Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Architectural Gems in Chicago

I have always had a strong interest in architectural design, both personally and professionally. Over many years of lecturing to my students on the subject of ‘Modernism’, the city of Chicago has always figured prominently. After all, this is the birth place of the skyscraper and became the adopted home of many great architects … Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe to name just a few. Finally, Jules and I have the opportunity to visit this great city and to soak up its magnificent architectural treasures. There is just so much to see, with the Chicago Architectural Foundation running no less than 80 different tours in and around the city…where do you start! A pretty good place for us to begin was the highly recommended river boat cruise that takes you along the Chicago River and provides a fascinating overview of the city’s development since ‘The Great Fire of 1871’. As we learnt, the terrific thing about Chicago is that you can map out its progress through the development of its buildings. Fortunately many of the original early high rise buildings still remain and you can literally see the architects of the day becoming bolder in their designs and larger in scale with every passing year. As we meander down the river on a glorious summers day, the unique variety of city buildings can truly be admired in their best light. There is a wonderful diversity of style that somehow blends together in harmony, reflecting the cities proud heritage and its willingness to continue to stretch architectural boundaries. We were told by our tour guide that in the recent years, city planners have taken an increased pride in the river system that uniquely threads its way through the city and a considerable amount of clean up has occurred. Designers have in turn drawn inspiration from both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, which is clearly evident in the design features of many of the more modern structures. While these ‘super talls’ (as our tour guide referred to them) continue to loom overhead, at ground level alfresco cafes, restaurants, sculptured squares and pedestrian walkways now breath life into the city, assisted by a myriad of water crafts moving up and down the river. This unique feature provides a facet of big city living that is not apparent in the city’s more famous east coast cousin, New York. It is clear to see that Chicago is different, while maintaining its distinct character; the city continues to build upon its chequered history and evolves with an eye to the future. In doing so, Chicago recognises its unique architectural heritage and increasingly attracts visitors such as ourselves to the ‘Windy City’.

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