My Architectural Field Trip to Chicago

Chicago is often compared to Boston, so I was sure I would love it if I ever got a chance to visit. Well, I finally got the chance! And yes, it was everything I imagined and hoped for!!

Hands down, the highlight of the trip (beyond visiting with our oldest son, Matt) was the Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago’s First Lady. The tour is run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation with docents who are foundation volunteers. Their enthusiasm and knowledge was fantastic!

Chicago’s architecture was shaped by the Fire of 1871. This disastrous event ended up being somewhat of a positive (from an architectural and urban planning standpoint) because it gave a second chance in “designing” a city. Planners were able to identify what had been flaws in traffic flow, building designs and things as simple as set backs and building scale.

The city today gives you the chance to see every type of architecture, style and design that is out there. But somehow it works! How come? Because designers paid attention to surrounding landscape, the intended use and scale.

For example, in the shot below, buildings show three architectural styles, but they are visually tied together through the materials used, the transition between buildings and repeated decorative detailing.

Chicago Skyline by Wentworth Style

In the next photo, the section to the right is an addition, but by renovating and restyling the roof, the two buildings are tied together and create a “calmer” flow. This is often the same thing we do when designing residential additions — but on a much, much larger scale!

Chicago building ties addition together

From a renovation standpoint,  the Chicago Athletic Hotel stood out. Formerly the Chicago Athletic Association, the hotel’s newly renovated building features a game room, an amazing “library” and Cindy’s, one of the hottest new restaurants and bars in this land of amazing food and drink.

The renovation included substantial historic restoration work, like the original tile floor and lots and lots of woodwork, as seen in the photos below.

Chicago Athletic Association tile floor renovation

Chicago Athletic Hotel Woodwork

For me, one of the greatest inspirations was the lighting! Many of the light fixtures are the originals — just rewired and refurbished. I love the trend back to industrial, retro looking fixtures like the ones you see here.

antique lighting fixture

lighting at Chicago Athletic Hotel restaurantotel

renovated lighting fixtures

My trip to Chicago gave me lots of great ideas! I’ll be sharing more inspiration as I travel to other areas in the months ahead! Stay tuned….

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