There’s all kinds of art these days along the Chicago River. (Photo: Paul Velgos)
By Melissa Feldman
Chicago — known for its odd pizza and its perennially under-performing Cubs — nonetheless excels when it comes to architecture and design.
Stunning examples of modern and historical architecture — along with great new contemporary design — are found across the city.
Top on the list is the Art Institute of Chicago, whose modern wing, designed by Renzo Piano, opened in 2009. Currently on view through January is “Chicagoisms,” a survey exhibition including historic photos and models juxtaposed with contemporary responses to five significant moments in the city’s history, such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Included are nine international architecture and design firms including Bureau Spectacular, DOGMA, and UrbanLab.
A view of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing from Millennium Park. (Photo: Charles G. Young, Interactive Design Architects)
The skyscraper is synonymous with Chicago’s skyline and last year, a 52-story landmarked Mies van der Rohe tower became the Langham Chicago (from $475), with floors 2 to 13 converted into a five-star hotel. Designers include van der Rohe’s grandson, Dirk Lohan, who re-envisioned the lower lobby to capture the spirit of Mies’ modernist oeuvre with sleek surfaces and neutral-colored upholstery.
The Langham’s Travelle Lounge and Bar, by New York’s Rockwell Group, features leather sofas and ottomans reminiscent of a scene from “Mad Men.” With a river view below, ordering a prime beef burger and a glass of rose is the perfect Saturday night.
Related: Thursday Night: Chicago
Floors 2 to 13 of the Langham were turned into a five-star hotel last year. (Photo: Handout)
Other stylish hotels include the sleek W Lakeshore (from $259), which offers a new living room bar concept, DJ booth and Current restaurant — all situated with views of Lake Michigan.
The W Chicago Lakeshore. (Courtesy: W Hotels Worldwide)
Also new is Soho House Chicago (from $160), which is set in a 1907 warehouse on a buzzy strip in the West Loop. Also slated to soon open is the stylish Virgin Hotel from London, along with a property from the Mexican-based Grupo Habita that will be set in a 1928 building in the Wicker Park neighborhood.
Chicago’s dining scene is reaching new heights. Iconic restaurateur Tony Mantuano, for instance, has just spiffed up his Gold Coast destination dining spot Spiaggia. The 30-year-old icon recently re-opened after a six-month makeover and now sports a sleek, contemporary look, new cocktail lounge and ultra-inventive Italian menu by new executive chef Chris Marchino.
Chris Marchino, the new executive chef at Spiaggia. (Photo: Galdones Photography)
Still the same: the ultra-precise service and those jaw-dropping lake and park views from panoramic 40-foot windows. And as for more casual dining, “Top Chef” Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat in the West Loop now has an affordable spinoff, Little Goat. And traditional-style beer halls have evolved. In Pilsen — about 20 minutes from the Loop — a Romanesque revival building from 1892 has morphed into Thalia Hall.
Gnocchi on the way at Spiaggia. (Photo: Galdones Photography)
Upstairs, the space holds regular concerts, while downstairs the owners debuted Dusek’s Board and Beer, with two dozen beers and inventive pub food. Back on the Magnificent Mile, Sophie’s at Saks Fifth Avenue was designed by Andre Kikoski, who also created the interiors for NYC’s Guggenheim’s restaurant Wright. The airy space affords views of Michigan Avenue, while the menu lists a selection of farm-to-fork small plates. Cocktails, wine, and seasonal iced teas are also available, as is breakfast and Sunday brunch.
If you’re in the market for high-end collectibles, Wright, an auction house in the West Loop, is a good place to start. Connoisseur Richard Wright has a keen eye toward 20th- and 21st-century design, and recent auctions have showcased Italian glass and Scandinavian design. Wright founded his business in 2000 and presents 12 sales a year.
For ultra-artsy collectibles, head to the Wright Auction House in the West Loop. (Courtesy: Wright Auction House)
Although Chicago’s skyline may be best-known for classic 20th-century architecture, more recent examples also abound like the Aqua Tower by Studio Gang Architects, the Poetry Foundation designed by John Ronan Architects, and Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park.
With all this architectural patrimony, it’s no coincidence Mayor Rahm Emanuel fully backs Chicago’s bid to host a new Architecture Biennial next October. Zurich Esposito, Director of the American Institute of Architects, Chicago Chapter, says, “It’s great to see him (Rahm) turning the city’s focus to architecture, one our most important cultural resources.”
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