The Original Chicago Architecture Tour
|Chicago Skyline South of the Chicago River|
|The Wrigley Building|
We recently took a few days to explore Chicago's architecture and gardens. We arrived a little early for the 2:45 tour on the famous Wendella boats, allowing us some time to explore the skyscrapers of Michigan Avenue. One of the earliest examples in the city is the Wrigley Building from 1924. The glazed terra cotta facade is one of the most recognizable along the Magnificent Mile.
|Chicago Tribune Building with Artifacts from Around the World|
Across the street is the Tribune Building looking much like a gothic cathedral tower. Around the base are embedded relics from around the world including a moon rock and pieces from ancient constructions. All are well marked and make for a mini outdoor museum with considerable credentials.
|Chicago Skyline from Lake Michigan|
Our boat tour began on a perfect spring day at the Trump Tower docks. Heading out to the lake, taking in the architecture along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, the 75 minutes was full of Chicago history that changes yearly with new additions to the cityscape. One of the most striking newer buildings was Aqua (2009), an 80-story multi-use residential skyscraper designed by Jeanne Gang. The sculptured facade was created with irregular concrete slabs that form the balconies on the building. The second tallest
|Towering Trump International Hotel and Tower|
skyscraper in Chicago is the Trump International Hotel and Tower (2009). It's hard to miss with the 2-story mogul's name strategically placed on the building's river side.
|The Former Montgomery Ward Catalog Campus|
Heading north on the river, several residences appear from both newly-constructed and revamped structures. I was particularly impressed with the former Montgomery Ward (catalog) office campus that has repurposed three distinctively different buildings into condos with a view.
Chicago has always been known for innovative architecture, but one of the scariest is being constructed at 150 North Riverside. The 54-story tower has a narrowing base that allows it to fit between the river and the railroad tracks. It will be an eye-catcher in the years to come!
|Willis Tower and 311 South Wacker Drive|
Two gems along the southern edge of the Chicago River are Willis Tower and 311 South Wacker Drive. Willis Tower now has four glass-bottom balconies, known as The Ledge, for viewing on the 103rd floor. The 311 building is best viewed at night when its tower appears as an oversized diamond ring.
The Chicago Botanical Gardens
There are public gardens, and then there are public gardens. I've been to several in my life and this is my favorite. I've been there every season of the year (even after a newly fallen 10-inch snow) and they all are spectacular. The 385 acres of educational landscaping continues to grow and amaze.
We began with a tram tour of the perimeter. It's a great way to get your bearings and get an overall feel for how massive these gardens are. There are also tram rides through the inner gardens for those not wanting to walk through all of the 26 different gardens. We chose to stop at the Regenstein Center to start our walking tour. It contains the garden's extensive bonsai collection amidst simple, screened backdrops. From there we stepped out onto The Esplanade and then on to the Native Garden that showed off the spring blooms. Time for a lunch break, which we found at the
|Lunch at the Garden Cafe|
Garden Cafe with a substantial selection. Eric and I chose the Pea Soup and French Onion Grilled Cheese. Both were tasty, but the grilled cheese was exquisite.
Now that we were refreshed, it was on to the Heritage Garden. It's an area that used to be the front entrance, but still shows off some of the best plantings at the Gardens. It's a circular area that leads to the rolling Rose Garden that was
only producing buds at that time. A stroll down the adjoining espaliered tree lane led us to the terraced Waterfall Garden that is best viewed from all levels.
|One of Three Japanese Garden Islands|
Then it was on to the Japanese Garden, my favorite. It consists of three islands, one of which is impossible to get to on foot—the Island of Happiness. The other two are full of Japanese structures and well-manicured landscapes. We happened to hit the azaleas in bloom.
|English Walled Garden|
Our final stop was the English Walled Garden, another highlight on my list. Its structured borders vs. curving hillsides provided a perfect backdrop to the English landscape architecture. It's also home to some of the most unique plant specimens.
|Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts|
Our drive from the northern suburbs took us through Evanston, home to Northwestern University. It's Eric's alma mater so he was interested in seeing what had changed since our last visit. The new Music Building is a striking structure along the lake. There are views of downtown in the distance, giving a connection to the cultural mecca not too far away.
The Robie House
|Robie House Entrance|
Robie House is located on a small corner lot on the grounds of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. That's both a statement and a forewarning. Parking can be difficult, depending on the time of your visit. There is no parking lot for the house. The tours are one hour and leave from the courtyard area after ticket purchase at the gift shop, which is located in what was once the 3-car garage.
Robie House is Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest example of the Prairie School style home, making it uniquely American. (To me, it seemed like an early prototype for the 70s tri-level home.) Completed in 1910 for the Robie family, it was only inhabited by them for a very short period of time. Through the years, it was sold to the Chicago Theological Seminary and threatened several times with demolition. After international support materialized for saving the structure, the university turned it over to the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust in 1997. Since then, the organization has been restoring the home to its original specifications.
The home is a little austere from the time one enters the foyer. Furnishings are sparse, if any. Much of the furniture created for the home has been lost or is on display at another site. Such is true of the dining room set, which is in the
|Cutout Ceiling Panels and Lighting|
UC Museum collection. It emphasizes the architectural and lighting of the home, but leaves one feeling very disconnected during the tour. One feature that is in the process of being completed is the color specifications that Wright chose at the time of construction. After seeing these example, Eric thought he should have left that to a more experienced interior designer, but one has to suppose that it was not an option or a subject to be addressed with Wright.
|Frank Lloyd Wright Window Designs|
As with any Wright construction, there were experiments with ideas to make life easier and to conserve the structure. This was the case with self-watering built-in planters that used rain water as their source, as well as cornices that acted as rain gutters on the underside of the roof hence eliminating vertical downspouts that would ruin the horizontal lines of the house. On that same note, Wright used Roman bricks that
|Roman Brick with Painted Tuck Pointing|
were narrower and longer to emphasize the horizontal shape. To accentuate it even more, the mortar between the horizontal bricks was painted the same color to make it one continuous line.
Our only quibble with visiting the Robie House was that its restoration and tour paled in comparison to Wright's Oak Park Studio and Home. The tour seemed a little long (and pricey) although the volunteer did a tremendous job with relaying information. in addition, there was a $5 up charge for taking interior pictures, a totally unnecessary fee as no one paid any attention and almost everyone on our tour was taking pictures and only one person admitted to paying.