There has been much recent interest in ancestry and roots. Individuals want to connect with their history and heritage. It is usually about people and places. How does your building community satisfy this human need? Does anyone know your building’s history? When was it built? Who was the original developer? Do you have a copy of the original building permit? Who was the architect? What style of architecture and design does your building reflect and why? Is there a pictorial history available? What changes have taken place over time?
What do you know about the original residents and community your building is a part of? How has the street or neighborhood changed over time and why did the changes take place? How has the community evolved and survived? Who are the past leaders (heroes) of your building community and its cultural development? Maybe they include some of the people who took on the sometimes thankless job of serving on the Board of Directors on behalf of the greater good of friends and neighbors.
How would knowing all or any of this information impact your building community? What if there was a binder titled, “The ABC Building Community, our History and Roots”. What elements of this information would create a common identity, continuity and pride that everyone could share in and celebrate? This is our home!
Of course, this kind of research takes a lot of work and it can extend into developing a community mission statement and play a role in guiding priorities and goals. However, there may be a member of your community who likes doing this kind of research. Maybe a committee for this purpose could be established. How about a weekly email blast with a historical fact (Did you know?) about the building and local community or neighborhood? A website link for this reference could be established. This is our home!
Eventually, people tend to relate this kind of information to themselves. This is what I am a part of and now it is a part of me. As a volunteer, it is time I do my part to support it. After all, it is what we make it and it is a reflection on all of us and who we are. This is our home!
It is interesting to reflect on the possibility that money and investment are not always enough to gain attention, priority and create motivation when it comes to volunteering to serve ones shared multi-unit building community. This is hard to imagine in a world where personal real estate is for most people, their most valuable financial asset. This really challenges our perception of common sense and what people consider valuable. It would appear, something else is needed.
In our shared building communities, personal identity, culture and expression may begin with the physical building. Here is a start. Does your building fit any of these very brief descriptions?
Beaux Arts Style Architecture (1682-1895)
Beaux Arts and Renaissance styles are historically inspired architecture. Beaux Arts originates from a school established in Paris France called Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of the Beautiful Arts) in 1682. It was a very geometric style based on balance and symmetry. The building facades were very ornate with ancient Greek and Roman ornamentation. They often had cream-colored facades. This style is very formal and often referred to as classic architecture.
Gothic Architecture (U.S.A. 1830s-present)
Gothic architecture is often related to gothic cathedrals. There was a resurgence in this style in the U.S.A. during the early developmental days of tall buildings. That is because gothic styling lent itself well to stone, steel and glass that were and are the structural necessity of tall buildings. When steel frame and current wall construction (hanging building walls from a steel frame) was invented in the mid-1880s here in Chicago, buildings slowly began to soar in height (Tribune Tower, 1925).
Mid-century Modern (1950s-1970s)
Designed with precision in mind. Repeated regular patterns celebrate the exposed structure of the building. No arbitrary ornamentation as the structure is the self-contained ornament. Glass (glazed) facades hung (curtain wall) from rectilinear steel boxes or towers. The king of mid-century design came to Chicago from Germany in 1938. His name was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. One of his favorite phrases was, “Less is more”.
If the mid-century architects thought “less is more”, the post-modernists thought “less is a bore”. They brought back stylized versions of classic ornamentation. Post-modernists also introduced contextualism. These buildings often reflected and complimented elements in their environments. An example would be blue-tinted glass on a building near a lake.
Contemporary Modern (1990s – present)
Contemporary modern design emphasizes green technology. It employs the minimal use of materials and energy consumption. These are often transparent buildings with glass walls that merely define the use of space. These walls also control heat and light entering the building. Stronger more adaptable and moldable formulas for concrete make exciting new building structures and shapes possible.
These are very rough bare basic descriptions for a few of the most well-known architectural styles from which hundreds exist. The Chicago area is a living history of architecture and the development of building design. Where does your building community fit in? As you look at your building, what is it telling you? Who is telling the story? How and why is this building even available to you and your neighbors now? Maybe it is time to celebrate it even with all its faults, as it carries with it the
expression, history, continuity, identity and heartfelt pride of past human communities and the here and now of a contemporary human community that still depends on it. Your building community deserves and has earned the right to your attention and pride. It is your heritage. It is your home!
Janet K. Nelson, CMCA, AMS, Broker
Docent, Chicago Architecture Center