Historic Resources Committee

Renaissance Schallaburg Figures in a facade

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The mission of the Historic Resources Committee (HRC) is to identify, understand, and preserve architectural heritage, both nationally and internationally. HRC is engaged in promoting the role of the historic architect within the profession through the development of information and knowledge among members, allied professional organizations, and the public.

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Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

  • 1.  Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-03-2018 18:20
    In 1929 architect Robert Hugman had a bold idea: turn a smelly stagnant slough into something more.  When he moved his office to the water's edge, the local paper said he would 'drown like a rat in a hole'.  Today the San Antonio Riverwalk is an economic engine providing beauty and economic prosperity.  Do you know of an 'impossible project' that became a city shaping reality - with a potential story to share at A19 Las Vegas?  Drop me an email or post with any suggestions!  Thanks

    Michael Malinowski FAIA
    Sacramento CA
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  • 2.  RE: Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-04-2018 19:56
    We have done fairly extensive assessment work on the 1918 National Landmark Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa.  If not "impossible" it is a HIGHLY unlikely project that was actually constructed.

    The courthouse celebrated its centennial just this year and it has become a great source of pride in the community and the region.  At age 100, it is still functioning for its intended purposes. Photos and other information:


    It is a bold remarkable piece of architecture with a very high degree of coherence and refinement.  It is, very arguably, the most important piece of architecture in the State of Iowa.

    The more research we do into the building's history, the more we find the great many stories it has to tell to be captivating.  Among other things:

    • There is a lot of Louis Sullivan's teaching at work there.  George Elmslie, the courthouse's primary designer, was at Sullivan's side for 19 years before leaving Chicago a few years before this project. He shared time in Sullivan's practice with Frank Lloyd Wright and, later, William Steele.
    • Sioux City Architect William Steele was selected as the project's Architect by presenting a conventional neoclassical design to the elected officials, then bringing Associated Architects, Purcell and Elmslie, in to do something highly progressive once the design contract had been signed (or so the lore goes).
    • It was fiercely opposed by the Indiana Limestone Association, which saw exposed Roman brick as a threat to the prevailing (limestone-clad) Courthouse idiom.
    • The design was, incredibly, developed into approved concept package in a frenetic 6 weeks, then complete bidding drawings were complete and approved 26 weeks later.

    As we have digested these stories, we can't help but conclude that the whole enterprise was like "catching lightening in a bottle."  Had the decisions been made a year earlier, or a year later, this building would not have found a path to reality.  The design and art/craft team all peaked at just the right moment (not forgetting the decision makers, construction technology, and a healthy dose of serendipity) to achieve something extraordinary.

    A story worth sharing!

    Pete Franks AIA
    The Franks Design Group, P.C.
    Glenwood, IA

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  • 3.  RE: Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-05-2018 17:32

    That sounds like a solid candidate with an interesting story Peter thanks for sharing!  I'll be in touch via email with a few questions.

    Michael F. Malinowski FAIA


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  • 4.  RE: Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-22-2018 17:05
    Hi Michael -- I saw this note about "Impossible Projects" and have one I'd like to suggest.  Ii there some imminent deadline for getting this suggestion into you ?  Thanks,  Gene

    Eugene Aleci, RA, AIA, AICP
    Architect / President
    Community Heritage Partners
    Lancaster, PA

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  • 5.  RE: Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-23-2018 20:37
    Hi Gene
    This quest was for a panel discussion proposal for the next AIA Conference (Las Vegas) ... due date was a couple of weeks ago; but I'd still be interested in your suggestion as it may come back around.

    Michael Malinowski FAIA
    Sacramento CA

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  • 6.  RE: Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-05-2018 18:01
    All I can say is wow! Wonderful building! Congrats to the project team.

    Carl J. Handman, AIA
    A      R      C      H      I      T      E      C      T       
    98 East Walnut Street  Kingston, PA 18704      

    P: 570-287-1717               F: 570-287-7368                        

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  • 7.  RE: Know of an "Impossible Project" that became real?

    Posted 10-06-2018 21:28
    Great story.  Thank you.

    Angela King Keesee
    Memphis TN

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