After my visit to Toni Patisserie, I wandered into the Pittsfield Building, a sort of museum piece when it comes to architectural glory. Built in the 1920s, before the Great Depression, the Pittsfield is an instance of retail magnate Marshall Field’s broad and enduring impact on Chicago. More
I think it’s the best mirror-wall in the city. I’ve written enthusiastically before about the Trump Tower. Now I see another aesthetic reason to like the building.
I fear, though, that its mirror-cladding poses a new threat to birds. Our newest glass skyscrapers are so mirage-like that many birds probably die flying into them. If this is something you know about, will you let me know?
Click image to enlarge.
Two days in Minneapolis, and Celia is homesick for her city. Besides missing her husband, she misses Chicago itself, its density, its heights, its deafening el. The sights seen from the Brown Line on a beautiful day. She’ll be happy to be home at the end of the day.
Chicago architecture can be divided into two periods: the period of glass and steel we live in now, and the ‘stone age’ preceding it, which lasted from the Great Fire of 1871 (when Chicago swore off New England clapboard) until the 1930s. During the stone age, commercial buildings grew taller (‘scraping the sky’) but were finished off in traditional materials and styles.
From the perspective of south Grant Park, the fruits of these two eras of building can be seen. The old stone skyscrapers lining Michigan Avenue are quaint but massive. Among our most famous buildings, they are loaded with lore and personality. Their fronts are covered with ornamentation–fancy glazes and castings, symbols, and special decoration to emphasize the windows, roof-lines, and doorways. Many have fancy caps, whether turrets or curlicues, special windows, or “beehives.”
Dwarfing and surrounding them are newer buildings, with their reflective surfaces, bold blocks of color, and greater heights. While the older buildings may be more interesting, it’s the specific mix of the two types that gives our skyline its particular charge. Without the soaring glass boxes, we would lose our way. We’d be stuck in a bad period piece, with a city center badly dated and gloomy.
Chicago is problem-plagued, but we do take comfort in our buildings. They are the tangible products of talent and belief, the work of generations, created at considerable risk. Insensate though they are, they continue to charm, inspire, and guide, supplying everyone who hangs out here with a point of pride.
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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:
Five minutes later.
As I watched, I saw the train that I take to work running through River North.
That was the most exciting part, I think.
Click on images to greatly enlarge.
The Clark-Adams is an old, somewhat down-at-the-heels skyscraper surrounded on all sides by more famous buildings. On one side is the Rookery, on the other the gloriously ornate Continental Bank Building. The modernist Post Office by Mies van der Rohe is across the way.
But the Clark-Adams is very much worth looking at, channeling the retro flair of an era when Neoclassicism was about to give way to Art Deco and thence to a more stripped-down, efficiency-oriented style of building. This is the sort of place where Clark Kent might work. Inside, is there an office little changed from that era? At some windows are old-fashioned roller shades and venetian blinds, and double-hung sashes that still open and close.
On this, the first day of spring, bitter cold grips Chicago. The sun shines through a fierce wind, giving a false impression of a jaunty scene. In truth, we are barely holding together, much like the Hancock, which, to Celia’s wind-raked eyes, looks surprisingly flimsy, its sloping faces held together with a web, too carelessly strung.
A nearer view of the big window in the office. Over one hundred years old, it’s about 6 feet wide and over 7 feet high. Believe it or not, still it opens smoothly (check out those big handles), and I can open it whenever I want! The thing comes equipped with an old-fashioned roller blind, which, at certain hours and seasons, is necessary to use. Because it’s a landmarked building, no other window coverings are allowed.