Travel with Christina Valhouli: Chicago

adam-alexander-photography-chinesenewyear_statest_01Chicago has many claims to fame, but architecture buffs should take note that the Windy City is home to the world’s first skyscraper. The Home Insurance Building was erected in 1884 after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out more than 17,000 buildings. The building boom that followed forever changed Chicago’s landscape as architects flocked to rebuild the city, giving birth to its modern nomenclature. Today, Chicago is a world-class leader in design, with innovative hotels, cutting-edge art galleries and a buzzing dining scene. Given its design-centric roots, it’s only fitting that Chicago launched its first Architecture Biennial in 2015, distinguishing it as the only American city to host one. Today architects such as Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang are adding to the city’s continuously evolving skyline. Here’s a look at some of the most stylish and iconic spots in town.


WICKER PARK/BUCKTOWN | Spend the afternoon strolling around these adjacent neighborhoods, which are packed with trendy restaurants, cafes and boutiques. The T-Shirt Deli(1739 North Damen Avenue) creates customized tees, and samples are housed in a deli counter. Pop into Shinola(1619 North Damen Avenue) to browse the collection of leather handbags and watches made in Detroit. Need to cool off? Order a frozen buttermilk treat at the sleek Jeni’s Ice Cream (1505 North Milwaukee Avenue). The clothing boutique P45(1643 North Damen Avenue) has an industrial look and is stocked with top designers for women. Pavilion Antiques(2055 North Damen Avenue) offers a well-curated mix of vintage Scandinavian, French and Italian midcentury furniture. Head to the concept store Moth(2008 North Damen Avenue) for a collection of Nordic and Japanese clothing and housewares. Break for a freshly squeezed carrot and beet juice at Goddess and Grocer(1649 North Damen Avenue).


artinstitutechicagoTHE LOOP | Many visitors to Chicago could spend their entire trip in this neighborhood and leave completely content. This compact area is home to the city’s heavy weight cultural institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago(111 South Michigan Avenue) which, is famed for its Impressionist collection and Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing. Pop into the Beaux-Arts-style Chicago Cultural Center (78 East Washington Street) for free lectures and events, and to glimpse the largest Tiffany stained glass dome in the world. Unwind at Millennium Park(201 East Randolph Street) and take in the views of Lake Michigan or catch a performance at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Take an obligatory selfie in front of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean. Refuel with an avocado and matcha shake at the sleek Protein Bar(151 North Michigan Avenue) or dine on the terrace of Terzo Piano in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute.


[nggallery id=152 template=”sliderview” display_content=”0”]WEST LOOP/FULTON MARKET | This area is packed with art galleries and culinary hotspots. Chef Grant Achatz, of the critically acclaimed Alinea, opened his second restaurant, Next(953 West Fulton Market) here, which has a rotating, globally inspired menu. Many locals swear that the best burger in town is available at Au Cheval(800 West Randolph Street). Settle in for a glass of wine at the chic Soho House(113 North Green Street), located in a former belt factory. Nestled among the restaurants are some noteworthy boutiques, including the newly opened Rider for Life(1115 West Lake Street) which, sells vintage and refurbished furniture, women’s clothing, and art work. Aspect/Ratio(119 North Peoria Street) is a gallery specializing in video art installations. Don’t miss the bold sculptures at Mary Bartelme Park(115 South Sangamon Street).


web_ready-amanda-walkingSPOTLIGHT AMANDA SCOTESE | Can’t get enough of Chicago’s design and architecture? For a different twist on it, sign up for a tour through Chicago Detours. Amanda Scotese launched the company in 2010 as a way to “share creative, educational and fun tours of Chicago architecture, history and culture.” Tours cover the city’s interior architecture, historic bars, neighborhoods, and jazz and blues history. Scotese, who has also worked as a travel writer, shares some of her favorite local spots with ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME.

Kimski(960 West 31st Street), which just opened up on Chicago’s South Side, serves up Korean/Polish street food fusion in a futuristic beer hall space, or you can take your bites over to their next door bar, Maria’s Packaged Goods. Chicago Athletic Association rides the fashion of historic chic, as it was originally a fancy private club built in 1893. We end our 1893 World’s Fair Tour with Bars and Food here for its history and the delicious cocktails at the hotel’s very cool bars. At Half Acre Brewery (4257 North Lincoln Avenue), you can sip microbrews while pondering the years of falling grain that sculpted the wall’s undulating curves, which is made of reclaimed grain elevator wood. A walk through the Thompson Center Atrium(100 West Randolph Street) is awesome. Sunlight pours through the glass of this postmodern, Helmut Jahn-designed state building. Opened as a bar in 1934, the Hideout(1354 West Wabansia Avenue ) is a Chicago institution for drinking and music. It’s in a wood frame house in an industrial corridor – it can’t get more Chicago than this. Anyone from rock bands to DJs to comedians perform here among its wood paneled walls. The University of Chicago’s Logan Center (915 East 60th Street) is a contemporary capsule of incredible cultural resources, like Doc Films, which screens experimental, fiction and document day films on their original reels. From the rooftop deck on the 10th floor, you can get a sweeping view over the entire neo-gothic campus and more. Chicago’s new 606 trail the606.org brings together walkers, skaters and bikers of all ages along its almost three miles of green space, built on an abandoned elevated rail line. It links neighborhood communities that would otherwise likely not interact, making it a fresh and interesting public space. Many Chicagoans sensitive to architectural history love the Monadnock Building(53 West Jackson Boulevard) for its massive brick walls as it’s the tallest masonry structure ever built. This early skyscraper, with old-timey businesses inside, marble wall and mosaic floors, is also home to the Chicago Detours office.


jeanne-gang_2016SPOTLIGHT JEANNE GANG | One of the most iconic buildings to join the Chicago landscape is the Aqua Tower, designed by Jeanne Gang, the founding principal of Studio Gang studiogang.com. Completed in 2010, the building was an instant hit, thanks to its unique, undulating balconies that give the building a ripple effect as well as encouraging interaction among its residents. The Aqua Tower was Gang’s first skyscraper, and the third tallest building in the world to have a woman as lead architect.

Gang’s other notable projects include the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo and The Writers Theatre in nearby Glencoe. The MacArthur Fellow is also designing major projects throughout North America, including the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History and the new US Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil. Studio Gang shares some of their favorite Chicago spots with ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME.

[caption id=”attachment_28956″ align=”alignleft” width=”350″]062799_001 Aqua Tower[/caption]

Caffe Streets(1750 West Division Street) around the corner from our new office in the Polish National Alliance building in Wicker Park, has the best coffee in town. For a great outdoor afternoon, go to Studio Gang-designed Northerly Island(1521 South Linn White Drive) for birdwatching. If it’s rainy, consider the Field Museum(1400 South Lake Shore Drive) for its amazing collection of historic and archeological finds. As we work on the new American Museum of Natural History extension in New York, we find ourselves visiting the Field Museum more and more for inspiration. The Garfield Park Conservatory(300 North Central Park Avenue) is a great way to experience the outdoors inside their impressive greenhouses. The Graham Foundation(4 West Burton Place) bookstore has an amazingly well-curated selection of architecture and design books with a special emphasis on Chicago. Brindille(534 North Clark Street) is Jeanne’s go-to restaurant in Chicago, with sophisticated vegetarian options. An often overlooked architectural landmark, the Monadnock building(53 West Jackson Boulevard) was built in 1891 and remains the tallest load-bearing brick building ever constructed. If you go, there is a great Intelligentsia coffee shop inside. If you want to escape the city, Camp Wandawega(Elkhorn,WI) is an amazing spot, run by former clients David Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt (owners of the Brick Weave House). The Studio goes there every summer for a company-wide weekend retreat with guest lectures, birdwatching and campfires. This year will be our fifth trip together.

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