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Lakeview’s Hidden Architectural Treasures

Filled with an appreciation for arts, culture, and everything in between, Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is home to some of the city’s most brilliant and iconic buildings. Forever inspired by the architecture surrounding us, we’ve been out and about to spotlight a few of the many architectural treasures found near our newest development, Optima Lakeview:

Landmark Century Cinema

Landmark Century Cinema, one of the neighborhood’s most opulent structures, opened its doors in 1925 at 2828 N Clark Street. The structure, originally named Diversey Theater, was designed by Edward Eichenbaum of Levy and Klient, a prominent architectural firm that was known for their theater designs at the time. The stunning theater was built with a Spanish Baroque Style façade which has remained in excellent condition throughout the building’s life.

Throughout the building’s nearly century-long existence, it has undergone several renovations and name changes. In honor of the Century of Progress World Fair hosted in Chicago from 1933-34, the building became the Century Theater. With the name change came a complete remodeling of its interior space, which introduced various Art Deco elements to the theater. 

In 2000, the Landmark Theater Chain bought the property, prompting the name change to Landmark Century Cinema. With the purchase came further restorations and renovations across the historic structure. Today, Landmark Century Cinema exhibits its original Baroque terracotta facade and updated neo-Art Deco interior. 

The vibrant interior of Schubas Tavern

Schubas Tavern

What was once a beloved tied house – a bar created to serve only a single brand of beer – is now a historic tavern featuring some of Lakeview’s most stunning interior and exterior architecture. Built by architectural firm Frommann and Jebsen, Schubas Tavern originated as a Schlitz Beer tavern in 1903.  

The company operated the tavern for over 80 years until the building was bought by Schubas in 1989. With restoration at the front of their minds, Schubas refreshed the historic bar’s 30-foot Brunswick mahogany bar, tin ceilings, walnut wainscoting along with exterior fixtures that included the famous Schlitz globe logo. Often frequented for its showstopping concerts and events, one of the most significant renovations for the building was its timber performance stage, which has been host to a variety of big names, including Janelle Monet, Billie Eilish and The Nationals.

The bar’s newest architectural addition, Tied House, exhibits a modern reinvention of the iconic tavern. The new restaurant and bar utilizes traditional tavern materials, including brick patterns, copper accents and ceiling tiles, while transforming them in a modern fashion. 

The Classical Revival Style façade of the Marshfield Trust and Savings Building

Marshfield Trust and Savings Building

Dramatically rising from its compact triangular lot at 3325 N Lincoln Ave, the former Marshfield Trust and Savings Building showcases various unique architectural elements that still radiate today. The historic bank building was constructed in 1924 by Architect William Gibbons Uffendell and Contractor Arthur Brundage, who would later become President of the International Olympic Committee.

The lanky flatiron building, which utilizes Classical Revival Styles of architecture, showcases an ornate terracotta exterior that features various elaborate designs. Two-story arched windows stretch along both sides of the building’s façade and meet in the middle to reveal the building’s main entrance, which is framed with an eye-catching bracketed cornice above its doors. 

With the opening of Optima Lakeview fast approaching, we couldn’t be more thrilled to continue showcasing what makes our new vibrant community so special.

Women in Architecture: Charlotte Perriand

A trailblazer for women designers, Charlotte Perriand always found a way to reinvent her work with the ever-changing aesthetics of interior design and architecture in the 20th century. She forged herself as a leader of the avant-garde cultural movement, which influenced new perspectives and values in the design world. Today, as part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re exploring the life of this exceptional designer and some of her most celebrated creations. 

The Life of Charlotte Perriand

Perriand was born in Paris, France in 1903. She lived with her mother, who was a talented seamstress, and her father, who worked as a tailor in the city. Because of the lively energy of her surroundings, Perriand found a deep appreciation for city life but also relished her frequent visits to her grandparents’ home in the French Alps, where the natural environment was peaceful and calm. 

At a young age, Perriand discovered a passion for the arts. As her talents continued to flourish, Parriand’s mother encouraged her to push herself by attending École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. From 1920-1925 she studied under the renowned artist and decorator Henri Rapin, who helped bring her unique ideas to life. 

During her time at École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, Perriand learned to incorporate popular aesthetics such as ornate patterns, warm materials like wood and soft textiles like cotton. Dissatisfied by the status quo, Perriand pushed her interests and fed her curiosity by enrolling in classes made available through large department stores that housed their own design workshops. Encouraged by the reactions to her creations that incorporated glistening surfaces, reflective metals and blunt geometric forms, she began to submit her work to expositions throughout Paris. Perriand’s most notable entry at the time was Le Bar sous le toit, or Bar in the Attic, at the prestigious Salone d’Automne, in1927. This installation of furniture, finishes and a built-in bar reflected the current machine-age landscape and displayed a bold design featuring nickel and other metals. Emboldened by the reactions of her peers, Perriand quickly began embracing these taboo materials in her work, conveying exciting new interpretations of modern design. 

An initial sketch for Bar in the Attic, Charlotte Perriand, Paris 1927, courtesy of Intérieurs Fig. 40
An initial sketch for Bar in the Attic, Charlotte Perriand, Paris 1927, courtesy of Intérieurs Fig. 40

Career and Achievements

After the success from Bar in the Attic, Perriand had a difficult time discovering what her next move should be in the art world. She took advice from a friend, jewelry designer Jean Fouquet, and immersed herself in the intensive literature of Le Corbusier. Dazzled by his work, Perriand reached out with her portfolio for a position at his atelier. After a hasty dismissal, she showed Le Corbusier her acclaimed Bar in the Attic project, which caused him to reverse his decision and hire her on the spot. 

The Grand Confort, designed by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret
The Grand Confort, designed by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

While working for Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, Perriand contributed to the design of some of their most celebrated furniture pieces: the basculant sling chair (known as LC1), the Grand Confort (LC2 and LC3) and the chaise lounge chair (LC4). However, her impact reached far beyond furniture; Perriand brought to life the trio’s vision of modern luxury as Equipment for the Home for the 1929 Salon d’Automne, which included an entire apartment set with a bold kitchen and bathroom. 

Perriand left Le Corbusier’s atelier in 1937 after ten years of extraordinary growth and accomplishment. Her expertise led her across the world, but she eventually traveled back to the French Alps, where her roots enticed her to work on her largest – and final – project, Les Arcs. Composed of three different structures and built over a nearly-20 year period, Les Arcs brought to life a new style of living with an open-plan interior and an exterior integrated into the surrounding natural environment. 

Les Arcs, designed by Charlotte Perriand, courtesy of Matthew Rachman Gallery
Les Arcs, designed by Charlotte Perriand, courtesy of Matthew Rachman Gallery

The bedrooms of the famous ski resort were built with minimal design elements. Thoughtful design was instead prioritized in communal spaces, like the great rooms, where windows opened to vibrant sunlight and views of the pristine natural surroundings. 

Throughout her illustrious career, Perriand preferred to look to the future instead of reflecting on her previous work. And on this life journey,Perriand established herself as a fearless forward-facing designer who was eager to reinvent her design philosophy over and over.  

Chicago Modernist Gems: A Visit to the Schweikher House

As we continue to discover Modernist treasures in and around Chicago, we came upon the work of Paul Schweikher, a visionary architect who studied, lived and worked in Chicago between 1938 and 1953. It’s a welcome surprise that Schweikher House, his home and professional studio, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and are open for public tours.

About the Architect

Paul Schweikher graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Colorado Boulder and moved to Chicago to study at The Art Institute. In the 1930s, he began a collaboration with George Fred Keck, a visionary Modernist architect known for his design of the House of Tomorrow at the Century of Progress International Exposition. Equally impressive, Schweikher’s work was included in a major architectural exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1933, the Work of Young Architects in the Middle West. Schweikher went on to establish an architectural practice in 1934; it was in this practice that he designed some of his most celebrated commissions including the David B. Johnson House (Chicago, 1936), Emerson Settlement House (1939, Hinsdale, IL) and Louis C. Upton House (1950, Paradise Valley, AZ).

After being named chairman of the Yale School of Architecture in 1953, Schweikher became head of the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture in 1958 and retired in Sedona AZ in 1970.

The Schweikher House

Schweikher built the house in 1937-38, after being inspired on a trip to Japan to study the country’s architecture. As both his private residence and his professional architecture studio, the building reflects a unique amalgam of Prairie, Japanese and vernacular architecture — with a strong modernist underpinning.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum/Hedrich Blessing Archive
Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum/Hedrich Blessing Archive

The one-story, T-shaped house was a complete remodel of an old barn situated on a 7-½ acre plot of farmland on the outskirts of Chicago in Roselle, IL. Schweikher chose common materials including brick, red cypress wood and glass to reflect his interests in sustainability and engineering. He designed the interior as distinct areas for sleeping, living and working, connected to allow for a constant flow of natural light and air. He built a massive fireplace in the living room to establish the house’s character, while giving the Chicago common bricks center stage. Inspired by the Japanese minimalist architecture he had seen on his travels, Schweikher included a passive solar room, exposed wood beams, built-in furniture, a soaking tub, concealed storage in the paneling in each of the rooms, and shoji screens throughout the building. 

After nearly a decade of serving as the Schweikher home and studio, the house was featured in the May 1947 issue of Architectural Forum magazine. By that time, the surrounding gardens designed by Franz Lipp, one of the country’s foremost landscape architects, had matured magnificently. In 1948–50, Schweikher made a series of additions including a formal studio that cantilevers over the large back yard and connects by a breezeway to the main building. 

In 1953, when he took up his new position at Yale, Schweikher sold the home to Martyl and Alexander Langsdorf. Over the ensuing decades as owners and occupants, the Langsdorfs maintained the building and grounds with meticulous care, and spearheaded the effort to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. In 1999, they sold the Schweikher House to the Village of Schaumburg in 1999 so it could be preserved as a public house museum, allowing this treasure of timeless architectural value to be experienced, enjoyed and learned from by all.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum/Hedrich Blessing Archive
Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum/Hedrich Blessing Archive

Scheduling a Visit

The Schweikher House is located at 645 W Meacham Road in Schaumburg, IL. Tickets to docent-led tours can be purchased online; a reservation is required.

Scottsdale Public Art: Knight Rise

One of the many reasons we love Scottsdale is its appetite for some of the country’s most thoughtful architecture and art installations. Found in the Nancy and Art Schwaim Sculpture Garden at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a very short drive from Optima Sonoran Village, is one of those extraordinary displays, Knight Rise by James Turrell.

This inspiring work of art frames the dynamic colors of Scottsdale’s sky through an oculus or skylight. The skyspace is situated at the peak of a concrete dome with concrete benches encircling the room. Knight Rise gives guests their own unique experience with every visit. As the sky overhead changes constantly, so do the perceptions of light and color being framed through the skyscape, inviting visitors’ imaginations to run wild. In a simple, physical act of viewing the sky purely as light, hue, and texture, the artwork completes itself. More specifically, an engaged visitor completes the experience that is Turrell’s artwork.

Part art, part science, the skyspace is an unparalleled creation, and only 14 others are open to the public across the country. Those who experience Knight Rise find it to be meditative and inspiring; a space where one can find tranquility and peace within the confines of the concrete space.

Vibrant sunlight coming in from Knight Rise illuminates the concrete surface of the installation’s interior
Vibrant sunlight coming in from Knight Rise illuminates the concrete surface of the installation’s interior

Knight Rise was completed in 2001 by Turrell, known as a “sculptor of light.” He is an artist of international acclaim considered to be one of the most significant and influential artists working in the world today. And while many artists use paint to replicate light, he uses light itself — sometimes manmade, sometimes natural — to create visual effects. Turell has been creating skyscapes across the United States for nearly five decades, mastering his craft along the way. Inspired by legendary artists from Monet to Mark Rothko, Turell tangibly employs color as the focal point of his practice. 

Knight Rise is a permanent installation located in the Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. To experience Knight Rise, visit the Museum anytime from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Chicago Skyscraper History: the Merchandise Mart

Chicago has earned its place on the architectural map with endless distinctions, including being home to the tallest building in the world for 25 years and to numerous acclaimed architects like Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marion Mahony Griffin and Jeanne Gang. But did you know that it’s also home to the world’s largest commercial building? Today, we’re taking a look at the history of the city’s beloved Merchandise Mart

How It Came to Be

As dated infrastructure (like the abandoned railroad yards in the downtown area) proliferated in the early decades of the 20th century, more and more land development opportunities opened up. In hopes of beautifying the frontage along the Chicago River, Marshall Field & Co. announced their purchase of one of the largest available sites, at the junction of the River’s branches. The company began construction in 1928 and when the Merchandise Mart opened in 1930, it achieved the company’s dream of becoming a dedicated wholesale center for architectural and interior design vendors and trades serving the entire nation. And, with 4 million square feet on 25 floors under a single roof spanning two city blocks, it became the largest building in the world.

Merchandise Mart, Courtesy of Jeremy Atherton

TheMART was imagined as a city-within-a-city. Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the architects behind the structure’s streamlined look, took inspiration from traditional Art Deco architectural elements, including ribbon piers to define windows, setbacks and pavilions atop each corner to disguise the bulk of the building. Marshall Field himself was involved in the building’s design; his love for art inspired him to employ Jules Guerin to create 17 murals on the interior lobby’s frieze. Each mural details trade throughout the world and depicts the products, transportation and architecture of 14 countries.

TheMART was also a monumental experiment in state-of-the-art engineering and modern materials. At a cost of $26 million, it took advantage of construction techniques normally used in the building of big dams and employed nearly 5,700 workers at the height of the Great Depression.

theMART in the Modern Era

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, theMART faced a handful of modernization projects. One was designed by Helmut Jahn to connect the building with the Apparel Center located across Orleans Street with a pedestrian bridge. The building was LEED Certified Silver in 2007, followed by LEED Gold Certification in 2013 and in 2018.

In recent years, as the contract furniture industry has evolved from a focus on a wholesale hub and independent manufacturer showrooms, the Mart has repositioned itself as a destination for innovation, creativity, technology and entrepreneurship. Rebranded “theMART,” the building remains the world’s largest commercial building, and has become home to a host of changemakers, including Motorola Mobility, 1871, Yelp, PayPal and MATTER, as well as Fortune 500 companies Conagra, Allstate, Kellogg, Beam Suntory, and Grainger.

Art on theMart, Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition, Monet and Chicago, April, 2021

Today, theMART continues to celebrate an appreciation for architecture and art. The building now hosts a digital art display popularly known for “Art on theMART,” to showcase the work of prominent artists on the south façade of the structure. 

With our love for all things “forever modern” at Optima, we are proud to have this magnificent example of design innovation and tireless reinvention in our midst.

A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studios Part 1: Taliesin

Frequently referred to as the father of American modernism through his establishment of the Prairie School of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright gifted the world with many culturally-significant designs, forever leaving his stamp on American architecture. Many of Wright’s designs are widely celebrated and remain standing today, including Taliesin, one of his most iconic works that altered his life and the lives of those around him while serving as his studio.

The archetype of Prairie School architecture was built in 1911 by Wright after he had left Oak Park, Illinois to return to his family’s land in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Derived from Welsh mythology, Taliesin was an ancient poet, whose name means radiant brow. Wright built the exemplary estate in a Wisconsin River valley into the brow of his favorite hill from boyhood, hence its name. 

During the process of designing Taliesin, Wright drew inspiration from the patterns and rhythms of his surroundings. He became inspired by the thought of living among his ancestry and the nature that surrounded him as he embodied the idea of organic architecture within his design. Wright refined visions from his previous Prairie School designs, including a lush courtyard and open floor plan, and used local limestone and sand from the Wisconsin River to invite the outdoors indoors — a radical idea at the time. 

Throughout the estate’s history, it suffered a number of accidents, including two fires that sparked Wright to complete two renovations on Taliesin. The first of which, Taliesin II, was completed in 1915 after arson had destroyed one-third of the house, including Wright’s living quarters. The redesign was nearly identical to the architecture in Taliesin I, excluding its new observation deck and, in an attempt to make the estate completely self-sufficient, Wright’s hydroelectric generator. 

Taliesin, Photographed in 1913 before the first of its two fires, Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Following another destructive fire in 1925, Wright was forced once again to pour new life into Taliesin and went to develop the third rendition of the estate, Taliesin III. Through the devastation, Wright remained committed to his passion for thoughtful architecture and brought a breath of fresh air to the bare structure that surrounded him. While living at Taliesin III Wright also designed some of his more renowned work, including Fallingwater, the headquarters for S.C. Johnson and Jacobs I (the Herberg Jacobs House).

Beginning in 1932, Wright established the Taliesin Fellowship and hosted 50 apprentices at Taliesin on an annual basis, giving them the opportunity to work for him for a lengthy period of time and experience his intensive working environment. Today, the estate is in the hands of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the fellowship uses the neighboring Hillside School as its home base. The esteemed property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1976. 

Located just a few hours outside of Chicago, the Taliesen estate is the perfect day trip for anyone who appreciates breathtaking architecture and offers visitors a variety of tours designed for every level of interest, which can be booked on their website here

Chicago’s Christkindlmarket

One of the city’s most festive traditions, Chicago’s Christkindlmarket, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. The holiday favorite celebrates culture and is beloved by locals and tourists alike. And, since the celebration can be found in two locations this year, at Daley Plaza downtown and Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville, residents at Optima Lakeview and Optima Signature have prime access to the festivities just blocks away from their door.

History

Visitors have flocked to Chicago to visit the Christkindlmarket since its founding in 1996, and today, the festival attracts more than one million visitors every year. The unique outdoor market takes inspiration from one of the first outdoor exchanges of its kind from 16th century Nuremberg, Germany, which shares its namesake. 

The festival embraces its Germanic heritage and brings international charm to a local scale. Traditional architecture mirroring the original outdoor markets is key to the Christkindlmarket locations, and transports visitors into a winter wonderland. Entangled in the classical architecture are ropes of vibrant lighting, garland and other merry trimmings, giving the market an extra spark of life. 

Crowd favorite hot pretzels at the Christkindlmarket, Courtesy of Benita Gingerella
Crowd favorite hot pretzels at the Christkindlmarket, Courtesy of Benita Gingerella

Visiting

For those who make the trip to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket for its 25th anniversary, expect a lively environment in both locations — abundant in holiday spirit, jovial music, festive activities, eccentric shops and traditional cuisines. 

At the market’s Daley Plaza location, an alpine-themed heated dining area allows guests to unwind and feast on delicious foods and drinks from various food trucks, including German beer, brats, pretzels, Belgian hot chocolate and apple strudel, among others. Wrigleyville’s Christkindlmaket brings even more seasonal festivities — some traditional and some less so — with its ice skating rink, ice bumper cars, curling, holiday movies, wreath-making workshop and other curated activities.

Handcrafted nutcrackers fill a vendor’s stand, Courtesy of Benita Gingerella
Handcrafted nutcrackers fill a vendor’s stand, Courtesy of Benita Gingerella

Exclusive vendors, both local and international, also fill the grounds at each location, selling their own authentically made gifts. Everything from intricately-carved nutcrackers to hand-knitted mittens can be discovered within both markets. 

A truly transformed landscape, Chicago’s Christkindlmarket is the perfect tradition to take part in this winter, whether you find yourself downtown or in Lakeview. Regardless if you’re searching for an entertaining winter activity, uniquely crafted gifts for family and friends or just looking to take in the crisp winter air, consider this your one-stop-shop. 

Daley Plaza’s market is open through December 24 from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. most days, and Wrigleyville’s market is open through December 31 from 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. most days.

 

A Brief History of the Skylight

One of Optima’s hallmark design principles is bridging outdoor and indoor environments through thoughtful architecture. Throughout history, many features of design have supported that same principle. Today, we’re exploring an ancient feature of architecture that continues to evolve with time and make its mark in delightful new ways — the skylight. 

History 

The concept of using natural light to brighten a room isn’t new. The skylight’s origin can be traced back to Ancient Roman architecture and design. The extravagant feature was regularly included in many Roman construction feats and was often referred to as an oculus. One of the most famous skylights of its time, the oculus at the Pantheon in Rome, still welcomes vibrant rays into the church today.

Over time, glass became a sought-after resource for use in grand development features like the skylight. As the industrial revolution began, more and more innovative architectural advancements came into play, including the fabrication of architectural glass work, allowing a growing number of architects to experiment with skylight design.

The oculus at the Pantheon, Rome, Italy
The oculus at the Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Architects around the world began incorporating skylights in their designs, which allowed them to play with volume, natural light and interior space in exciting new ways — much to the delight of their patrons who commissioned their work. Many of the most celebrated buildings erected from the mid-18th century through the early 19th century featured skylights, including the opulent Palace of Versailles and the elegant arcades of the Galerie Vivienne and Passage Jouffroy.

Optima Lakeview

Our newest luxury residential development, Optima Lakeview, is dedicated to pushing the boundaries to offer a fresh, elevated sense of home; as part of the vision, we chose to orient the entire building design around a seven-story atrium, replete with a fixed in place, geometric skylight fabricated from steel and coated in our signature Optima Red.  Beyond the design itself, the use of skylights floods the interior volume with natural light, offering residents and visitors a constant boost to their health and wellbeing. 

Natural light floods into the atrium and other extraordinary amenity spaces at Optima Lakeview

Today

The skylight has continued to evolve and expand its purpose. Modern adaptations, benefitting from new design thinking coupled with sophisticated engineering and materials, allow for more observable connections to outdoor environments and sustainable building standards, including energy and temperature conservation. 

Today’s design professionals working on projects ranging from commercial buildings to retail centers to private residences continue to break new ground with skylights that provide exciting new features such as roof windows and other retractable roof lights that expose the outdoors. And with the ongoing research and interest in natural light’s many health benefits by scientists and architects alike, there is no doubt that the iconic skylight will continue evolving, with forward-thinking architects pushing the boundaries.

Women in Architecture: Marion Mahony Griffin

Often unrecognized for her immense contributions to the Prairie School, Marion Mahony Griffin was a leader in the architectural world for many years, paving the way for the countless women who followed her. Today, as part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re exploring the inception of the iconic architect and designer and where her extensive experience led her. 

The Life of Marion Mahony Griffin

A Chicago native, Mahony was born in 1871 to Jeremiah Mahoney, a journalist, and Clara Hamilton, a teacher. After the tragic events of the Great Chicago Fire, in which her family’s house was destroyed, her family relocated to the Chicago suburb of Winnetka where she spent the majority of her childhood. Inspired by how rapidly the landscape around her was changing — and encouraged by her cousin Dwight Perkins, an American architect — Mahony was drawn to the idea of furthering her education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Mahoney graduated from MIT in 1894 and was only the second woman to receive an architecture degree from the school (after the World’s Columbian Exposision’s Women’s building designer, Sophia Hayden). She soon moved back to Chicago where she became the first woman in modern history to sit for, and be granted, an architectural license in the United States, benefiting from the fact that Illinois was the first state in America to allow women to hold licenses.

Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, 1902, One of the numerous intricate watercolor renderings Mahony created for Wright during her employment, Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, 1902, One of the numerous intricate watercolor renderings Mahony created for Wright during her employment, Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

While in Chicago, Mahony spent two years working with her cousin Dwight Perkins at his studio in Steinway Hall (which Perkins also designed), where a diverse crowd of innovative artists and architects from the Prairie School could always be found. Soon after she left her cousin’s firm, she discovered another young Chicago architect also working in the building, Frank Lloyd Wright. Hired as Wright’s first employee, Mahony worked on and off with him for the next 14 years and became a significant contributor to his practice. 

Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, Illinois, 1902, One of the numerous intricate watercolor renderings Mahony created for Wright during her employment, Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

J. C. Blythe House, 1913, One of the eight Prairie style homes designed and built in Rock Crest – Rock Glen Historic District, Mason City, Iowa
J. C. Blythe House, 1913, One of the eight Prairie style homes designed and built in Rock Crest – Rock Glen Historic District, Mason City, Iowa

Career and Achievements

While working for Wright, Mohony provided intricate architectural renderings for his designs, becoming an essential participant in his work and leaving her without credit — a recurring theme throughout her career. Today, the renderings are acknowledged as her creations and she is recognized as one of the greatest architectural illustrators. 

Mahony completed numerous independent projects while working for Wright including Evanston’s All Souls Unitarian Church. The intimate church featured an abundance of alluring stained glass in its skylights, windows and numerous other light fixtures. 

Eventually, Mahony left Wright’s studio to work with her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, a fellow architect and leading member of the Prairie School. Together, Griffin and Mahony created their most renowned work, the design of Prairie School residences in Mason City, Iowa, Rock Crest – Rock Glen. The nationally-recognized historic district features eight elaborate Prairie School homes that surround the city’s Willow Creek. 

Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre, Marion Mahony Griffin, 1924
Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre, Marion Mahony Griffin, 1924

In 1914 the couple relocated to Australia, where Mahony’s watercolor renderings of Griffin’s design were chosen as the plan for the country’s new capital, Canberra. In Australia, Mahony’s commission’s increased dramatically. One of her final and most well-known works is Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre. The theatre’s opulent decor and avant-garde ceilings and walls were designed to invoke a crystalline cave, and showed a new side of Mahony’s architectural gifts.

Today, Mahony’s extensive experience and portfolio speak for themselves, and she is finally recognized as a trailblazer for architecture and design, and as an original member of the Prairie School.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and His Role in the Chicago Skyline

Mid-Century Modernism defines the Chicago skyline. Organic forms rise from Chicago’s foundation and cast shadows across the Lake while innovative use of glass reflects waves of light onto the city streets. The Willis Tower, Marina City, the Aon Center are all notable examples of the mid-century modern masterpieces towering over the city.

Chicago’s mid-century modern skyline would not be complete without the exceptional contributions of architecture titan Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Born 1886 in Germany, Mies emigrated to Chicago in the 1930s due to the rise of Nazism in Europe. Already an esteemed architect, in Chicago Mies accepted the position as head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). At IIT, Mies was commissioned to design buildings for the campus which still stand today. These buildings include Alumni Hall, the Carr Memorial Chapel, and S.R. Crown Hall, some of Mies’ many masterpieces. 

860-880 Lake Shore Drive
860-880 Lake Shore Drive

Mies aspired to create architecture that represented modernity with clarity and simplicity. In 1951, Mies completed the two residential buildings of 860-880 Lakeshore Drive which are considered Chicago Landmarks and are listed as National Historic Places. Initially, the towers were viewed critically. However, with time the buildings became the prototype for steel and glass skyscrapers around the world.

Mies also designed Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza which is composed of three buildings; the Everett McKinley Dirksen courthouse building, the John C. Kulczynski building, and the Post Office building. The three buildings situate themselves around a plaza with Calder’s red Flamingo sculpture at the center. The plaza serves as one of the main gathering points in the Loop, Chicago’s commercial center. 

Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza
Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza

Not too far away at 330 North Wabash sits the former IBM Plaza and Building, one of the last American projects designed by Mies. Built in 1973, the building was designed with advanced technology in mind and became well-known for the several atypical features it included as an office space at the time. Today, the Chicago Landmark is known as the AMA Plaza and includes the Langham Hotel, often regarded as one of the best hotels in the nation.

The Promontory, situated at 5530 S Shore Dr, stands 22 stories over Chicago’s Promontory Point and extensive shoreline in the Burnham neighborhood. Mies built the structure with a “Double T” design in which horizontal cross-bars join and the stems of the T’s form wings to the rear. Mies would employ this design in many of his future buildings. 

The Farnsworth House
The Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House, designed as a vacation retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, is located just outside of Chicago in Plano, Illinois. Though the Farnsworth House is not a grand skyscraper, it has left a lasting impact on the Chicago architectural landscape. The house was an exploration for Mies in the convergence of humans, shelter, and nature. Consisting of a glass pavilion raised six feet above a floodplain beside the Fox River, the house has been described as “sublime” an “a poem” and is now a public museum.

Today, Chicago’s skyline has completely transformed from what it was more than 50 years ago when Mies passed. However, even as it continues to evolve with every new development, Mies iconic buildings still stand out as striking, inspiring architectural masterpieces.

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