Thursday, June 04, 2009

Chicago Part II - Magnificent Architecture and Some Pretty Good Food

Chicago Riverfront at Dusk

If you're going to travel with my mom, you need to be prepared. I'm talking like a Boy Scout. This lady does not mess around when it comes to, well, pretty much anything, and sightseeing is no exception. After dinner at the Publican it was still light out (being father North up there) and daylight was a wastin' - so we set out on a post-prandial constitutional down Wacker drive, up to Michigan Avenue, and almost halfway down the Magnificent Mile before turning back. The historic buildings you see there in the picture are the Chicago Tribune building (on the right) and the Wrigley Building. The massive cathedral-like Tribune building is really a sight to behold, particularly with all of the artifacts from famous monuments embedded in its walls - including the Great Wall, the Pyramids of Giza, and John Brown's Fort at Harpers' Ferry (no, really.) It made me very sad about the current state of newspapers - it so clearly comes from a time when no one could imagine their demise.
Yolk - great breakfast spot on Michigan Ave.

The next morning, we rose bright and early for a Chicago Architecture Foundation bus tour. Breakfast was at Yolk, a cheery cafe on Michigan Avenue a few blocks South of the Foundation's building. The food was excellent - and fast, which was a good thing given that we were due on the bus at 9:30.
The Sears Tower
Chicago's architecture is amazing and varied. Here you see the Sears Tower - the tallest building in North America - peeking up from between two older buildings. Did you know the skyscraper was invented in Chicago?
Tapestry of the original Daniel Burnham 1909 Plan of Chicago

This tapestry depicts a portion of the 1909 Plan of Chicago by Daniel Burnham. (Read more about it here.) The plan was conceived as a sort of "Paris on the Prairie" and though it wasn't all implemented, it greatly influenced the design of the city.
The new Renzo Piano designed Modern Wing at the Chicago Art Institute

This is the new Renzo Piano designed Modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute. Unfortunately for us, it opened the weekend after we were there. We did go to the "regular" part of the museum, and it was quite spectacular. I didn't realize at the time that it is second in size only to the Met.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House

One of the highlights of the tour was a stop at the Robie House, one of Frank Lloyd Wrights' residential commissions, on the grounds of the University of Chicago. No photos were allowed inside, but it features some really great architectural details - such as a wall of leaded glass doors that open onto a patio, and a huge sunken fireplace in the middle of the living room. The lower floor (below ground level) has a gentleman's bar and a playroom, the middle floor (you can kind of see the row of doors above) was the living and dining room, and the top floor, with three sides of windows - is the master suite. All are linked by a central staircase. Quite an ingenious floor plan, actually.
Mies Van der Rohe's Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology

Another highlight was Crown Hall, on the campus of the Architecture School at the Chicago Institute of Technology. This building is remarkable for the fact that it is supported entirely by the trusses you see on the outside - there are no supporting pillars in the interior. Considering it was built in the early 50s, it's quite a marvel. It's absolutely huge inside, about 52,000 square feet - all completely empty, (Van der Rohe called this "Universal Space.") It's now used as studio space for architecture students. Architecture students are messy!
Crown Hall Interior

This shot is of the new student union at the Illinois Institute of Technology - just down the street from Crown Hall. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the building features a tunnel running through it - above, for the Elevated Train. It kind of feels like the People Mover at Disneyland.
The tube running through the Rem Koolhas designed Student Union at IIT

These are just some of the highlights - the tour also included the Rookery and other older buildings, and very interesting information about Chicago's past. After we got off the bus, we walked over to Millennium Park, right across the street, to look at the public art installations. The screens on this fountain display the animated faces of actual Chicago citizens (there are towers on each side.)
Millenium Park in Chicago

This very popular sculpture is known as "The Bean" - for pretty obvious reasons.

It creates a cool reflective effect - especially when you're underneath it. You can see a wedding party taking pictures there just at the bottom of the picture below, along with lots of reflections of me (the dark figure holding a camera up behind the couple.)
Under the Bean - Chicago

Just just past that is the Frank Gehry designed Band Shell - where Obama addressed the multitudes on election night. It looks very similar to the Disney Concert Hall in LA.
Frank Gehry Designed Bandshell in Millenium Park
We kept walking, all the way to Fox and Obel, a Whole Foods-like gourmet grocery not too far from the Lakeshore. The sandwich we had there was pretty good, but the chocolate chip cookies were To. Die. For. They had that great crisp-but-still-chewiness I can never seem to achieve at home for some reason. From there we cabbed over to the Second City Theater for a 4 PM matinee performance of their touring show, which was hee-larious. Highly recommend that if you're in town.

After that, even my mom was tuckered out - so we had a beer and some bar snacks in the lobby of the hotel, then went up to the room and ate leftover chicken from the Publican while we watched the White House Correspondent's Dinner on TV. After all - we had to save up some energy for the next day!

1120 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 789-9655

The Chicago Architecture Foundation224 S Michigan Ave.
(312) 922-3432
we did the "Highlights by Bus" tour with the Robie House, which was great. Tickets and information about other tours are available on their website. Tickets for the tours are about $40.

Fox and Obel
401 E Illinois St # 1
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 410-7301

The Second City
1616 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 337-3992


  1. Glad you liked our Highlights by Bus tour. We are just installing a new exhibition: CHICAGO MODEL CITY with a fantastic, intricate scale model that includes much of what you saw on the tour! Check for more info.

  2. oh thank you! i'm from chicago and i loved seeing the pictures and the incredibly flattering narration.

    makes me miss it all the more!

  3. I love Chicago! Great photos, Alice. :)

  4. This post is totally making me homesick. It's been way too long since I've been back to Chicago. Thank God Giordano's pizza delivers (on dry ice, via air mail!)

    Sorry I missed you when I was in San Diego a couple weeks ago. I met up with Caron & Nicole for a night at Extraordinary Desserts. They had so many lovely things to say about you! Next time....


  5. I loveee Chicago! I took the architecture boat tour once and it was awesome. Also, I've been wanting to try Yolk! Next time I'm there :)


  6. John Brown's fort? Hmmm, I'm detecting a pattern in your travels.

  7. It was so nice to see your photos! I loved being reminded of home and seeing the city through these beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I'm planning a trip to Chicago this summer, since I live pretty close (5 hours) glad to have some tips on food! =)

  9. What gorgeous photos. Any one of them could be a postcard. What kind of camera do you have? I love any kind of an architecture tour. Sounds like you had such a great time.

  10. Too bad you didn't make it to Hot Doug's. That's the happiest line you'll ever stand in, for sure. At the risk of gross self-promotion, here's my blog entry on Hot Doug's, Publican and a couple of other Chicago eateries from our recent visit:

    Thanks for the listing of great eats in San Diego. We're due for another visit down there.
    Cheers! Carol

  11. Hi there,
    I couldn't help smiling when you say ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS ARE MESSY...ha ha ha..yet they can create beautiful things!

    Been to that CROWN HALL 22 years ago..