Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lost Buildings

Lost Buildings is a collaboration between This American Life's Ira Glass and cartoonist Chris Ware. Together they share the story of Tim Samuelson's childhood obsession in the 1960's and 70's with Louis Sullivan buildings in Chicago, as well as Samuelson's friendship with Richard Nickel, who made a regular practice of visiting demolition sites of Louis Sullivan buildings and salvaging parts.

As a young boy, Samuelson became fascinated by old buildings and figured out how to take public transportation on his own so that he could sneak away and explore. When Samuelson was 13-years old, he landed a meeting with architect Mies van der Rohe, who at the time was designing a building which was chosen to replace a Sullivan building slated for demolition.

Glass and Ware present this narrative as a 96-page book (a bit larger in size than the DVD which it houses) of drawings, notebook pages, close-ups of intricate details and patterns in Sullivan's work, black and white photographs with corresponding text, and personal documents, as well as a 22-minute documentary film made from hundreds of drawings by Ware. Samuelson's story and the tone of his voice as he relates it, and the story of Nickel's earnest pursuit of Sullivan's rapidly vanishing buildings, accompanied by Ware's cartoons is heart-breaking.

Public outcry in response to the announcement that the city intended to demolish Sullivan's Chicago Stock Exchange did not ultimately preserve the building. While the story of Lost Buildings is melancholic and nostalgic through and through, it culminates in tragedy -- Nickel was killed while salvaging parts when one of the floors of the Stock Exchange collapsed. Samuelson was waiting to meet up with Nickel at the Exchange when the accident occured, and he admits that he avoids walking near the building which replaced it.

Lost Buildings reprints letters written by Nickel, as well as pages from Nickel's notebook. An opening page of one notebook states in red letters inside a black rectangle: Ornament Salvage Workbook. In this workbook, Nickel painstakingly catalogued all of the fragments that he collected from the Garrick Theater, before the pieces were transferred to museums or into storage.

You may watch a short clip from the DVD here:


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