen in Chicago…I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” This is one of those stories (and there are many others) that should disabuse people of the notion that the North had racial harmony).

7. Jesse Jackson was involved in this process as he had been attending seminary.

8. The final summit between the city and the Chicago Freedom Movement began August 17, 1966. After the first day, both Daley and King were unhappy about the outcome. After Daley asked for and got a moratorium from a judge on marches in Chicago neighborhoods, the Freedom Movement marched outside the city and threatened to march on Cicero on August 28. After more negotiations, the final meeting was held on August 26 and both Daley and King claimed a victory with the final agreement.

9. Ultimately, King and the Chicago Freedom Movement saw little change in the actions of Daley and the city. From my own view, it appears like Daley was able to outlast King: he said just enough without really promising big changes. King, perhaps caught off guard by the differences between Chicago and the South, could only force Daley to negotiate (and marching in Cicero was the big lever King had – one can only imagine if a major march had occurred) but not to capitulate.

Fascinating reading.

Read my earlier post about this from MLK Day 2011 here.