Another 6 hour trip and we were back in Chicago, this time in a much nicer hostel. I absolutely loved the city, which seemed a perfect mix of urban and suburban in one’s grasp. I started off with a night tour of the city and a blues concert, followed by an extensive Frank Lloyd Wright tour the next day. I went to see his house and studio – which was surprisingly eclectic and decorative at times. You could tell it’s a FLW design, but it felt very much like a progression in stiles and approaches as you walked through the entire property. Occasional decorative stone friezes lead gradually to the recognisable artwork windows (which themselves varied in design until they settled on the famous geometric patterns). Just outside, there was a ginko tree past its bloom with its specific fragrance.
The Unity temple was just a short walk away. There was no mistaking what building it was when approaching it, but it was much smaller than I anticipated. The instrumentality of FLW’s drawings trick the eye, it seems, into imagining a much larger scale for the buildings. The rough, austere, in-situ concrete exterior was almost btutalist in nature and contrasted with the richly colored and intricately sculpted interior. I’d compare the experience of the inside of the temple to looking at a stained glass window at all times. The surfaces were divided by oak trimmings and colours changed throughout but always working within the same pallet. The congregation room felt intimate and Unitarian (brief fulfilled, I supposed) and even the tops of the pendant lights were decorated as they could be seen by people sitting in higher levels.
The Unity Temple and FLW House & Studio are both in Oak Park, as well as many other FLW designed private houses. We had a great time walking around and playing “Whright or not” with them. Robie house, however, is in South Chicago and quite a while on the train. If you go to Chicago though, make sure you go see it. No wonder it’s one of his most famous works. After seeing how his style evolved throughout the years, Robie house is definitely the culmination of his prairie style. The spaces had a nice flow, views were framed, the art glass is exquisite, and the materiality is as good as I imagined it to be. It’s still being refurbished but I must say, the foundation has done an impressive job of it. Considering the dilapidated state the house was in to start with, it’s a wonder everything is in such good shape.
The next day, for a change of pace, it was a Mies van der Rohe day. The IIT campus is lovely and has some interesting examples of his work. Deceivingly simple, the brick and concrete buildings are not what I normally associate Mies with. We also went inside Crown Hall, which is now the Architecture department. The students seemed very used to the crowds! lovely place to work in though. They each designed their own desks and appropriated it for the duration of their stay there. The library had a wonderful collection of architectural chairs – and, oh, yeah, there were books too.
After these rather geeky days we just walked around the city and tried to take everything in. The Gehry stadium was outrageous, as expected, the Bean was mesmerising, and just in general it was a pleasure just walking around and spotting good quality architecture. I saw quite a few Sullivan designs and impressive hotel interiors. Goldberg’s Marina Towers are still forward thinking and highly unusual, but sculptural and quite a nice addition to the skyline. The top of the Hancock tower has a bar and restaurant with the most expensive drinks in Chicago, but has an amazing view of the city – visit the ladies’ toilet for floor to ceiling glass and uncrowded viewing spots.
Looking forward to going back!
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