Chicago, My Kind of Town

Cloud Gate – Anish Kapoor

Ah Chicago, how I love thee! As some of you may know, I’ve been putting together a move to the city and have taken trips the past couple of weeks for interviews. Since I have taken many trips over the past 10 years, I focused my architectural sightseeing on new projects built since my last trip to visit IIT (I ended up choosing Tulane over IIT when selecting schools) in 2006.

Carson Pirie Scott (now Sullivan Center) – Louis Sullivan

Of course simply seeing new projects in Chicago is impossible since everything is so wonderfully entwined in the Loop. I read quite a bit of Sullivan’s Autobiography of an Idea during my thesis research, so a trip to his Carson Pirie Scott building was a must. I knew ahead of time that Carson Pirie Scott was no longer existent, and that Target had purchased the space of the former store… but nothing can prepare you for seeing a large, red bull’s-eye in the windows framed by Sullivan’s wonderful terracotta panels. While I applaud Target for not slapping a sign on the exterior of the panels, their additions compete with Sullivan’s work in a negative manner. Using depth was a good first step, but I feel something more could have been done.

Inland Steel Building – SOM

Near Carson Pirie Scott stands SOM’s Inland Steel Building. Admittedly, this is a building I passed up years ago on one of my trips… but after 5 years at Tulane I have a much keener eye and a much-improved admiration for the history of architecture as a whole. It is a wonderful merging of the new 1950s/60s international style coined by SOM with the Chicago Style of Sullivan. It makes quite a nice public space with the Chase plaza directly across the street (albeit one vastly over scaled in its vertical axis).

Crown Fountain – Krueck + Sexton

Pritzker Pavilion – Frank Gehry

Aqua Tower – Studio Gang

A trip to Chicago must always include Millennium Park. I found myself spending several hours here on both my recent trips and when I do move to Chicago, I imagine spending parts of most weekends there. Unfortunately, I will probably receive many odd looks if I indulge in my urges to play in Crown Fountain. Adults like fountains too, especially ones as well designed as Crown. The view of the giant LCD screens juxtaposed with the building wall of Michigan Avenue and the greenery of the park beyond is one of the best spots in the city in my opinion.

Spertus Institute – Krueck + Sexton

Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing – Renzo Piano

During my second trip, I visited the Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing by Renzo Piano. As a lover of art, I was not disappointed. There were plenty of works by Rothko, Giacometti, Richter (just a few of my favorite artists), as well as many others. As an architecture lover, I was left wanting. My first impression of the Modern Wing was that Piano merged the Beyeler Foundation and Nasher Sculpture Museum into one building. While the lighting was great, as it always is with his buildings, the poetry found in the Nasher and Beyeler is missing. The movement across solid walls found in the Nasher becomes moving along them in the Modern Wing, and indeed these walls largely disappear inside. The combination of solid walls and floating roof on the exterior however, make for a nice composition and tie in to the original building. It isn’t the best Piano building I’ve experienced, and I was a bit disappointed, but it is still overall a nice museum addition.

Poetry Foundation – John Ronan

Saving the best for last, I visited the Poetry Foundation by John Ronan and was awestruck. Elegant in its efficiency and syntax of structure, the poetics of the solid container within glass container within translucent container and the movement between those containers was simply beautiful. The clarity of the work reminded me of poems by Rilke, a true merging of the pragmatic philosophy so engrained in the Midwest with the poetics which make a building special (I wish I had stumbled upon this building during my thesis research). Mr. Ronan, if by some chance you read this, I would love to work for you. I cannot wait to further explore this building on my next trip to Chicago.

This blog post only scratches the surface of the wonder that is Chicago, which I will expand on in future posts. Now that things have settled down a bit, I will be posting to this blog much more often than in the past, so keep it bookmarked and follow me on Twitter (@joshuamings). Look for my next post in a few days, an in-depth look at my thesis project and Columbus, Indiana. I hope you enjoy!

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Josh Mings

Architect and painter. Columbus, IN born, New Orleans educated, Chicago living and trying to leave the world better than I found it.