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Women in Architecture: Isabel Roberts

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting one of America’s most overlooked architects. As one of only two women in the original Prairie School, Isabel Roberts immediately became an inspiration for women architects in the early 20th century. Learn more about her riveting life and career below: 

The Life of Isabel Roberts

Isabel Roberts was born on March 7, 1871, in Mexico, Missouri. Her parents were natives of the eastern coast; her father was a mechanic from Utica, New York, and her mother was from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Growing up, Roberts and her family moved often; traveling from Missouri to Providence, Rhode Island, to South Bend, Indiana. 

The Isabel Roberts House, by Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, 1908

At 18 years old, Roberts moved to New York City, where she studied architecture at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers from 1899-1901. The atelier was the first in the nation to teach architecture with the principles used by École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Architects Emmanuel Louis Masqueray and Walter B. Chambers founded the school to forge more rewarding educational and professional opportunities for women in architecture at the time. 

Notable Works and Achievements  

In 1901 after completing school at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers, Roberts moved to Illinois to take a position under Frank Lloyd Wright in his Oak Park office. She worked with Wright alongside a team of six others, which included Marion Mahony Griffin, the only other woman in the group that would become known as the Prairie School. 

Eola Park Bandshell, Ryan and Roberts, 1924

Roberts’ impact while working for Wright is commonly underestimated as she contributed her design expertise to various projects, primarily after he left Oak Park for Europe in 1909. Some of her most notable projects include K.C. DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana – a commission for a friend of the Roberts family – the Laura Gale House in Oak Park and the Stohr Arcade Building in Chicago. 

St. Cloud Veterans Memorial Library, Ryan and Roberts, 1923

Commissioned by Isabel’s mother, Mary, the Isabel Roberts House in River Forest, Illinois, was another of Roberts’ illustrious designs with Wright. Completed in 1908, the home’s intricate arrangement contained a warm brick hearth at its core and utilized a mixture of half-story levels to connect living areas. The Prairie School design featured other innovative additions for the time, including a vaulted ceiling, diamond-paned windows and a grand octagonal balcony.

A Brief History of the Attached Garage

For those tireless fans of Frank Lloyd Wright — unarguably one of the greatest architects of the 20th century — we are delighted to shine a light on one of his innovations that rarely attracts attention. It’s the attached garage.

In a brilliant process of cultural sleuthing, conceptual artist Olivia Erlanger and architect Luis Ortega Govela embarked on a project that culminated in the 2018 publication of Garage by MIT Press. With elegance, wit and panache, the authors tell this tale of Robie House, completed in 1910:

“In the quiet darkness of South Woodlawn Avenue, Frank Lloyd Wright molded and adapted the American home for the automobile. The small rectangular windows of Wright’s Robie House cast rectilinear shadows across the sidewalk. In the moonlight, the red hydrangeas lining the second-floor balcony appeared black, to be identified only by their smell. With no “front” or “back,” the building looms, imperious and totemic. To the pedestrian it looks like a Japanese woodblock puzzle: the riddle of how to enter, or exit, persists until one encounters an oversized gate leading to a three-car garage. The Robie House is known by many as the cornerstone of modernism, but its status as the first home with an attached garage seems to have been forgotten. The garage struck architectural academics as so banal that it became nothing more than a footnote in Wright’s illustrious history.

The garage was invented to domesticate the car. At the end of the nineteenth century, the car made its entrance into the stage of history to replace the horse. Initially it was a temperamental machine, and people were reluctant to incorporate it into their daily lives. The machine had yet to develop the technology necessary to be used regularly, so it was mostly kept in the stable, next to the other animals. Yet at the same time the car needed so much upkeep that mostly they were stored in communal parking lots where the first auto mechanics would constantly be preparing cars for the type of local roads that existed at the time.

Following the completion of Robie House, Wright was commissioned by Emma Martin to design an attached garage for her Oak Park home in his characteristic Prairie style

If the human entrance to the house was secretive, the one designed for the machine was not. Inside the yard, the garage doors dominate the space. It is here that the garage claims its rightful position on the front of the plot with a direct and easy connection to the street. If we go by Wright’s poetic hand, in 1910 the garage was symbolically integrated into the familial structure. This relationship between home and garage, family and car, would not reappear in architecture until the early 1920s, making the Robie House a premonition of the future.”

For a deeper dive into the history of the garage as a space of creativity (think tech start-ups and musicians), grab a copy of Garage and make time to visit Robie House. Enjoy!

50 Years of the Chicago Public Art Group

Chicago’s vibrant public art is just one of the many things that make the city so magical. From Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Millennium Park to Art on theMART and Lakeview’s storied murals, otherworldly art installations bring life to nearly every neighborhood. Today, we’re spotlighting an organization that has filled the city with meaningful public art and provided a space to foster community engagement for 50 years, the Chicago Public Art Group.

History of the Chicago Public Art Group

The Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) was founded in 1972 by William Walker and John Weber, inspired by the destruction of a mural Walker had completed in 1967 on the side of a tavern in Bronzeville. The 20-by-60-foot mural, known as The Wall of Respect, was created to protest Black erasure and honor 50 heroes in the Black community. 

The wall featured a montage of portraits, including those of Aretha Franklin, Gwendolyn Brooks and Miles Davis. It featured seven sections that split the public figures: statespeople, athletes, rhythm and blues, religion, literature, theater and jazz. After its completion, the mural instantly became a mark of cultural pride and a popular tourist attraction on Chicago’s South Side. The mural was vandalized in 1971, but its spirit lives on through public art across the country and especially within the CPAG today. 

Mount Greenwood Musical Playground, James Brenner

After the mural’s destruction, Walker and Weber formed the CPAG to forge partnerships with artists and communities across Chicago to transform the urban landscape. From used walls and streets to urban structures, the organization used every tool they had access to amplify their voices. 

Celebrating 50 Years

Today, CPAG is celebrating its 50th year after creating nearly 1,000 works of art throughout the Chicago area. From the Martin Luther King, Jr. Living Memorial in Chicago Lawn to the Mount Greenwood Musical Playground, the organization has completed murals, sculptures, earthworks, playgrounds, mosaics and everything in between. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Living Memorial, Chicago Lawn, Sonja Henderson & John Pitman Weber

And although each piece resides in a different neighborhood, they are all rooted in the same three core principles: everyone deserves to experience great art, every community deserves a voice and art-making, and public art encourages community investment. CPAG also continues to share the same values they’ve held for 50 years, uniting artists and organizations to produce art that reflects the beauty of the surrounding community. 

For those interested in becoming involved with the organization, CPAG mentors, trains, inspires and supports children and adults across the city and provides everyone with the tools and confidence they need to bring their visions to life. Learn more about how you can get involved and discover more of CPAG’s inspiring art creations here!

Tales from Wilmette: How an old laundry became a center for pioneering climate research

As the town of Wilmette continues the celebration of its 150th anniversary, it stands to reason that its rich history is full of fascinating stories and quirky characters. One such story comes to us from the annals of the Wilmette Historical Museum (WHM), which published a fascinating article entitled, “The Cold War on Washington Street,” detailing how Wilmette’s SIPRE – the Snow, Ice, and Permafrost Research Establishment was founded. The article’s author, Patrick Leary, retired from the WHM in 2020 after a 21-year tenure as its curator. As the piece unfolds, Patrick explains:

“By 1950, as American troops fought in the Korean winter and the chill of the Cold War settled over the world, U.S. Army planners had come to realize that they needed to know much more about the icy regions that lay between America and the Soviet Union. Most urgently, they needed to know how to build things – roads, radar stations, underground bunkers, airfields, missile silos – in places where the ground is forever frozen, the ice is a mile deep, and the snowfall never melts. This intensive research program required a special laboratory like no other, and in 1951, the Army found just the right place for it: an abandoned laundry at 1215 Washington Avenue in Wilmette, half a block west of Green Bay Road.

They called it SIPRE – the Snow, Ice, and Permafrost Research Establishment. As a location, Wilmette had the advantage of being within easy reach of researchers at Northwestern University, while the sturdy, three-story structure itself, with its big rooms and alley-side garage, well suited the Army’s purposes.”

Wilmette’s old SIPRE location at 1215 Washington Ave in Wilmette

Patrick explains how the SIPRE staff of civilian scientists and engineers set out to understand polar conditions. They carried out their work by analyzing ancient ice crystals taken from the depths of glaciers in the Greenland ice cap that were mined during summer expeditions and shipped by refrigerated plans and trucks to the lab on Washington Street. SIPRE’s work continued in Wilmette for ten years, during which time the staff grew from 17 to more than 80, and its footprint expanded to new office space in the Odd Fellows building and a lab in Evanston. In 1961, SIPRE relocated to Hanover, New Hampshire near Dartmouth University when it merged with another agency to become the Cold Regions Research and Engineering laboratory.

The history of this fascinating organization comes to life through Patrick’s thoughtful reflections on how a unique moment in world affairs and America’s response intersects with Wilmette’s own story. You can read the full story here.

A Guide to This Seasons Art Exhibitions

With bustling art communities in both cities, Chicago and Scottsdale are regularly home to some of the most widely recognized exhibitions throughout the country. From a lush garden installation in Chicago to an interactive building exhibit in Scottsdale, both have plenty of thrilling shows to enjoy this autumn. For Optima residents looking to experience some of the most inspiring shows of the year, here are the ones you can’t miss: 

Chicago

Roughly 25 miles Southwest of Chicago, the Morton Arboretum is home to one of the area’s most stunning exhibitions of the year, Human+Nature. The outdoor art exhibition features eight unique sculptures that range from 15 to 26 feet tall. The artist, Daniel Popper, used hard-wearing materials like glass-fiber reinforced concrete to construct the sculptures to endure Chicago’s winter weather. While Popper used the arboretum and its mission as the inspiration for many of the sculptures, he encourages visitors to connect to the stunning surroundings and discover a meaning of their own. Human+Nature runs through May 2023, and you can reserve tickets here

Human+Nature, Daniel Propper, Morton Arboretum

Through February 2023, Chicago’s Driehaus Museum off of the Magnificent Mile is home to Capturing Louis Sullivan: What Richard Nickel Saw. The exhibition captures the demolition of many of Sullivan’s buildings in Chicago in the 1960s and 70s through the lens of activist Richard Nickel. Ultimately, the exhibit celebrates Sullivan’s architectural legacy and the unwearying efforts many activists took to save it. Reserve tickets here.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is observing its 50th anniversary throughout 2022! Flourish: The Garden at 50 is an ongoing installation celebrating the connections between art and nature. Through September 25, 2022, the garden features artwork from both local and foreign artists. The event features pop-ups and performances, including a mariachi band on September 24 and 25 and various exhibitions looking towards its future. Find tickets to the celebration here

Scottsdale

Found in the heart of Mesa, the i.d.e.a. Museum’s latest exhibition, Imagine, Design, Build!, invites its guests into an environment rich in color and experience. The interactive exhibit features 40 works by 15 artists around the world, ranging from paintings to LED installations. With a focus on the science and art of design, visitors beyond the gallery have various interactive opportunities, like designing a building of their own! Find tickets here

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is also home to various thrilling exhibitions this fall. Ending on October 9, 2022, Brad Halhamer: Swap Meet showcases the work of Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer. From its sculptures to musical performances, the diverse exhibition explores the uncertainty of identity and the nomadic art practice. 

Three Parallels, Phillip K. Smith III, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Opening October 29, 2022, Phillip K. Smith III: Three Parallels is another exhibit coming to SMoCA as part of their Architecture + Art series. The site-specific installation presents itself as an interactive exhibit for visitors. Using vibrant colors, light shifts and large-scale mirrors, each step in the exhibition provides a new perception of the exhibit’s space. Tickets for both exhibitions at SMoCA can be found here

And the list doesn’t end here! So with autumn in full gear, grab friends and family to enjoy these two special cities in artfully exciting ways.

Green Space Spotlight: Optima Lakeview

Open green space can be a difficult convenience to find in many Chicago neighborhoods and properties. However, that isn’t an issue with Optima residences and buildings; we strive to welcome the lush and lively Chicago greenery inside our doors. Our newest development, Optima Lakeview compliments the neighborhood surrounding it with outdoor terrace landscapes, a vibrant sky deck, and nature bridging indoor atrium. 

Optima Lakeview offers communal spaces outdoors that otherwise would be hard to find in the bustling neighborhood for many. Landscaped terraces, full of ornate and healthy foliage provide lush welcoming spaces for many to enjoy the modern architecture that surrounds them over a warm fire pit and private grill for year-round grilling. 

The highlight of Optima Lakeview, however, is its 3,600 square foot indoor atrium. Acting as the heart of Optima Lakeview, the atrium allows for integrated access to both units and amenities. The expansive space, designed by Optima CEO David Hovey Sr., welcomes visitors from the lobby with abundant floor-to-ceiling greenery utilizing Optima’s signature vertical landscaping. Abundant natural light floods the space as glass ceilings open the room to the sky deck and rooftop pool above. For residents, the landscaped center of the atrium that is home to an abundance of vegetation invites the guise of living in an oasis.

Optima Lakeview three-bedroom model residence

Like the green spaces in our other developments, Optima Lakeview’s supply of lush greenery allows our residents to enjoy a wealth of benefits. Green areas in urban environments help absorb excess heat and pollution and provide residents with ample space to stretch and engage around vegetation, improving cardiovascular health and relieve stress. And while urban living is often individualistic, grand communal spaces like Optima Lakeview’s atrium and sky deck promote community and social cohesion.  

At Optima, we are dedicated to bringing the outdoors into our communities. The picturesque private terraces, one-of-a-kind indoor atrium and other lush amenities at Optima Lakeview welcome that outdoor experience and allow us to fashion a sanctuary of our own. 

Rooftop Amenities at Optima Lakeview: The Sky Deck

Chicago boasts of the best skylines in the country, and there is no better place to revel in the city’s one-of-a-kind architecture than Optima Lakeview’s very own sky deck. And not only does the sky deck provide views of the city from the lakefront to Wrigley Field, but it also allows residents to enjoy the fresh air year-round with access to a range of unique, extensive amenities. 

Optima Lakeview’s unparalleled sky deck has a surprise around every corner. From the resort-style pool and spa that stays heated for year-round use to the fire pits featuring lounge seating, residents will be able to go for a swim or relax at any moment. Our design provides plenty of ways for residents to stay physically and mentally healthy and embodies our dedication to creating spaces where residents can be active, inspired and entertained. 

Because of the sky deck’s versatility and unique amenities, the space is more than just a hub for wellness and relaxation, it’s also a space for residents to connect with their larger community. The BBQs, outdoor kitchens and theater provide the perfect opportunity for families and friends to convene and enjoy a movie and dinner under the stars. The space also features a glass-enclosed party room where residents have access to an extensive lounge area for entertaining. And, with views spanning the whole city, and Wrigley Field only a half-mile away, the Sky Deck provides the perfect opportunity for Chicago Cubs fans to throw their own viewing party. 

The sky deck at Optima Lakeview
The sky deck at Optima Lakeview

Optima Lakeview’s sky deck exemplifies our dedication to inventive, distinctive amenity spaces that leave a lasting impact on our residents. However, the sky deck isn’t the only extraordinary amenity Optima Lakeview affords. Residents can find more than 40,000 square feet of amenity space, including an indoor basketball court, golf simulator, fitness center and more. Stay tuned for more Optima Lakeview spotlights, or learn more here.

Chicago’s Lincoln Park & Its Spring Offerings

Just two blocks east of Optima Lakeview lives Chicago’s largest recreational area, Lincoln Park. Throughout the year, the beloved park is host to a plethora of unique events and activities, but Spring is one of the best seasons to witness the more than three square miles of greenery come alive and enjoy all of its enchanting affordances. Here are our favorite activities we believe you should take advantage of this season:

While the park is widely known for being home to the cherished Lincoln Park Zoo, Conservatory, Chicago History Museum, countless other treasures line the seven-mile stretch of greenery. As the weather gets warmer, one of the best ways to experience Lincoln Park is by taking a stroll through one of its various paths. 

One of the most familiar, the Lincoln Park Trail, is perfect for those interested in observing some of the park’s most iconic monuments, sculptures and murals. The five-mile stretch offers views of Self Portrait, Chevron, the You Know What You Should Do mural and the Alexander Hamilton Monument.

The park is also home to great eateries and restaurants that provide amazing views of the vast greenery and not-so-distant skyline. The Patio at Cafe Brauer, North Pond and Bacino’s Italian Grill each bring their unique flavors to the park, promising visitors unforgettable eats and refreshing atmospheres. 

Another easy stop for food and entertainment is at Lincoln Park’s Theater on the Lake. Found at the end of Fullerton Avenue on Lakefront Trail, Theater on the Lake is one of the steadfast champions of Chicago’s off-Loop theater community. With special events and shows happening throughout the season into the summer, it’s one of the greatest treasures in the park. 

Along with being home to the Waveland Tennis Court, Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, Lincoln Park Archery Range and countless other recreational activities, the park hosts various free and unique excursions. From yoga to farmer’s markets, Lincoln Park provides visitors with a handful of unique events throughout the Spring, all of which can be found on their website here.

Chicago Architecture: The Chicago Bungalow

Chicago has always had a deep relationship with the unique architecture that has filled the city. And as we continue to add our own mark throughout Chicago with our forward-facing architecture, we love to look back on the iconic builds that have shaped the city’s culture since its founding. Today, we’re exploring one of the city’s most recognizable – although often forgotten – designs, the Chicago bungalow

Architectural Dominance

Chicago saw a dramatic boom in its population in the early 20th century. From 1910 to 1930, the city added more than one million residents. Black Americans and rural-to-urban migrants were rushing to Chicago in hopes of finding a job in one of the many industries dominating the city. 

As Chicago’s population continued to grow, the older neighborhoods located near Lake Michigan became increasingly dense, encouraging investors to buy land on the open prairies found on the city’s edge. Architects quickly began developing adaptations of the traditional bungalow to better fit the size of Chicago’s lots and the weather that comes with the midwest. 

The trend’s popularity gained momentum quickly, and the Chicago bungalow dominated the city’s residential architecture for the next three decades. By 1930, more than 80,000 bungalows surrounded the city, building a linkage to the city’s communities from Lincoln Square to South Chicago. 

Constructed With Pride

At the time, the Chicago bungalow was the manifestation of the American dream for middle-class migrants and immigrants in the city. The homes were heavily inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and featured thoughtful craftsmanship and simplicity throughout their design. 

Specific design elements separated bungalows from other residential builds and helped them become one of the most recognizable architectural styles throughout the city. Each home featured red, brown, yellow or orange bricks and large windows to draw in an abundance of natural light. Hipped roofs helped shape the one-and-a-half-story houses, and porches were included to create a seamless transition from the residences to the tree-lined streets at their footing. 

Chicago bungalows also contained modern amenities for the time, which included central heating, electricity and plumbing, but were affordable to build, with costs from $5,000 to $7,500. While the iconic style fell out of vogue later in the century, they still hold a significant place in the city’s architectural story. As the builds turn 100 years old, many residents are realizing the importance the dwellings have played in Chicago’s culture. 

Illinois’ Department of Housing created the Chicago Bungalow Association to foster more appreciation for the historic buildings through various financial and educational resources, including how-to’s for restorations and energy retrofits. Owners of the single-family homes are eligible to apply for membership and benefits on the association’s website here.

A Guide to Chicago Restaurant Week

Spring is the season of new beginnings and reinvigoration — experiences many of us have been craving for a while. Thankfully, one of Chicago’s most cherished events is back this year, providing residents around the city with a treasured comfort. Here is our guide to Chicago Restaurant Week 2022.

Following last year’s modifications to the beloved event, Chicago Restaurant Week is back in full force for 2022. The 17-day festivity is a celebration of the city’s award-winning culinary scene. From March 25 to April 10, participants will have the opportunity to indulge in an endless list of Chicago’s most delectable eats.

The flavor-filled event features more than 300 restaurants, representing nearly any cuisine imaginable. Participating restaurants are found in both the city and its suburbs. So, whether you’re in Lakeview or Wilmette, there’s sure to be a plethora of choices around. Each restaurant will feature curated prix fixe menus filled with a variety of tasty eats. 

The multi-course meals vary in price, costing $25 for brunch and lunch and $39 or $55 for dinner (depending on the location). Many of the restaurants are also taking advantage of both takeout and delivery options for those looking to enjoy their meals from home. 

Chicago Restaurant Week is also partnering with Chicago Lighthouse’ Immersive Frida Kahlo Exhibit. The one of a kind experience will be held on March 22 from 6 – 8 p.m. and 8 – 10 p.m at Lighthouse Artspace Chicago. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy snacks and cocktails from eight restaurants while absorbing the extraordinary Immersive Frida Kahlo Exhibit.

For those planning to savor some of the mouth watering cuisines, Choose Chicago has created a list of participating restaurants, complete with menus and the opportunity to book tables throughout the event that you can explore for yourself here.

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