Monday, May 26, 2008

Balconies; Six-Flats with Balconies (Part I)

Another one of the distinctive and unique features of many Chicago apartment buildings are the balconies on the front. Usually they are not really truly useful, but just more of a decorative feature. However, they do often make an attractive facade and can provide some use. Of course, they are usually on buildings with larger apartment and bigger lots with more front yard area (this might have something to do with zoning/building line setbacks).

Some, however, can be very attractive and useful, and quite distinctive.

The example to the right is a neo-colonial example from the south side, which has a massive pediment and cornice as well as almost ante-bellum columns. In fact, this is one of the most unique buildings, in that there is really nothing quite like it elsewhere in town. In fact, it stands rather alone and is much grander than the more typical six-flats across from it.

The next example is across the street from the first one. This building features incredible massive front balconies, porches really, of brick with a roof over the third floor. Unfortunately the parapet has had a cornicectomy at some point, but the massive balcony piers remain, with their craftsman inspired detailing.

An interesting tidbit about this building is that the building at exactly the same position in the block, on the next street to the east has the same bay and window arrangement - two round bays of three windows each and one window per floor at the balcony, yet that building has a completely different feel and treatment, being of red brick and in a neo-heraldric (as opposed to medieval or renaissance) with limestone trim, Gothic arches and shields, and other signs of heraldry.

Our next example also features a similar arrangement on the facade, and even a similar brick color, however, the feel, due to the treatment of the facade, is quite different. In this case wooden porch columns in a similar vein to our first example extend only the support the deck of the third floor porches. In this example, the first floor units are at a disadvantage in that they do not have private porches or even a door out to a stoop. The railings are of iron, and have been since I can remember, they might once have been of wood or cast iron which disintegrated over the years. And I apologize for the poor visibility, once spring and summer arrive, some buildings are simply hidden, which in this case, being a south facing building, is to the residents advantage.

This is another open ended post which will be continued with further examples in the, hopefully, near future.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Glasgow or some other Charles Rennie MacIntosh fantastical construct?

So, Glasgow or..Chicago?


This fine building off Addison (just west of Halsted, behind the police station) is reputedly in danger of demolition. I wish there was an easy way to stop that from happening. It has some very distinct Jugendstil, or more accurately, Sezession details and the detailing varies per entry (of which there are several.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Sunroom - Part I

One of the most distinctive - and defining - characteristics of early 20th century residential architecture in Chicago and a paragon, local sign or epitome of domesticality is the sunroom. These rooms are either at the front or back of a residential building, however, in this post we are going to address the front, as the rear sunroom is actually often just an enclosed back porch. They occur all the way from bungalows to high rises (though it may takes some sleuthing to determine this).

They were even noted at the time of construction as being noteworthy in the national, serious, architectural press. "Special attention should be called to the extensive use of the run parlor, sometimes taking the whole end of a room, or being added to the front and covering portions of the living room and dining room" (1) was written about the apartment houses of this area. Many apartment buildings have these "sun parlors" throughout the city, and without further ado, here are some examples.

Here is an earlier red brick example with colonial inspired brickwork, Dutch Colonial, in fact, with windows in the living room on either side of the sunroom. The brickwork is also heavily accented with varied soldier courses and rowlock courses along with limestone trim. The eyebrows above the first floor windows are particularly distinctive.

Next we have a similar version, also in red brick, but with the sunrooms pushed to the outside of the front of the building. This example is rather chaste, comparatively, when one looks at the previous example. The detailing, however, is quite typical of Chicago, with craftsman or prairie overtones. Even though this building has a symmetrical elevation, the plan becomes off center, with two different unit plans, one apartment will gain an extra bedroom (or larger living room or den) at the front.

Next up we have what is pretty much the prototypical Chicago apartment building; deep, dark reddish brick, sunrooms, sparing limestone trim with heavy brick ornamentation, metal cornicing and a symmetrical layout. This example is also exceptionally well maintained. It also have a nice "gable" above the front entry. A word, a quick note, should be said at this time about orientation. One would think that the sunroom would and should face south, if it could. But, as the if implies, this isn't always possible with the Chicago grid, though the majority of buildings face either east or west by virtue of the bulk of the city blocks being oriented north and south, but buildings, and hence, their sunrooms, can also face north.

Next we move on to another type of sunroom, the chamfered or "bay" sunroom. This generally called an 'octagon' in bungalow terminology, but I think that this would be more typically correct in a three-flat which is closer to a a bungalow (a close relative to be sure, planwise). This is a nice example of a fairly plainly decorated building which shows the chamfers very nicely. In this case, the lack of additional windows on the facade indicated that the sunroom and living room "run together" or really are one large, bayed room. The center windows indicate a front, rather than internal staircase as well.

Here is another, nearly identical example, except in a butter yellow brick, which also has slightly more exuberant decoration, such as the arched parapet wall, brick trim and stone 'quoins' below the first floor window sill.

Rather unusually there is an arched window at the upper stair landing; these are not terribly common in Chicago. Both likely in that they don't fit craftsman traditions to some extent, but more likely because of cost. Remember, most of these buildings were built speculatively for investors, either live-in or absentee, so cost was an issue, then as now, as would have been speed of construction, which was much longer then than now.

(1) The Architectural Forum, December 1919, "The Apartment Building for Moderate Rentals, Part II", Elisha Harris Janes, P. 194