06 December 2009

I have recently uncovered my dormant passion for photography and discovered that scanning previous work into a digital format allows me to quickly and easily manipulate images digitally. Thus, enhancing and experimenting with what would have taken me hours and hours of dark room time to achieve. Of course, this is no ground-breaking discovery and does not replace the creativity that a true dark room inspires, but provides a way to archive delicate creations and experiment free of constraint.

It also allows me to post my work here and relive the creation of each image. I first created the above image as part of a series pertaining to duality. This was during a time shortly after Hurricane Katrina when a majority of my work centered around a comparison and contrast between my hometown of Chicago, to which I fled, and my adopted hometown of New Orleans. The above photograph symbolizes my struggle to merge the two places in my mind. As my heart and thoughts centered around the impending danger present in New Orleans, I was grateful for the comfort and familiarity I found in Chicago, but anxious and ready to return to New Orleans. Combining images from each place into photographic compositions helped me to understand the pull I felt from the two very different places.

30 November 2009

City Views

UNStudio Pavilion

At long last, my account of the Burnham Pavilions constructed in Millennium Park this summer to commemorate the Centennial of Burnham's Chicago plan. I will keep this brief because quite honestly, I distinctly remember feeling underwhelmed upon my first viewing of the installments. Perhaps it is because I was so excited to observe the two projects, perhaps it is because I so want to hold Zaha atop an architectural pedestal and fall in love with everything she creates, or perhaps it is because the two pavilions appear so sleek and refined in photographs, but I held quite high expectations for my foray down to Millennium Park to finally see the projects in person.

In keeping with my expectations, I did snag a few intriguing photographs and enjoyed meandering among the spaces created by the unique forms. Yet, something about the presentation was unsettling to me. Both studios chose to work with pure white forms, which in theory would create a wonderful backdrop to the Chicago skyline and allow for a great play of color in the evening. However, in the reality of a harsh urban climate, the forms just came off as dirty and unkempt in the light of day. I had envisioned Zaha's pavilion to take on an ephemeral and light quality when I first saw it in photographs, but (and it pains me greatly to admit this) the form and materials looked rather cheep upon closer inspection. My last, and most upsetting, complaint addresses the lack of contextual expression present in the piece. Zaha's
pavilion, aside from vaguely resembling the shape of the now iconic bean sculpture, really speaks nothing of Chicago to me. My mind simply does not connect the curvaceous stretched fabric and pliable form to a city built upon a rigid grid and unwavering working class values.

The UNStudio pavilion did entice me as an interactive urban structure. The stark planes interplayed beautifully with the sinuous support pieces, drawing visitors like the young boy above and myself to amble through the space, looking both at the structure itself and to the buildings beyond. In many ways, the UNStudio was able to integrate elegantly into the Chicago skyline. In the shot above, I admire the way the structure drew my eye through an elegant portal and into the city beyond. At the same time, I do note that despite the abundant number of noteworthy highrises visable from Millennium Park, this was really the only view I was able to capture through the sculpture's portals. Perhaps UNStudio meant to make a statement by choosing to highlight the newly completed Trump Tower. Is this the future of Chicago's historically innovative and vibrant architectural creations? Only time will tell.

Zaha Hadid Pavilion

16 October 2009

Adaptive reuse....Uncovering hidden gems....Reinvigorating the past

No matter how you put it, this school is seriously cool.
Powerhouse High School, located in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago's near Southwest side is a renovated component of what was once the powerhouse behind the mega company of Sears Roebuck and Company, literally.

When this looming structure was first inhabited at the turn of the 20th century, it served to provide electricity and heat to what was once the headquarters of the Sears franchise......including the original Sears Tower, long before Willis ever came along.

When Sears did move its headquarters to its now central Loop location, the building and much of the surrounding area lay vacant and decaying for decades. Then, someone (the government) came along and began evaluating the buildings one by one, as a way to determine how to renovate the buildings.

The Powerhouse, it was determined, would best serve the surrounding community as a high school. Thus began the long and arduous process of restoration. And so it happened that a building once used to process tons and tons of coal became a teaching tool of sustainability and growth to a new generation.

Top three design features of the new space:

1. The great hall, common space....once full of giant coal powered machines....

now where students gather before, after and between classes. Notice the original Tiffany tiles still adorning the walls, some things never go out of style.

2. The incorporation of original ductwork into classroom design....learning by observing.

3. Fire escapes, green roofs, geothermal energy....the most elegant threesome I've ever seen.

4. Ok, I lied, there were four 'top designs' ....but these teacher's work stations made from old tunnels are too cozy and intriguing to pass up.

My favorite aspect of this fascinating new/old learning environment? They are predicting it will achieve a LEED platinum rating for Existing Buildings, while also preserving what is now a National Historic Landmark building. In my opinion, this project highlights adaptive reuse of urban structures at it's absolute best.

This website has more great information and resources pertaining to the history and future of this great historic landmark: http://www.homansquarepowerhouse.com/

23 August 2009


I have been back from Thailand for nearly a month now and have not written a single word about the trip....why do I call myself a blogger? I blame my negligence on a number of factors, the first being the amount of time needed to mentally process such a world-wind trip to an incredibly fascinating foreign culture. The second factor came into play immediately upon return, the combination of extreme jet-lag with a terrible cold with a seemingly endless list of people wanting to hear about how the trip had gone. I became dismayed at what soon developed into an automatic and calculated response to questions about my voyage. In short, the conversations soon morphed into, yes the flights were long, yes the trip was short, absolutely I want to go back....as soon as possible, which of course will never be soon enough.

However, now that a significant amount of time has passed, I've amassed a wonderful collection of colorful photos, and the questions have subsided, I have finally been able to take a step back and really reflect on my short time traveling this summer. I've come to realize, though, that Thailand is one of those places that can never really be summed up in text (or photographs or video for that matter). Rather it truly is a place one must experience to understand and grasp.

I spent time in both Bangkok, a booming Asian hub, and Chiang Mai, a quieter, slower, Northern mountain town. I found that these two cities could not have been more different, while at the same time sharing all of the quintessentially Thai traits, customs, and nessesities. Rather than delve into any specific details or experiences at this time, I will leave you with a few impressions of these towns and the culture shock that is Thailand.

Let's start with Bangkok....a booming representation of the dichotomy between old and new. An intruiging mixture of old world customs and innovative modern technology. An intersection of poverty and high-class. A clash of a dense, fast-paced lifestyle and a heavily congested sea of pollution. A seemingly non-stop stimulation of senses. One of my favorite recollections of reflecting en route was realizing that at any given moment, each of my five senses were being bombarded by the activity unfolding around me. The hot air clung to my skin. The chatter of a language I had no hope of understanding filled my ears. The smell that at times made me want to run away, and at others made me instantly seek out the origin of the sweet fragrance, hung heavy in the air. The taste of each spice and sweet fruit made me long to eat my way through the entire city. Then of course there were the sights. Again, I find these nearly impossible to capture in picture or word. The grand palace itself was a visual overload. As we walked into the area, one of my companions stepped back and remarked, "I feel like a gold disco ball just exploded in front of my eyes". Whether or not this metaphor is a reverent description of a highly respected and powerful symbol of the history of Thailand, it fairly accuratly describes what we were all thinking at the moment.

Every single place I traveled in Thailand provided a pleasing, if at times overwhelming, calidoscope of color. If I take anything away from this trip, it's that there is always more to want, to feel, to have, to need....and Thailand is a physical representation of this vast expanse. I will continue to elaborate on specific aspects of the trip as time progresses, yet, right now, nearly a month after my return, I can still only manage a series of broken sentences and train of thought
ramblings as an attempt to piece together a semblance of explanation about my Thailand experience. Yet, perhaps that is exactly the way to describe such a place. Thailand is vast, fascinating, and mysterious.....how can one categorize such a country without taking away from the very aspect that gives it its magical intruige? I may never truely understand or be able to describe Thailand, but perhaps this is the exact reason I never want to give up trying.

12 July 2009

L.AT.E. ride

The most impressive part of Chicago's L.A.T.E. ride? The shear number of people who participate in it each year. Navigating the city streets down to Buckingham fountain where the ride began was nearly as exciting as the ride itself. As we got closer and closer to our destination, we could feel a building of excitement in the air as riders joined our caravan and common goal. When we broke onto Van Buren and caught sight of the fountain's grounds, I was amazed to be greated with a sea of bodies of all shapes and sizes dancing to music, chatting, and warming up for a night of riding. As you can see from my spot at the starting line this year, this is a very popular ride. Race organizers have been forced to cap the ride at 10,000 riders...that's right more than 10,000 crazy bikers want to ride the city streets all night in an organized critical mass. Despite truly impeccable organization by numerous volunteers, this fact was a little frustrating, as my five person group was almost instantly separated as the race began.

Luckily, I was able to stick with one of my teammates throughout the entire twenty-five mile ride, which brings me to my second favorite aspect of the L.A.T.E. ride...encouragement of costumes. As you can partially see from above, my friend and I came dressed to the nines, and received a stream of compliments for our stylish outfit choices throughout the ride. I especially appreciated the riders we passed multiple times who remembered us and called out 'ribbon girls!' or 'it's the sparkly divas!' and above all, the man who told me I would have won the helmet decorating contest had I been bold enough to challenge the competition.

Finally, we have wound through countless city streets, beat exhaustion, reached some sort of level of euphoria, and made it to the last leg of the race. The last perhaps seven miles of the ride runs down the lakefront path as the sun is beginning to rise and the city begins to awake. This is when I realize why more than 10,000 riders yearn to join the L.A.T.E. ride each year. Although my butt is sore, my eyes hurt, and I am wondering why I ever agreed to stay awake for this long without any sort of alcoholic aid, as we ride down the usually overcrowded and chaotic lakefront path in the peace of early morning, I am struck by the beauty of the city laying in wait before us. It is quiet on the path, as riders take in the serene beauty surrounding our critical mass. We experience the same peaceful sense of calm as wheels churn and faces turn to admire the wonderful dichotomy that is Chicago's lakefront path, a true intersection of man and nature broken by a smooth line of two wheeled power. Ok, perhaps we are all just tired and daydreaming about soft pillows and sheets and a hot breakfast, but I am going to remember this moment as euphoric and meaningful for all involved.

We make our triumphal return to Buckingham fountain and reunite with the rest of our riding group just as the sun has finished rising and daylight has officially set it, along with true exhaustion. We recap our riding experiences, say a few bleary goodbyes, and begin the long trek towards a comfortable resting place.

_A special thanks to all who made this ride possible, the great participants we met along the way, and words of hope for any injuries and accidents that become inevitable at this scale._

11 July 2009

From A.B.C. to O.P.P.

Summer, why do I love thee...let me count the ways....

Here is a phase I never thought I would be able to utter..."I saw Naughty by Nature perform in an alley the other night....and LOVED it". Naughty by Nature performed at the Cans Festival a few weekends ago, and luckily this happened to occur the day after my birthday this year, so I was easily able to convince a group of friends that this would be the perfect way to celebrate the occasion. We hopped on our bikes and peddled down to Cans, and once we got within a mile radius of the bar, we could hear the beats bumping and the crowd cheering. We piled into the melee and began swaying to the beats along with maybe 500 other hipsters and yuppies sipping PBR tallboys and attempting to 'rap along'.

What a perfect 'venue'. Nestled in between two three flats, lucky (depending on your perspective) apartment dwellers sat in windows and dangled over back porches, watching over the mass of bodies undulating in front of the impromptu stage below. What really made the night for me was the multiple shout-outs to the late, great Michael Jackson. One of my favorite moments was when Treach screamed, "pump your fist in the air for MJ". As the crowd obliged, NbN broke into their first hit 'O.P.P.' who's beat sampled from the ever famous 'A.B.C.' by the Jackson 5.

I will leave you with a few quotes taken strait from my friends' mouths while at the concert...

As the show began, my one friend yelled 'lets see if we can get this whole crowed to perform the thriller dance, who knows the moves?!' quickly followed by him whispering 'man, I NEVER thought I would be at a Naughty by Nature concert...mostly because my mother refused to let me listen to them when they were popular in the early 90's'.....I would say these two quotes set the mood of the evening perfectly. As the night progressed, and the crowd responds to a 'you down with O.P.P?!' line, another friend leans over and says, 'I used to love this song, but I recently googled 'OPP' to find out what it means, turns out I am not so down with it!' To which I could only respond, 'to each his own' while keeping in beat to the music.

29 June 2009

Why are you a vegetarian?

It has gotten to the point that I visibly cringe when asked this question. I can't help it, it is one of those 'if I had a nickle for every time I heard that.....' sentiments that vegetarians everywhere can't help but feel. Now, the reason for this visible distaste is two-fold. When this question inevitably is asked as the subject arises, I first feel angry and indignant. Did I just ask you why you eat meat? Am I analyzing your lifestyle choices? Are you going to halfheartedly listen to my answer and then immediately begin a tirade about how I'm not 'American' because I choose not to eat meat or a 'hippie' because I enjoy tofu and vegetables? This initial reaction lasts for roughly seventeen seconds until I realize that most people are just curious. I still find it fascinating that I am sometime the first vegetarian that people meet in their lives, or many of my mid-western friend's 'token vegetarian'.

As this realization sinks in and I realize there is a table full of expectant faces waiting for my answer, a second feeling begins to arise, panic.

Why am I a vegetarian.......how much time do you have? Can I reasonably explain myself without going on what can easily turn into a pretentious tirade?

I don't believe that any of us has one single reason for our choice, or a simple answer as to how we made this decision. For me, the answer is a forever evolving one, as I am someone who naturally craves information and am in constant search for more of it. I read book after book dealing with the sociological, economical, ecological, and ethical aspects of meat production and preparation. I scour research websites during my lunch hour so that when challenged, I can back up my claims with facts and truth, not merely my opinions.

However, when I begin my now automatic response to this question, what my decision comes down to is a matter of my opinion. I do not believe everyone should choose to live the way I do. I do not judge others who eat differently than I, nor do I think I am healthier or happier or in any way different from my meat eating peers (ok, a little different). Eating meat is simply not for me. It matters deeply to me to understand and make conscious decisions about what I am putting into my body and how it is affecting the world around me. For many reasons, I feel that my body functions better without meat and that in some small way I am doing my part to enhance the environment.

I have found that these few sentences are usually enough to satisfy initial curiosity and perhaps spark the interest of someone who really does want to know more about a vegetarian lifestyle. Of course, I also encounter the quintessential 'meat heads' who laugh at my response and want to argue about my decision in attempt to convince me that it is unjustified. These are the times when I simply remind myself that they are lucky that this 'hippie' is also well versed in the calming techniques of yoga and realizes that it is just not worth the fight.

09 May 2009


Possibly my favorite group in Chicago held it's first inaugural ride this past weekend, the British Bicycling Club of Chicago, the BBC (if that's not a clever name, I don't know what is). Dressed only in extreme class, about thirty of us mounted our noble steeds in search of history, knowledge, fun, and of course cold beers. Led by a member of Big Shoulders Reality, we rode our way through about 12 miles of Chicago city streets, stopping at various speakeasies, gangster hangouts, and murder sites throughout the city to learn about Chicago's long history of booze and bloodshed. The weather was perfect and the riders outstanding...we turned heads at every stop. Riders of all ages and backgrounds converged together for a common mission...to admire each others bikes and enjoy a day outdoors. I am truly impressed with my companions dedication to everything British and classy. It was a ride to envy and one of those days that reminds me how much random adventures Chicago has to offer.

Here are a few of my pictures, again I need to work on my photography skills, but nevertheless...power to the tweed!

Man on Stilts! Also a bike trick master, hope to see him on the next ride...

Joan leads the pack!

Learning about the history of Twin Anchors

The group listening intently

A couple of classy gentleladies

04 May 2009

Rebuild Together.

I've fallen behind in postings yet again. However, this time it is because I have been so busy doing amazing things that I can now write about. As the weather warms our frozen bones, the people of Chicago begin to emerge and I am reminded again what a truly awesome city I am currently living in. One of my adventures as of late was the nationwide Rebuild Together event on April 25th. This event takes place every spring in cities all around the country. It serves as a national day of rebuilding lower income, elderly, and disabled households and focuses on specific neighborhoods in order to promote community interaction and enhancement. Chicago draws a huge supply of volunteers, I heard rumor that there were over 3,000 of us this year working to repair over 80 houses! As a member of the AIA Chicago team, I am very proud of our accomplishments!

The house we rebuilt was owned by a 75 year old women living with seven adopted grandchildren. Let me tell you, if you ever have a desire to face claustrophobia head on, gather a huge household, 30 architects, and a stray dog together in a small house on a rainy day and rip out all the furniture piece by piece. Although the house was bursting at the seams with eager helpers, we worked quickly and efficiently and were able to replace the entire kitchen, both bathrooms, every carpet, repaint all the rooms, and I wish I could say install new doors, but due to technical glitches...those are probably still waiting patiently in the garage for installation.

It was a really fun, and really tiring day. I had so much fun meeting fellow architects interested in community involvement, and taking part in the excitement of a new home and the great achievements made in a single day. Here are some unartful pictures I was able to snap in between jobs....

So, I need to work on my blogging picture skills....
Regardless, what an incredibly satisfying Saturday...
Check it out. http://www.rebuildingtogether.org/

21 April 2009

Flavor of the Week

I am sure it is normal that I obsess over singular artists, one at a time, methodically combing my way through a city's art scene. I can't seem to help myself, once I find something I like, I just can't get enough. Well my (and I think half of Chicago's) artist de jour is the hot new talent of Angel Otero. If you've picked up the art section of any paper in the last few weeks, you will instantly recognize this young man and his vibrant works.

Angel grew up modestly in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, without access to either books or art. I believe I read that his first art lesson as a young boy involved a friend sharing with him the ever popular works of Hello Kitty.

When he was offered a scholarship to SAIC, jumped at the opportunity and has since skyrocketed to 'hot new artist' acclaim. I find his art unique, inspirational, and indicitive of his past; but most importantly, fun. He combines whimsy and feeling with a unique three dimensional painting quality. He draws on inspiration from his home and family as well as other artists. He paints for fun, and loves what he does, and these facts most certainly shine through in his work. He stands out from the crowd in my mind through his use of texture and color in new and freespirited ways. He walks the fine line between harnessing his knowledge of shape and form and freeing himself from this rigidity to allow experimentation and growth.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more from Angel. He is about to finish his MFA at the School of the Art Institute, and although I can't say where this free spirit will continue from here, I am sure he will remain a strong staple in the art community, and my flavor of the week for quite some time.

Check out more at his website, www.angelotero.com

~above image, Pretty Crowded, oil on canvas, 60” x 72”, 2008~

20 April 2009

Eat Shit.....and Sustain?

Unfortunately, this is not a post venting my feelings about those who have scorned me in the past. I've always cringed at the phrase, 'eat shit and die', and besides, I am a lady. One must be truly fuming to throw out such a vulgar and drastic insult. Those are probably two of the last things I would want demanded of me. This, my friends, is a post in honor of the quickly approaching Earth Day, and a segue into my fascination with the numerous amount of inspirational people Chicago has to offer.

In my never ending quest for knowledge, I have stumbled across a true champion of mother nature's natural processes. On the off chance that someone out there reads this blog, I feel no need to name names, but I have recently come across the story of an urban ecologist with a mission to educate Chicagoans about their surroundings and reconnect city dwellers to the natural environment. I think to myself, this lady is fascinating, the other side to my coin, a lover of the paradoxical relationship between man and nature, a proponent of harmony. She has worked many fascinating jobs, followed her passions, and made great impacts in her field. One of her hobbies is leading two hour walks through city streets, educating city dwellers about edible plants growing all around us, which I will probably sign up for after finishing this post.

Then I get to the meat of why she has earned a full page rap in this paper...she has set out on a long and extensive project to collect 22 of her closest friends human waste, compost it, and return it to them for use in their vegetable gardens. Of course, such an endeavor takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, and hard work. I am truly fascinated by this project and its possible repercussions. I don't think its far fetched to believe that sometime far, far down the road, we will all learn to hold more respect for our bodies and their natural processes and the true cycle of life. As she says, one can take something almost all of us are uncomfortable with, make friends with it, transform it, and use it to grow flowers. Although I cringe at the idea of eating food grown in part by human excrement, I challenge us all to sit down and think about where the food we ingested today came from, I am willing to bet that most all Americans have eaten something with more foul origins than our own composted waste.

While this sad truth is sobering, I don't see large scale human waste composition in our immediate future. The article could not disclose the location of her composting collection, as it is illegal to contain such a large amount of human waste in an urban environment. I suppose we can hold on to the sophomoric and threatening demand I opened with for just a bit longer....perhaps I should vent some of those hostilities before it's too late...

17 April 2009

A Series of Pretentious Questions

I've decided that since I can never find a significant amount of time to make a worthwhile blog post, I have conceded to short spurts of thought at increasingly frequent intervals. Some of these may be bad, and that scares me a little, many will digress from topic, but hopefully more will be radical and worthwile.

Lately I have grown inexplicably obsessed with questions. Perhaps because I am stuck in a perpetual, year long, difficult, drastic turning point of life, perhaps because I spend too much time alone in my car, or maybe because I'm an architect and we are bred to question everything. Regardless, I find myself rapid firing questions in my head, or often aloud, with no desire for an answer or resolution, but for the sole purpose of wonderment. So here goes.....

Why are humans so drawn to beautiful, sunny days outdoors? Does everyone think this way? Are there people out there who wouldn't jump at the chance to spend time in nature? Why am I so drawn to dive bars, hole in the walls, derelict buildings, etc. but cringe at the thought of living in a cluttered environment? Do I thrive on a state of oxymoron? Why do people move away from dense urbanity to 'get away from the stress' when I find it so stressful to be forced to drive to a destination? What inspires creativity and human thought? Are people drawn to those inspired by similar muses or is this a case of do opposites attract? Can one thrive on the interaction of people while being herself/himself an incredibly introverted personality? Can the interaction of others be an inspiration to an outside observer? Can one achieve this outside observation if they themselves are in the midst of such interaction?

I tend to have love affairs of sorts with punctuations....perhaps this symbolizes my life track. There was a long period of obsession with the period. I refused to use other means of punctuation. The period was so simple, so easy, so bold. As I plan a next phase of life, my penchant has shifted to the precarious question mark... sensuous, non-conformative, and funky, it brings a new vision and a hint at the unknown.

Perhaps I ask too many questions, but when you stop wondering, what does your life become?

27 January 2009

Like Barack Obama Said, 'Now it's Time for a Change'

Like many out there, the last few months have been a whirlwind for me. I have fallen into a bit of a slump you may say. Having finally having secured a coveted job in these tough times, I was ecstatic and motivated to push forward with my career and dare I say....have a little hope. I found myself doing quite well, while the world around me floundered and seemed set on a never ending downward spiral.

By the time January 20th rolled around, I like the rest, hm perhaps a majority, of America was salivating for some sign of this a fore promised change. When Barack took the podium, my mind was racing. What reforms will end up on top? How quickly will they start to happen? How will they affect America? and perhaps most importantly... What does this mean for the future of architecture?

Many things have been promised to the American people. Green jobs, new infrastructure, increased sustainability are all high on the new government's priority list. Many of the positions Obama supports have been issues I, as well as many of my collegues, have been pushing for quite some time. Now America will have a chance to see that without government on our side, change is nearly impossible. With the new administration comes a renewed hope in the field of design. Finally, we can feel that those with power can hear us, they understand what must be done, and that it must be done now. No one has time to waste in the fight for a more sustainable future, because every day that goes by without change is a step in the wrong direction.

I came across an article over the weekend praising Obama's urban sensibilities and desire to transform America into an efficient and ecological urban centered country. Could this possibly mean a stop, even and end, to my personally dreaded suburban sprawl? One thing this article did point out is that this recession, along with a new and forward thinking administration, means a definite and profound shift in the architectural proffession. Gone, it proclaimed, is the age of the 'starchitect'. It has for some time been my belief that the Gehry's, Calatrava's, Fosters, etc. of the world, while certainly talented, are not the end-all of architectural design.

As we enter a new age, a more urban, infrastructurally driven age, those of use out there with a drive and passion for sustainability, simplicity, and functionality find ourself in a position to take the reigns of design into our own hands. So, the resurrection of this blog comes with more than just the promise that I have found myself with some spare time these days, but also with a renewed sense of hope. I am ready and waiting to get behind this almost life-like vision of change Obama has created. However, I am also here to prove that we are teetering on the edge of a new era, architecture as we know it in America will change, it has to. But it is not up to a new, and reletively inexperienced, president to drive this change. It is up to us in the profession to realize what must be done and take it upon ourselves to make that change. Obama's hope may be an inspiration to us all, but it our actions that will truely speak and drive American cities into a more positive and prosperous time. Welcome back all.