Monday, 24 August 2015

8th - 9th August - Chicago, Illinois

Its August, and the time for yet another adventure, heading this time west to the USA.  Our port of entry being Chicago, a city that we did not visit in our time living there in the USA.  In fact this trip will see us visiting places that we did not get to before, but ending up in one that was very familiar to us, but for extremely good reasons.

We travelled in style with British Airways, arriving on time and through the immigration process extremely quickly.  As we left the airport in our taxi the first birds appeared on the verge beside the road, and these were Starlings.  The journey into downtown Chicago took around 40 minutes, and we were soon into our hotel room, looking longingly at the bed but realising that we had to stay awake to beat the jet lag.  As a result we decided to go for a walk along North Michigan Avenue or "The Magnificent Mile" as it is known, and from there wherever we could go in the daylight.

It was very busy, as you would expect on a Saturday afternoon in the heart of the retail  centre of Chicago.  There were familiar shops, those exclusively American, and all the designer branded shops.  The avenue leads down to the waterfront, and the Chicago river.

From the bridge looking up the river tall buildings line the waterside, but dominated by the irrepressible Trump tower that reaches high above many of the buildings.

We turned left along Lower Wacker Street and headed towards Lake Michigan, looking back the skyline up river demonstrates the dominance of Trump Tower in the middle of the view.

It was overcast and quite humid in the city, but in the open along the shore of Lake Michigan there was a cooling breeze.  We headed to the Navy Pier which reaches out off shore into the Lake.  As you look out across the vast amount of water it is very hard to remember that this is a freshwater lake, and not the sea.  Looking back the tall buildings of downtown Chicago dominate the views.

We stopped at th end of the pier, and had a drink to the accompaniment of several Ring-billed Gulls, and a few very attentive House Sparrows, and watched the many people that passed us by before making our way back along the north side of the river, and back into the City Plaza around the offices of the Chicago Tribune.  Once again the river and the buildings dominated the views.

We found a spot for a light dinner, and managed to keep ourselves awake until 9.00 pm, and after finally succumbing we slept until 6.00 am the next day.

These blogs normally feature natural events and places, but for our time in Chicago it was to be dominated by the architecture.  In some ways though there is still a natural affect as the building all have a natural influence aligned with beauty and the need to compliment their surroundings, the designs being influenced by traditional styles such as Art Deco, and the Classical and Gothic eras, while also looking to inspire new ideas.

Sunday morning saw very similar weather to the previous day, overcast but still warm. There were thunder storms forecast for later in the day, and with this in mind we made our way back to the river, where we bought tickets for a river architectural cruise, where we are given the chance to see from below some of the incredible buildings, and to learn something of their design.

As we sat in the boat waiting to leave the Trump Tower reached high above us.

The Trump International Hotel and Tower, As it is correctly known is a skyscraper condo-hotel, named after the billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump, and was designed by architect Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

It has a height of 1,389 feet (423 metres) including its spire, with its roof topping at 1,170 feet (360 metre).   It is the 16th tallest building in the world and fourth-tallest in the United States.  The design of the building includes, from the ground up, retail space, a parking garage, a hotel and condominiums.

Wildlife though was never far away and as we stood waiting for the boat to leave we watched a Peregrine fly to the top of the Wrigley Building.  Clearly all the pigeons around the city were a big attraction.

There are several bridges that span the river, as we waited to leave we had good views of the DuSable bridge.  As it was quite overcast it seemed better to produce the pictures in black and white rather than my normal colour.  It seems to add to  the impressiveness of the buildings highlighting the design and features.

Passing Trump Tower the next impressive building was Michigan Plaza, but was dwarfed buy the Trump Tower, only coming in at 44 storeys.  The building design was inspired by the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
, a German architect who sought to establish a new architectural style that could represent modern times just as Classical and Gothic did for their own eras. He created an influential twentieth-century architectural style, stated with extreme clarity and simplicity.

Next were the two towers of the Marina City building.  This is a mixed use residential/commercial building.  The complex consists of two corncob-shaped, 587 foot (179 metres), 65-story towers, which include five-story elevators  Marina City was the first urban post-war high-rise residential complex in the United States and is widely credited with beginning the residential renaissance of American inner cities. Its model of mixed residential and office uses and high-rise towers with a base of parking has become a primary model for urban development in the United States and throughout the world.

Many of the glass windows reflected the buildings alongside each other and across the river, the reflections producing wonderful patterns in the glass.

The next major building was the Merchandise Mart,  When it opened in 1930, it was the largest building in the world, with 4,000,000 square feet (372,000 square metres) of floor space.  Designer Alfred Shaw integrated art deco stylings with influences from three building types; the warehouse, the department store and the skyscraper.  

We turned onto the north fork of the river and cruised through a more residential area, some of which were occupied and very desirable while others were a little run down!

Bridges dominate the river, and to allow certain boats to pass they have the be able to raise themselves, and this has called for various designs.  Here is the cantilever design of the Kinzie Railroad bridge, the iron work looking impressive against the buildings and the misty sky.

As we made our way under some of these bridges the iron work, and welding can look quite powerful in the dull conditions.

 We turned around and headed back south along the southern fork of the river, as we did so we began to get views of the Willis Tower stretching up into the low cloud that was enveloping many of the skyscrapers now.

On this stretch of the river there were many glass fronted buildings and they kept on producing some wonderful urban reflections, these lamp posts looking strange in the glass

And the windows of the reflected building producing some weird and wonderful shapes.

Once again we reached a turnaround point on the southern fork, and as we came around to head back north we were able to get views of the River City building that reminded Helen and I of the Casa Mia in Barcelona that was designed by Gaudi, the windows while not quite as elaborate as those in the Casa Mia but having the same shape and Art Nouveau influence.  It was designed by Bertrand Goldberg, who was also responsible for the marina City towers, and there is a resemblance.  Interestingly in any of the information I could find on these buildings there is no mention of a Gaudi influence so maybe its just Helen and I!

As the boat turned Willis tower once again came into view, the top that obscured by the clouds.

Willis Tower was formerly known as Sear's Tower.  It is a 108-story, 1,451-foot (442 metres) skyscraper and at completion in 1973, it surpassed the World Trade Centre towers in New York to become the tallest building in the world, a title it held for nearly 25 years. The Willis Tower is now the second-tallest building in the United States and the 12th-tallest in the world. The structure was renamed in 2009 by the Willis Group as part of its lease on a portion of the tower's space.

As we turned to the east and once again heading towards the lake there were far more impressive views of the Merchandise mart.

On approaching the Michigan Avenue bridge, the point from which we departed the tour an rather different building appeared.  This is the gold topped Carbide and Carbon building. The building, which was built in 1929, is an example of Art Deco architecture. It was designed by Burnham Brothers. The Carbide and Carbon Building was originally home to the regional office of Union Carbide and Carbon Co., which later became Union Carbide Corp.  Building was transformed more recently into the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago.

Moving closer to the lake shore there was another skyscraper with fascinating balconies and windows.  This is the Aqua Tower.  At 82 stories, the Aqua Tower is a Radisson Blu Aqua hotel, apartments, and condominiums,  it also has one of Chicago’s largest green roofs.  

The design demonstrates both architectural and technical achievements, with its outdoor terraces (which differ in shape from floor to floor based on criteria such as views, solar shading, and dwelling size/type) form the tower’s distinctive undulating appearance and demonstrate a strong connection to the outdoors and to the city. 

Our tour over we headed south to the AT&T Plaza and Cloud Gate, or the Coffee Bean as it is better known.

Cloud Gate is British artist Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor work installed in the United States.  The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above.

 A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives. 

Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. 

After a lunch, we went to the top of the John Hancock Centre, but despite the fact that sun was appearing in places the visibility was poor, and at one stage the mist completely obscured the view.  With patience the cloud did clear to provide some spectacular views across the city.

The John Hancock Centre is a 100 storey building, and when it was completed in 1968 it was the tallest building in the world outside of New York.  It is now the fourth tallest in Chicago, and seventh in the US.

The rain then finally arrived and we spent some time shopping on North Michigan Avenue before returning to our hotel.  Then after dinner nearby to the Tribune Tower it was an early bed, as we were to be up early for our flight to Salt Lake City the next day, and the drive north to Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park, where we fully expected to find plenty of wildlife and wide open spaces.  We did though enjoy our time in Chicago, a city of style and without the hustle and bustle of New York

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