From the luminous architecture to the award-winning restaurants, design aficionados revel in the city’s best.
There are several theories about why Chicago is dubbed the Second City. One is that a fire in 1871 so completely razed it that a whole new “second” city had to be built. And that it was. Just 22 years later, Chicago was in a position to host a wildly successful World Exposition.
The other refers to the city being deemed second in size and stature to that other great American metropolis, New York, which it famously competed with as the site of the Exposition. Whatever the origin, 21st century Chicago will delight lovers of design, art, architecture, and culture.
First of all—where to stay? There’s no shortage of great hotels, but The Langham will have special appeal for design hounds.
It’s situated in the first 13 floors of the 52-storey AMA Plaza, which was designed in the early 1970s by Mies van der Rohe, the highly influential architect who left Germany and came to Chicago in the late 1930s.
Interior spaces are uniformly stunning. The Langham Club includes a library outfitted with exceptional mid-century modern furniture, including Ray Eames’ iconic lounge chair. Suspended from the soaring ceiling of the reception area is a breathtaking installation of more than 500 glass “pebbles” created by Czech design house Lasvit. Sprinkled throughout the hotel is a fine-art collection that includes pieces by such important artists as David Klamen, Enon Perez, and Jaume Plensa.
The Langham is just steps away from the Chicago River, which, as a link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, ensured that the city became a hub for transportation and industry.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation runs several tours, including a 90-minute river tour that passes more than 50 buildings. A visit to the Art Institute of Chicago is a must.
A short ride from downtown is Oak Park, home to Robie House, perhaps the greatest existing example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust conducts tours, which can be combined with a walking tour of the historic Oak Park neighbourhood, where U.S. President Barak Obama has a home.
Decor lovers will want to browse the studios in the emerging area known as the River North Design District.
If you like the idea of combining splendid dining and superb design, go to Brindille, the Parisian-influenced restaurant that won a 2015 James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design.
Located in a century-old building, its interior is the work of Chicago designer Tom Nahabedian. Silk-velvet wallcoverings, walnut finishes with rich brass accents warm the room, while a large forest-inspired piece by local artist Lora Forsberg plays on the theme of branches (Brindille is the French word for branch). Nahabedian’s cousin, Chef Carrie, already famous for Chicago eatery Naha, oversees the exquisite menu.
For a uniquely American menu, and to see walls lined with 600 of a 1,600-long wine list, head back to the Langham’s Travelle restaurant, which overlooks another famous landmark, the circular Marina Towers.
After a visit to Chicago, you may be ready to offer yet another interpretation of its nickname: second to none.
Art Institute of Chicago artic.edu
River North Design District rivernorthdesigndistrict.com
Frank Lloyd Wright Trust flwright.org
The Chicago Architecture Foundation architecture.org
The Langham langhamhotels.com/chicago