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Exploring the Clarke-Ford House: A Journey Through Chicago’s Architectural Past

Imagine walking through the doors of a house that has seen Chicago transform from a small town into the bustling city it is today. Welcome to the Clarke-Ford House, Chicago’s oldest home. At Optima®, we’re passionate about uncovering the stories that shape our community’s unique character, and the Clarke-Ford House offers a fascinating chapter in the story of Chicago.

Dating back to 1836, the Clarke-Ford House was originally the residence of Henry Brown Clarke-Ford. Its journey through time is as captivating as the city’s own tale of growth and resilience. The house has survived two major relocations, echoing the spirit of adaptability that characterizes Chicago. Today, it stands proudly in the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens in the Near South Side, a serene oasis amidst the city’s hustle and bustle.

The Clarke-Ford House stands as a wonderful example of Greek Revival architecture, popular in the 19th century. Its symmetrical facade, accented with classic columns and a gabled roof, transports visitors back to an era of architectural elegance. The meticulously preserved features offer a window into the craftsmanship of early American architecture.

ClarkeFordHouseInterior2
Interior of the Clarke-Ford House, Credit to John W. Iwanski flickr

Now serving as a museum, the Clarke-Ford House allows visitors to step into a world from over a century ago. It’s not just a tour of a historic building; it’s an immersive experience into the life and times of the early settlers of Chicago. The house stands as a testament to the city’s enduring history and cultural richness.

Recognized as a Chicago Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Clarke-Ford House symbolizes more than just historical preservation. It represents the city’s journey from its infancy to its current status as a global hub.

ClarkeFordHouseInterior1
Interior of the Clarke-Ford House, Credit to John W. Iwanski flickr

We invite you to explore the Clarke-Ford House and connect with a piece of Chicago’s past. It’s an experience that enriches our understanding of the city and offers a moment of reflection on the journey that has shaped this vibrant community. Find more information about visits and tours here.

 

Women in Architecture: Raili Peitilä

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting Raili Peitilä, a Finnish architect whose collaborative work has left a significant imprint on modern architecture. Her contributions reflect a deep engagement with nature and an innovative approach to design. Learn more about her remarkable achievements and life below:

The Life of Raili Peitilä

Born August 15, 1926, in Finland, Raili Peitilä’s early life was steeped in the rich cultural and natural landscape of her homeland. The early exposure to the wonders of nature profoundly influenced her architectural vision later in life. Her journey into architecture began at the Helsinki University of Technology, an institution known for its rigorous approach to technical and creative education.

It was there that she refined her architectural skills and also cultivated a keen understanding of the interplay between built forms and their environmental contexts. During her university years, Raili met Reima Pietilä, a fellow student who would become her life partner and professional collaborator. Their meeting sparked a partnership that would greatly influence Finnish architecture and beyond.

Kavela Church, Tampere, Finland
Kaleva Church, Tampere, Finland, 1964, Credit to Ali Eminov flickr

Notable Works and Achievements

Raili Peitilä, along with her husband, believed in creating architecture that was deeply integrated with its natural surroundings. This philosophy was evident in one of their most recent major projects, the Dipoli Student Union Building at the Helsinki University of Technology. With its organic form and innovative use of space, the building reflected their commitment to harmonizing architecture with nature.

Their work at the Kaleva Church and the Tempere’s Main Library Metso further established them as pioneers in the field. These buildings showcased their ability to blend modernist ideals with organic forms, earning them both national and international acclaim.

Main Library in Tampere
Tampere’s Main Library Metso, 1986, Credit to Wikimedia Commons

One of Peitilä’s most notable projects, the Finnish Embassy in India in 2018, is a testament to her imaginative and forward-thinking design approach. Similarly, the Tampere Main Library, another significant project, was celebrated for its interactive and user-friendly design, reflecting Peitilä’s deep understanding of public space and communal needs.

Finnish Embassy in New Delhi
Finnish Embassy in New Delhi, India, 1985, Credit to Aalto University Archive

The legacy of Raili Peitilä in architecture is multifaceted. Her work not only contributed significantly to the architectural landscape but also inspired future generations of architects to think more creatively about the relationship between buildings and their natural environment. Through her projects, Peitilä has shown us that architecture can transcend the creation of mere structures to become integrated works of art that live in harmony with their surroundings.

 

How Diversity in Architectural Styles Lends Vibrancy to Communities

At Optima®, we’re passionate about design and architecture, not just as forms of artistic expression but as vital elements that contribute to the vibrancy of communities. Across the places where we build, our “forever modern” design philosophy enhances our neighborhoods with unique character, playing a critical role in enhancing the architectural mix, creating a rich tapestry for people to enjoy today…and tomorrow.

A Melting Pot of Architectural Styles

Architecture is like a visual language, telling the story of a place through its buildings. From the ornate flourishes of Art Deco to the sleek lines of Modernism, each style reflects the cultural, historical, and technological zeitgeist of its era. When these different styles coexist in a community, they create a dynamic and visually engaging environment.

Take, for instance, a walk through a city where every corner reveals a different architectural era. The Gothic revival church with its pointed arches and elaborate stonework stands in contrast to the glass and steel of a contemporary skyscraper. This juxtaposition isn’t just about the old meeting the new; it’s a dialogue between different times and ideas, a landscape that tells the story of change and continuity.

View-of-Optima-Signature®-from-Chicago-River
View of Optima Signature® from Chicago River

Optima’s “Forever Modern” Contribution

At Optima, our approach is grounded in the belief that modernism isn’t a static style but an evolving language that responds to current trends, technologies, and lifestyles. By integrating the latest materials and design innovations, our buildings add a layer of contemporary elegance to the architectural conversation within communities.

Our designs, characterized by clean lines, open spaces, and a harmonious blend with the surrounding environment, offer a fresh perspective that complements the existing architectural diversity. For example, the sleek silhouette of an Optima building can highlight the ornate details of a neighboring Victorian building in downtown Wilmette, making both styles stand out.

Creating Dynamic and Interesting Communities

The beauty of diverse architectural styles lies in their ability to create vibrant, interesting, and dynamic communities. This diversity is partly visual, but it also reflects the varied experiences, histories, and values of the people who inhabit these spaces. It fosters a sense of place, where residents and visitors can feel a connection to both the past and the future.

Our commitment to modern design at Optima doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s part of a broader architectural narrative, where different styles coalesce to create a community that’s dynamic, visually engaging, and rich with stories. As architects and designers, we relish the opportunity to contribute to these narratives, because it’s in these spaces that communities truly come alive, pulsating with energy and beauty.

Women in Architecture: Itsuko Hasegawa

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re celebrating the incredible work of Itsuko Hasegawa, a trailblazer in the worlds of design and architecture. Hasegawa’s unique blend of traditional Japanese elements and modern design techniques has established her as a leading figure in the architectural realm, inspiring us with her innovative and thoughtful creations.

The Life of Itsuko Hasegawa
Born in 1941 in Yaizu, Japan, Itsuko Hasegawa was raised in a post-war era brimming with opportunities for growth and innovation. Hasegawa’s early life was marked by an exposure to education, a privilege that paved the way for her future achievements. After graduating from Kanto Gakuin University in 1964, she further honed her skills at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. It was during this period that Hasegawa’s architectural philosophy began to take shape, influenced by both modern advancements and the rich tapestry of traditional Japanese design.

A pivotal moment in Hasegawa’s early career was her time working with the renowned architect Kiyonori Kikutake, a leading figure in the Metabolist Movement. This experience significantly impacted her design approach, blending modernist techniques with an inherent appreciation for natural and cultural harmony.

Itsuko Hasegawa sofa
A sofa designed by Itsuko Hasegawa held in the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, Photo from Wikipedia

Notable Works and Achievements
In 1979, Hasegawa established her own firm, Itsuko Hasegawa Atelier, marking the beginning of a series of groundbreaking projects that would define her career. Her work is characterized by a deep sensitivity to the environment and a unique understanding of space.

Shonandai Cultural Centre in Fujisaw
Shonandai Cultural Centre, Itsuko Hasegawa Atelier, 1987, Photo from Wikipedia

One of Hasegawa’s most acclaimed projects is the Shonandai Cultural Centre in Fujisawa.

Built in 1987, this cultural hub is a testament to her ability to create dynamic and fluid spaces that resonate with the community. The build features a mixture of various forms, including two domed structures and a scattering of hut-like forms that resemble flowers blooming and defy traditional architectural arrangement.

Another significant work is the Sumida Culture Factory in Tokyo, a project that underscores her commitment to functional and engaging public spaces. Built in 1994, the complex acts as another example of Hasegawa’s creation of a landscape. The factory features various interconnected design elements, including a grand dome and two defining catenary roofs.

Sumida Culture Factory
The Sumida Culture Factory, Tokyo, Itsuko Hasegawa Atelier, 1994, Photo from Google Maps

Her contribution to architecture has been recognized with several awards, including the Architectural Institute of Japan’s Design Prize for the Brizan Hall, the Japan Cultural Design Award, the Japan Art Academy Award and the prestigious Royal Academy of Art’s Architecture Prize.

Hasegawa’s influence extends beyond her architectural projects. Her roles as a professor and lecturer in various international institutions have allowed her to impact the next generation of architects, advocating for greater diversity and creativity in the field.

Itsuko Hasegawa’s journey is not just about building structures; it’s about building dreams and inspiring change. Hasegawa’s legacy is a powerful reminder of how architecture can transcend mere buildings to become a medium for cultural expression and community engagement.

What Pantone’s Color of the Year Tells us About 2024 Trends

In the ever-changing world of design, Pantone’s Color of the Year is much more than a trendsetter. It’s a window into the collective mood and emerging cultural shifts. This year, Pantone brings us ‘Peach Fuzz’ for 2024, a color that wraps up warmth, community, and nurturing vibes into one delightful package.

Pantone’s selection of Peach Fuzz, a hue that balances the vibrancy of pink with the warmth of orange, isn’t just a pretty shade. Pantone notes the color embodies a sense of nurturing and tenderness, offering tranquility in our fast-paced lives. Peach Fuzz symbolizes a shift towards gentleness, encouraging us to pause and appreciate the simpler aspects of life. It represents a move towards a softer approach in our interactions and environments, resonating with a contemporary yet timeless appeal. 

Credit: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels
Credit: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

The choice of Peach Fuzz for 2024 is a response to the growing desire for empathy and deeper connections in our society. This color reflects an understanding of the importance of mental and physical well-being, amidst our busy lives. It’s a call to embrace moments of peace, creativity, and human connection. Peach Fuzz is about fostering a sense of community and cherishing the time spent with friends and family. It highlights the trend towards valuing inner fulfillment and the joy of simple pleasures, aligning with a more thoughtful and intentional way of living.

The selection of Peach Fuzz as Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2024 points towards a trend that deeply resonates with us at Optima: the gravitation towards earthy, outdoor, and nature-inspired aesthetics. This choice speaks to a broader cultural shift where design is increasingly embracing the warmth and tranquility of natural elements, reflecting a desire to connect more deeply with our environment. 

Credit: Leah Kelley, Pexels
Credit: Leah Kelley, Pexels

At Optima, this trend towards nature-centric design is something we have long embraced. Our commitment to creating spaces that are in harmony with the natural world is evident in every aspect of our communities. From the lush greenery that adorns our living spaces to the thoughtful integration of natural light and outdoor elements, we strive to create environments where nature and modern living coexist in balance. 

As we move into 2024, the influence of Peach Fuzz in design trends suggests a continuation of this journey toward spaces that celebrate the beauty and simplicity of the natural world. In embracing Peach Fuzz, we’re not just following a trend; we’re reaffirming our commitment to creating spaces that foster well-being, connection, and a deeper appreciation for the simple joys of life.

Furniture Spotlight: Verner Panton Cloverleaf Sofa

As we continue our exploration of the carefully curated modernist furnishings at Optima communities, we’re excited to spotlight a distinctive piece gracing the lobby of Optima Lakeview: the Cloverleaf Sofa by Verner Panton. This iconic piece not only enhances the aesthetic of our space but also embodies the innovative spirit of its creator.

Verner Panton, renowned for his futuristic design approach, revolutionized the way we think about furniture and space. His works, characterized by bold colors and futuristic forms, made him a seminal figure in 20th-century design. Considered one of Denmark’s most notable furniture and interior designers, many of Verner’s designs, including the Cloverleaf Sofa, Cone Chair, Panton Chair, Shell Lamp and Panthella Lamp still remain popular and in production today. 

The Cloverleaf Sofa, designed by Panton in 1969/1970 as part of the Visiona 2 exhibition, is meant to be more than just a seating arrangement. It’s a conversation starter and a space transformer. Resembling the sections of a cloverleaf, its interlocking parts and modular build allows for various configurations, making it a versatile addition to our communities. 

The Cloverleaf Sofa at Optima Lakeview

Panton’s mastery in blending form and function is evident in the Cloverleaf Sofa. Its snake-like ergonomic design ensures comfort, while its aesthetic appeal makes it a focal point in any setting. Crafted with top-tier materials, this sofa is not just a testament to Panton’s design genius but also to the enduring quality of his creations.

Installed in the heart of Optima Lakeview, the Cloverleaf Sofa does more than just transform the space. It connects us to a time when designers like Panton were pushing the boundaries of form and function, echoing the technological progress of the late 20th century.

The Cloverleaf Sofa at Optima Lakeview
The Cloverleaf Sofa at Optima Lakeview

Today, the Cloverleaf Sofa is not just a piece of furniture; it’s a symbol of commitment to integrating artistic and functional designs in our living spaces. It exemplifies how classic design can coexist with modern living, encouraging interaction and adding a touch of whimsy to our daily lives.

As our residents and visitors experience the comfort and style of the Cloverleaf Sofa, they engage with a piece of design history that continues to inspire and delight. It stands as a vibrant example of how Optima embraces innovative design elements, creating spaces that are not just visually appealing but also enriching.

A Brief History of the Streamline Moderne Movement

At Optima, we have a deep appreciation for architectural movements that have shaped our surroundings. Today, we’re taking a closer look at Streamline Moderne, an influential style born from the Art Deco movement, celebrated for its embodiment of speed, efficiency, and the modern era.

Origins of Streamline Moderne

Emerging in the 1930s, Streamline Moderne was a testament to the rapidly evolving technological landscape of the time. Influenced by aerodynamic design and born from the advancements in transportation and manufacturing, the movement represented a shift from the ornamental flourishes of Art Deco to a sleeker, more functional aesthetic. It mirrored the streamlined shapes of airplanes, ships, and automobiles, encapsulating the era’s romance with speed and progress.

Los Angeles’ Pan-Pacific Auditorium, Plummer, Wurdeman and Becket, 1935, Photo from Floyd B. Bariscale
Los Angeles’ Pan-Pacific Auditorium, Plummer, Wurdeman and Becket, 1935, Photo from Floyd B. Bariscale

Architects and designers, inspired by the sleek, aerodynamic lines of the modern machine age, began incorporating these elements into buildings, household appliances, and even consumer products. This shift marked a distinct move towards simplicity and efficiency, a response to the economic constraints of the Great Depression.

Streamline Moderne in Architecture

The Streamline Moderne movement left a profound impact with several notable examples still celebrated today. Among these, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles stands out with its sweeping, streamlined façade and stylized pylons, epitomizing the movement’s love for fluidity and motion.

The slew of Streamline Moderne hotels living on Miami’s Ocean Drive, Photo from State Archives of Florida

Another classic example is the Coca-Cola Building in Los Angeles. Its curved corners, elongated horizontal lines, and nautical elements like porthole windows perfectly illustrate Streamline Moderne’s aesthetic principles. These structures not only embodied the technological advancement of the era but also represented a desire for a design that was both functional and visually appealing.

In Miami, the Streamline Moderne movement found particularly fertile ground, with Ocean Drive hotels showcasing the style’s quintessential features. The smooth curves, chrome accents, and pastel colors of these buildings have become synonymous with Miami’s diverse architectural identity, drawing visitors and architecture enthusiasts from around the world.

Today, these structures stand as elegant reminders of an era captivated by the future. In Streamline Moderne, we find a celebration of simplicity, functionality, and beauty – principles that resonate with our approach at Optima. Streamline Moderne is a testament to design’s power in shaping not just buildings, but the character of entire cities and the imagination of generations to come.

Taking a Look at Non-extractive Architecture

In our journey towards a more sustainable future, architecture plays a pivotal role. At Optima®, we’re constantly exploring and embracing innovative practices that not only enhance our living spaces but also protect our planet. Among these forward-thinking approaches, non-extractive architecture stands out as a beacon of sustainable development.

So, what exactly is non-extractive architecture? It’s an approach that minimizes the environmental impact of buildings by using recycled, reclaimed, or repurposed materials. This method significantly reduces the demand for new resource extraction. While sustainable architecture is a broad term encompassing various practices, non-extractive architecture uniquely focuses on material sourcing and lifecycle. 

Unlike biophilic design, which integrates natural elements to enhance human well-being, or green building, which emphasizes overall environmental responsibility, non-extractive architecture specifically targets the reduction of raw material use. It’s a crucial step towards reducing our carbon footprint and fostering a more circular economy in construction.

K-Briq
Kenoteq’s K-Briqs made of recycled construction waste, Courtesy of Felix Speller

Recent examples of non-extractive materials include the K-Briq Construction Waste Bricks, a low-carbon alternative that is made of 90% recycled materials, Hybrit Steel, the world’s first fossil-free steel, which has the potential to reduce Sweden’s carbon emission by more than 10%, and Biotic, material research of biologically grown textiles made from resources like bacterial cellulose and dyed using natural plant and fruit waste. 

Globally, several projects embody the spirit of non-extractive architecture. The Bullitt Center in Seattle, with its self-sufficient and long-lifespan design, sets a high standard. The building is home to a rainwater-to-potable water system and composting toilet system, and when developing the project, builders ensured that over 360 toxic chemicals typically used in their building materials were absent from the project.  

Optima’s signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Kierland Apartments
Optima’s signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Kierland Apartments

At Optima, we embrace non-extractive architecture through xeriscaping in the use of our vertical landscaping system, which features self-containing drainage and helps reduce the waste of water while contributing to a sustainable urban environment.

The world of architecture is evolving, and non-extractive design is at the forefront of this change. Our commitment to sustainable practices is unwavering, and we invite you, our community, to join us in this exciting and necessary shift towards a more sustainable world.

How Architecture is Working to Combat Dementia

At Optima®, we’ve always believed that architecture is more than just buildings — it’s about creating environments that enrich lives. Today’s architectural innovations are showing remarkable potential for enriching lives, and specifically for supporting individuals with memory loss, offering not just safety and comfort but also a touch of joy in their daily lives.

Imagine a space that’s easy to navigate, where each corridor and room feels familiar and safe. This is the main goal when designing for dementia care. Simple layouts and clear signs help reduce confusion, making spaces feel more like a home and less like an institution. Safety is also paramount, but so is the freedom to explore. Thoughtful design usually includes secure outdoor spaces where residents can enjoy a bit of nature without the risk. Indoors, non-slip floors and good lighting are essentials, not afterthoughts.

But it’s not all about functionality. Sensory engagement through architecture can bring immense comfort. Picture a room bathed in natural light, offering views of a serene garden, or the soft melody of a familiar tune playing in the background. These elements can awaken memories and provide a sense of calm to those with dementia.

The Village’s nature walk
The Village’s nature walk, Courtesy of Départment Landes YouTube

Social spaces are also crucial to these designs. A well-designed common area can invite residents to interact, participate in activities, or simply enjoy each other’s company, all of which are vital for emotional well-being.

One of the leading examples of architecture designed to combat these diseases is the Alzheimer’s Village in Dax, France, the first of its kind in the country. Designed by the Danish architecture studio NORD Architects, the village features a handful of design elements that pull from Dax’s old town to create sensory familiarity for its residents.

The Alzheimer’s Village design is one brimming with intention. Pulling on the ideas of recognition and readability, the village is arranged in a bastide-like structure, broken up into four clusters that each house around 30 residents. The village features a grocery store, a restaurant and a hairdresser in its main square to help welcome familiarity. The thoughtful design, however, goes much deeper than just the facilities. 

An overhead view of one of the village’s four clusters
An overhead view of one of the village’s four clusters, Courtesy of Départment Landes YouTube

NORD architects purposely used local materials like timber planks, plaster and clay tiles to bring forth textures, colors and forms that are familiar to the residents. Other design elements, like the pattern of concrete arches and the inclusion of gardens and greenery throughout the community, all call back to the bastide design of old Europe.

Architecture, in its most profound sense, is about creating spaces that resonate with human needs. For those living with dementia, a thoughtfully designed environment, like the Alzeimer’s Village, can offer a semblance of normalcy, comfort, and dignity. It’s a bridge between the challenges of memory loss and the pursuit of a fulfilled life.

Women in Architecture: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re turning our attention to Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky — an architect whose visionary designs and commitment to social consciousness have left an indelible mark on the field. Her story stands out as a testament to creativity, resilience, and an unwavering dedication to innovative design. Join us as we dive into the extraordinary life and career of this influential figure:

The Life of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky was born on January 23, 1897, in Vienna, Austria. Growing up in this vibrant city, she was captivated by its blend of historical charm and modern ambition, fostering a deep appreciation for architecture from a young age. The dynamic cityscape became a canvas for her budding architectural imagination.

Frankfurt Kitchen, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, 1926

Her educational journey began at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, where she faced the challenge of being the first woman to attend the school. Undeterred, Lihotzky excelled in her studies, laying the foundation for a groundbreaking career. In school, she studied under the famed Australian architect, Oskar Strnad and before graduating, was awarded a handful of prizes for her work.

Notable Works and Achievements

Schütte-Lihotzky’s architectural legacy is defined by designs that transcend mere structures, becoming narratives of history, environment, and society. Much of her early work involved designing settlements and affordable housing projects across Europe. Eventually, she was approached by German architect, Ernst May, to help construct an affordable public housing project called New Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Kitchen, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, 1926

Perhaps her most groundbreaking contribution to New Frankfurt is the Frankfurt Kitchen, a marvel of efficiency and modern design. This kitchen was a pioneering attempt to apply scientific principles to domestic kitchen design. It aimed to optimize space and workflow, featuring built-in storage, sliding doors, and specialized work areas—a revolutionary concept that transformed the way we think about kitchen spaces.

A floorplan for Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen, University of Applied Arts Vienna

Later in her career, Lihotzky provided her expertise to projects across the world, from the creation of the kindergarten schools in Bulgaria and Germany to consultant jobs in China and Cuba. Alongside her revolutionary work, she has received various design awards and achievements, including the Architecture Award from the City of Vienna in 1980 and the Austrian Decoration for Science and Arts in 1992.

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s enduring legacy lies not just in her architectural creations but in the inspiration she provides for architects, especially women. Her life’s work serves as a reminder that architecture is a powerful medium for storytelling, heritage preservation, and the design of a sustainable future.

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