Chicago || The Art Deco City

There are so many buildings of architectural interest in the Financial District of Chicago, you’d probably need to join a guided tour to visit them all and learn about their history. But if you are a casual visitor – and a first-time one at that, just walk around, spot an interesting-looking building and then step inside its lobby. You’ll soon find out that these lobbies are not simply entrances to commercial or office spaces; they are, in reality, stunningly beautiful Art Deco treasure troves; and they provide excellent shelter from the rain, too.

Walk, for instance, inside the Field Building, built in 1934 by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White; another wonderful example of the Art Deco style:

Or enter the Marquette Building’s hexagonal lobby and be captivated by the exquisite mosaic panels depicting the journey of Father Marquette, a French missionary and explorer, first settler in the area we know today as Chicago,  in whose honour the building has been named.

The mosaics are designed by Louis Tiffany, son of Charles Tiffany, the famous jeweler; and Jacob Adolph Holzer, a Swiss artist who worked for Tiffany as their chief designer and art director.

November 2nd, 2017

Chicago || Board of Trade Building

Built in 1930 by John A. Holabird and John Wellborn Root Jr. (son of John Root Sr., one of the architects of the Rookery), to become home to the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, which had already been established in 1848 – year that the first railroads arrived in Chicago.

From John Storrs’ faceless statue of Ceres, Roman goddess of Agriculture, presiding over Chicago’s financial district from its prominent position at the rooftop, down to its lobby  with the sleek brass elements contrasting blindingly against the darker surfaces, and even further down to its subterranean vault, the Board of Trade Building is one of the finest – and best preserved – examples of the Art Deco style, popular in Chicago in the early 20th century.

November 2nd, 2017

Chicago || The Rookery & the Frank Lloyd Wright effect

The Rookery was designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root, heads of one of Chicago’s most famous architectural companies of the 19th century and, like most of Chicago’s early skyscrapers, it was built to last.

A sturdy structure with a red brick facade, elaborately adorned with elements reminiscent of Moorish architecture and Mr. Root’s open-mouthed crows (or rooks) to which – no, the building does not owe its name*, cast-iron columns and mosaics, upon its completion in 1888 it was considered Burnham and Root’s masterpiece; today, it is the oldest standing high-rise and one of the most recognisable buildings in Chicago.

But it wasn’t the famous rooks, nor the cast-iron columns and mosaics, original parts of which were uncovered during renovation and were left open for comparison that had brought us here; it was what lay inside that we eager to see.

I mean, of course, the central light court with its glass ceiling, two-storey lobby, magnificent spiral staircase, and the unmistakable touch of Mr Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect in charge of the building’s first major renovation in 1905-1907. Although Mr. Wright made some very important changes like, for instance, dressing the original copper-plated ironwork in white marble with gold patterns, he generally respected the original design. The result is an airy, modern interior that breathes, so much different from the heavy art-deco lobbies of other historical buildings in Chicago.

And it is absolutely stunning.

*The Rookery was built on the site of an initial Water Tower later turned into the City Hall. It seems that the building has been called a “rookery” due to the nickname of the former City Hall that had crows on its walls and crooked politicians inside it (according to our guide).

While you can wander about the ground floor freely, the upper level is only open to guided tours. Check for info on the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust website, or in their brick and mortar office/shop, on-site.

November 2nd, 2017