DESIGNER COLUMNS & BLOGS / Architecture Is Fun

Posted in Architecture Is Fun on April 21, 2015 5:09 am EDT

The Past is Our Shared Future

"How will we know it's us without our past?" -- John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath; designer Sharon Exley shares a recap of the Chicago gathering of the Society of Architectural Historians, celebrating the group's 75th anniversary.









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TAGS: architectural design, collaboration, events, historic restoration, methodology,


By Peter Exley, FAIA, and Sharon Exley, MAAE, ASID

“Rehabilitating historic buildings and using the infrastructure that is already in place to serve them is the height of fiscal and environmental responsibility.”

—Donovan Rypkema,PlaceEconomics

While many architecture and design conventions focus on those all-important first views of what will affect our practices in the future, we gathered in Chicago this April to mark the 75th anniversary of the Society of Architectural Historians founding and to support what matters most in our past. Chicago is the perfect backdrop for the SAH conference; its architecture, planning and future all serving as fodder, visionary delight, and celebratory setting for the event on April 15-19, 2015.

The 2015 SAH Conference is a perfectly curated blend of critical sessions alongside evening events, tours, with lots of networking. Yet, we know the conference has more meaning than that. Just perusing the program had us wanting to hear and see all; from the introductory chat by Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune architecture critic to Thursday evening’s Art Institute of Chicago presentation by Gwendolyn Wright, host of PBS’ History Detectives and professor at Columbia University, plus session topics that can lead you from antiquity to right now, right here.

Many of my colleagues, Chicago’s own preservationists, activists, architects, designers and artists, were in attendance. Anne T. Sullivan, FAIA, principal of Sullivan|Preservation and faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago shared that “this SAH conference will allow me the opportunity to think beyond the ‘day to day’ of professional practice, toward the eternal nature of design. The SAH does a wonderful job of integrating historic preservation into the conference with sessions dedicated to the practice of conserving landmarks.” Yes, Anne, let’s think beyond our day-to-day!

Architect Mary Brush, AIA, and I have shared many conversations at the American Institute of Architects conventions over the years; making each intersection become shared experience. We often discuss leading our firms, each with their respective focus and expertise. I love that Brush Architects describes its practice as being dedicated to the investigation, restoration, design and modernization of existing buildings. It’s all about the process, a design methodology of emphasizing historic preservation, while valuing technology and innovation. Mary will be leading a tour of her greatest “hits” here at home: the Cultural Center dome, the exteriors of the Gage and the Monroe building and the economic developments that influenced their design and their upkeep. Catch Mary’s second tour as she walks you around the Rookery, hoping visitors see that the restored elements were brought back into “being” because of the use and reference of historical photographs. Like many of us who call Chicago home, Mary says, “Chicago celebrates its age. Mies van der Rohe’s Federal Plaza celebrates the Marquette building by using it as a 4th wall. The contrast between the lightness of Mies' steel and the masonry of both the Marquette and Monodnock buildings shows from where we came and direct the future, all within a few decades of architecture.”

Chicago Federal Center / Mies van der Rohe. Image by Guispetto.

The April 2015 SAH Conference celebrated its own 75th anniversary in a city that echoes with “steely” innovation and beauty. It presented an opportunity to thank Pauline Seliga and the SAH staff for keeping the society and convention a relevant part of our conversation.





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