December 30, 2008
Prarie School in Session: John Van Bergen Book Review
It is essential that I preface this review by flatly stating that my architectural education has been sorely lacking. Translation: I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. That being said, I am now going to offer up a review of The Work of John S. Bergen, Architect by Martin Hackl. (I am nothing if not nervy.)
A previous post titled, "Out of the FLW Shadow" introduced Hackl's magnum opus on Van Bergen and extensive companion website. I refer you now to that post. So why are we back on the topic? Because I have received a copy of the book and wanted to relate some first-hand impressions. Sometimes a book review, particularly a positive one, is not based on an extensive knowledge of the topic, but an acknowledgement of the author's passion, recognition of the subject's relevancy, and the book's readability. Hackl gets high marks on all three criteria.
The Work of John S. Van Bergen is a self-published tome, obviously run off of his computer. But, Hackl is no hack. It is not crudely produced. Make no mistake; this is an extensive, well-done documentation of the work of an architect of the Prairie School who deserves to be remembered. Color photos, old family photos of previous owners, original floor plans, advertisements and engaging narrative set Hackl's work apart. There's also a ton of history peppered throughout the book. I like that alot. I also enjoyed Hackl's writing style and for someone who knows little about the subject matter, that alone makes it a grabber. For example, I recently received a December, 2008 Addendum to the Third Edition which I had previously received. There was an update to the recent renovations done to the Flori Blondeel House built in 1914 of which Hackl was less than enthusiastic: "Warning! Due to the graphic nature of these pictures, anyone sensitive to the destruction of good architecture, or possessing even a smattering of good taste, should view them at your own risk!" See; he's even got a sense of humor about the whole thing.
Nothing of significance was ever created without passion and Hackl is dripping with it. I admire him for following through on a topic that he found interesting when others said, "Who cares?". I praise his years of research to fill a void in Chicago architectural history. Do I recommend the book? Of course I do. The hefty pricing ($60.00) may deter those who are not academics or architectural scholars or live in Oak Park, but I understand that it is difficult to put a price on one's life work. Personally, I would like to see the book professionally published and more available to the masses. But, that's just me...and what the hell do I know.