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Chicago Louis Sullivan People Salvage

The Legacy of Richard Nickel

by Michael R. Allen

Today at the Chicago Cultural Center I attended a slide-show presentation of Richard Nickel‘s photographs of the buildings of Adler and Sullivan, given by Ward Miller of the Richard Nickel Committee. The slide-show included lesser-known color photographs of such notable buildings by the firm, including the Auditorium Building, the Ann Halstead Flats and the Jewelers Building. I was awed once again by the sensitivity to architectural detail that Nickel imparted in each of his images. He articulated buildings in another language than architecture, and thus made them greater than they were when he found them.

As a fitting summation of the day’s introspection, I found this essay online tonight: Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by Dan Kelly. Kelly traces minor buildings and fragments of Chicago buildings by Adler and Sullivan — the ones Frank Lloyd Wright discouraged Nickel from including in his unpublished Complete Works of Adler and Sullivan — and concludes:

“…the most minor buildings that construct the city’s neighborhoods are always “missed” when they’re gone, most often because no one bothered to notice them when they were still here. It follows that preservation isn’t just about landmark status or collecting museum-quality ornamental scraps; it’s about noticing what builds a neighborhood into a neighborhood. The city’s blandest buildings can possess rich histories.”

Indeed. This insight had to be what drove Nickel to keep working, and it’s what drives this blog. Hopefully, we will help people avoid the “missing” of buildings and, with more effort, the losses themselves.

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