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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.

Alexander Girard: A Vibrant Symphony of Modern Design

In the grand scheme of modern architecture and design, each virtuoso brings their unique understanding, forever shaping the field. Today, we celebrate one such figure, Alexander Girard, whose contributions have resonated through time, echoing his innovative spirit, unparalleled creativity, and ceaseless passion for design.

Born in 1907 in New York City and raised in Florence, Italy, Girard was an architect, interior designer, furniture designer, textile artist, and much more. His work was a vibrant fusion of colors, patterns, and cultures, weaving together aesthetics from around the world to create a visual language that was uniquely his own.

An integral part of the American mid-century modernist movement, Girard worked alongside luminaries such as Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson at Herman Miller. His work, however, extended beyond the confines of a singular style or discipline. From his iconic textile designs to his whimsical braniff airlines makeover, Girard was a master of imbuing spaces and objects with a sense of joy and vibrancy. His designs always held a humanistic approach, seeing each project as an opportunity to enhance the daily lives of people.

His interior design for the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, stands as a testament to his extraordinary talent. This residence, considered a landmark of modernist architecture, perfectly illustrates how Girard’s playful approach to design transformed the idea of what a domestic interior could be.

Miller House Interior, regarded as the world’s first conversation pit. Photo: Newfields, Miller House and Garden Collection

Beyond his professional work, Girard was an ardent collector of folk art, believing in its ability to inspire and influence contemporary design. His vast collection found a home in the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, a testament to his global perspective and appreciation for diverse cultures.

His bold use of color, his human-centric approach to design, and his innovative interpretations continue to inspire architects and designers worldwide. As we appreciate the rich tapestry of modern design, the work of Alexander Girard stands as a timeless composition of innovation, creativity, and humanism — a celebration of life, color, cultural diversity, and a reminder of how design can bring joy and meaning into our everyday lives.

Woman in Architecture: Eulie Chowdhury

As part of our ongoing Women In Architecture series, we continue to honor the contributions of female architects who have shattered barriers and paved the way for future generations. Today, we celebrate the life and work of Eulie Chowdhury, the first woman architect of India, who left an inspiring legacy of perseverance and innovation with India’s most ambitious Modernist project. 

Early Life and Education

Eulie Chowdhury was born in 1923 in Uttar Pradesh, India. Growing up in a time when women’s roles were largely confined to the household, Chowdhury sought to disrupt those societal boundaries while building her career on a host of rich multicultural experiences derived from her early years spent traveling with her diplomat father. Schooled in Japan, Sydney and the U.S., Chowdhury had the freedom to become a steward of culture. 

Career

Upon returning to India in 1951, life took a remarkable turn for Chowdhury, when she had the opportunity to participate in the design and planning of the modern city of Chandigarh, working alongside some of the most renowned architects of her time including Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. Chandigarh, situated at the foothills of the Shivalik Hills, would become one of Le Corbusier’s greatest works and an iconic symbol of India’s post-independence architectural movement.

Palace of Assembly – Le Corbusier (1951-1965). Photography: Roberto Conte

During the first phase of the Chandigarh project, from 1951-1963, Chowdhury worked on the High Court building, the first structure to be built by Le Corusier. She also helped with drawings of the Geometric Hill, Tower of Shadows, and Martyrs Memorial, some of the seminal structures of the city. 

Champion for Women’s Rights and Professional Involvement

Eulie Chowdhury was not only a pioneer in her profession but also a staunch advocate for women’s rights. She actively encouraged more women to pursue careers in architecture, inspiring a generation of female architects to follow in her footsteps.

Throughout her career, Chowdhury was involved in various professional organizations, such as the Indian Institute of Architects and the Indian Council of Architecture. She used her influence to promote the importance of women’s participation in the field and to create opportunities for the next generation of architects.

Government Home Science College, Chandigarh ©Wikimedia Commons

Legacy

Though Eulie Chowdhury passed away in 1995, her spirit continues to touch the world of architecture. As the pioneering woman architect who shaped India’s modern architectural landscape, her inspiring legacy of resilience, innovation, and groundbreaking achievements continues to hold incredible power. In celebrating Chowdhury’s remarkable story, we hope to spark the desire for current and future generations of women to chase their dreams and leave their own indelible marks on the world of architecture.

Women in Architecture: Mary Jane Long

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting a designer who left a powerful presence on the architecture of 20th century England, Mary Jane Long. From juggling the construction of a library for three decades to teaching at Yale, Long was always engrossed in her work. Learn more about her impressive life and accomplishments below: 

The Life of MJ Long

MJ Long was born on July 31, 1939, in Summit, New Jersey. Long graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class in 1956 and excitedly moved to Montreal, where she began her undergraduate studies in journalism at Smith College. Shortly after though, she discovered her love for architecture and enrolled in Yale’s four-year architecture program. 

During her time at Yale, Long was surrounded by some of the 20th century’s most celebrated architects, including James Stirling, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, her professor Paul Rudolph and her future husband, Colin St John Wilson. After meeting at Yale, Wilson and Long moved to London together, where she began working in his office as an architect in 1965 and later married. 

The British Library, designed by Long and Wilson, 1973

Notable Works and Achievements

Much of Long’s work was created in tandem with her husband at his architecture firm. One of their first projects was Spring House in Cambridge, which was completed in 1965 and featured a mixture of traditional US, UK and Scandinavian architectural elements. Unique characteristics of the home include a roof clad in concrete Roman tiles, reclaimed brick and specific lighting conditions for several rooms.

Long’s next major project took nearly 30 years from start to finish to complete, but it immediately became a beloved masterpiece across the United Kingdom. Originally part of the British Museum, the British Library officially found its own home in 1973 with the help of Long and Wilson. Home to nearly 14 million books, the library is one of the largest in the world. Along with designing the library itself, Long was responsible for designing the King’s Library – the glass-enclosed sculptural centerpiece of the building. 

The National Maritime Museum, designed by Long and Wilson, 2003

Other notable builds designed by Long include the Pallant House, an extension of an elegant Georgian build, and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, England, a grand timber shed paired with a concrete lighthouse completed in 2003. 

Until her passing in 2018, Long brought her unique design perspective with her wherever she went, always building with utmost attention to detail. Her distinguished career solidified her as one of England’s most acclaimed architects whose designs still influence the daily lives of many today.

The Subsects of Moderist Architecture Part III

As part of our “Subsects of Modernist Architecture” series, we’re continuing to explore the many trickle-down pockets of Modernist design throughout the years. Picking back up where we last left off in Part II, European Modernism continued to spread globally and set the precedent for the next wave of architectural movements that emerged. Here’s what followed:

International Style

The International Style (sometimes also referred to as internationalism) emerged in the 1920s and 30s. Originated in post-World War I Holland, France and Germany, the style quickly caught on worldwide, eventually becoming the dominant architectural style in the 1970s. According to the Getty Research Institute, “the style is characterized by an emphasis on volume over mass, the use of lightweight, mass-produced, industrial materials, rejection of all ornament and colour, repetitive modular forms, and the use of flat surfaces, typically alternating with areas of glass.” 

Major figures in the International Style movement include Bauhaus Founder Walter Gropius, as well as Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Both Gropius and Mies van der Rohe were instrumental in introducing the International Style to Chicago’s architecture — leaving a lasting impact on the city’s skyline that can still be seen and appreciated today.

Metabolism

Like many subsects of Modernist architecture, Metabolism emerged in response to the post-war period in Japan. First introduced during a Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (International Congresses of Modern Architecture, or CIAM) meeting in 1959, the movement became fully-fledged just a year later when young architects Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa and Fumihiko Maki released the Metabolism manifesto during the 1960 Tokyo World Design Conference.

The style was marked by its dynamic fusion of megastructures and organic biology. Metabolism was also heavily influenced by the Marxist philosophies of the time. The architects behind the movement envisioned a more flexible form of urban planning, one where modular towers could be easily installed. They even went so far as to propose vast cities that could float on the ocean, with these modular structures as their foundation. The most successful examples of Metabolism include the site of the 1970 World Exposition, designed by Kenzō Tange, and the Nagakin Capsule Tower, designed by Kisho Kurokawa.

Brutalism

Brutalism, also called Brutalist architecture or New Brutalism, emerged in the 1950s in the UK during post-war construction. The word Brutalism is derived from the Swedish phrase nybrutalism, as well as being associated with the French phrases béton brut (“raw concrete”) and art brut (“raw art”). It’s easy to see the connection: the style is characterized by monolithic forms, rigid geometric styles, and unusual shape, and commonly makes use of bare or raw materials being exposed in monolithic color palettes. 

Influenced by socialism, Brutalist architecture was often employed in the UK to create utilitarian, low-cost housing solutions or government buildings. Perhaps for this reason, the style received widespread criticism and was often regarded as “cold” or “soulless.”  Nevertheless, many Brutalist structures have left a strong impression on architecture today and remain the cornerstone of universities and public institutions worldwide. 

Stay tuned for more features on the subsects of Modernist architecture.

The Work of László Moholy-Nagy

Many prominent and influential figures emerged from the Bauhaus. One of these figures was László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian painter and photographer, and a professor at the Bauhaus. Today, we take a closer look at his life, work and impact on the world of Modernist design.

Self Portrait (1918), László Moholy-Nagy
Self Portrait (1918), László Moholy-Nagy. Credit: Public Domain

The Life of László Moholy-Nagy

Originally born in 1895 as László Weisz, Moholy-Nagy grew up in Hungary. He always tended to be artistic, even in boyhood. His first dream was to become a writer or poet and he had poems published in the local paper at the young age of 16. After studying law for just two years, Moholy-Nagy enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1915 and in the field, his artistic pursuits persisted. He documented his experience through writing, crayon sketches and watercolors until he was discharged just three years later. 

After all these experiences, Moholy-Nagy abandoned his law studies to attend a private art school in 1918. He had his first art exhibition just a year later. The years that followed would prove formative for his personal and artistic life: in 1920, he moved to Berlin, where he met his first wife, Lucia Schulz — and they were married just a year later — and then in 1922, Moholy-Nagy met none other than Walter Gropius, Founder of the Bauhaus.

Work on acrylic with incisions on perspex by László Moholy-Nagy. Credit: Wikimedia Public Domain

The Work of László Moholy-Nagy

In 1923, Gropius invited Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Bauhaus. There, he co-taught a foundational course alongside Bauhaus legend Josef Albers, and replaced the famous Paul Klee as Head of the Metal Workshop. He continued to teach at the Bauhaus for a period of five years, a time which heavily influenced his own artistic philosophy.

Moholy-Nagy’s own work spanned across a variety of mediums, including photography, typography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, film-making, and industrial design. The artist is also cited as the first to incorporate scientific equipment, like the telescope, microscope, and radiography, into his own art practice. This practice highlights Moholy-Nagy’s own open-mindedness. He was always interested in experimentation and the play between life, art and technology — particularly, how the three intersected and paved the way for social transformation and the betterment of humanity. 

His work, which often falls under the category of abstract and avant garde, was also influenced by the Constructivism movement of the early 20th century as well as the Dada artists he encountered upon moving to Germany. Thanks to his creative fluidity and pioneering methods, his work across disciplines and styles has been called “relentless experimental.”

Perhaps his most iconic work was Light Prop for an Electric Stage, completed in 1930. Referred to as a “kinetic light display,” the piece’s rotating construction included reflective surfaces from which a beam of light bounced, casting both moving light and shadow onto nearby surfaces. It’s considered a pivotal fixture in the history of Modern sculpture and perhaps best exemplifies Moholy-Nagy’s own artistic philosophy.

Meanwhile, Gropius continued to impact Moholy-Nagy’s career trajectory when in 1937, he recommended the experimental artist as the head of the New Bauhaus in Chicago (which would eventually become incorporated to the Illinois Institute of Technology as we know it today). In Chicago, he continued to pioneer new methods and experiment until his early death from leukemia at just fifty-one years old. 

His life, work and legacy live on in the, earning him the title of the “genius of all media” and an eternal place in the history of Modernist art and design.

The Folly Bench by Ron Arad

It’s no secret that we take pride in showcasing statement Modernist furniture throughout our communities, from the Wassily chair to the Egg chair to the Barcelona chair. That’s why we get excited when fresh designs are added to the mix. The Folly bench, designed by Ron Arad for Magis, exemplifies new furniture being designed in the Modernist discipline — and makes a great addition to our space at the new 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments. 

Ron Arad was born in Tel Aviv and studied at both the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and at the Architectural Association in London. He has established the design practice One Off Ltd., design and architecture firm Chalk Farm and opened his own studio in Italy, Ron Arad Studio. He’s best known for unique and sculptural chairs that meld high-tech materials with found objects. Of his own practice, he says, “Some people confuse function with being practical. You can make a chair that’s totally impractical, but it’s still a chair because it’s about sitting.”

The Folly bench, designed for Magis by Ron Arad, in the 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments
The Folly bench, designed for Magis by Ron Arad, in the 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments

Arad exemplifies just that philosophy with the Folly bench, designed for Italian design firm Magis. The sculptural form of the bench provides immediate intrigue with its dramatically sweeping, undulating curves. Despite its drama, the bench’s seat and back surfaces merge seamlessly, creating an undeniably comfortable place to sit any which way. Furthermore, the bench is molded in “nearly indestructible polyethylene,” making it available for both indoor and outdoor use.

Gracefully dotting the amenity floor in the new 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments, the Folly bench beckons as an artful installation, and a truly functional piece of furniture. 

Modernist Graphic Design

Modernism is one of our cornerstones at Optima; it informs everything from our designs to our methodologies. And though the movement is often talked about in reference to architecture, art, sculpture and interior design, Modernism also had a significant impact on graphic art. Today, we’ll dive into Modernist graphic design and its impact on visual communications.

Changes in Vienna

By the end of the 19th century, artists were growing tired of traditional, conservative forms of art. In Vienna, a group of artists led by Gustav Klimt dubbed themselves the Vienna Secession and broke away from the artistic institutions in Austria’s capital at the time. The group explored uncharted territory in form, composition and expression, sparking similar experimentations in other nearby countries such as France and Germany. Rich paint strokes and realism translated into flat color and stylistic typography, expressions that would pave the way for graphic art. 

Army recruiting poster, designed by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917
Army recruiting poster, designed by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917. Image in public domain.

The World at War

When World War I began, graphic design was already used for commercial, corporate and aesthetic purposes. Its new role would be political, used in posters and propaganda during the war. Advancements in mass color printing allowed for efficient production of messages to raise funds, encourage enlistment and boost morale. The turmoil and challenges faced in both World Wars would ultimately inspire the first wave of true Modernism within graphic design. 

Poster designed by Herbert Bayer, 1930
Poster designed by Herbert Bayer, 1930. Credit: kitchener.lord on Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

Modern Experiments

Across Europe and in America, graphic designers took inspiration from broader artistic movements such as Cubism, Futurism, De Stijil and Surrealism. In Germany, the Bauhaus movement also had a significant impact on graphic design; thick lines, primary colors and disrupting white space were just as striking in 2-D format as they were in architecture or sculpture. Eventually, Modernist design was defined by abstract expression, bold type and primary colors and shapes. These designers approached the work objectively, emphasizing the rational over the expressive (and emphasizing the classic Modernist belief that form follows function). 

As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, Modernist experiments in all practices were denounced, and many artists, architects and designers immigrated to the United States. Although Modernist design was disrupted in its growth, it remains one of the most impactful movements in the history of graphic design. Even our own website has elements of Modernist designs with asymmetry, primary colors and bold typography. Every facet of Modernism inspires what we do, from architecture and sculpture, to the graphic arts. 

A Brief History of the Plaza

At Optima, we’re believers that exceptional design has the power to inspire awe and wonder, and to enhance the human experience. One such component of design, the plaza, is a perfect example of this: designed as an open, public space, plazas create hubs for community activity and human connection. To learn more about the role this seminal piece of design has in creating public space, we’re diving into the history of the plaza.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid. Credit: Francisco Anzola on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

The First Plazas

From colonial cities in Spanish America to the Spanish East Indies, there were several types of plazas serving as the center of community life. The plaza mayor often referred to the space centered between several administrative, religious and government buildings. The plaza de armas, meanwhile, served as a rallying space for troops, and the plaza de toros translates, quite literally, to bullring.

Perhaps the most significant example of such plazas is the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. Dating back to 1619, the plaza was constructed during the reign of Philip III by architect Juan de Herrera. Though the plaza saw several disasters since then and was reconstructed an equal number of times, it remained (and still remains) a pivotal public fixture in Madrid. Plaza Mayor has served many diverse purposes, from being the site of a marketplace, to bullfights, to military parading ground, to public executions, to even trials during the Spanish Inquisition and crowning ceremonies. 

Evolving over time to a space of leisure, the Plaza Mayor is now the site of outdoor cafes, restaurants and, inevitably, tourists. It draws people in with yoga workshops, concerts and festivals — a far cry from its dabbles in militant history. The Spanish plaza is also related to the Italian piazza, with both belonging under the umbrella term “town square,” which includes city squares, plazas, piazzas and city greens.

The Modern Day Plaza

Following in the footsteps of Madrid’s adaptable Plaza Mayor, the modern day plaza can refer to a multitude of spaces with a multitude of purposes. Within our own portfolio, a prime example of a plaza is at Optima Signature and Optima Chicago Center. By sliding the podium of Optima Signature North and juxtaposing Optima Chicago Center to the West and South, the buildings create a dynamic plaza space, which features lush landscaping, planters and benches. Kiwi, a large-scale sculpture designed by Optima founder David Hovey Sr, adds to the visual energy of the space. 

Aerial view of the plaza at Optima Signature and Chicago Center
Aerial view of the plaza at Optima Signature and Chicago Center

Now, plazas refer to open spaces within neighborhoods that boost economic vitality, pedestrian mobility and safety as well as providing aesthetically pleasing areas. No matter the interpretation of the word, there’s always one belief at the core, and that’s gathering and celebrating community. 

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