Updated: Sep 15, 2021
"Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near. " – Paulo Coelho
When I wrote the chapter In Wandering the World on Archeology and Architecture, I referred briefly to Chicago architecture, but was focused on the ancient and medieval sites I have explored. I just had an outing with Chicago’s Architecture Foundation, and so I thought it was time to add some amazing gems to my story. Chicago is considered the home of the skyscraper because after the Chicago fire in 1871, the city had to be rebuilt and attracted the best architects of the time. Instead of weight-bearing stone or brick, they designed steel framework buildings which could be built much taller. Ever since then Chicago has been a leader in innovative buildings.
On the Icon tour we started with the early 20th century buildings like the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley building, which had ornamentation in stone, less gingerbread than Victorian, but not yet “modern”. It was insightful to see the comparison of the 1970s breakthrough architecture of the Marina Towers (round, with “petal” balconies) compared to the mid-century Mies van der Rohe “less is more” rectangular, black, walls of windows, beside the 21st century residential tower designed by Adam Smith of Skidmore, Owens and Merrill, which is all glass with setbacks at the height of the surrounding buildings. We also compared government buildings: County Courthouse from the 1920s in stone with columns to the mid-century Van der Rohe square, rusty metal-paneled Daley Center to the Helmut Jahn State of Illinois Building -contemporary, round, domed and doomed. (It proved impossible to cool, keep rain out and had other structural problems). And we looked at the iconic diamond-shaped roof building by Epstein Global built in the 1990s, and completed our tour with the “Bean” sculpture, officially called Cloudgate in Millennium Park, completed in 2003. Newer, spectacular buildings by a new star architect, Jeanie Gang are adding to the skyline.
One of the things I have always liked about Chicago is the architecture, which just continues to be spectacular and trend setting. While I wrote about loving Gothic cathedrals, I am equally excited by the evolving contemporary architecture in Chicago.