Chicago Skyscraper Spotlight: Rookery Building

Highly regarded as one of the most historically significant buildings in Chicago, it’s only natural that we would include the Rookery Building in our ongoing Chicago skyscraper spotlight series. So what does it take for a building to earn such an esteemed title – especially in a city with a skyline marked by its architectural diversity and richness? Let’s take a look.

Big Shoulders Indeed

The Rookery Building was completed in 1888 by architects Daniel Burnham and his partner John Wellborn Root, under their firm Burnham and Root. Overall, the structure is considered one of their masterpiece buildings and was even once the location of their offices. Standing at twelve stories high (188 feet total), it’s also considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.

The Rookery Building rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire. Burnham and Root were part of the Chicago School of Architects who worked to rebuild the city during that time, utilizing modern industrial techniques combined with traditional techniques and design, resulting in a truly unique product.

The unique name, too, comes with a story: only a water tank was left standing from the original structure after the fire. A temporary structure was built around this tank, and was nicknamed the “rookery” – in part because of the pigeons and crows that perched on its exterior, but also in part because of the crooked politicians it housed within.

The Rookery, Chicago
Light Well and Mezzanine at The Rookery. Credit: Alan on Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

The Rookery Building in the Modern Era

Burnham and Root weren’t the only big names to call the Rookery Building home. At one point, Frank Lloyd Wright once held offices there as well. In fact, Wright even remodeled the building’s lobby in 1905. Just a few decades ago, from 1982 to 1992, a massive renovation project was completed to restore the lobby to this original Wright design once again.

These days, the building is home to tenants such as US Bank, Brooks Brothers, Perkins Eastman and Interactive Brokers Group. Both the Frank Lloyd Wright organization and the Chicago Architectural Society offer tours inside the building, so that lovers of great architecture today can continue to appreciate its history, story, and gorgeous features.

The Life and Work of Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse is often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century. Leader of the Fauvist movement, his work was expressive, colorful and rigorous, often depicting flattened forms and decorative pattern. He operated with a unique way of seeing, stating, “I don’t paint things, I only paint the difference between things.” To understand the influential work of one of art history’s greatest minds, we first examine his life.

Matisse’s Early Life

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (1869 to 1954) was a draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor, most renowned for his work as a painter. Born to a wealthy grain merchant in Northern France, he first studied law before finding his calling as an artist. His mother gifted him art supplies during his recovery from appendicitis. Through the gift, Matisse discovered “a kind of paradise” in creation, and made the decision to abandon law for a lifelong pursuit in art. 

In the last decade of the 19th century, Matisse studied art in Paris, and was influenced by the work of early masters and modern artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Éduoard Manet. However, an 1896 trip to the island of Belle Île introduced Matisse to Australian painter John Russell, who then introduced Mattisse to Impressionism and the work of Vincent van Gogh, Russell’s dear friend. Seeing the vibrancy of Impressionism and van Gogh’s work, Mattisse’s style transformed with brilliant hues. Of his experience with Russell, Matisse said he, “explained colour theory to me.” 

The Red Room (1908), Henri Matisse.
The Red Room (1908), Henri Matisse.

The Art of Matisse

After time spent learning from Russell, Matisse was plunged into the world of Fauvism at the turn of the century. The style began around 1900, continuing beyond the first decade. Part of an innovative group later dubbed “Fauves,” Matisse explored his new understanding of color through paintings with tones bright, clashing and dissonant from those natural to their subject. Even though he helped to pioneer Fauvism, Matisse never really fit in with the crowd due to his conservative appearance and strict bourgeois work habits. And although the radical movement eventually declined, Matisse nevertheless forged on. 

The work that Matisse created during this period set the stage for the work he would create for the rest of his career. His focus on color continued, explored through what he called “construction by colored surfaces.” Even as his style and subject matter changed from abstract, to decorative interiors, to cut-out paper collages at the end of his life, this approach remained the same.

We are lucky to hang the work of Henri Matisse in our own communities. His consideration of form and color is reflective of our own thought process, and serves as a reminder that while style may change over time, a well-formed approach will always shine through.


A Tour of the Mies-designed IIT Campus

The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) is the place for Modernist architecture enthusiasts and more specifically, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe enthusiasts to be. Not to mention that the school is where Optima’s own David Hovey Sr. and David Hovey Jr. further honed their architectural education.

The campus, a place with a special place in our own heart and history, is home to the largest group of buildings designed by renowned architect Mies van der Rohe, arguably the most influential figure in American Modernism. As such, there is no better way to get an understanding of where our work began and where Modernism expanded, and to experience Mies’ philosophy than to explore the very campus that he designed and led. 

Perlstein Hall designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Perlstein Hall designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Credit: Joe Ravi on Wikimedia Commons under the license CC-BY-SA 3.0

An Overview of the Campus

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe chaired the IIT School of Architecture from 1938 to 1958. During this time, he created a new master plan for the campus, the most ambitious he ever came up with, including twenty of his own works. This collection is the greatest concentration of Mies buildings in the world. Among the twenty are famous structures such as Wishnick Hall, Perlstein Hall, Carr Memorial Chapel and S.R. Crown Hall. Perhaps Mies’ most iconic piece of work, S.R. Crown Hall is the campus gem, a modern icon and National Historic Landmark, and even heralded by Time magazine as “one of the world’s most influential, inspiring and astonishing structures.” 

Overall, the campus is a bold expression of the Modernist discipline, utilizing steel, concrete and glass minimalist frames as a radical departure from traditional college quadrangles and limestone buildings. 

An Official Architectural Tour

A tour of the campus, offered by the Chicago Architecture Center, places special emphasis on Mies’ time as head of the IIT School of Architecture. The tour covers iconic Mies structures alongside newer additions such as State Street Village, designed by Helmut Jahn. 

During the warmer season, tickets for the tour are available for purchase here. Though not required, advance reservations are recommended, and private bookings are available. Truly enhancing the reach of the experience, the ticket price also gives entrance to the Chicago Architecture Center within seven days of your tour. 

As a piece of our own history at Optima, and as a grander piece of Modernist architecture’s history in America, the IIT campus is something that must be seen to be truly understood. Whether it’s on your own or with a tour, witnessing this iconic collection of designs is a necessity. 

Redwood at Optima Signature

Our design is often driven with sustainability and efficiency in mind. This leads to the thoughtful incorporation of unconventional materials in many of our projects whether that be for the exterior facade or an interior accent. One such detail, the redwood in the lobby at Optima Signature, is an unconventional material that serves to juxtapose the strength of the building’s steel-and-glass exterior.

 A striking statement throughout the Optima Signature lobby, the barge wood adds a soft, natural texture behind the front desk, creating a stark contrast to the surrounding steel and glass. The wood lines the north wall of the lobby in long planks and is the first sight to greet residents and visitors when they enter the building. Though now on display for all in our community, the wood came all the way from California in the 1850s.

Barge wood in the lobby at Optima Signature.
Barge wood in the lobby at Optima Signature.

The planks are redwood, formed from one massive log that sat on the bottom of the Big River in Mendocino California. This particular log was a “sinker,” the name given to the handful of logs that unfortunately sank during their river journey from a redwood forest to the sawmill at the mouth of the Big River, not far from San Francisco. 

For over 100 years, the log sat at the bottom of the Big River, until it was salvaged by Arky Ciancutti. Ciancutti began a redwood salvage business in the 1970s, raising large redwood logs that had previously sat forgotten at the bottom of the river. This particular log, Ciancutti determined, was from the first growth period of the redwood forest. He knew this because it was more than six feet in diameter and had axe-shaven markings at its ends, indicating that it was cut down, prior to the invention of the “raker tooth” saw of the late 1800s.

A close-up look at the barge wood at Optima Signature.
A close-up look at the barge wood at Optima Signature.

Having sat in the river for over one hundred years in mineral-rich water, this redwood log developed a truly rare and unique “curl” pattern within the grain of the wood. To highlight this unique feature, the wood was cut into three-inch-planks that ran the full length of the log. We then carefully installed these planks, with their raw beauty intact, leaving the live edges of the wood as is. The planks were then hung vertically in the lobby space, the orientation the same from which they grew. 

From a river in California to the lobby of a Chicago residential building, our barge wood at Optima Signature has a unique story that connects our urban lobby back to nature, and reflects our commitment to sustainability and longevity. 

A Transparency on Glass

Whale Bay House, Optima DCHGlobal, Inc., New Zealand.
Whale Bay House, Optima DCHGlobal, Inc., New Zealand.

For decades, glass has been a stylistic signature of Modernist architecture. From the first Modernist structure ever built to the steel-and-glass aesthetic of Modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the material has provided a timeless transparency that is crucial to minimalist design. But glass hasn’t always been as functional as it is aesthetic. 

A History of Glass

Glass is one of the oldest man-made materials, with use dating back to 7000 B.C. It was first utilized for decorative purposes in 3000 B.C. by Egyptians mainly in pottery and other decorative trinkets and first used as windows by the Romans around 500 B.C.

However, at that time, the masonry required to create glass also didn’t allow for larger, stronger pieces to be created, so its use was therefore sequestered to windows and detailing, such as stained glass murals.

In the 19th century, the manufacturing renaissance introduced iron, steel and other materials that provided the strength and durability necessary to support larger glass constructions. The support of these materials, combined with the capability to produce glass in larger sheets, allowed architects to experiment with creating structures utilizing glass in more creative ways.

The Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton.
The Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton.

The Crystal Palace

This new design potential allowed for greenhouses, large railway stations and other public structures to be made of glass. Such new usages inspired Joseph Paxton, an architect in London, to design the Crystal Palace in 1851 using 300,000 sheets of glass. The Crystal Palace was the first architectural creation to utilize an all-glass exterior, and is also considered the first Modernist structure ever created.  

To overcome the harsh effects of a glass exterior, Paxton utilized translucent screens of calico hung externally between the ridge beams of the structure’s roof glazing, covering the entire exposed rooftop and protecting against the transparent building’s vulnerability to heat. This functional feature eventually transitioned into a cornerstone piece of Modernist design. 

7120 Optima Kierland in the Kierland neighborhood of Scottsdale, AZ.
7120 Optima Kierland in the Kierland neighborhood of Scottsdale, AZ.

Glass at Optima

The idea of transparency, open space and functional materials are still relevant and desirable today. At Optima, we use floor-to-ceiling glass to create an indoor-outdoor relationship, allowing for sweeping views and connecting our indoor living spaces with the natural spaces just outside.

At 7120 Optima Kierland, we use a combination of low-e, UV-treated glass, perforated sunscreens and horizontal louvers, to create texture and rich variation of shades and shadows, while allowing for breathtaking views.

Optima Signature in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, IL
Optima Signature in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, IL

At Optima Signature, glass preserves the sweeping lake views to the east and dynamic city views in all other directions. Glass also unifies Optima Signature with its sister tower to the west, Optima Chicago Center. While the glass curtainwalls of each building are different — silver-toned in the case Optima Chicago Center, and transparent green for Optima Signature — the podiums share a unifying black ceramic frit glass with dot pattern. Optima Signature expands the palette with areas of red glass that wrap the podium as it extends south to define the east edge of the plaza.

As we reflect on the history of glass and how it has become a viable aesthetic and functional choice when designing today, we return to the material time and again to design and build the stunning Modernist steel-and-glass structures in our portfolio.

Isamu Noguchi Spotlight

For our projects, design doesn’t stop on the outside of our buildings. We carefully curate each and every interior to be an activating space that is at once beautiful and inviting. As part of that careful curation, many of our spaces feature furniture designed by Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese American artist, landscape architect, sculptor and furniture designer.

The Mid-century Modern “Airplane” Bimorphic Coffee Table, designed by Isamu Noguchi, at 7120 Optima Kierland.
The Mid-century Modern “Airplane” Bimorphic Coffee Table, designed by Isamu Noguchi, at 7120 Optima Kierland.

The Style of Isamu Noguchi

Born in 1904, Isamu Noguchi became one of the 20th century’s most critically acclaimed and important sculptors. His sculptural work covered a wide range of creations, spanning from sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting designs, ceramics, architecture and set designs. Midway through his career, Noguchi became inspired by the idea of a more reduced form, focusing on an abstract and Modernist approach to create intriguing designs that elicited emotional reactions.  

“Everything is sculpture,” Isamu Noguchi once said. “Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.” Noguchi believed that as a sculptor, he could shape space to give it order and meaning, contextualized by the surroundings in which it existed. 

It was only natural that furniture fell into his wheelhouse. Perhaps his most popular work, Noguchi designed a glass-topped table in 1947 to be produced by Herman Miller. The base of the table is made up of two identical wooden pieces, reversed and connected, and topped with a heavy plate glass top. When first sold, the table was marketed in the Herman Miller catalogue as “sculpture-for-use” and “design for production.” Noguchi strongly believed in producing his designs for mass market in order to bring fine art into the home. 

At Optima, we are proud to showcase Noguchi’s furniture within our own spaces, designs which serve to amplify and activate the evocative Modernist exteriors and interiors of our buildings.


Community Growth and the Importance of Retail Space

At Optima, we don’t just construct buildings, we create communities. At every step of our process, from selecting location, to construction, to leasing and renting out our retail space, we make decisions leveraging what we can provide to enhance our residents’ lives and the lives of the people in the surrounding neighborhood. 

At Optima Signature in Chicago, our retail tenants include Egg Harbor Cafe, Guidepost Montessori School, RUNAWAY Fitness, Bedazzled Nails and GoodVets. These amenities enhance the lives of our residents and neighbors, creating onsite amenities and vibrant gathering places that encourage connection and socialization. Not only are our retail tenants adding to Optima Signature, but they contribute to the greater Streeterville community Egg Harbor is a beloved breakfast staple in the Chicago suburbs, and their Optima Signature location will be their debut in downtown Chicago. And Guidepost Montessori School was the first of its kind for the neighborhood.

At Optima Sonoran Village in Scottsdale, one of our retail tenants, Kaleidoscope Juice, has become a place where people can meet old and new friends over a meal, juice or coffee throughout the day. Residents might meet someone in the gym at Optima Sonoran Village and decide to reconvene on their patio — having the retail space to gather deepens connections within the community, allowing residents to get to know their neighbors. 

When selecting our tenants, it’s vital to our mission that the retail we bring to our communities is additive, contributing new spaces for our residents to use and bringing much needed and desired resources to the neighborhoods we call home.


Optima Sculpture Spotlight: Kiwi

A subtle but enhancing feature of many Optima projects, our sculptures adorn courtyards, amenity floors and common spaces. David Hovey Sr’s devotion to space and form translates from architecture to three-dimensional pieces, which are placed throughout our buildings to add a distinct aesthetic flair to our Modernist spaces. 

Greeting both residents and visitors at the entrance of Optima Signature, the sculpture Kiwi was named after the same bird native to New Zealand, where David Hovey Sr was born. Although the sculpture is reminiscent of an animal, Hovey’s vision was something much more abstract. Starting out as a handful of freehand drawings, the sculpture was layered until it formed a tall, stacked piece. Set against the bold red of Optima Signature, Kiwi’s bright yellow color pops amidst the neutral-toned buildings within downtown Chicago. 

A yellow abstract sculpture, Kiwi, stands before Optima Signature.

The finishing touch on Kiwi’s Optima Signature location was installation; the base was carefully cemented into the ground to protect it from the bustle of downtown and the intense Chicago weather. Aside from its prominent location at Optima Signature, Kiwi is also featured at Relic Rock and Whale Bay House

David Hovey Sr’s passion for sculpture reflects our collective passion for enhancing the spaces we build and exploring new interpretations of form, color and design. Stay tuned for more features on our other sculpture pieces. 

Wellness at Optima Signature

As with most luxury high rises in downtown Chicago, Optima Signature includes spaces specifically dedicated to resident amenities. Unlike most luxury high rises, Optima Signature’s amenity spaces span 1.5 acres across several floors, creating an unparalleled living experience for residents. We curate our amenity spaces with wellness in mind, designing to meet the physical and mental health needs of the people who enjoy our space. 

Let the Light In

With floor-to-ceiling windows that show off breathtaking views of our Streeterville neighborhood, our amenity floors are the perfect spot to work from home and soak up some extra Vitamin D. In addition to energizing a space, natural light can help ward off seasonal depression, which is essential for the long Chicago winters. It can also aid in regulating your natural sleep cycle, which can seriously impact your mood. So whether residents are catching up on emails or catching up with friends, our amenity spaces are the perfect place to soak up some sun.

We curate our amenity spaces at Signature with wellness in mind, designing to meet the physical and mental health needs of the people who enjoy our space. 

Get Active

Optima Signature features resort-style indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools, a cutting-edge fitness center, basketball, squash and bocce ball courts, golf simulator and putting green, yoga studio and more; needless to say there are plenty of ways for residents to get active and stay in shape. And with spa amenities such as indoor and outdoor saunas and steam rooms, decompressing after a long workout (or a long day at work) is always convenient. 

We curate our amenity spaces at Signature with wellness in mind, designing to meet the physical and mental health needs of the people who enjoy our space. 

Be Social

Along with physical wellness, Optima Signature’s amenities also provide resources for social wellness, which research shows increases mindful habits and lowers depression rates. Club 52, a residents-only club and amenity floor, features an outdoor kitchen, wine lockers, community lounge, and an outdoor terrace, allowing residents to mingle and get to know each other. On Level 20, the coffee bar, library, movie theater, demonstration kitchen, business center, conference room and coworking space encourages residents to connect with their friends and family.

From pools to green spaces, each of our projects feature aspects of healthy living. Helping our residents stay well is part of how we enhance the lives of those who live in our buildings, and how we stay connected to each of our projects.

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Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL

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