City of architecture

Chicago may be my favourite city of those I visited in America. Not only does the architecture have a rich history but also I felt it’s a city designed for people. For example, the riverside is protected so that no private builders can block the path. I saw many people walking along the river and, at lunchtime, people sat and ate there.

It’s difficult to believe that Chicago was founded only in 1837. It’s less than 200 years old. London, by comparison, is almost 2000 years old.

Even in its short history, Chicago has reinvented itself many times. After the Chicago Fire in 1871, many of the world’s first skyscrapers were designed and built in Chicago.

The Chicago Architecture Center provides an excellent cruise tour of the city. You learn about its architecture and history. The Chicago River, I found out, is a feat of engineering. It was reversed in 1887 when extreme weather threatened the city’s water supply.

When flying to Chicago from Austin, I saw a great expanse of water from the sky, which, I thought, was an ocean: it was never ending. That was Lake Michigan. By volume, it’s the second largest Great Lake and the only one located totally within the United States.

Lake Michigan is the main source of drinking of water in Chicago. It provides water to states bordering it. On one of my walking tours, the guide said that there had been attempts by other states to “steal our water”.

The company that shaped much of the Chicago skyline and created many famous buildings around the world was formed in Chicago. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) designed the once tallest building in the world, the Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower), and the current record holder, the Burj Khalifa. Buildings that are more recent include Terminal 2 in Mumbai’s main airport and One World Trader Center (aka Freedom Tower) in Manhattan.

One of the delightful aspects of the boat tour was our guide pointing out the “conversation” between architects across generations. She pointed out the way in which buildings incorporated aspects of nearby buildings to complement or pay homage to them. For example, a modern building might have a clock to mirror one on a facing building. Clocks on buildings were essential when no one had a watch. Now, they are redundant. This observance by architects of Chicago’s building history may be why Chicago seems harmonious in a way that other cities with tall buildings don’t.

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