The weather in Chicago this past weekend was legendary–moderately windy and bright blue skies most of the day. There is just something about the screech of metal-against-metal as the L-trains round their tight curves that tells me I’m home. If I thought it even remotely possible to find work in Chicago, it would be hard to stay in North Dakota.
For reading matter on the bus and in the hotel room, I brought along The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan, long awaited product of the Richard Nickel Committee. Sullivan officianados/fans/freaks will recall that Richard Nickel undertook a documentation project as a student of photography at IIT, a project that literally ended his life in 1972 while recording the destruction of A&S’s Chicago Stock Exchange. Friends of Nickel collected his negatives and research material and have been completing his project for publication. Frankly I didn’t think I’d live to see it.
I mention Nickel for several reasons. First, if you’re looking for “stocking stuffers” this holiday season, find a big sock. The Complete Architecture weighs in at about twelve pounds. Much more important for me has been the insight the book has afforded.
Let’s face it: I was virtually ignorant of Louis Sullivan’s full career. There are so many projects from the Adler & Sullivan practice that I had known only by name–projects that stood during the 1950s while my head was still deeply up my teenage ass–that I now must face the task of virtual re-education. It has been the houses that are so astounding; Victorian, Frank-Furness-like piles that impress with such surprise. Nickel was somehow able to inspect during their last moments the interiors of these single-family homes for many of Dankmar Adler’s Jewish friends. The photos are a revelation. Reproduced in rich duo-tone, their sepia sadness only hightens the loss of so many structures from the city’s architectural heritage. I was either born too late or came to architectural awareness not soon enough.
For the Agincourt Project, this new book and its coincidence with a trip home have confirmed some of my decisions for the Agincourt Public Library, but they have also challenged many others. I welcome the chance to reflect and reconsider.