Arts & Entertainment

#Chicitecture: The return of Chicago’s shoreline shapes

Photo by Ellen Bauch // Loyola PHOENIX

A recent trending Instagram hashtag , #chicitecture, has been bringing urbanites’ appreciation back to the architectural wonders of Chicago. The posts using this hashtag display crisp and geometric images of the city’s multiple modern landmarks, from the John Hancock Center to the Marina City towers downtown and many more.

Chicago has been frequently credited as the birthplace of modern architectural movements such as commercial style and prairie style. The city has been a staple in global architectural influence since the late 19th century, when it rebuilt itself out of the rubble from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. As the skyline continues to fill with skyscrapers, local artists and architectural firms have started to stray from the classic rectangular designs in favor of newer, more innovative ones.

This newfound lust for structural modernity has reached 20 and 30-somethings, who’ve exploded in related creative endeavors as a result. The Phoenix hand-picked a few of these architectural happenings from skyline mazes to potential museums to investigate further.

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The a-MAZE-ing puzzle

A 30-year-old resident of the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, Matthew Haussler has finished what could be a new world record for maze art — if only anyone could solve it.

At the end of January, the bank teller-turned-artist unveiled his latest 74-foot-long (the length of a semi-truck) masterpiece at Block Thirty Seven (108 N. State St.) depicting the waterfront skyline of Chicago from the viewpoint of Grant Park.

The maze takes solvers on a journey through ornate bends and details of historic buildings while winding through the lakeside parks of the city.  If you want to take a shot at solving it, you can visit his website where it is electronically posted until Haussler finds a gallery willing to permanently house the physical copy.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s event, now officially titled “The State of the Art of Architecture,” will be running from October 2015 to January 2016. The location is yet to be announced, but it will act as a platform for conversation between contemporary urban planners, architectural firms, structural theorists and many other creatives in the field.

As stated on the event’s official website, this event will celebrate current architectural projects and urban planning experiments taking place internationally, and will host “The Lakefront Competition.” This competition is for creating an innovative shoreline structure. The winning entry will win the prestigious BP prize.

This prize includes a grant that allows the winner to build their structure with funding by BP oil company. The prize is a $10,000 honorarium for design development and the budget to build the design is $75,000. The competition is open to domestic and international applicants, either individual or as a part of a design team. The lead applicant of the team must have graduated from an accredited professional architecture program.

Emanuel hopes the outcome of this event will enhance the lakefront experience for the city’s residents, as well as bring together the world’s leaders in urban planning and development.

UNESCO loves Robie

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House has been nominated to be a new world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The structure was designed and built from 1908 to 1910, and is located on the University of Chicago’s campus in Hyde Park. The house has been considered an icon of prairie style architecture and is often referred to as Wright’s masterpiece by architectural professionals and art historians alike.  It has already received prestigious titles, including its status as a National Historic Landmark.

Unfortunately, the house’s current state requires a fair amount of restoration work: the wall finishes, coloring, leaded glass windows and indoor and outdoor lighting need restoration or replacement, to name a few. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is currently raising money for these repairs.

After Wright himself lobbied against the destruction of the house, its ownership was given to the University of Chicago.

If Chicago is lucky enough to have this structure become a new world heritage site, it will be the first piece of modern architecture on the list and will join other American icons such as the Grand Canyon, Mammoth Cave, Independence Hall and the Statue of Liberty — a true honor for the city.

A museum for the movie mogul

George Lucas, science-fiction producing guru, may have an exciting new museum coming to the shore of Chicago. The project is highly controversial, in regards to its proposed location, exterior and subject matter. The producer is widely known for his work on the Star Wars franchise, Indiana Jones series and American Graffiti.

While the location is not yet confirmed, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art would aim to join the staple collection of museums established from the buildings of the Chicago World Fair of 1893 such as the Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Drive) and the Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Lake Shore Drive).

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Its purpose would be to create a revolutionary new type of museum that highlights cinematic and digital arts, including lecture series and exclusive traveling exhibitions. The proposed structure of the building has drawn both enthusiasm and criticism.

Beijing-based architectural firm MAD Architects has begun to investigate the technicalities of the infrastructure, while Chicago-based urban planners Studio Gang Architects has begun planning the surrounding landscape, as well as a bridge that will connect the museum to Northerly Island.

Inspired by the horizontal simplicity of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and German modernist architect Mies Van der Rohe, the Lucas Museum would feature an organic and continuous hill-like building.

The icy white exterior makes the museum’s proposal look futuristic, but the curvature and slope-like shapes blend in with the natural surroundings.

Many residents are against the construction of this new museum. Arguments against the design claim its proximity to Soldier Field creates an unbearable contrast of style against the older surrounding buildings. Many also argue that the proposal is excessively massive, and if it was built on the already crowded lakefront, it would ruin the shoreline. Emanuel announced his reluctance about the project, saying he does not want to burden tax payers to keep the museum open if its revenue doesn’t suffice. But many excitedly await the construction.

The enthusiasts believe the museum’s design works well with its purpose and will make a positive addition to the shore of Chicago.

Obama’s Presidential Library

Funded by the Barack Obama Foundation, Obama’s presidential library will act as a museum to showcase the president’s achievements and successes throughout his career.

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Currently, the proposed locations for the museum are Chicago, New York and Honolulu. The Chicago Architectural Club recently held a design competition for which the winning two design entries were revealed earlier this month.

Design team Zhu Wenyi, Fu Junsheng and Liang Yiang won judges over with their futuristic “floating ring.” In this design, elevated pathways bring the visitor up to the ring, which is divided into six sections: early life and career, legislative career, presidential campaigns, presidency, public image, family and personal life.

The other winning entry, by designer Aras Burek Sen, is a large sphere with random chunks carved out from its surface. In this design, visitors will go through eight different levels of the museum, with each floor showcasing a different year in his presidency.

Both University of Chicago and University of Illinois in Chicago have offered to host the museum on their campuses. However, the placement of either of these museums has caused controversy because the proposed locations intrude on the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who created Jackson Park and the areas surrounding the site of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

The abandoned spire and the awkward Hole

The Chicago Spire was a grandiose idea that succumbed to the developer’s $100 million debt. The proposed 2,000-foot spire’s construction was called off in November 2014 because of bankruptcy. The structure was meant to be the second tallest skyscraper in the world. It’s leftover foundation, a 76-foot-deep hole in the ground located at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive, has become a canvas for local architectural firms. Proposed designs have ranged from eccentric to environmentally friendly. Some highlight blueprints include a swimming pool, “Chicago beacon” (which would be part lighthouse, part residential skyscraper) or a seven-level underground amphitheater.


Chicago is known for many cultural and artistic outlets. However, the city’s architectural happenings have boosted its relevance among other metropolises around the globe in the past two centuries. The ever-growing skyline of Chicago and its iconic location on the shores of Lake Michigan continue to inspire tourists and residents alike.

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