Chicago’s Urban Plan

Nicknamed “the Second City” for a number of reasons, Chicago is known for its amazing architecture and sensible urban planning. Sources cite that because of the great Chicago fire, the city had a chance to reset its urban design. Plus, with the guide of Daniel Burnham’s “The Plan of Chicago”, Chicago was able to find a sensible urban development guide.

“The clues are inferential, and turn us to the past. At best, we can only offer suggestions, comparisons, circuits.”  — Whitman

Whitman once spoke about how crucial the past is in order to learn from previous mistakes in order to keep bettering our society. Chicago, after the fire, was able to bounce back and become a stronger city because of its ability to learn from past mistakes (plus having space for all of these building projects also helped).

But included in the guide was Burnham’s idea that every citizen in Chicago should be within walking distance to a park. Grant Park, Millennium Park, Lincoln Park, and other parks are located in the city. Right in the heart of the city the idea is that people should be able to have access to direct sunlight and be able to go into open spaces in busy cities.

“I love the civility, I love the humility, I love the respect, I love the friendliness, I love the lack of entitlement.” — Northwestern President Schapiro

The Chicago Loop has been regarded as one of the smartest designs for transit because of its circuit shape. The streets were constructed to be wider, and alleys were built as a way to help circumvent the amount of trash collecting on the curb. These are all innovations because of the luxury of starting over, but they are all worthwhile accomplishments which lead to Chicago being a lovely city full of life and laughter without all of the stress of cramped streets and dirty public spaces.

Having these public parks in the middle of the city is absolutely genius. Art lines the parks, and many buildings provide ample room in the skyline to allow sunlight to pour through to these public spaces. The Chicago Loop is amazing, I am so glad to have gotten to experience it firsthand and truly feel this open space in the middle of a big city.

So what?

So what if Chicago has a lot of diverse buildings? So what if there are many different styles of architecture? What does that have to do with me? Why should that make me feel like I’m contributing to a democracy?

Cities, not just Chicago, are the perfect place to execute your democratic freedoms. However, Chicago is known for its diverse buildings, people, and urban planning which has helped it become such a front-runner (inside of the city). This is not to say that Chicago is perfect; it is still the “murder capital” and has a lot of issues with systematic racism, however, cities themselves try to inspire democratic ideals.

According to a writer from Forbes, “no two people in any city are the same.” There is a lot to be said about this. Cities provide many opportunities for people to become who they want to me, do what they want to do, and surround themselves with like-minded individuals. These are opportunities that are not always given to people who live in more rural or suburban areas because of the lack of population.

This is why Millennium Park and other public spaces are crucial for the development of feeling like you can contribute to this democratic society. The park is free, and there are places for people to eat, art exhibits on display, and live music is almost constantly playing over the summer and in the fall seasons. People are allowed to just escape the narrow alleys and the often shadowed streets of the city to just enjoy the sun. The urban planning in Chicago is genius to help facilitate the spread of democracy.

No two buildings, no two people are the same. But as much as people love learning about the experience of city life (have you ever tried to count the amount of television shows about urban life?), they also love the look of urban life. City skylines and the idea of having a lovely view of the city from inside is also what drives people to move into more urban places. The Forbes article also highlights the beauty of skyscrapers. “Skyscrapers are amazing feats of engineering and a testament to humankind’s progress. What’s more, skylines offer an array of architectural styles, as cities certainly weren’t built in a day,” it reads.


The “Diamond Building”

Of all the many unique skyscrapers that surround Chicago, the Crain Communications Building is the most famous for its diamond shape at the top. Rumors spread about the building that it was supposed to be in a yonic shape as a feminist shout-out, though they were quickly dismissed. Other ideas behind the building were to prevent any shadow from falling on the beach; however, this was immediately disproved because the beach is too far away for the building to cast any shadow.

During this day it is just a diamond building. It is not the tallest building or the widest, but it is the most eye-catching in the area surrounding the Chicago Cultural Center and the rest of the Loop. But during the night, the building is lit up with bulbs all around the diamond shape — sometimes even words are illuminated in the lights as well for drivers to read on their commutes.

This building is regarded for its relative simplicity: the sleek marble and the general shininess of the building help create its luxurious, authentic Chicago feel to it. The architecture in Chicago is diverse and loaded in history – even with the Chicago Fire! This building has a newer feel than some of the building’s other neighbors, but that helps to highlight the diversity of the people in the city and to show that no two people are alike, just like skyscrapers.



Influenced by our surroundings

aqua-tower-flickrOne of my favorite buildings I got to experience up-close and personal was the Aqua Tower. Not only for its aesthetic value, but for my interpretation of it. The Aqua Tower was built directly influenced by its environment; it was meant to reflect the limestone that commonly grows along the Great Lakes, and they found that this shape helped with the amount of solar shading given to the balconies and windows.

It’s a fairly new building, and that shows by the style of building and the innovation, contrasting the older generations of skyscrapers like the Hancock Building. But it was built with a direct influence from its environment, which I found interesting while working on this project. Most of my project is about the influence of an environment on people, but this building was influenced by the environment. On top of that, I found the building so cool to look at that it constantly caught my eyes during the many walks we took around the city.

Located close to Millennium Park, the point of the building was to also provide people who lived in the city to feel like they were in an open space. Having the rippling roofs created an illusion of an ocean wave and the park nearby helped urban folk feel like they had some space to be free from the often enclosed urban city.

The Cultural Capital of Chicago

I would not be able to talk about the open space of democracy or diversity without talking about the Chicago Cultural Center. Our Spring Break trip spent an entire day inside of this facility, which is home to various art galleries and installations every season. It is free all year for people to just explore the different cultures around Chicago.
Beaux Arts is the style of architecture which holds the Cultural Center inside. It was the nation’s first free city-operated cultural center.


It’s kind of funny that the style of the building is Beaux Arts, which translates into “Fine Arts”. The building is not meant to display art by European people, but focuses on the arts of minorities or other underrepresented groups living in and close to Chicago. This building is famous for its inside more than it is the outside.
The inside hosts the world’s largest Tiffany dome, which shines immaculately in the light of the center. It was recently restored in 2008, about the time that the Cultural Center was in the process of restoration as well.

But it was not always a beloved  building for its time. In the 1960s, there was word of the building being destroyed. However, many people protested this because of the uniqueness of the building in the middle of the Chicago Loop during the time. In 1972, the wife of the mayor of Chicago spoke up about the demolition saying, “I am for restoring and keeping all the beautiful buildings.” The building is important to the city, and people loved that it was different.

source: Chicago Cultural Center

Rubber Meets the Road

As I’ve managed to go through a long list of Chicago’s famous buildings, I’ve also been looking into the demographic of Chicago to try to see if the diversity matches up against the amount of buildings from differing styles.
All in all, the diversity of Chicago is pretty wide. In the 2010 census, it was found that 32% of Chicago was black, with 45.3% were white (including Hispanic white), 5% Asian, and 3% were interracial. In comparison to other cities, this is pretty vast. 28% of the population is Hispanic, and is home to more than 35 ethnic groups. “While most of Chicago and its surrounding residential areas are generally regarded as being somewhat racially segregated, the city’s unique culture arises from its being a melting pot, with nearly even percentages of European Americans and African Americans as well as sizable populations of Hispanics and Asians,” according to its Wikipedia page.

This is similar to the makeup of Chicago’s architecture. Over 15 styles of architecture are spread throughout the city, with buildings of different shapes, sizes, colors, and heights standing next to one another. Aside from Marina Bay and other twin buildings, most buildings stand contrasting one another. That was one of the coolest things about the entire city: everything was unique, there were hardly two buildings, people, food stands, or even music that was alike.

The ethnic and diverse makeup of the people is definitely reflected by the diverse buildings which tower from above. This serves as an example of just how much architecture and our environment plays a role in people and its population. A place with cookie cutter buildings would surely have less diversity than a place with different buildings because it subconsciously allows a freedom of expression that can some times feels oppressed without being outright.

building // parallels

Originally ARTchitecture, as I progressed through my fieldwork I realized that I didn’t have a particular rhyme or reason for choosing buildings as a focus for my final project. Though through a bit of digging and internal reflection, I decided to shift the focus of my work.  Building // parallels is about Chicago’s skyline (or city skylines in general) and how it reflects the people who live down below.
I’ve used blogs about city life, gotten information about several buildings I got to look at firsthand, and I’ve been using pictures I have personally taken in order to help curate this project into my own doing.

From one blogger to another

Based on the location you were raised, people will label you as a country kid or a city kid. Personally, I’ve lived in Riverview, Florida and Keene, New Hampshire for the bulk of my life (with a little bit of suburban Connecticut thrown right in the middle). Based on this, I’m labeled as “country folk”, someone who has lived on the more rural side of things. Small towns, small community, small talk, small everything. Buying local wasn’t the latest craze, it was what you always did.
But that’s not the life that many people lead. Keene is much more “urban” than its neighboring towns like Winchester, Richmond, Chesterfield, or Hinsdale, but it is still far from being a “city” (aside from the population, which is hiked up during the months when college is in session).

There has always been this perceived notion of city vs country, when it’s different for each person. However, the energy and aesthetic of the city definitely influences the people who live in it. Cities tend to be more left-leaning (interesting that they are also more democratic, both metaphorically and literally), while the countryside and more rural areas tend to be more conservative.

I’ve been doing a lot of fieldwork in researching the opinions of people who live in cities and the countryside help me with this project. Since i’m going to be making a blog installation, I figured I would gain insight about city and country life based on the blogs of others.

downtown_keene_5A glimpse at the downtown portion of Keene, NH

On the blogging website, the Guardian, an article was written with the pros of living in a city and living in the countryside. According to Jessica Reed and Heather Long, living in the city has a participatory feel to it. People take public transit over driving or they walk among the endless crowds of people. “If you want to have a semblance of a social life and like to do wild things like,  oh, going to the cinema on a Monday night, the city is for you,” they argue.
One of the biggest arguments for living in a city is that there will always be a place for you to fit in. Unlike living in a small community, if you do not fit the lifestyle of the town you live in, it will often be hard for people to find friends. According to the article, “there is something for everyone”. The architecture of the cities also seems to reflect this lifestyle. Buildings of various sizes and shapes mirror this idea that anyone can be anything and there is something for every walk of life in the city (unless, of course, you want to live in a quiet, small, close-knit community).

DaVon Saunders, a writer for The Odyssey Online also wrote a comparison post about city life and country life. He seems more comforted with the suburban lifestyle, but eventually declares his preference for a countryside lifestyle. However, he mentions that the life of a city has this feel of protection – that your life is not constantly under the microscope of the society. Because there are so many people, mistakes and rumors often do not travel around because the probability of someone outside of your social circle knowing you is relatively limited.

But on another article from The Odyssey, Kaleigh Watkins highlights her ability to expand her personality and herself through moving from a small town into a large city.

“In that small town that I grew up in, without realizing it, I let myself fear deviating from the norm and I did my best to slip between the cracks and to go unnoticed. I let myself do what I could to please the stigma that was set in place for students and children in a town like ours.” – Kaleigh Watkins, What Happens When You Escape a Small Town

Kaleigh describes the democratic ideals of living in a city: the idea of expansion. Her self-growth was influenced by the diversity of the city. She was able to figure out who she truly was and overcome barriers which inhibited her growth from living in a small city.

It’s interesting that places with a lot of diversity also tend to be more left-leaning democrats, people who feel more progressive and comfortable with constantly changing and differentiating themselves from others in the city.
So could it be argued that the diverse buildings reflect the diverse crowd which reside below them?

875 N Michigan Ave


Black steel, the pinnacle of structural expressionism, and two towering antennae distinguishes itself from the other buildings which decorate the city of Chicago. Designed by Bruce Graham and developed by Jerry Wolman, the John Hancock building is the 33rd largest skyscraper in the entire world.
While the X-frame steel looks like it reinforces the building, it’s entirely decoration. However, during its initial build, the wrong kind of concrete was used in the first twenty stories of the building. Construction was supposed to stop, but then John Hancock Financial took over financing and was able to finish the construction.

While steel does not age the building, recently there was an innovation using the tilted-design to create an attraction where tourists are able to press themselves against the glass and part of the building tilts out so that people can get an aerial view of the Magnificent Mile.

“Gutsy, masculine, and industrial; reflecting the tradition of Chicago, where structure is of the essence.” – Bruce Graham

This building was right across from where we stayed during our trip to Spring Break.