Chicago is light years from the claustrophobic canyons of Manhattan. The city’s soaring skyline incorporates space, air, and a waterfront (complete with imported sand) clean enough for seniors to swim morning laps. Visit now and experience the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, from Oct. 3, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016 (chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org). Read on to learn which ground-breaking skyscrapers, historic homes and cherished public buildings are the must-sees.
Start your pilgrimage at “Big John,” the 100-storey John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue, once the tallest building in the world outside NYC. Dress warmly for the open-air SkyWalk, to take in breathtaking 360° views of the city. But it doesn’t stop there — you can see four states and a distance of over 80 miles, and swimmers might want to take a dip in America’s highest swimming pool, on the 44th floor.
The city is synonymous with visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and no pilgrimage to the Windy City would be complete without a tour of one of the most important buildings in American architecture. Set amongst dowdy Victorian homes in Hyde Park, FLW’s masterpiece of Prairie Style — Robie House — stands out for its clean, horizontal lines that hug the landscape. Once inside, you can appreciate the scale, and how every element ties together for a cohesive result.
When night falls, all eyes turn to the Wrigley Building (originally the headquarters for the eponymous chewing gum firm). Styled after the cathedral’s Giralda Tower in Seville, this building is clad in six different shades of white terracotta tile that get lighter as the building rises. It was the first skyscraper built on the Magnificent Mile, and was the first in the city to be spotlit at night. It was supposed to be self cleaning (it requires periodic hand washing to keep the façade gleaming white), but no matter, it’s one of the most striking structures in the U.S. You can’t tour the inside, but drink it in at night for the sheer drama: it was the first Chicago landmark to be floodlit.
If you’re finding all the contemporary design a tad overwhelming, head over to the Field Museum where the classic, symmetrical architectural elements are alive and well. Crafted from 35,000 cubic feet of white Georgia marble, its design is an homage to ancient Grecian and Roman temples and pantheons, complete with caryatid porches and Ionic columns.
Touring the Rookery will make you wish every office building could be this inspiring. The glass courtyard spills light into the interior offices. Frank Lloyd Wright included a flourish of white marble and Persian ornamentation to the Roman, Venetian, Moorish and medieval-European decorative architectural elements: the iron work alone is worth the visit.
Brave souls brace yourselves, and wrap up your trip to the city with a walk on the retractable glass balconies of the Willis Tower observation Skydeck. Located on the 103rd floor of the tower, experience how the building sways on a windy day. The inspiration for The Ledge came from forehead prints left on the Skydeck windows every week, and a memorable scene in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Kids’ favourite stops:
Chicago is kid friendly, with lots of intriguing destinations for young minds. The Museum of Science and Industry (www.msichicago.org) is unforgettable. My children loved touring the U-505, a WWII German submarine that was captured in 1945. It’s the size of a city block — but feels oppressively tiny once you’re inside — and weighs three times as much as the Statue of Liberty.
Where to eat like a local:
Deep-dish pizza was born in Chicago at Pizzeria Uno, but it’s not for the faint of appetite. The wife of Rudy Malnati Sr, one of the people credited with inventing the pizza, devised a new, crispier crust recipe for their son Rudy who launched a new eatery called Pisano’s, and the results are delectable.
What to Pack:
A lightweight but warm Alpaca or cashmere scarf that can be stashed in a bag while you tour museums is a must. Don’t kid yourself, the Windy City will blow the fedora off your head and take it out to Lake Michigan, so pack a tight knit cap instead. The Ugg Elsa leather boot is completely waterproof and lined in sheepskin, so it’s comfortable for slogging through all types of inclement weather and looks sharper than a rubber wellie.