What is the chief characteristic of the tall office building? It is lofty. It must be tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it, the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exaltation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.
– Louis Sullivan, American architect, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, 1898
A River cruise of Chicago architecture
Upon recommendation of friends, we booked a boat tour of Chicago’s riverfront architecture. The morning of the tour was cold and foggy, but we persevered. The sites were no less impressive. Victor, our tour guide, was well versed in the history of Chicago’s architecture, as was expected, but he was so passionate about sharing that history and being a voice in preserving the riverfront’s architectural integrity. We started at the Navy Pier and worked our way up two of the three forks in the river.
It is amazing to learn about the history of buildings. For instance, the U.S. postal building was this massive building built in the early twentieth century to accommodate the Federal Reserve printing notes and stock certificates and the large mail-order business of Sears and other retail companies. Snail mail has given way to the Internet as a common form of communication, which has led to the postal building’s demise. It has sat empty for years, awaiting redevelopment plans to transform it into residential and retail use.
The riverfront is home to a mix of buildings – some post-industrial and massive, others tall and slender, and created out of green glass and steel. All rising to create a beautiful cityscape. While there are disputes as to which city had the first skyscraper, Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, completed in 1885 but no longer in existence, has been recognized for being the first to be framed in steel. One of my favorite buildings is the Tribune Tower, with its Gothic crown and flying buttresses. Interestingly, Colonel Robert McCormick, the head of the Chicago Tribune requested that journalists embed fragments of historically significant buildings from all over the world into the base of the Tribune Tower. Such fragments include the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and the Alamo in San Antonio, TX. Another favorite is the Wrigley Building, owned by the chewing gum tycoon, which was the tallest building in Chicago when it was built in the early 1920s.
Museum of Science and Industry
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (5700 South Lake Shore Drive, 773.684.1414), which opened in 1933, is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. It houses 35,000 artifacts and nearly 14 acres of scientific experiences, and is located in a massive building near the University of Chicago campus. We were there for five hours, and it wasn’t enough time to see everything that we were interested in seeing. At times overwhelming, the museum is best approached in small chunks; we slowly made our way around each section of the floor, though some exhibits were sold out or we had to make decisions about what we really wanted to see in the amount of time we had.
We saw the film The Last Reef in the Omnimax Theater, a five-story, domed, wraparound theater. The reef is near the Bikini Atoll, part of the Micronesia Islands of the Pacific Ocean. It was amazing to see marine life from the ocean floor, magnified. What stood out for me is seeing the abandoned decommissioned ships and stone statues that are deliberately sunk to encourage coral and other life to grow and create new “communities.” The stone statues are, ironically, people with their eyes closed. Many already were covered with algae and other life forms. The statues are haunting and mesmerizing.
Jacob’s favorite exhibit was the U-505 submarine, the only German submarine in the United States’ possession. This submarine was captured on June 4, 1944. There were 37 bunk beds in the submarine, but at one time 59 sailors were on the boat, which meant that while men slept in the lice-infested beds, others worked. They were often out to sea for roughly four months, with nary a shower or a washing of their clothes. Isabella’s favorite exhibit was Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery, which featured an incubator where new-born chicks had just chipped their way out of their shells. You could see many eggs with cracks, but we’re told that it can take up to 10 hours for a chick to get out of its shell, after 21 days of a hen laying an egg.
Science Storms was an impressive and expansive exhibit that showed how avalanches and tornadoes are created in large scale. The Great Train Story connects Seattle to Chicago through 1,400 feet of track and more than 20 miniature trains traversing across miniature mountains, valleys, and towns. We all love trains, especially older trains, so it was a thrill to pretend we were traveling on the Silver Streak, the Pioneer Zephyr, which was one of the country’s first diesel-electric streamlined passenger trains. Just like on the airplanes, cars were divided up into coach, business class, and first class, which was a private compartment that seated six in the last car. Farm Tech was a strange exhibit in that it was about the latest innovations in agriculture. Can you say genetically modified organisms?
After returning to the Loop, we attempted to catch dinner at Frontera Grill (445 North Clark Street, 312.661.1434), the Rick Bayless restaurant, well known for its Mexican cuisine. With two starving children, we couldn’t swing the two-hour wait. Another strikeout in terms of enjoying recommended Chicago food. We have not given up on making it to recommended restaurants. Stay tuned.