6 October 2014
The eye-catching and popular Bean in Millennium Park, Chicago
Today is our last day in the beautiful city of Chicago, so we intend to make the most of it. We could afford a short sleep in, then off to find some breakfast. Next door to our hotel is the massive Merchandise Mart, we decided to explore part of it as we knew there were some food halls there. With its unmistakable presence on the banks of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, The Merchandise Mart is interwoven into the fabric of Chicago’s history and its role as a leading innovator in culture, art, business, fashion, media and more. The Merchandise Mart is the world’s largest commercial building, wholesale design center and one of Chicago’s premier international business locations. Encompassing 4.2 million gross square feet, The Mart spans two city blocks and rises 25 stories.
The Merchandise Mart has been an icon in Chicago’s history since the 1920s. The building was developed by Marshall Field & Co. to create a central marketplace where stocking retailers could come to buy their wares all under one roof. Since The Merchandise Mart opened on Monday, May 5, 1930, six months into the Depression, it has housed products that target audiences and department store buyers want to see and purchase.
The magnificent 1920s Merchandise Mart and two of it display centres (below)
The Pret a Manger chain of fresh food shops has an outlet in the Mart, so we chose our “to go” breakfast items and coffee and seated ourselves on the window bar overlooking the Chicago River, a wonderful view to start the day. Our next stop was the Rookery, that was revolutionary in several respects when it was built in 1885. Its architecture was unique and much more ornate than had been seen to date in commercial buildings. The Rookery successfully implemented many new and breakthrough building technologies – including metal framing, elevators, fireproofing, electrical lighting, and plate glass – that established the commercial acceptance of the modern skyscraper. At 11 stories tall, The Rookery was one of the earliest examples of metal framing with masonry walls on such a large scale. Today, it is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.
Moorish, Romanesque Commercial, Indian, Venetian, Arabian, Islamic, Byzantine: all these words have been used to describe the Rookery’s exterior motifs. Some critics said that the mix of styles lacked unity, but others felt that the repeating patterns were an interpretation of American culture, reflecting a spirit of conquest.
When Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to work at The Rookery in 1905, the light court’s elaborate ironwork and ornament had gone out of fashion. A full-blown Prairie Style scheme would have overwhelmed the space. To strike a balance, Wright removed much of the iron and terra cotta detailing on the central staircase, balconies, and walls, replacing it with strong geometric patterns based on the railings of Root’s oriel stairs. He encased the iron columns in white marble that was gilded and incised with Root’s Arabic motif found in the LaSalle entrance. The fanciful electroliers that once flanked the central staircase were removed, and Wright added bronze chandeliers with prismatic glass that still hang there today.
The breathtaking interior of the Rookery, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905
Our next two site visits were neighbours to one another, The Art Institute and Millennium Park. The Art Institute is located on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue and is part of the beautiful Grant Park. It has been at this address since 1893 and houses the third largest art collection in the nation admired by millions of visitors each year. Although we only had a short visit, we spent this in the Impressionists floor and marvelled at the wonderful display of art there. The Millennium Park is next door, and is also a wonderful green space – and we were especially looking forward to seeing Cloud Gate, a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, that is the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. It is affectionately called the Bean and is a great attraction for visitors.
The busy Art Institute of Chicago
We had booked for an architecture boat cruise that was leaving at 2pm that afternoon so caught a cab to the pier in time to have a coffee and muffin (compliments of the cruise operators) while we waited for the cruise to start. The architect who presented the commentary for 1.5 hours was an expert in the Chicago history of architecture, and kept us interested and amused as we cruised past the different landmarks in Chicago’s history. It is certainly a beautiful city, the skyscrapers are well designed and we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them. Although the Chicago fire was a real disaster, it certainly gave the city an opportunity to renew and refresh and make it the city it is today – certainly my favourite city to date.
Some of the wonderful buildings along the river, many of which have been converted to luxury apartments
Our one disappointment was not being able to see the Richard H. Driehaus Museum which immerses visitors in one of the grandest residential buildings of 19th-century Chicago, the Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus founded the museum on April 1, 2003 with a vision to influence today’s built environment by preserving and promoting architecture and design of the past. To realize his vision, Mr. Driehaus commissioned a five-year restoration effort to preserve the structure and its magnificent interiors. Today the galleries feature surviving furnishings paired with elegant, historically-appropriate pieces from the Driehaus Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts, including important works by such celebrated designers as Herter Brothers and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Unfortunately the Museum was not open on the day, so we missed seeing this treasure.
The Richard Driehaus Museum (left) and the elegant Cable House built in 1886
We took the opportunity to walk back to the hotel to see more aspects of the city. We again wandered through the Merchandise Mart for a late coffee before heading for the hotel to pack for our next adventure. Dinner was in the hotel (very handy and very nice food – and cocktails) then off to sleep – tomorrow we fly out to the Big Apple. I really wish we could have had more time to explore this beautiful city – remains my favourite city in the United States, just loved everything about it.