Tim Brown Architecture


Added on by Timothy Brown.

The start of the trial of Laquan McDonald’s killer today has had me thinking about Chicago. It took four years to get here and trying to understand why that is can make you crazy. I have had a long, close, and complicated relationship to this city. And the ways in which the city has left so many of its citizens behind and the manifold failures of government and policing often leave one in despair. Remedies and solutions, or simply justice, so often seem just unobtainable. It’s a hard city.

I arrived in 1988 as a graduate student entering the M.ARCH program at UIC and, despite spending the majority of my time now in the South, I have yet to leave. I realized many years ago that as deeply involved as I have been with Chicago I could never, and would never, consider myself a Chicagoan. I’ve lived a lot of places and I’ve been more attached to places I’ve spent little time in than I am to Chicago. As much as I love Chicago, I have never felt like I was home there.

But when Amanda Williams was at Clemson to give a talk last fall I realized something. In spite of my not being a Chicagoan, I am, absolutely and without a shadow of a doubt, a Chicago Architect. Chicago formed me as a practitioner and professional. And most importantly, as a citizen-architect. The issues Chicago faces are the issues that animate my approach to architecture. I see our role as architects to be inescapably bound up with the most serious concerns of our society today. Chicago taught me that. Stanley Tigerman was the first of many educators, architects, and peers who showed me how we might conduct ourselves.

In spite of the horrible pain I often feel being so tightly bound into this maddening magnificent city, I am very proud to say I am a Chicago Architect.

Return to the TBA blog

Added on by Timothy Brown.

The problem with teaching and practicing full-time has meant there’s been little time available for much of anything else. Especially over the past couple of years. But now that things have settled into something a little more balanced, there is time for thinking, drawing, and writing. I recently gave up on the empty echo chambers of social media with the realization that this was a better platform anyway.

The website will be rebuilt in the next few weeks and the sketchbook pages will be rolled into the blog - probably with a new working title…

drawing as thinking

Added on by Timothy Brown.

Kimbell, Fort Worth, Louis I. Kahn

Over the past few years I've explored a lot of ways to more easily grab fleeting thoughts, sketch, draw, capture images, and develop ideas whether drawing or writing. And although the digital toolbox allows for multi-media inputs, post-production manipulations, advanced searching, and relatively safe storage, none of the gadgets or apps I've come across answer to my larger concerns, or desires. And none of them are actually that much fun. So I find myself coming back to my sketchbook whenever I'm working. 

There's a way that drawing by hand on simple supports like paper provides for some connection between thought and expression that's fluid and virtually frictionless. I became an architect drawing and thus thinking by hand, and maybe that facility provides for this sense of souplesse. I'm not sure that the sketchbook would be as useful without a lot of time working in a sketchbook. But it seems to me that there are parallel routes towards an idea: one is thinking through drawing and the other is thinking through making. I don't consider making drawings to be the same a working by drawing. There are a lot of practices aimed at making drawings that look like drawings - the glorious travel 'sketch' is one of those types. I'd propose instead a way of drawing that doesn't aim to produce the sort of sketch that's carefully composed, well-proportioned, and, in short, beautiful. The drawing practice I have in mind is more like the use of a wrecking bar - it's a demolition tool. Drawing can be a way of taking an idea or a thing apart. It's ugly and messy and the residue isn't something anyone wants to see. But it's an extraordinary method of attack. I'd consider many of Michelangelo's sketches as examples.

Just ahead of the fall semester's launch a couple of years ago I went down to spend a weekend at the Kimbell. Two days of drawing, looking, and thinking. Filled a couple of sketchbooks and just sort of disappeared into Kahn's work for hours at a time. I sometimes think spending a decade in Europe in and around some of best buildings in the world taught me about architecture. Maybe, but the byproduct of looking hard at architecture for a decade was learning how to think through drawing. And the habit of interrogating buildings, like the Kimbell, with a pencil and sketchbook has the same smooth flow of idea and inquiry that is design.


Added on by Timothy Brown.

I'm as impressed as most any architect by the fairface finish concrete Ando and other folks can sometimes pull off. That feat speaks of planning, good specs, good mixes, and proper placement. An ultimate test for control freaks since the task is, in essence, to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But that's about surface and touch and cosmetics and silk purses have only limited appeal for me. The notion that architectural concrete's real character is expressed in the close control of surface finish elides the real power of this material.

So it has always seemed very odd to me that the part of the structure that connects  to the ground, the building element that conveys all the above-grade structural gymnastics to the earth itself - the footing - is utterly ignored materially and conceptually. Architects typically don't even bother with drawing foundations, leaving that work to the engineers' standard details. Foundations, and particularly footings, disappear from sight so how they're made, their form and their finish, is irrelevant. The only important material qualities involve placement, cost, ultimate strength, and permeability. In NC we seldom even bother with formwork for footings; trench and pour.

Yesterday the concrete crew poured concrete footings atop this extraordinarily white prehistoric Lake Michigan sand at this small project in Lakeview. And I wondered what it would mean to exercise the care usually reserved for making concrete walls look a certain way to making the bottom face of the footing - the place where all we do above travels downward in a kind of exquisite chthonic embrace. Our best face towards Terra.



Added on by Timothy Brown.

Monday ground-breaking for a small project in Lakeview revealed beautiful white Lake Michigan sand about 36" down. All the mythical and poetic qualities which surround the act of opening up the earth were that much stronger in light of this remnant of the prehistoric edge of Lake Michigan.


architectural education

Added on by Timothy Brown.

Trying to get a screening of the full film at the CoA this fall. 

Logline Archiculture examines the current and future state of studio-based, design education. Synopsis Archiculture takes a thoughtful, yet critical look at the architectural studio. The film offers a unique glimpse into the world of studio-based, design education through the eyes of a group of students finishing their final design projects. Interviews with leading professionals, historians and educators help create crucial dialog around the key issues faced by this unique teaching methodology. Outline 1. Intro - Welcome to archiCULTURE 2. Design Education - So What Exactly is Design Education? 3. Studio Culture - Meet Your New Family 4. Critique - Desk Crits, Pin Ups, Juries O’ My! 5. Best Architects - Making it as an Architect 6. School vs. Practice - Two Worlds Collide 7. Starchitecture - The Plague of the Starchitect 8. New generation - The Designers of Tomorrow 9. The Future - I See Myself...

Source: http://vimeo.com/63420535

seminary co-op bookstore

Added on by Timothy Brown.

Tigerman McCurry's design for the new Seminary Co-op Bookstore, which has finally escaped basement gloom and head-knocking pipes, makes this the best place in the city to hang out with books. The Coop is one of the best bookstores in the country anyway and now they're in a nicely done new space. Being next door neighbor to the Robie House is gravy.

teaching masonry

Added on by Timothy Brown.
T, E, C

My role as director of the second year studio at IIT means that, along with teaching wood and masonry, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to teach these materials to architecture students. Which means I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about these materials in very basic terms. Wood, in all its variations, masonry, and especially stone. And for reasons perhaps related to my many years buried in the stone cities and buildings of Europe, but also to something more significant, immediate, and powerful, I am haunted by stones. I dream of the taste and smell of certain stones. Though I'm a southerner, I never ate dirt, but I do know well its many and varied tastes. Even now I can summon the taste of rocks from the creek on our land in the Black Mountains. I'm likewise haunted by the image of Assisi's pink stone shifting colors under a hard rain. And the color of San Biagio late on a May afternoon is one seared into my brain. I climbed for years and can recall in hyper-detail the feel of rock on certain climbs. The quality of friction provided by an outcropping on a particular pitch.

So finding this photograph recently was a kind of minor miracle. One because of the people in it. But also because of what it told me about things I didn't realize I had in me. My grandfather, my father, and my uncle at their rented house near Asheville.

bianchi + honda

Added on by Timothy Brown.


One of the smartest things I have ever done was to take a bike with me when I moved to Italy. I virtually rode the wheels off it touring around southeastern Tuscany during the time I lived there from 1994 to 2000.  The black Bianchi was a fantastic touring bike which let me ride the ubiquitous strade bianche and some moderate single track. Had heavy wheels, lots of braking, and three rings up front to deal with the monstrous climbs scattered all over the area. A lot of my students brought mountain bikes over and I would occasionally borrow one to ride with them up in the hills, but mostly I rode out to distant churches or hilltowns on the Bianchi. As is all too typical, I eventually got new bike lust and traded up to the Bianchi reparto corso I still ride. I still feel like I betrayed my first Bianchi upon which I really learned my corner of Tuscany. So I post this photo in homage to the best bike I ever had. My guess is that it's still being ridden by the guy who bought it from me.

Maybe the second smartest thing I did in those years was to buy a motorcycle at a shop over in Arezzo so I could get out further from where I lived in Castiglion Fiorentino and Montepulciano.  The Honda 400 touring bike was big enough to ride the Autostrade, but not big enough to get me killed. And I can tell you that riding a motorcycle through Tuscany and Umbria is one of life's most wonderful experiences. When I moved to Paris in 2000 I considered taking the Honda with me but the thought of riding around a crazy city where it rains all the time just seemed like a bummer, so I sold it. So double homage.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial

Added on by Timothy Brown.

The lukewarm to negative reviews of the newly dedicated memorial and yesterday's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday made me think about our competition entry for the memorial in 2000. From our submission:

Our proposal calls for extensive fill thereby raising the ground level along this same line to a high point of 5m near the site’s centroid, thereby effectively inverting the site’s “natural” declination. From the new rise the fill then tapers to the northern and western confines while forming an embankment falling to a long retaining bench backing a traprock paved surface which echoes the arc of the basin’s edge and the grove of cherry trees. The two significant structures and the major hard surfaces are, consequently, peripheral leaving the large central grassed area programmatically vacant. The resulting topography and evacuation of programmed use-space at the site’s center serves to slough off the obsessively cast network of axial delineations and suppress the normative centripetal monumentalism of Washington. Two continuous rows of tall, fragrant loblolly pines, one running along Independence Drive and another along the western access road to the define the memorial precinct. A row of low dense crab apple trees parallels the loblollies on the west while an existing stand of dogwoods will remain along a section of Independence.

We are proposing two structures; the first of which is a trellis made of lightweight steel and skinned pine poles, planted with wisteria, that runs along the entire northern edge filtering, with the adjacent loblollies and dogwoods, the movement and traffic noise on Independence while providing for views south across the site to the tidal basin. The second structure, covalent to the trellis, is a low ribbon of very large and solid sections of cast glass running north to south along the western side of the site for its entire length. Embedded within the glass block castings are display screens for video and film programming.

The majority of visitors will encounter the opalescent glass structure entering into the memorial after passing beneath the line of loblollies. The low, wide run of cast glass, a translucent horizontal counter to the massive vertical opaque  materiality of the surrounding monuments, is illuminated by the evanescent video and film images being shown on the embedded screens.  The glass sections will be cast off the ground at particular sites that carry great significance to the historical narrative of the movement, thus commemorating in a quiet way its origins in the “local” and the fugitive immediacy of “place”.

As always, not winning was a disappointment but in this case it was doubly so since the approach selected reverted to a mostly stale idea about a monument and not a memorial. Many thanks to Ellen Grimes, who developed all the really good ideas in our project.

Doug Garofalo

Added on by Timothy Brown.

Word came this morning of Doug Garofalo's death on Sunday. And all the light immediately drained from what had been a pleasant summer day. The sad reality of his absence has just grown more insistent in the hours since. Chicago has lost one of its kindest, most generous and best architects. We've also lost the most gracious person I've ever known.

I first met Doug in New Haven when he was a finishing his Masters at Yale and met him again a few months later here in Chicago at UIC where he had just started teaching and I had just started studying. He was my professor, my adviser, later a collaborator, and then a colleague and friend. I've never known anyone like Doug. I doubt I will again know anyone like Doug.

Now, as the hours pass and the news slowly assumes its brutal outlines, contemplating a world without him means having to accept a world that will have a little less color, less delight; a world missing some great portion of thoughtfulness, one where wonder is less available, and worst of all, one that is a lot colder.

2011 Burnham Prize Competition McCormick Place REDUX - results

Added on by Timothy Brown.

The nine person jury met Saturday 16 April at Crown Hall and recognized three winners and seven Honorable Mentions.First Prize to Mohamed Sharif, Felix Monasakanian, Efren Soriano, and Teo Biocina from Los Angeles. Second Prize to Srdan Nad from Ljubljana, Slovenia Third Prize to PATH, Matt Hutchinson and Brandon Pace

Honorable Mentions: Bauenstudio Shin Park / Keojin Jin Charles Dome Gosrisirikul Jason Fisher / Andrew Peters Martin Klaeschen / Carl Ray Miller Brina Foster SOM The CAC, AIA Chicago, and Landmarks Illinois extend their congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions.

not tokyo but anchorage

Added on by Timothy Brown.

I should be in Tokyo now, along with 28 IIT students, on a two week study trip. But our flight was diverted to Anchorage Alaska where we've been stuck since Friday night. Most of the past hours have been spent trying to coordinate communications with the students who were flown to Osaka, Sapporo, and Tokyo. So while things are quiet during the night in Japan, we're making a quick visit to David Chipperfield's Anchorage Museum addition. Then back to phones, texts, and email. And watching the wrenching news on NHK.

2011 Burnham Prize Competition: "McCormick Place REDUX"

Added on by Timothy Brown.

The Chicago Architectural Club is pleased to announce the 2011 Burnham Prize Competition: “McCormick Place REDUX”. This year’s competition is co-sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Landmarks Illinois and is intended to examine the controversial origins and questionable future of the McCormick Place East Building, the 1971 modernist convention hall designed by Gene Summers of C.F. Murphy Associates and sited along the lakefront in Burnham Park.

Built on parkland meant to be “forever open, clear, and free”, considered an eyesore by open space advocates, and suffering from benign neglect at the hand of its owners, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, Gene Summer’s design for McCormick Place East is nevertheless a powerfully elegant exploration of some of modernism’s deepest concerns. The current building’s predecessor generated withering criticism from civic groups so when it burned in 1967 its critics mobilized. The raw economic power of the convention business served to hasten rebuilding atop the ruins. But while Shaw’s previous building lacked any architectural merit, Gene Summers brought to the new project his years of experience at Mies van der Rohe’s side. The resulting building is a tour de force that succinctly caps the modernist dream of vast heroic column-free interior spaces.

The competition charge

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority claims the building needs $150 million in improvements and that the building is functionally obsolete, too small to remain viable as an exhibition hall. While the facility appears frayed, the building is in fundamentally sound condition. Connected to the larger McCormick Place exhibition complex by a covered bridge over Lake Shore Drive, the stronger connections are to the lakefront, the museum campus and nearby Soldier Field. Surrounded by an over-abundance of parking, served by CTA buses, and bordering the immensely popular lakefront walking/running/biking path, the possibilities for the building and the site would seem boundless. But so far, the only visions for its future to be expressed publicly been total erasure or reuse as a casino.

The “McCormick Place REDUX” competition seeks to launch a debate about the future of this significant piece of architecture, this lakefront site that was effectively removed from the public realm, and the powerful pull of a collective and public claim on the lakefront. This iconic building is caught in the crossfire of a strong, principled, and stirring debate. So the question posed by the competition is quite simple: what would you do with this massive facility? What alternate role might the building play in Chicago should it be decommissioned as a convention hall? And if the building were to go away, how might the site be utilized? What might you do with a million square feet of space on Chicago’s lakefront (along with 4,200 seat Arie Crown theatre)?

Clearly outmoded for its original use, sited on a spectacular stretch of lake-front, and undoubtedly of very significant architectural quality - what visions are there for a resolution?

Link to competition website is here