2018

Canal Street, New Orleans by Serhii Chrucky

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I’m standing on the neutral ground of Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. It’s early October but today the lighting is uncharacteristically gray. The undifferentiated mass of clouds and the wet blanket of humidity turns the world into a luminous softbox. This type of weather is decent for shooting architecture so long as you crop the sky or need to photograph a north facing building in the colder months. All these years and I’m still not sure how I feel about photographing on overcast days.

I have the tripod set up next to the curb cut, a safe distance from the streetcars whizzing by my back. The camera is pointed southwest at a Walgreens drugstore on the opposite corner. I’ve been meaning to photograph this building for almost ten years. Built in 1938 in the Art Moderne style in vogue at the time, it’s a three story commercial building with a limestone facade, twice as long as it is wide. There is a cylindrical turret on the corner crammed with neon text: “Walgreen Drugs - Photo - Cosmetics - Prescriptions.” A band of rainbow neon tubes frame the text, coming to a semicircular crescendo at the top of the turret next to a yellow mortar and pestle signifying “pharmacy.” The neon glows nicely on overcast days like this, and it looks even better than it did in my mind all this time.

People are coming and going in waves, alternating with cars doing the same, so I wait for the breaks in between phases. There is one obnoxious truck, wrapped to resemble an alligator, parked in an intrusive position. If I want to get this shot now, and I do, I’m going to have to live with the alligator truck. The universe is often ungenerous in this way - there always seem to be objects like light posts, trees, magazine stands, and parked cars getting in the way of an otherwise perfect vantage point. People aren’t as problematic when they walk through the frame since they can be useful to show scale, utility, or both. Is it better to embrace the chaotic disorder in front of a building than it is to fret about it? I’m standing on the neutral ground of Canal Street like the psychological divide between being satisfied with results, or chucking them and trying again tomorrow. I’ll come back tomorrow.

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Chicago Tribune Freedom Center by Serhii Chrucky

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Since 1981, the Chicago Tribune has been printed at the Freedom Center, an immense plant situated on a 30 acre site near the corner of Chicago and Halsted. This may end soon as there are plans in place to demolish the plant in favor of a mixed-use mega-development tentatively called "River District." I've documented as much of the exterior as possible before any work has begun. I'm going to do one more round of this, and then if demolition and redevelopment do indeed occur, I intend to photograph the entire transformation. More to come.

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Indiana Welcome Center by Serhii Chrucky

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The Indiana Welcome Center is a surprising example of Post-Modern architecture, unexpectedly situated off of Interstate 80, five miles from the Illinois border in southern Hammond. It opened in 1999 as the Lake County Interstate Visitors Information Center and was designed by a Valparaiso-based firm called Design Organization, Inc., who were eventually acquired by Shive-Hattery in 2012.

Design elements of the building symbolize four distinctive aspects of the multi-faceted geography and economy of Northwest Indiana. The pillars marking the entry evoke the smokestacks of the nearby steel mills and oil refineries, most notably BP-Amoco in Whiting and The U.S. Steel Works in Gary. The cascading aluminum siding that covers the exhibition hall suggests the ebb and flow of waves on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This element is juxtaposed with a rolling concrete wall bisecting the circular form of the entire building, reflecting the terrain of the Indiana Dunes to the east. Finally, the southern facing side is capped by a tall (non-functional) silo, symbolizing the largely agricultural economy to the south.

The jump-cut interplay of varied symbolic elements is in line with the strain of Post-Modernist architecture practiced by Stanley Tigerman, Michael Graves, and Robert Venturi, but was built at least a decade after that style faded out of fashion. Perhaps it took this brand of Post-Modernism a long time to move into the heartland. Or perhaps it was the best design solution to communicate the aims of the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, telling the story of the region in a single structure. It stands nonetheless as an idiosyncratic example of very late Post-Modernism, rare in this part of the country, and an unexpected surprise to visitors passing through Northwest Indiana.

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Cobbler Square Lofts by Serhii Chrucky

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Cobbler Square Lofts in Old Town is a renovation of a Dr. Scholl's shoe factory, completed in 1985 by Kenneth Schroeder & Associates. The factory had consisted of twenty buildings within two square blocks, built between 1880 and 1965. A few of these buildings were demolished during renovation, but the overall character of a multi-generational factory complex was retained. There are three internal courtyards designed by POD, Inc. (a California-based landscape architecture firm) set off-axis 45 degrees to the street grid.

The main entrance on Wells street is a cutaway into the facade of the 1959 factory building, with a glazed atrium in red and blue steel providing a sense of grandiosity as one enters. I believe that in the near future this atrium will be of particular interest from a preservation standpoint. It is an example of Hi-Tech, a sub-style of Post-Modernism, that was uncommon in Chicago during this time period.

Architect Kenneth Schroeder described the design aesthetic as "layering the new against the old," and that was certainly achieved. Thirty five years since the renovation, there isn't a feeling of rupture. Rather, the additions made in 1985 fit seamlessly into the exisiting fabric. If disused factory buildings had any hope of surviving the changing economic and social conditions in large American cities, some kind of modification was necessary. Here, it was done in a manner that added to the richness of the pre-existing built environment. When it soon comes time to reassess Cobbler Square Lofts, it is this point that should be at the forefront of our considerations.

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