Chicago’s amazing architecture. A post with mostly vertical pictures.

One of the many things I did not know about Chicago is how remarkable the architecture is.


Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world from 1974 until the construction of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers in 1998. The design was very innovative at the time. As you can see, it is actually several skinny buildings attached together. This is called bundled-tube construction. You can climb to the observation tower if you are willing to wait in line for half a day.


Alternatively, you can go the John Handcock Center early in the morning and wait in line for 0 second. You get the downtown view from the North instead of the South. The fact that the observation deck is about 100m lower is totally irrelevant. The Willis tower is the rightmost super tall tower.


The skyline is also spectacular from street level, here seen from the grounds of the Field Museum of Natural History.


Builtin 1925, the Chicago Tribune building is an example of “historic revival”, in this case, neo-gothic.


Completed only in 2009, Aqua at Lakeshore East is an award winning building designed to offer different views from all angles, as well as all sorts of green features. I was told that with nearly 2,000,000 square feet of floorspace on 84 floors, the $300M project has the distinction of being the largest project ever completed by an architectural firm directed by a woman, Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang. Michelle and I had arrived in Chicago the night before and I had just stepped from the taxi to the hotel reception. As I was walking closer to this building in admiration, I realized I had slept in it the night before! I suppose I had noticed the strange shape of our balcony, but I had not linked the two together (I don’t know about the other ones, but our balcony was decorative only). The building houses apartments as well as the Radisson Aqua Blu, where we were staying.


The city’s 3rd tallest building, also completed in 2009, the Trump International Hotel and Tower. I think this may also be a bundled-tube construction, and it was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the same firm who designed the Willis tower 40 years before, and more recently the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The building is surrounded by high walls to keep Muslims and Mexicans out.


Apparently when it is finished, this building will “freak everybody out”. I know it is hard to see from this picture, but it will be a fairly wide building resting on a super narrow base. It has already been nicknamed “the wine glass building”.

CTBUH Global News

Photo: CTBUH Global News

It will look like this.


Built in 1930, the Merchandise Mart was designed to be a distribution center for Marshall Field & Company. At the time, it was the largest buildings in the world, occupying a full two city blocks. Until 2008 it had its own ZIP code! I am sorry for some of the bad photo angles – and the bad lighting – but many of the photos were taken on an architectural cruise run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The volunteers running the tours are ridiculously knowledgeable, but you don’t always get to pick the best time of day or where the boat goes.


All the bridges along the river are made of steel. You may not even notice at first, but if you are used to concrete bridges and cross one of those on foot while a truck or bus is driving past, you will notice. They get very bouncy.


Some buildings are designed to reflect the corporate culture of the main tenant. I am not sure if this is universal, but certainly in North America having a corner office is an important corporate status symbol. The owners of the company who ordered this building wanted to reflect their non-hierarchical, informal culture, so the building was designed with the stairs in the corners, hence, there are no corner offices.


The executives of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center most certainly don’t share this kind of ethos, so they went completely the other way and ordered this twin tower building which can provide up to 12 corner offices, per floor, per tower!


I also went on a walking tour and the guide suggested that perhaps Chicagoans suffered from a bit of a complex vis-a-vis New York City, compelling them to not only build impressive buildings, but also to go overboard on the interior decoration. This is not a cathedral, city hall or any such thing, just the roof of a shopping mall, now a Macy’s, but still called by all locals the Marshall Field & Company building, after the former tenant, bought out by Macy’s in 2004. Apparently the 19th century founder, Marshall Field, was a genius innovator in the retail world and in many ways defined what a modern department store is.


This was the starting point of the walking tour. The guide mentioned how long she had lived in Chicago just as an elderly man passed by. He interrupted her and said he had lived here for 70 years and asked if he could join the tour. I guessed he had moved here as a young man because he was evidently much, much older than 70. A few minutes later she mentioned the theatre and again he interrupted, saying the first show he saw here was the Chicago premiere of a young Frank Sinatra! He probably would have been quite entertaining, but after 5 minutes he just walked away.


Oriental Theatre lobby, which, as I mentioned in the previous post, we could visit as we had chanced upon the Open House Chicago week-end.


The Civic Opera.


Completed in 1967, Marina City was at the time a very innovative multiuse complexe, comprising a marina, theatre, shops, restaurants, hotel, residences and… lots of parking. I don’t think I have ever seen so many floors of parking and I most certainly would not enjoy driving up and down from the 11th floor every time I wanted to go somewhere!


I don’t remember what this is, but the picture illustrates what I mentioned in the previous post; many streets in Chicago’s downtown core are multilevelled.


I’m skinny.


I’m cool and new.


So are we.


I’m an example of contextualism, adopting both the curvature and the color of the river below.


And away from downtown, the University of Chicago campus also boasts magnificent old architecture.


As well as some funky new one (although not as crazy as MIT’s campus).

So, these superficial observations on Chicago conclude my 2015 trips during which I totally abandoned my blog. Next, it’s post New-Year in Bali… almost live.


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