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Chicago's Carbide and Carbon Building: The Lost Blueprints
The newly rediscovered roll of plans, elevations and sections for an Art Deco masterpiece.
The flamboyant black and green 1928 Carbide and Carbon Building on Michigan Avenue is sometimes called "Chicago's Chrysler Building." Designed by the sons of Daniel Burnham, its color, with touches of bright gold terra cotta, was modeled on a bottle of vintage champagne.
Hidden deep in storage for decades, a pristine roll of its blueprints has emerged this century as if a time capsule had been unearthed. Brilliant Prussian blue and white, each of its 31 sheets of plans, elevations and details tells the remarkable story of a legendary structure. The secrets of its construction, from its two penthouse floors to its decorative smokestack, are apparent in these remarkable cyanotypes.
Made in 1928 from the original 1842 process, these "cyanotypes," more commonly called "blueprints," are the most vivid graphic record of the architectural arts. But as visually striking as this antique technique is, it can also be read well as a form of modern, conceptual art.
ArchiTech Gallery owns much of the Daniel Burnham archive. The rest of the materials are held by the Art Institute of Chicago. This exhibition and sale from the ArchiTech collection will be the only opportunity for the private and corporate collector to examine or purchase the original construction documents of one of Chicago's most famous skyscrapers.
"Chicago's Carbide and Carbon Building: The Lost Blueprints" opens Friday, September 5th to Saturday, November 29th, 2008.
Notes on the Exhibition:
The last show, "XIX: Nineteenth Century Design," developed as a result of a housecleaning. You could say the same about this one. When moving works from my old storage area, I discovered a roll of blueprints tightly spooled into a sealed tube hiding behind frames that hadn't been touched in eleven years.
Though they were marked "Carbide" in my old handwriting, they appeared to be structurals or mechanicals. In other words, I assumed they were the "boring" sheets. When they were unrolled, I was dumbfounded to see a complete set of "General Drawings." Not boring.
For years, I've been selling the original linen drawings of the building from a rapidly depleting stock. And the set of blueprints that the Burnham Brothers used on the construction site in 1928 were among my most popular and visually stunning works. Like all blueprints that were used for months on any work site, they have all had the slightly ragged look of a well-worn map. Not this set. Each sheet was as crisp as the day they were made. Since they were the only duplicate set kept of any of their buildings, my guess is that the Burnham company thought of the Carbide as a landmark even then.
Each sheet was signed by two of the Carbide company's New York representatives and dated May 1, 1928. In 2008, the building was marking its 80th anniversary from the date it was designed. ArchiTech will be ten years old in December. Serendipity might be the appropriate word here.
There was no other way to title a Fall show but "The Lost Blueprints." I've not survived in this business by being a fool.
When the day came to send PR to the newspapers in a mass email, a power surge on the block knocked out my computer and all the files. For weeks, it appeared all the gallery's data and history were going to be lost for good. Images from forty exhibitions as well as my new book, catalogue lists of inventory and historical research material from at least a decade-all this was certainly irretrievable.
The opening of my anniversary exhibit was eerily quiet on Friday, September 5. No press mentions, no client emails, just the sidewalk sign at the lobby entrance. Then, a neighbor showed me that day's Chicago Tribune. Their art critic had compiled a short list of Fall openings he most eagerly anticipated. "Chicago's Carbide and Carbon Building: The Lost Blueprints" was among the eight he listed of the sixty or so opening that night. The door buzzer started ringing about 5pm that evening with the first group of lookers and didn't stop until I staggered out at 8.
Since there had been no notification of an opening sent to the local press, the Tribune had obviously searched ArchiTech's website for the "Upcoming Show" link my webguy added in August. It was either that or the free trolly that stopped at the street door.
Blueprints are certainly not works of art but it's the installation of them here that could qualify as one. Frameless, matless and hung closely as two long murals, they resemble nothing less than windows onto a cinematically charged Art Deco city. Imagine a massive wall of Prussian Blue and white in one of these huge lofts clogging River North. I'm just sayin'.
Oh yes, a data retrieval lab will soon send me discs of the files they scraped from the old hard drive. The tenth anniversary celebration is back on.
All cyanotype blueprints are 36 x 49 inches
730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654