Wednesday, May 10, 2006
When I first got interested in architecture I was something of an extremist when it came to preservation; any old structure that got demolished broke my heart. I think that this was due to the fact that I lived in Portland, Oregon, a city that, like many cities in the west, has a relatively small number of old structures. I remember when an unremarkable late nineteenth century brick warehouse across the street from my apartment was demolished how I felt like it was almost a criminal act. Over the years I've gotten less rabid, but it still breaks my heart to read stories like this one about the demolition of historic homes in Kenilworth, Illinois.
Kenilworth contains the greatest concentration of houses by George Maher, the most distinctive of the architects associated with the Prairie School. Maher's signature was what he called "motif-rhythm" - using simple geometric shapes, usually segmental arches and poppies, to create thematic unity in a building. Here are some examples of his work:
Armchair, c. 1912
Schultz House, 1907
My childhood home was in fact a Maher-designed apartment building from 1908, and those segmental arches sure look homey to me. That chair would have looked great in our apartment, but, like with most Prairie School buildings, the interior was gutted in the 1950s, and all the custom furniture and most of the decoration (stained glass, stenciling, mosaic fireplace) vanished.
That was depressing. If you need something to cheer you up, read this story about a tortoise and a hippo who are friends.