What Is the True Value of a Vacant or Abandoned Building?

Bronzeville Abandoned Building

The building above may look nondescript, but is actually in a highly favorable location across the street from Shops and Lofts on 47 in the Bronzeville area of Chicago’s Near South Side. Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Any real estate agent or Realtor can tell you that the three most important factors in determining the potential value of a particular parcel of real estate are, in order: location, location, location. Location can trump other aspects of a structure, including whether it is occupied and its state of (dis)repair. In fact, location plays a large role in determining whether a decrepit building is worthy of the financial investment necessary to reclaim it for productive use, assuming of course that it is structurally sound.

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Facades+ Lands in Chicago July 24 and 25

Inland Steel Building North Elevation

The Inland Steel building, completed in 1958, is one Chicago’s most iconic Modernist buildings. Its stainlesss steel facade, although beautiful, presents challenges for environmentally-efficient retrofitting, due in large part to its landmark status.  Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Over two days, Thursday July 24 and Friday July 25, thought leaders from architecture, design and engineering will come together in the heart of downtown for the 2014 Façades+ Chicago Conference to share their insights on the exteriors that shape our first impressions of buildings. The 2014 Chicago conference was organized by The Architect’s Newspaper and Enclos, with YKK-AP serving as the 2014 Conference chair. Luke Smith of Enclos and Edward Peck of Thornton Tomasetti are serving as co-chairs for the Chicago conference, the eighth in the series.

Since 2012, the Façades+ Conference has established itself as the premier conference on high performance building enclosures. Making its launch in New York City, the Façades+ conference has since added Chicago to its lineup. In October 2014 Façades+ will add Dallas to its roster; Los Angeles will join the list of Façades+ sites in 2015.

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Sustainability and Affordable Housing: Maybe Occupy Is Onto Something

The Evolution of the Occupy Movement

Whatever else its participants may or may not have accomplished, the Occupy movement has changed the national conversation from austerity cuts and deficits to acknowledging injustice and resolving financial and social inequality. What began as a loosely organized string of gatherings has evolved to address issues ranging from Wall Street reform to cuts in mental health care.

NATO Summit Protesters

The Occupy movement and related activist groups have changed the national conversation from cuts and deficits to social and economic inequality. Photo credit — Audrey F. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Another injustice that Occupy has been speaking out against has been the ongoing housing and foreclosure crisis. In conjunction with this cause, and as an adjustment to forcible removal from public spaces by law enforcement, the movement has evolved to Occupying abandoned properties and homes of families facing foreclosure as an act of civil disobedience. For instance, in Chicago, a coalition between the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign and Occupy Our Homes recently set a goal of renovating 100 abandoned homes for homeless families and households here in the city.

Outlining the Proposal

As I observed this phenomenon, I started thinking about how ironic and ridiculous it is that there are properties standing empty while families and individuals are homeless.  I began to consider what would be involved in Occupying vacant and abandoned buildings – legally – as affordable housing for homeless families and individuals or for households caught up in the housing crisis. I submitted a proposal for a presentation for the 2012 Chicago Green Festival with the working title “Sustainability and Affordable Housing: Maybe Occupy Is Onto Something.” Read the rest of this entry »


Art Reflects Life: Documentary Highlights Celebration of Sullivan’s Genius

A sellout crowd filled the John Buck Lecture Hall at the Santa Fe Building on the evening of Wednesday, October 13, 2010, as the Chicago Architecture Foundation hosted the showing of the award-winning documentary  Louis Sullivan: the Struggle for American ArchitectureA Q and A session with the documentary’s director, Mark Richard Smith immediately followed the screening.

Family members and loved ones of longtime CAF docent Aileen Mandel, who was featured in the film and who died in 2009, were honored guests at the event. The film was a highlight of a month-long celebration of Louis Sullivan and his work by CAF.

Sullivan Capital

Not content with standard Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders, Louis Sullivan created unique column capitals.
Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson — all rights reserved

The film follows Louis Sullivan from his youth and arrival in Chicago as a teenager, through the course of his career, chronicling his rapid ascent to the heights of architectural recognition to his long decent into poverty and obscurity — at least with the public.  Although he was largely unsuccessful at making his living as an architect after the turn of the 20th Century, Louis Sullivan’s reputation never dimmed among his professional peers. In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most celebrated architects of the 20th Century, considered Louis Sullivan to be a mentor, calling him  “lieber meister,”  German for “beloved master.”

The height of Sullivan’s career is embodied in one of his most acclaimed structures, the Auditorium Building, which also represents a physical manifestation of the symbiotic partnership of Louis Sullivan, the consummate designer, and Dankmar Adler, the brilliant acoustical and structural problem-solver. The original design of the  Auditorium Building seamlessly integrated three distinct functions: an office block, an opera hall, and a grand hotel into what was at the time the largest, heaviest structure in the world. Read the rest of this entry »


Defying Age, Achieving Timelessness

Leiter II Building

The seemingly nondescript exterior of the Second Leiter Building belies its forward-thinking design and construction.
Photo Credit: Audrey F. Henderson — all rights reserved.

Stand on the southwest corner of  Congress Parkway and State Street and look north and east to see past, present and future standing face-to-face on a truly great corner of  State Street (that great street). To the east, the deceptively unassuming Second Leiter Building, which achieved national landmark status in 1976 and is now home to Robert Morris University, has anchored its corner for 120 years.

Constructed in 1891 to house a single retail establishment or several, for years Leiter II served as the flagship location of what was once the world’s largest store, Sears Roebuck and Company. Read the rest of this entry »