Another busy month in the studio at Myefski Architects. A few weeks ago I started working on the beginning stages of a 15-story multi-use development in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood. This unique development introduces residential micro units and extended-stay hotel rooms into the historic Printer's Row.
The site is located across from the Dearborn Station; an icon of the Romanesque Revival style which opened its doors in 1885. On the corner of South Dearborn, West Polk, and South Federal, the development adjoins the Franklin Building, a 1912 structure lauded as an example of the ‘Chicago School’ style of architecture.
Designing a new building in an area defined by historic architecture presents many challenges. The final design solution will fit in with the surrounding historic context while maintaining a contemporary identity.
As I begin to wrap up my Fellowship, I have started the fateful process of compiling my research findings. To date, this is taking shape as a monograph booklet that will document the background research, various tangents, illustrations, and relevant project drawings. This document, a standalone record of the Fellowship project, will be available for others interested in articulating the language of historic adaptive architecture.
It has been interesting and rewarding to revisit earlier ideas and see the progression as I work to assemble the monograph.
The past month has been a whirlwind of activity in the Myefski Architects office. Fall is always a busy time and we have many projects vying for time as winter approaches.
I have chosen to concentrate my fellowship time in the winter months. This will allow for me to better focus my attention between project work and fellowship work.
One of the designs I am currently working on, The Icehouse, is an interesting adaptive reuse project in Evanston, Illinois. We are working to retrofit a historic ice manufacturing and storage facility, ca. 1930, into a residential development. The project presents many challenges, but the final result is sure to be a remarkable transformation.
While assembling a monograph of my fellowship research, I have continued to develop a few remaining ideas. Back in February, I became interested in the possibilities of animation in architectural representation after working on a section of Old St. Patrick’s Church.
I explored this technique by animating the section to show my drawing process as you can see above. Using layers in Adobe Illustrator, I was able to produce a series of images that could then be translated to a .gif file. The resulting animation describes how the drawing was constructed and helps to illustrate some of the changes Old St. Patrick’s has undergone.
Upon review, I realized animation could serve a more central role. My Old St. Patrick’s section tries to layer different time periods to illustrate more information about the Church’s history, but it faces some limitations as a static image. Once the possibility of movement is added to a drawing, more detail can be represented.
Animation and video are becoming increasingly popular methods of architectural representation, but they are not typically used for projects that involve existing conditions. However, these methods are especially useful for describing existing conditions since there are various time periods to consider. In order to explore this technique, I am going to further develop this animation of Old St. Patrick’s Church to include more historical context.
The Kompas Fellowship allows me the opportunity to explore my interest in historic preservation from a professional practice perspective. My plan is to investigate possible representational strategies to better document existing structures. It is my hope that through improved representation, design that involves the incorporation of existing buildings can be elevated.
The first month of my fellowship began with initial research into the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). This 1933 initiative set out to document historic structures of all scales and programs using regimented standards. These surveys are archived in the Library of Congress for future research.
As HABS continues today, new technologies such as AutoCAD and 3D scanning have been incorporated, but the graphic standards remain unchanged. These strict standards have provided uniformity across nearly a century of surveys. However, after examining various examples, I was struck by the inefficacy of measured drawings to truly capture the appearance of existing structures.
Highly precise drawings tend to make buildings appear far more ageless than in photographs. The clarity of a drawing can mask the age of its subject as newer additions and even decay seem to appear cohesive in drawn elevation. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to examine this discrepancy further. Specifically, I am interested in the potential of combining photography and measured drawing to capture the intricacies of existing conditions.
This month I have been delving into more hands-on research by visiting several archives in Chicago. Initially I searched archives to find drawings of Old St. Patrick’s Church. In the end, I didn’t have much luck finding historic documents for the church. However, I was able to find other drawing examples of alterations to existing buildings.
There are, of course, countless historic buildings in Chicago that have been renovated. It’s rather hard to find related drawings since often only the original iteration is archived. I kept digging to see if there would be differences in drawing techniques for architectural adaptation in historic drawings.
Most of the drawings I was able to uncover rendered existing structures in red ink and new additions or alterations in graphite or black ink. In previous research, I noticed this same convention in drawings from 16th century Italy (in Tiberio Alfarano’s work), 17th-18th century Spain, and Carlo Scarpa’s 20th century work. While these instances are widespread, I was at first unsure if this had been the architectural convention globally. After reviewing archived drawings by American architects such as Daniel Burnham, among others, which used the same technique, it was clear that this was the convention for hundreds of years.
Next, I reached out to an architectural historian to help understand why such a pervasive method would disappear. She informed me that as far as she knows there was no definitive reason for the change, but that as drawing shifted to computer aided design (CAD) software this convention was lost in the translation.
Although drawing in all black has its advantages, the red and black convention had a clarity and layering ability that is difficult to achieve with line weight and type alone. This minor discovery has me thinking about the potential of color within architectural representation.
While further investigating the representation of historic structures I have been confronted by two main interests. First, I began to look into the history of architectural drawing because, as James Ackerman states in his book Origins, Imitation, Conventions, “The best way to understand the nature of a convention is to discover for what reason and under what circumstance it originated, and how it was modified in the course of time.” It is without question that the techniques and tools used in a particular era have some influence on design. Secondly, I am interested in how adaptations to existing structures were represented in the past. Existing structures have been adapted to the changing needs of their occupants’ since the creation of shelter. Architectural adaptation has been such a ubiquitous condition throughout time that it is important to consider how these historic interventions may have been represented during the time of their creation.
Very few examples of architectural drawing older than the 17th century remain, and even fewer representations of adaptation exist. This is likely due to the prevalence of craftsman and builders rather than architects throughout much of history. It is thus typical that drawings were only created for highly significant buildings. One such example of historic representation of adaption is Tiberio Alfarano’s drawing of St. Peter’s Basilica from 1571. This drawing, as detailed in Federica Goffi’s dissertation Time Matter(s): Invention and Re-Imagination in Built Conservation: The Unfinished Drawing and Building of St. Peter’s, The Vatican, superimposes the new Michelangelo plan over the already demolished Old St. Peter’s. The drawing layers time, with ancient roman temple sites acting as its graphic foundation. This type of “hybrid drawing” allows the viewer to contemplate various layers of information simultaneously. According to Goffi, Alfarano’s drawing was used as an underlayment in the design process of future alterations. It is in this mode that I am developing representation that allows information to serve as the backdrop to design.
Currently, I am using Alfarano’s techniques to draw the history of Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, IL. This drawing illustrates the various layers of intervention on the site and the surrounding area through its more than 150-year history. The image here shows a glimpse of the layering that is still in progress. I’m excited to share more on the development of this drawing in next month’s blog post.
Following up on the drawing I introduced last month, my study of Tiberio Alfarano’s techniques has developed significantly. As you can see in the accompanying images, the work focuses on illustrating the history of Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, IL. The initial intent was to follow Alfarano’s methods exactly, but as I worked through the drawing it became evident that the prevailing notion of Old St. Patrick’s is its steadfastness within a changing city. In contrast, Alfarano emphasizes in his drawing of Old St. Peter’s the layering of change for only the immediate site of the basilica. I, therefore, chose to focus on the permanence of Old St. Patrick’s by drawing the history of the surrounding area.
The infallibility of the church walls is emphasized by the layering of recent interior renovations. Historic neighborhood transitions are made visible by the simultaneous interpretation of various structural demolitions. It can be seen that the area was once comprised of small residential homes, with the church as the largest structure. Over time, the area began to transition into a light industrial area with larger structures. The construction of a major highway caused another, even larger, scalar intrusion. Through it all the walls of Old St. Peter’s have stood largely unchanged. Its interior has evolved with the times, but its presence has always remained.
Beginning as someone who knew nothing about Old St. Patrick’s Church, the construction of a hybrid drawing served as an informative research tool. Implementing this type of interpretive drawing at the beginning of the design process would allow for an enriched discussion throughout the design of an alteration to an existing structure. Hybrid drawings allow a moment to expand the focus of a project beyond the existing architecture to include a broad spectrum of influences.
This animation sequence goes deeper into the history of Old St. Patrick’s Church. Using the same method as the previous animation, I furthered this iteration by including specific moments from the Church’s history. The resulting animation provides an overview of the various phases in the development of the church and its neighborhood.
Beginning with early residential settlement of the area, the church became the focal point of the neighborhood. During the Chicago fire of 1871 Old St. Patrick’s church, one of the few structures in the area to survive, became a shelter for those displaced. Throughout the years the church and its neighborhood have undergone many changes. From dwindling to four registered church members in 1983, the church rebounded and underwent a major renovation in the 1990s.
By using an animation rather than a static drawing, the evolution of the building is able to be clearly shown. This method of representation fully embraces the sequential nature of architecture. Incorporating these ideas into the design process would allow for the history of a building to be understood as a continuum as opposed to the convention of strict divisions between existing conditions and new construction.
Blueprint reproduction of Daniel Burnham’s renovation proposal for the Chicago Cliff Dwellers Club. A note and varying strength of lines in the reproduction indicate that the original was a color drawing using the red and black representational system. (via)
To culminate my fellowship I compiled a monograph of the work I completed over the course of the year. The document shows the progression of the investigation from the initial impetuous through various phases of interests. Interspersed with the research topics are several drawing exercises employed to further explore the implications of the research. By creating this document I hope to share the many aspects of the fellowship project with interested parties.
As I return to UM’s Taubman College in the fall to pursue a M.Arch degree, I am grateful for the unique opportunity Myefski Architects has afforded me this year as a Kompas Fellow. Beyond my own research, I have learned so much about the profession and my own goals over the course of the year.
To download a digital copy of Genevieve's monograph, Mind the Gap, please click here.
This month I began to look at how historic structures are represented through drawing. Every building generates an infinite amount of information as there are countless physical details, as well as spatial properties, that could be documented. Drawing is a method of sifting through the data to produce a legible product. While drawing has the ability to emphasize information intelligibly, it also has the tendency to disguise. By filtering what is deemed most relevant to the project at hand, the implicit biases of the documenter are imbedded in the drawing.
This initial study focuses on reworking a Historic American Building Survey (HABS) document to develop its contemporary context. The survey of the Frances E. Willard House in Evanston (Illinois), presents the house as an isolated object. Since the site is only a few blocks from the Myefski office, I have had the chance to witness its current situation. The museum and historic landmark signage in the front yard, as well as a neighboring high-rise, demonstrate how much the context of the house has changed. These elements, although not necessarily a direct part of it, greatly affect the experience of the architecture. That is not to say that such developments have been negative, just that current documentation of the building does not accurately represent its place in the city.
By using survey work done through HABS as an underlayment, I am working to further the conceptual understanding of a building and its surroundings through the layering of information. The greater depth produced as a result of this type of process could help inform future design decisions.
Since last month’s archival research, I have been working on developing ways to further the historic black and red representational convention. As I discussed last month, prior to the transition to computer aided design (CAD) architects typically used black ink or graphite to signify new construction and red ink to render existing structures. This method allowed for a simple and legible method of codification. With this clarity, drawings are able to be more layered. Multiple time periods of additions and alterations can be layered, enabling simultaneous interpretation.
This historic drafting convention contrasts sharply with current methods. Today, architecture that involves an existing building is usually represented in construction documents with separate demolition and construction drawings. There typical would be no view where demolition and new construction are clearly overlaid. This is likely not detrimental to the construction process, but it could hinder the design process as no view provides a complete history.
In order to further explore this topic, I am returning my focus on Chicago’s Old St. Patrick’s Church. By using the church’s Historic American Building Survey, drawings of its 1996 renovation from the Archdiocese archive, and written records I am able to construct a legible illustration of the Church’s history from one section view. In this type of intense layering, line codification and weight becomes of the utmost importance.
While the drawing is still in progress, it seems clear that using the black and red convention allows for greater legibility while increasing the drawing’s complexity. When contemplating a future design intervention having a drawing such as this would allow for a deeper understanding of the building’s history. This information would likely inform and have an effect on future designs.
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