To walk through a city is to travel through time; to see where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going. What does the Windy City have to show over the years?

When you look at something like the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, you see the philosophy of a living breathing urban landscape, constantly in flux, all summed up in one landmark. The real nature of a living breathing city is this tension and balance between new and nostalgia, or between progress and preservation. Urban landscapes are constantly being renewed and rebuilt; the new needs to be able to fit in with the old and the old needs to be able to accommodate the new. This makes them fascinating places to visit as they are constantly changing, whilst – one hopes – continuing to preserve their past.

Ultimately, for the city to function, all of the buildings have to relate to each other and complement each other; no building is freestanding and independent unto itself – ignoring everything around it – but every building is a piece of the whole. The main challenge, then, for the urban planner is to preserve the fabric of the city, while progressively moving it forward towards a vision of how a city should look and function. Part of the beauty of this is that you always see the past, present, and future overlapping, and walking around Chicago especially is an experience where you can feel all of these layers interacting, all at once.

Reflections of a city
Reflections of a city

The Creation of a City: An Art of Balance

An urban landscape is the culmination of people working together to design buildings within a landscape that all work together. The architects must work hand in hand with engineers and urban planners, and through this collaboration, a city takes on a thousand personalities. Cities and the buildings that populate the landscape are both things of beauty, appreciated especially by those travellers who visit them, as well as functional spaces within which the residents themselves live their lives.

Now more than ever, everything must embody elements of sustainability, urbanization, and mobility. As well, discussing how to harness the elements and find a way to work with nature within our cities is becoming a major hot topic. Articles found on this site present some very interesting ideas on sustainable development in an urban landscape.

Balance Exemplified: Walking through Chicago

  • The iconic
  • You will no doubt experience the iconic when walking through Chicago; from the more modern Sears Tower and John Hancock Center, to the more historical landmarks, like the Marquette Building – displaying that historic “Chicago-style” – the Auditorium Building, or The Rookery, a masterpiece by the esteemed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Although perhaps not yet iconic, buildings like the Aqua, Lake Point Tower, the Contemporaine, and the corncob-like design of the Marina City could certainly reserve the iconic title in the future due to their visual and technical innovation. The iconic buildings of the Chicago skyline are precisely so because of what they lend to and the imprint they leave on the landscape, which is a role to be performed by the old and new alike.

    The Sears Tower soaring above the skyline. By: morebyless
  • The Lived History
  • You will also experience historical landmarks that all tell a story of time past and the life lived in Chicago. From Chicago Water Tower and Pumping station – one of the few buildings to survive the great Chicago fire of 1871 – to Union station, which is a reminder of back when Chicago was one of the country’s largest railroad hubs. Further historical landmarks include Henry B. Clarke House – Chicago’s oldest home – and the Old St. Patrick’s Church, which is a fusion of multiple years of work and additions, spanning from 1885 to 1990. Each historical building lends history not only of architecture to the landscape, but of the people who occupied these spaces.

    The Water Pumping Station, a grand survivor. By: Serge Melki
  • Expression of Cultural Movements
  • And of course, architecture is not removed from artistic expression and the cultural zeitgeist, so each artistic movement has left an imprint on the skyline as well, sparking a conversation of social ideology. From the French Renaissance and 16th century Spanish Architecture present in the Wrigley Building to the Art Deco style of the NBC Tower, everything leaves its mark. There exists the neoclassical Museum of Science and Industry alongside the Greek Revivalist Henry B. Clarke House, the Cubist Unity Temple, and the Modernist Farnsworth House.

    The sun on the Wrigley Building. By: atramos

And of course having been born in Chicago, evidence of Prairie School architecture, like that of the Frederick C. Robie House, abounds. Meanwhile, evidence of neo-Gothicism can be seen in the Tribune Tower – which also incorporates artifacts from all over the world, making the building itself a constantly evolving being embedded with influence and meaning.

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