Nobler and more beautiful


we will never bring shame

Originally uploaded by joelmann.

This mural greets those entering the Crain Communications (London Guarantee) Building (360 N. Michigan Ave., Alfred Alschuler, 1923). For nearly fifty years until a recent restoration, these murals and a gilded coffered ceiling were hidden beneath an acoustic-panel drop ceiling. The text (edit: from the Ephebic Oath, the Athenian oath of citizenship — thanks to George Proakis), apparently targeted at business leaders and perhaps entirely inappropriate for the foreign owners of the former client, offers up a credo for city builders in a bygone era of noblesse oblige, honor, and civic duty:

“We will never bring shame upon this, our city, by any act of dishonor. We will fight for the ideals and the sacred things of the city, both alone and with our comrades. With heart and mind and hand we will strive that we may bequeath this city not only no less but nobler and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.” (emphasis added)

My fellow Americans

“My fellow Americans went to war and all I got was this damned amazing second home.”

Get the t-shirt (by Dan Rybicky, now on view at 1100 N Damen) at The American Scream, plus:

“My ecoterrorists went to California and all they did was bloe up these damned SUV car dealerships.”

Guess where?


Attached housing

Originally uploaded by paytonc.

Posted to the new Guess Where Chicago pool on Flickr, my latest pastime:

This 1880s planned community maintains a remarkable degree of unity. Although the Old surrounding neighborhood has well more than its share of party walls, few of its streets were built by a single hand — and the others were built a century hence, by which point architecture had declined considerably as an art. Its beguiling intimacy is deceiving: neighboring streets are narrower still, but have lower buildings, fewer trees, and even smaller front yards.

Food porn

Interesting trendlet: “photoblogging your meals”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/foodporn/clusters, aka “flickr food porn.” One particularly tasty looking example: Eating Taipei, a food odyssey in Taiwan.

Speaking of which, I’m apparently booked for LA, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo in December. Sounds fun, but a bit disappointed that it won’t include “Shanghai”:http://travel2.nytimes.com/2005/10/09/travel/09shanghai.html?pagewanted=2&incamp=article_popular.

On the title: while reading “Debbie Does Salad” in the current (and excellent) “Harper’s”:http://harpers.org/MostRecentCover.html, I couldn’t help but think of my parents at home and their two-hours-a-day dose of FoodTV. And yet what TV isn’t porn-ified these days, filled with subtle yannic and phallic shapes, moist and squishy sounds, filth sanitized and airbrushed to perfection, with dreamy actors breathing into one another’s ears?

Beautiful transit

Subways need not be boring or dreary! Someone’s compiled a gallery of 40 exceptionally well designed subways from around the world, several of which are from the Soviet bloc and feature the high-finish “palaces for the people” look. Interesting shots: futurism in Kiev (you’d think the engineering-obsessed Soviets would go more for that look), clean lines throughout Spain, delicate concrete arches in Tashkent, and huge stations in Lille — the VAL trains (identical to those used at O’Hare) must seem tiny by comparison.

20-something pricing

Fall has rolled around and there’s no sign of the three-year-old 18/29 subscription for 18-29 year olds at the CSO. The former deal: when single ticket sales began in the autumn, 18-29 year olds could get preferential pricing ($18-$29, about 60% off single ticket prices) on edge-of-main-floor or terrace seats for when creating a choose-your-own subscription from a selection of concerts (lower selling, usually due to modern music on the program). Three catches: a subscription minimum of three concerts, no typical subscriber benefits, and age validation when picking up the tickets. Still, it was a great deal and seemed to work; I spent about the same in 2004 as in 2003, but went to twice as many concerts. Dozens of young people seemed to be using the option, based on eyeball surveys comparing the “allowed” seating areas with the regular subscribers. Yet it was apparently phased out in favor of the 6:30 “evening rush” concerts.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Symphony sounds almost apologetic about raising the price of “tsoundcheck” youth tickets from $10 to $12. More than 20,000 members have signed up for tsoundcheck. And the “City Opera”:http://www.nycopera.com/productions/big/index.aspx in New York has a “Big Deal” membership option which discounts two-weeks-in-advance tickets to $30 apiece after a $50 ($75 for two) annual membership fee. The integrated marketing program also includes specially designed mailers, prominently featuring lusty young singers cradling one another and super-pithy program descriptions:

bq. “Famous singer seeks help rescuing her anarchist boyfriend from a corrupt police chief. Will consider murder if push comes to shove.”

Paper hat guy

Scotty Iseri has a “random acts of kindness and senseless beauty” hobby: he makes paper hats and passes them out on the train. As someone on Craigslist says, “I like it. It’s nice to be given something even if it is a paper hat. And it’s nice to have a thought that follows you the rest of the day and simply brightens it.”

Pedestrians still #1 impediment to traffic!

Great news for drivers! In a prelude to a future when the entire Loop will be paved over in order to facilitate through traffic — after all, the Loop is only a place to drive through, not a place for people to do silly, inconsequential things like work or play or shop — the city’s boneheaded crossing guards will now write tickets for pedestrians, but not drivers! Because by golly, traffic congestion isn’t caused by too many cars, it’s caused by too many pedestrians!

Chicago may follow a trail blazed by Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Houston in an effort to even a playing field now tipped too heavily in favor of pedestrians, according to Andrew Velasquez, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications… All it takes is one pedestrian to cross against the ‘Do Not Cross’ light to defeat the whole purpose. Vehicles can’t turn, even when they have the right-turn light.’

Vehicles can’t turn??? What a travesty! The Trib makes this clearer: “Bond denied that, saying the aims are to reduce vehicle congestion and improve traffic flow.” Quite obviously, vehicle congestion and poor traffic flow have nothing to do with the vastly increased numbers of cars. No, it’s because of the pedestrians.

The bad news: not even $12.8 million spent on overpasses at Flamingo & Las Vegas Blvd. can keep those pesky pedestrians out of the way. Oh wait: this car jumped the curb and plowed into a crowd. Well, it was STILL the pedestrians’ fault, I’m sure.

Olden days’ infrastructure


Olden days’ infrastructure

Originally uploaded by paytonc.

Around a bend on the Chicago river stands this gleaming white palazzo: an exclusive boat club, with a high-ceilinged ballroom and a broad marble terrace, compleat with obelisk-studded balustrade for laughing ladies to langorously lean against during swanky cocktail soirees? No. Its use becomes quite evident upon closer, uh, examination: a sewage pumping station. Once upon a time, Americans cared enough about their public realm — about civic art — to endow even the humblest of shit pumps with architectural grandeur.

(A slightly closer look reveals extensive graffiti under those arches, *on* the giant sewage pipes. Kids these days.)

Electioneers’ designs

A good election poster conveys a simple but warm message with bold graphics, bright colors, and clear type. Examples from the current German election:

The only distinctively German thing about these examples appears to be the typography: at first glance, several of the fonts appear to be from FontShop, which carries many clean-but-humanist Dutch and German fonts.

Contrast these to American electoral posters, with their poor typography, utter lack of message (besides candidate names), and the same old tired stars, stripes, red, white, and blue motif — or to US electoral sites, most of which suffer from overload: small print, poor contrast, and busy graphics. Curiously, neither major party has either an official color or logo, both essential components of any branding campaign. Maybe some of this has to do with how Americans reach voters — via television in private homes — versus how European parties, with smaller budgets and more public spaces for walk-by outdoor advertising.

Car kabob


Car kabob

Originally uploaded by paytonc.

Last weekend, the Perimeter Ride took its second annual detour to see “Spindle,” a 1989 commission by Dustin Shuler in the parking lot of the aging Berwyn Plaza. (A Service Merchandise there has sat empty since its bankruptcy in 1999; the parking lot is crumbling, some of the artworks have deteriorated, and the town around it has changed considerably, to say the least.)

While googling the artist to locate his other works in California, I found several mentions of other artworks placed at strip malls by developer David Bermant–notably at Hamden Plaza outside New Haven. However, it turns out that a lot of the whimsical strip-mall conceptual art of the 1970s and 1980s has disappeared. Commercial priorities of new owners has subsumed much of the early work by James Wines at SITE, including Ghost Parking Lot (photo) and eight of the nine weird Best Products showrooms. (“Forest” in Henrico, Va., is the lone survivor; it’s now a peacefully wooded setting for a church.) Even the Spindle has been threatened: 69% of Berwynites voted to remove it in a primary-election referendum just a year after its installation, and other works (including SITE’s Floating McDonald’s, replaced by a standard outlet) have disappeared from Berwyn Plaza.

What the wacky, anti-consumerist artists were doing installing pieces in shopping malls in the first place isn’t quite the point; it’s that, once installed, I would have assumed that suburbanites’ inherently conservative tendencies would have left the works standing. However, the forces of commerce and progress are perhaps too strong to remain provoked, even in what are now decaying inner-ring ‘burbs.

Non, mer�i

In the States, we cast three-ton Ten Commandments to place in front of our public buildings; in Canada, they get, well, hopefully this speaks for itself. (Any description of mine might land this site on some kind of FBI watch list.) “Les petits Baigneurs,” 1915 bronze by Alfred Lalibert� (restored 1992), at the entrance to the Maisonneuve public baths in Montreal. (Hint: it makes a little more sense when the water’s running, although anyone with a mildly dirty mind would still think otherwise.)