Architecture in the city of big shoulders: Chicago

Chicago skyline and Roosevelt Road bridge

With Tina’s theme — Interesting Architecture — for Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #173, our photos from a recent trip to Chicago couldn’t be more fitting. After all, this city of big shoulders, immortalized in Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” sets the standard for skyscrapers, old and new buildings, artsy collections, and riverboat tours just begging you to look up in awe!

Hog butcher for the world,

Tool maker, stacker of wheat,

Player with railroads and the nation’s freight handler;

Stormy, husky, brawling,

City of big shoulders.

Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 1916

We found ourselves staring at interesting architecture the minute we drew open the drapes of our hotel room and faced the hugeness that was the John Hancock building, now dubbed 875 North Michigan Avenue. With its notable X-bracing, it defies imagination with its height of 1,128 feet towering above the city.

John Hancock Building, Chicago
875 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

But after taking a Wendella architecture tour by boat, 875 North Michigan Avenue became just one of many. In looking up, we saw the best — unique renderings of some of the most interesting buildings in America. Yet no two structures were alike.

I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.

H. L. Mencken

We began looking at the juxtaposition of buildings, layers of various decades of architecture one against another — like this shot of the Water Tower casting its shadow against a modern backdrop.

Water Tower, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago’s Water Tower against a backdrop of skyscrapers

Small round towers housing gears and levers to control drawbridges contrasted nicely with taller, straighter, more slender renditions of useful yet elegant buildings in the background.

Chicago Architecture - bridge and control tower
Contrasts in shapes, heights and purpose: architectural gems of Chicago

And we found a new love for modernity as our boat tour passed by what we originally thought were plain, modern pieces only to be amazed at reflections the buildings supported, It was an ever-changing show of light and shadows for all of us on the boat.

Chicago skyscraper reflections
Ever-changing reflections as seen from an architecture boat tour

Further away from the city, we noted that any color became a foil for the giants — as this red fire department boat will attest.

Chicago skyscrapers and Fire Dept. boat
Contrast in colors and shapes as seen in the Chicago harbor

And speaking of backdrops, look how these plain stalwarts provide the perfect staging for Alexander Calder’s Flamingo, installed in 1974 but looking every bit as modern as something created in our current year, 2021.

Alexander Calder's Flamingo in front of Chicago architecture
With a rather plain architectural backdrop, Alexander Calder’s Flamingo shows up brilliantly against Chicago buildings.

If we had to choose a favorite architectural gem, it might be this stellar trio of blue-hued buildings: the newly named St. Regis Chicago (formerly Wanda Vista Tower) that, upon completion, will house 360 penthouse residences and tower 1,198 feet into the air, allowing it to boast (rightfully so, of course) of its status as the third-tallest skyscraper in Chicago.

But it’s not just the height that bowled us over: We were in awe of the curves, the use of multiple blues on the windows, and the opening near the top that allows the wind to do its thing without toppling the building with its force.

St. Regis Chicago
Interesting architecture indeed: St. Regis Chicago

I’d rather be a lamppost in Chicago than a millionaire in any other city.

William A. Hulbert

It’s a prince of a city. With notable examples of architecture and art at every turn.

Ah, yes. The city of Chicago.

Travel architecturally,

Rusha & Bert

33 thoughts on “Architecture in the city of big shoulders: Chicago

  1. Alison

    Some beautiful buildings Rusha, I’ve never been to Chicago, certainly looks like the city of buildings. The blue ones are my favourite. Shame they keep changing the names of the buildings, the original ones are much better.

  2. Sylvia Bacon

    Rusha, I love seeing these wonderful architectural pictures from Chicago! They bring back wonderful memories when we visited the city a few years ago. We also took the Wendella architecture boat tour through the city, bet I took over a hundred photos of the buildings. I’m ready to return! 😊

  3. Toonsarah

    Excellent post and very apposite for me as I hope (fingers crossed!) to visit Chicago next September and one of those architecture tours is in the plans for that visit! I enjoyed your juxtapositions of old and new, and I love that St. Regis building 😀

      1. Toonsarah

        It’s for a Virtual Tourist meeting that a member living near there will host. It should have happened in September 2020, we’re all keeping our fingers crossed for next year!

  4. Pat

    What a delightful post. I love Chicago and really miss the yearly visits that I took when I was working. Thanks for making my heart happy.

  5. Tina Schell

    LOL for that closing quote Rusha! And an architecture tour by boat – how fun and what a great idea! Loved your examples, especially those that juxtaposed the old and new. Wonderful compositions.

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