Friday, 21 September 2012

Chicago architecture

We usually visit my family in the US at Christmas, but this year is my parents' 50th anniversary, so we took a trip in Autumn instead. September is a much better time to visit the Midwest, and since we were flying into Chicago, we decided to take advantage of the good weather to spend a few days in the windy city.

I've already done most of the museums, so this time we decided to try out the Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise. It is a little pricey, but the 90 minute tour is well worth the cost - we learned all about the growth of the city and the different architectural styles used over the years.

The great Chicago fire in 1871 destroyed much of the city, so the architecture is not particularly old, but there are plenty of original, iconic buildings. I always associate the city with the style our tour guide called "chairs for the jolly green giant." A city ordinance required buildings to incorporate setback on higher stories to permit more light reaching the ground. This resulted in buildings with higher sides (the arms) and a setback tower (the back), which do look vaguely like stretched out giant armchairs.

Civic opera building, 1929

But I must admit to being fond of more contemporary architecture styles, especially the ones using rounded, organic shapes. The best example is the double round towers of Marina city. For once a parking garage is actually attractive (though one wonders if the cars really need such a great view).

Marina city, 1959-64

An impressive recent contribution to the skyline is Aqua, by a female architect, Jeanne Gang. Aqua is a conventional rectangular shaped skyscraper with an unconventional facade. Curved balconies are placed at irregular intervals throughout, creating the impression of cascades of water. The curves dissipate the wind, so the balconies can be placed all the way up to the top. Aqua is a visually stimulating addition to the usual boring glass skyscraper.

Aqua among neighbors 

Aqua in her full glory  (completed 2010)

And of course, when viewing Chicago architecture, one mustn't miss Frank Lloyd Wright, America's most famous architect. Never fear, we visited Oak Park right after our architecture cruise. More on that later....