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Chicago's Cityscape Celebrates “Chic”-ago Architects

By Lynn Burshtein, GoGirlfriend Correspondent

The women who shaped Chicago’s architectural landscape

The spotlight is on the Chicago design scene this year, even more than usual. The city is already well-known for its place in the evolution of modern architecture – in fact, the first skyscraper was built in Chicago. But this fall, the first-ever Architecture Biennial, which runs from October 2015 until January 2016, will feature a wide range of exhibitions, full-scale installations and programs designed to attract a global audience.

To be sure, the city’s rich building history, particularly in the downtown core, is best appreciated by taking either the river architecture tour or the walking tour, or both. There is now even Mercury Canine Cruise, a “barkitecture” tour for humans and canines alike.

On all of these sightseeing adventures, you’ll learn the fascinating history of Chicago’s architectural scene, and its founding fathers: William LeBaron Jenny; John Wellborn Root and Daniel Burnham; Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and of course Fazlur Rahman Khan who built the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). More recent contributions located in Millennium Park include Frank Gerhry’s Jay Pritzker Pavillion as well as Anish Kapoor’s famous “Cloud Gate” (aka the “Bean”). Gehry and Kapoor are known all over the world for their contributions to modern design.

Maggie Daley Park - Choose ChicagoBut since GoGirlfriend is a travel site dedicated to female travelers, I decided to focus specifically on the women who contributed to the city’s illustrious landscape. From the early pioneers who overcame obstacles – including 19th century architect Sophie Hayden, who designed the Women’s Pavilion for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition that took place in Chicago, was awarded $1,000 while her male counterparts were awarded $10,000 for similar buildings – to more recent examples of women who provided innovation in design, these are important stories to tell in this field.

A walk through Chicago’s herstory

In my quest for information about women’s place in Chicago’s architectural history, I was paired with Barbara Zenner, of Choose Chicago Visitor Information Center. Our walking tour included some of the city’s more famous landmarks but also a more focused discussion on buildings designed or influenced by women.

Chicago's Crain Communication BuildingThe first building Barbara we visited was the Crain Communications Building, a building considered by many to emulate the “female form.” (Contrast the Crain with Chicago’s Trump Tower, an enormous gilded tower that is arguably an architectural incarnation of masculinity). We took a brief detour through Millennial Park where we saw Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Cloud Gate. But Barbra then led us to buildings built or inspired by formidable women of Chicago.

We traveled to Maggie Daley Park located nearby. Named after the former first lady of Chicago (Richard M. Daley was mayor between 1989-2011), the park features an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing walls, a large slide, an “enchanted forest” of pathways and other modern-designed playground equipment. In another area of the park we saw the peaceful Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Gardens. The park is not only an architectural wonder but it also serves citizens of all ages and stages of life.

We then paid a visit the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance (also known as the Harris Theater), a 1,500 seat venue for performing arts located on the northern edge of Millennium Park. Joan Harris is a well-known Chicago philanthropist and supporter of arts and culture who was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. Harris wanted to construct an arts center that was accessible to patrons, regardless of their means and the Harris Theater has been recognized for this.

Jeanne Gang's Aqua TowerBut perhaps most notably, Barbara showed us the Aqua Tower, a magnificent condominium and hotel designed by Jeanne Gang of Chicago’s Gang Group which made a big “splash” when it opened in 2010. A staggering statement in design, the “ripple-effect” 83-story condo has curved balconies that emulate the ripple of waves from the Chicago River. Moreover, Aqua Tower is LEED-certified, meaning it’s eco-conscious. Along from being a green building that also includes pet-friendly residences, it was also built to protect Chicago’s migratory bird population with bird deflecting elements in the windows (to avoid birds colliding into the glass window panes) and fencing around the terraces. This led to the Aqua Tower being bestowed PETA’s prestigious “Proggy” award which recognizes animal-friendly achievements in commerce and culture. Indeed, Jeanne Gang has made a significant contribution to Chicago’s architectural scene and represents a step forward in building skyscrapers that also promote environmental-consciousness.

All in all, our female-focused architecture tour of Chicago proved that there are a number of important contributions to the city’s rich building heritage by women that are not only aesthetically beautiful but which benefit society as well.

Love Chicago? Which buildings are your faves? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and let’s talk!

About Lynn Burshtein

Lynn BurshteinLynn Burshtein is a Toronto-based freelance travel writer. She has long had a passion for wellness vacations as a way to “kick-start” healthy lifestyle habits. In 2009, she began writing about her trips to destination spas and other retreats. More recently, she expanded her focus to include cultural excursions. Her journeys have taken her across North America and to the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. She has written for print and online publications including DelectablyChic, TraveltoWellness, SpaTravelGal and GirlsGetaway to name a few, In 2015, she became a Brand Ambassador for Canadian designer Diane Kroe, whose collection of travel-inspired clothing for women is both stylish and highly versatile.

All opinions are those of Lynn, but the following organizations helped make her visit to Chicago possible. Accommodations in Chicago were subsidized by the James Chicago, a luxury boutique property also designed by an important woman in Chicago design, Deborah Berke. Chicago River Architectural Cruise was provided courtesy of First Lady Cruises. Walking tour courtesy of Barbara Zenner and Choose Chicago. Photos courtesy of Gang Studio and Harris Theater.

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