Architecture in Chicago for fall 2020: A vital season awaits, despite the pandemic. Our 12 picks not to miss.
By BLAIR KAMIN | CHICAGO TRIBUNE | SEP 03, 2020 AT 6:00 AM
Despite the dark shadow cast by COVID-19, the fall architecture season in Chicago promises a luminous array of exhibitions, books and buildings. It will culminate the construction boom that took shape after the Great Recession. Here’s a preview:
Vista Tower reshapes the skyline: The Vista Tower, Chicago’s third tallest building and the world’s tallest building designed by a woman architect, is finally ready for its close-up.
Designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang and her firm Studio Gang, the 101-story hotel and condominium tower is expected to welcome its first residents in mid-October. Work to complete the tower’s exterior is still ongoing, but it already has reshaped the city’s skyline.
From its base at 345 E. Wacker Drive, Vista rises as a cluster of three interconnected high-rises, or “stems,” as Gang calls them. Each stem appears to curve inward and outward, giving the tower a distinctly sculptural presence. In Chicago, only the Willis and Trump Towers are taller.
Chicago’s tallest office building since 1990: Another superlative is in store: Chicago’s tallest office building since the completion of Two Prudential Plaza in 1990.
It’s the Bank of America Tower, designed by Chicago’s Goettsch Partners and located at 110 N. Wacker Drive. Although it has 56 stories, the high-rise climbs to a height of 815 feet because of its higher-than-average ceiling heights and 45-foot-high lobby.
Replacing the low-rise General Growth building, the glassy tower sits alongside the south branch of the Chicago River. Architectural highlights along the river include a strongly vertical, serrated facade and a covered, 45-foot-wide riverwalk framed by exposed structural columns. Tenants are expected to start moving in in September.
A new hotel on Navy Pier: With relatively few visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, Navy Pier is closing Sept. 8 until next spring to save money. But the lakefront attraction is still expected to get the first hotel in its 104-year history. Designed by Chicago’s Koo architects, the hotel has been built atop existing structures near the pier’s east end. Part of the Hilton Curio Collection, it has about 220 rooms and is named The Sable in honor of a World War II training ship, an aircraft carrier, that docked at Navy Pier.
The hotel’s developer is aiming for a Nov. 1 opening. Koo’s design includes subtle nautical references and framed views of Lake Michigan and the skyline.
A head-turner at the U of C: Construction is expected to wrap up this fall on the University of Chicago’s David Rubenstein Forum, a high-rise meeting place designed by New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Located on the south side of the Midway Plaisance, the glass-sheathed building consists of a two-story base and an eight-story tower. The tower flaunts a series of stacked boxes, several of which are dramatically cantilevered. It will house multi-purpose meeting spaces for workshops, academic symposia and lectures. The building’s ground floor will include a wine bar and cafe. The university plans to hold some classes in the Rubenstein Forum this fall, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the building won’t be fully operational or formally opened until next year.
Chicago showcase for an Indian master: In 2018, Balkrishna Doshi became the first Indian architect to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field’s highest honor.
This fall in Chicago, about 20 of Doshi’s projects, from private homes to entire cities, will be showcased in a traveling exhibition billed as the first U.S. exhibition of his work. Called “Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People,” the show appears at the Wrightwood 659 gallery, at 659 W. Wrightwood Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Sept. 9 to Dec. 12. On view will be drawings, models, sketches, films, photography and full-scale installations that illustrate the experience of Doshi’s buildings. Tickets are only available online; wrightwood659.org.
Open House adapts to COVID-19: Open House Chicago, the popular festival that gave participants a free, behind-the-facade peek at interiors throughout the city, will have a new (and, I hope, temporary) format this fall, one forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
To celebrate Open House Chicago’s 10th anniversary, the festival will run 10 days, for Oct. 16-25, instead of the usual two days. For more information, go to openhousechicago.org.
The Farnsworth House and the Glass House: The Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist masterpiece in far southwest suburban Plano, will mount a photo exhibition that compares and contrasts the house with a modernist icon it influenced, Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.
Called “Side by Side: Farnsworth House + The Philip Johnson Glass House,” and scheduled to run Sept. 13 to Nov. 22, the exhibit will display pairs of images of the two houses by photographer Robin Hill. It will appear in a gallery alongside the house’s visitor center.
Admission is included with a guided tour of the Farnsworth House, which will continue the fascinating exhibit “Edith Farnsworth’s Country House.” That show fills the house with furnishings that resemble those of its namesake, Chicago kidney doctor Edith Farnsworth.
Does one size fit all? From the size of credit cards to batteries, global standards are ubiquitous. Yet not everything is uniform. Airline guidelines for carry-on bags differ, for example.
Chicago’s heavy-metal heart: Chicago’s Loop wouldn’t be the same without the elevated tracks and CTA trains that form its thunderously loud core. But how did the “L” come about? And who saved it from being torn down in the 1970s?
In November, Southern Illinois University Press will publish a book, by former Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick T. Reardon, that addresses these and other questions.
Titled “The Loop: The ’L’ Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago,” the illustrated, 304-page book calls the “L” “the most important structure ever built in the city.”
Midcentury houses for the Midwest: Fans of mid-20th century modernism, especially as it took shape in the Midwest, will likely want to check out another book that goes on sale in late August, “Modern in the Middle: Chicago Houses 1929-1975.”
Published by Monacelli Press and written by architectural historian Susan Benjamin and Michelangelo Sabatino, an architecture professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the book explores how Chicago and its suburbs played a pivotal but overlooked role in developing the modern single-family house.
More than 50 houses are surveyed, including homes by such noted architects John Vinci and Henry Dubin. The book contains 325 historic images, many from the archives of Chicago photography firm Hedrich Blessing.
Elsewhere: Eisenhower Memorial opens (finally): After years of controversy and design changes, the Eisenhower Memorial is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 17. The architect is Los Angeles-based Frank Gehry, whose Chicago works include Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.
Honoring the nation’s 34th president and commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II, the memorial is a four-acre park just off the National Mall. The site, alongside the U.S. Department of Education building, has a view of Capitol Hill.
Key design elements at the heart of the memorial include a transparent stainless steel tapestry that represents the cliffs of the Normandy coastline, site of the D-Day invasion, in peacetime; large-scale bronze statues and stone bas reliefs.
Speaking of tributes to former presidents … Studio Gang is one of three finalists vying to design the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, North Dakota. Its competitors are Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen and Oslo-based Snohetta. A winner is expected to be named in September.
As for the Obama Presidential Center, the long-running federal review of the project’s impact on historic Jackson Park is nearing the finish line, but a ground-breaking has not yet been scheduled. The architects are Tod Williams and Billie Tsien of New York.
Blair Kamin has been the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic since 1992. A graduate of Amherst College and the Yale School of Architecture, he was a fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Kamin lectures widely and appears on television and radio. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.