John Hancock Center

Tanks and towers

Chicago stop, © 2013 Celia Her City

The John Hancock and a Chicago water tank, © 2013 Celia Her City


Now dwindling in number, water tanks used to dot the skyline of the city.  These amazing rooftop cisterns came into use in the late-nineteenth century, when on-site water storage was recognized as a necessary fire-fighting measure.

Water tanks continue to be built in New York City for the ordinary purpose of maintaining the water pressure inside tall buildings with the aid of gravity.  In Chicago, however, water tanks are viewed as an anachronism.  It’s likely that these visually charming relics will disappear over time.  For now, I relish the contrast between our sleek but bland skyscrapers and these sturdy rooftop monuments.



We were at the Mart shopping for a kitchen sink when I noticed that the showroom we were in had a marvelous view.

We continued looking at sinks.  I looked up, and suddenly the sky looked like this:

Cloudburst over Chicago, © Celia Her City

A Chicago rooftop during a cloudburst, © 2013 Celia Her City

Five minutes later.

View of west River North from an upper floor of the Merchandise Mart, Chicago © 2013 Celia Her City

A view from the Mart just after a rain, © 2013 Celia Her City

View north from the Merchandise Mart just after a rain, © 2013 Celia Her City

As I watched, I saw the train that I take to work running through River North.

The Brown Line train, seen from an upper floor of the Mart (Chicago), © 2013 Celia Her City

That was the most exciting part, I think.

Click on images to greatly enlarge.

Hancock Plaza

The John Hancock Plaze in spring (Chicago), © 2013 Celia Her City

It’s hard to imagine the Hancock Building without this wonderful plaza—but so it was for many decades.

Yes, the building has always had a sunken plaza, but the first one was entirely inaccessible from the street and exuded a deadening air of tranquility.  In winters, it became a skating rink, perhaps in imitation of Rockefeller Center.

In the 90s, the plaza was redone, the landscape firm of Jacobs/Ryan coming up with an ingenious steppy design.  The cascading stairs not only provide ingress and egress, but create an inverted small-scale amphitheater that makes the plaza cozy and compact—a perfect place to see and be seen.  The plaza receives thousands of visitors daily when the weather is decent, providing a welcome respite from the Michigan Avenue scene.

Soon the plaza’s curtain-wall of water will be running.  Blooming flowers and red umbrella tables will add a pop of festive color.

Historical images in links from this source.