On my way over to the Cultural Center for “Reading Mile High: Frank Lloyd Wright Takes on Chicago”, a talk given by Curator Barry Bergdoll at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, I stopped by a brilliant little photography show at the Columbia College’s C33 Gallery.
“Architecture of Unborn Cities”, photographs by Kai Caemmerer is only up for a couple of weeks and it’s worth a visit.
Caemmerer’s photographs are mysterious, evocative, and masterful. He made them over a period of a few weeks in China earlier this fall on a research fellowship from the Stuart Abelson foundation, traveling from “the Yuiiapu Financial District in Tianjin to the ‘new area’ of Ordos in Inner Mongolia.”
Caemmerer photographs these places strategically, emphasizing their ephemerality. The works feature early-morning darkness, mistiness, and compositions that focus on peculiarity and odd juxtapositions. He is drawn to those developments in China that are built of whole cloth, with people added later. These places he says, are built on a uniquely Chinese “urban model, timeline, and scale that is simply unfamiliar to the methods of Western urbanization.”
In his statement, Caemmerer says his images “examine a moment in contemporary Chinese urbanization where cities of ambitious scale and delightfully impetuous architecture await their future as the metropoles of tomorrow.”
It was an interesting juxtaposition for me, going from these impetuous structures to a talk about the impetuous Frank Lloyd Wright. As I listened to Barry Bergdoll’s lively presentation of Wright’s soaring dream, these nascent Chinese dreams were suspended in my mind.
Bergdoll clearly loves to talk about Wright. He deftly conveys both the ample ego and resonant charm of the great architect.
“Reading” one specific Wright drawing proposal for his “Mile-High Skyscraper”, Bergdoll gave us the idealistic dreaminess of the design together with the pantheon of supporting experts Wright pays honor to within the drawing.
Wright includes engineers of steel and tension and reinforced concrete (the “body of our modern world”). He declares Elisha Otis, who invented the elevator, also in Chicago, “inventor of the upended street”.
His 10-foot tall drawing includes a tribute to only one other architect, Wright’s “grand master”, Louis Sullivan, ‘son of Chicago’, who, as Wright says, “first made tall buildings tall”.
The Mile-High Sky-Scraper was unveiled in Chicago on October 17, 1956, which had been declared “Frank Lloyd Wright day” by mayor Richard J. Daley.
A questioner asked Bergdoll whether he thought Frank Lloyd Wright really intended for that building to be built. Bergdoll answered that he sees the drawing as a monument in a way to the people Wright wanted to acknowledge; who deserved recognition. So, he was intending to build something though maybe not specifically that structure. It was a monument to a line of thinking.
To close the lecture we were treated to a clip from Mike Wallace’s amazingly smoky interview with Frank Loyd Wright. Wallace introduces the show obscured behind the smoke from a blazing cigarette, “Good evening, what you are about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.”
The upper floors of Wright’s skyscraper were devoted to TV studios and a broadcasting center. Television, Bergdoll said, was the show-man Wright’s “new favorite medium”.
Dreaming the Mile-High Skyscraper: it’s a monument to possibility and potential in the future, and it’s a tribute to the people who generated the ideas to make that dream real.
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Architecture of Unborn Cities | Photographs by Kai M. Caemmerer
- November 5-20, 2015
- C33 Gallery | 33 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL, First Floor
- Gallery Hours | Mon, Tue, Wed & Fri: 9 am–5 pm. Thur: 9 am–7 pm