Chicago City Guide – Architecture Aficionado Edition

Dining set from the Robie Home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chicago is a great city with a wide variety of attractions.  The friendly people, fantastic food and metropolitan conveniences make this destination a must visit.  Catch a baseball game, go for a boat ride, spend some time shopping in the many incredible stores on Michigan Avenue, go to the aquarium or the art institute – I could go on and on.  However, in my opinion, what makes Chicago so exceptionally interesting is its rich architectural heritage.  The Windy City was influenced by a combination of famous local architects such as Burnham & Root, Adler & Sullivan and later Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as the challenge of its swampy soil and the innovative designs for skyscrapers which resulted in order to overcome such conditions.  Read on for all of my Chicago architectural sightseeing recommendations!

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
  1. Museum of Science and Industry – Located on Chicago’s south side, near Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry and is the only remaining building of the “White City” which was constructed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair). Its incredible size is second only to the vast expanse of open water of its neighbor, Lake Michigan.  The neoclassical structure is in contrast to the more common American-style architecture that tends to be used locally.  It was designed by Charles B. Atwood while working for the firm D.H. Burham & Co. (Burham’s former partner, John W. Root died in 1891.)
  2. Acclaimed Rookery building light court

    The Rookery – This gorgeous building is located in the Loop community area. It too was  designed by Burnham & Root during the architecture upsurge after the Great Chicago Fire.  The use of lighter metal framing combined with more traditional construction techniques like masonry made a unique statement which drew recognition for Burham & Root’s style.  John Root was also integral to creation of the “floating” foundation, ideal for large structures built on Chicago’s swampy soil.  The Rookery’s incredible light court at the heart of the structure has garnered much critical acclaim.  In 1905, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to redesign this lobby area, giving it the stunning effect it has today.

    Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park
  3. Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio This structure was design and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1889 in the Oak Park district and later extensively remodeled in 1895, as well as in 1898, when the office/ studio was added. In order to bring this design to fruition, the 22 year old Frank Lloyd Wright borrowed $5,000 from his employer, Louis Sullivan.  Its current condition reflects its appearance in 1909, the last year when the famous architect lived and worked there.
  4. The Robie House, Hyde Park

    The Robie House – Built in 1909 on what is now part of the campus of the University of Chicago, it is recognized as the greatest example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style. As was in concert with FLW’s extensive desire for full development of the potential of his creations, he design not only the building, but also all windows, rugs, furniture, and other interior elements.    Because of financial challenges, the Robie family sold the home only 14 months after its construction began.  Over the years ownership has changed hands many times and was even at one point under threat of demolition.  Thankfully, the building was eventually donated to the university.  Some of the home’s original furniture is even kept on display at the school’s Smart Museum.

In order to appreciate Chicago more fully, I recommend that you read the work of historical fiction entitled The Devil in the White City before you visit.  This book, while admittedly slow in parts, is worth the struggle due to its detailed description of the building and landscape architecture influence of the 1893 World’s Fair on the city.  Another great read is The Fellowship by Harold Zellman and Roger Friedland.  While not specifically focused on Chicago, it does give a detailed look into the life and career of Frank Lloyd Wright, who has undoubtedly had an influence on uniquely American architecture and design.

Happy traveling!  Xx Pippa


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