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Team Member Spotlight: Amanda Johnson

At Optima, our communities would not thrive without the outstanding work from our spirited team of individuals. We recently sat down with Amanda Johnson, Marketing Associate at Optima, to discuss why she loves being part of such a passionate team and what she has learned throughout her experience here.

Tell us a bit about your background and the role you play at Optima.

Before joining Optima, I held various Marketing and Graphic Design positions for a handful of industries including Interior Design, Travel & Tourism, Hospitality, and Commercial Real Estate. Today, I’m the Marketing Associate at Optima and work alongside the Marketing Director, Ali Burnham, to manage and implement all aspects of the company’s marketing and brand management strategy on both a corporate and property level.

What drew you to Optima?

Tarryn, Optima’s wonderful People Experience Recruiter, reached out to me on LinkedIn and spoke with such positivity and excitement about the role and company, so I naturally had to learn more. Immediately after meeting with Ali, I became even more excited about the opportunity and the wide variety of projects I could potentially work on ranging from resident event flyers to presentations and digital advertisements to demographic research. It seemed like a job I could never get bored with where there was always something different to work on.

But the projects weren’t the only thing that drew me in. Optima’s culture, values, and mission stood out to me. To me, it’s always been important to find a company that aligns with my own values and beliefs (i.e. good work-life balance, volunteer opportunities, relationship-building events, etc) and Optima seemed like a great fit. The rest is history!

How do you view the concept of community at Optima? 

The concept of community is more-so a feeling at Optima. It’s easy for people to work together or live under the same roof, but it’s the strong sense of community that we strive for– we want them to feel at home. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the everyday lives of our residents and team members.

For example, we have a growing number of families at our properties with young children. Of course, we have many events that cater towards adults, but we wanted more ways to get the kids involved. In efforts to do so, we came up with a Kids’ Club at each of our properties which includes a rotating calendar of events, giveaways, and a move-in folder full of goodies (i.e. property treasure hunt, Optima coloring book, crayons, Kids’ Club passport, etc). Whether it’s through experiences, conveniences, or a change in design or features, we encourage feedback and take the initiative to go above and beyond.

Optima has a unique set of values that differentiates it from other company cultures. How does that affect the quality of your work life? What values matter most to you? 

“Speed and detail set us apart” is the value that resonates the most with me. I work on projects for all properties plus our corporate office that have different priorities and deadlines, so it’s essential that I stay organized and don’t lose sight of the mission and end goal.

I collaborate with each team, whether it’s the Architect, Construction, or Leasing & Management teams, while taking account of team member and resident feedback to develop strategies and marketing materials or collateral from those conversations. It’s important to be detailed throughout the entire process— from the ideation phase to the final design or solution.

What are some of the things you have learned in your time at Optima? 

Where do I even begin? I’ve learned so much at Optima and am constantly learning every day, which is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. New knowledge is so valuable.

I’ve learned that when more people are involved in a project, the longer the process is. But, in return, the result is the best that it could be. Solo creating and editing is fun, but to be able to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another is extraordinarily beneficial.

What makes you most proud to be a part of the Optima team?

What makes me most proud to be a part of Optima is everyone’s genuineness and respectfulness towards one another. I always feel heard and appreciated.

This stretches to the resident-side of things as well. We have a passion for making living at our properties an unmatched experience through the relationships we build, services we provide, amenities we have, and innovative design that we create.

What do you hope to accomplish in the year ahead?

In the year ahead, I plan to support my teams as much as possible, design exceptionally, and learn more—especially from my first lease-up at Optima Lakeview!

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.

How to Keep Active in the Winter With Optima Fitness Centers

When the weather turns cold and the days get shorter, it can be difficult to stay true to our fitness goals. As part of Optima’s commitment to creating happy and healthy communities, we’re constantly developing ways to keep residents active throughout the year. In all of our buildings, residents will find incredible fitness and wellness amenities to stave off winter blues.

Indoor Basketball/Pickleball

The basketball courts at Optima provide generous spaces for individuals or groups to build endurance and strengthen their bodies, and they are thoughtfully designed to effortlessly flow into the modern design around them. Residents can step onto the courts to spend time doing drills or to join a pickup game. And as pickleball becomes evermore popular, many of our courts are now fitted out to accommodate this popular game, giving each space greater versatility.

Yoga 

For those looking for vigor, balance, stretching and meditative activity, Optima’s yoga studios are the perfect answer. Our yoga studios are fantastic for residents to learn more about themselves, practice mindfulness and discover new ways of staying active. Maintaining a routine yoga practice provides mental and physical health benefits, including improved energy and vitality. And, similar to all of our other amenity spaces, our yoga studios serve as spaces to build community and connect with other Optima residents who might share the same values.

Optima Lakeview’s state-of-the-art fitness center

Expansive Fitness Centers

Included in each of our apartment communities and many of our condominiums, Optima’s expansive fitness centers offer residents endless opportunities to focus on their health and wellness. At Optima Lakeview, the fitness center has been outfitted with top-of-the-line cardio equipment, a weight room, a light-filled studio for yoga and stretching and locker rooms with complimentary towel service. Residents can also take advantage of yoga classes and personal training, along with outdoor clubs for runners, bikers and nature lovers.

Swimming Pool at 7140 Kierland
Rooftop sky deck pool at the 7140 tower at Optima Kierland Apartments

Swimming Pools

No discussion of fitness and wellness amenities at Optima would be complete without showcasing our swimming pools. Many of our communities, including Optima Kierland, Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Signature and Optima Lakeview, offer beautifully-designed indoor and/or outdoor swimming pools — ideal for lap swimming and water aerobics — as a central feature of our impressive rooftop sky deck spaces. While the health benefits of swimming are compelling year-round, they are especially powerful in the cold winter months when a regular pool routine can be both invigorating and relaxing.

Rooftop Sauna at Optima Kierland Apartments
Rooftop Sauna at Optima Kierland Apartments

Saunas

A favorite among Optima residents, our rooftop saunas are a relaxing way to stay healthy throughout the year. While they aren’t a means to be active, saunas come with a wealth of  benefits, providing residents with an opportunity to reduce stress, relieve pain and recharge. While the benefits of using a sauna are seemingly endless, with cold weather, hopping into a heated room might be the only motivation you need.

At Optima communities, residents never have to fear the impact of winter on their mobility or on their peace of mind. With our healthy environments and distinctive amenities, mental and physical health are always a priority.

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.

Public Art in Chicago’s Lakeview Neighborhood

As we continue to explore the dimensions of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood that make it so unique and dynamic, we’re showcasing one of the community’s most significant ongoing projects, a thoughtful offering of public art to the city, the Lakeview Public Art Program

Because the Lakeview creative community has a long history of celebrating art and culture, even the most casual stroll through the neighborhood reveals an abundance of public art installations. And thanks to the Lakeview Public Art Program, the neighborhood is growing its collection of murals and sculptures, while hosting cultural events and other artistic happenings that support emerging artists. 

The Lakeview Public Art Program is run by the Lakeview Public Art Committee, a diverse group of volunteers responsible for finding forward-thinking, culturally-aware artists. Working in collaboration with Lakeview Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce and Special Service Area (SSA) 27, the Committee supports and advances the non-profit Friends of Lakeview, an organization dedicated to improving and enhancing public streets and spaces, creating memorable experiences, and promoting the neighborhood.

Many of the artists whose work has been commissioned by the Lakeview Public Art Committee are Chicago natives themselves, like Anthony Lewellen; you can see his mural titled Lake View in the geographical heart of the neighborhood, at the corner of 3241 N. Lincoln Ave. For this mural, the artist took inspiration from memories of growing up in Lakeview. This 4,000 square foot wall painting displays a girl holding binoculars looking at Lake Michigan with the rest of Chicago behind her. The girl personifies the neighborhood itself, as she looks toward a horizon of opportunity.

A mural painted on a the side of a brick building depicts a woman gazing onto Lake Michigan with the skyline of Chicago behind her.
Lake View, Anthony Lewellen, Courtesy of Lakeview Public Art Program

Another mural commissioned by the Committee is Felix Maldonado’s Bears on Parade, which can be seen at  3409 N. Ashland Ave. Maldonado drew inspiration from the fact that in the 18th century, this area of Lakeview was once inhabited by the Miami, Ottawa and Winnebago Native American tribes. Featuring a group of bears and cubs walking through a blue forest, this mural celebrates the neighborhood’s culture and history while also subtly referencing the city’s favorite sports teams. 

With Optima’s commitment to thought-provoking, inspiring art in and around our properties, we are proud to join the Lakeview neighborhood, and celebrate its commitment to public art and talented artists.

Romanticism to Ruin: Two Lost Works of Sullivan and Wright

Chicago is fortunate to have a rich architectural tradition. From the city’s first skyscraper built in 1885 to the transcending towers that look over the urban landscape today, architecture is at the forefront of Chicago’s role as a world-class city. At Optima, we are grateful to be part of an ecosystem that appreciates thoughtful and purposeful design. In the spirit of celebrating some of Chicago’s most prominent architects, we are delighted to see an exhibition at Wrightwood 659 that brings two magnificent lost buildings, designed by luminary architects to the public.

Romanticism to Ruin: Two Lost Works of Sullivan and Wright can be seen at Wrightwood 659, located just south of Optima Lakeview. This collection offers a glimpse into the rich history of two buildings designed by renowned architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis H. Sullivan. Though few connections are evident between the two structures at first glance, a deeper dive uncovers the rich relationship between the Garrick Theatre in Chicago and the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo.

Photo of the Garrick Theatre
The Garrick Theatre, 1891, Photo courtesy of The Richard Nickel Committee and Archive

Reconstructing The Garrick

At the time of its completion in 1892, the Garrick Theatre, with a capacity of 1,300 seats, was among the tallest buildings in Chicago. Sullivan and his firm partner, Dankmar Adler, designed the exquisite structure to reflect the German heritage of its original investors, but made every development choice with careful thought for the theatre’s visitors. As the historic structure faded with time, its decline accelerated, and in 1961, amid much controversy and disagreement, the theatre was razed and replaced with a parking structure.

Reconstructing the Garrick uses stencils, fragments, drawings, photography and narrative to bring the lost architectural treasure back to life. Some of Sullivan’s most opulent designs for the Garrick included numerous terracotta portraits of well-known German men of the arts that protruded from the Theatre’s upper floors. Fragile ornamentation and vibrantly-colored plasters consisting of gold, jade and salmon, salvaged before and after the building’s demolition, are on view as part of the exhibition, offering access to delightful details of this grand structure that have been long-forgotten.

Photo of the Larkin Administration Building
Larkin Administration Building, 1934, Larkin Company photography collection

Reimagining the Larkin

Razed in 1906, the Larkin Administration Building, owned by Darwin D. Martin, was Wright’s first commercially-designed structure and allowed him to apply his innovative and pioneering techniques to a much larger scale. The building, designed and constructed for the Larkin Soap Company, was groundbreaking in its own right as a center where all of the company’s products were both manufactured and mailed. However, at the forefront of Wright’s mind was designing for workability.

Wright and Martin both understood that an ordered, well-lit and harmonious environment would champion the workers. The five-story red brick building included numerous modernized mechanics, including air conditioning, built-in desk furniture and suspended toilets. Wright designed most of the building’s furniture himself, and many pieces are on display within the exhibition. Deemed by critics and architects at the time as the finest commercial building in the world, the Larkin also seamlessly unified technology with the nature that surrounded it with its rooftop garden, recreation areas and water lily ponds.

Unlike the Garrick, after years of deterioration, there was little fight to save the Larkin. However, today both buildings hold greater significance than ever before. The Gerrick and the Larkin prove how transcendent architecture is defined not only by its material and look, but also by the lasting impression it stamps into history.

Romanticism to Ruin is currently open to visitors Fridays and Saturdays through the end of December 2021. You can reserve tickets to the exhibit here.

 

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.

Chicago Architecture Spotlight: Charles M Harper Center

The Charles M Harper Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business ties the historical architecture of its neighboring structures with state-of-the-art technology and modern design. 

Completed in 2004 by Rafael Viñoly, the Charles M Harper Center sits across from the Rockefeller Chapel, a masterpiece of gothic architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, considered one of the greatest feats of Prairie style architecture. The Charles M Harper Center serves as a mirror to both structures while creating its own mark on the landscape of the University of Chicago campus.

The Harper Center serves as a favorite gathering place on campus for both researchers and students alike. The building fits into the aesthetic of the university’s campus while also providing updated technology and study spaces for the community. 

A view underneath the Charles M. Harper Center atrium.
Charles M Harper Center Atrium, Rafael Vinõly, 2004

Rothman Winter Garden

The Harper Center boasts a six story atrium at its center, dubbed the Winter Garden, covered with arched glass ceilings that mimic the Gothic arches of Rockefeller Chapel to the building’s south. The roof, made of light-filtering glass, serves as an ode to the glass roofs of the Robie House while also providing students with a bright, clean study space. 

A large stone and glass building is photographed in the bright sun.
Charles M Harper Center, Rafael Vinõly, 2004

Stone

Much of the University of Chicago’s campus is composed of grey stone, and the Harper Center’s mix of glass and grey stone exterior celebrate the historic structures of the campus. Stone facades mimic the straight lines of the Robie house while also celebrating the Gothic design that composes the campus quad. 

Parts of the building are open to the public, so next time you find yourself in the Hyde Park neighborhood, make sure to experience this cutting-edge and unique piece of architecture for yourself.

The Career of Helmut Jahn

The Life of Helmut Jahn

The German-American architect Helmut Jahn, who passed away in May 2021, holds a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans, as he made the city his home throughout his stellar international career. He was also a close friend and colleague of Optima founder, David Hovey Sr., FAIA.

Born in 1940 near Nuremberg, Germany, Jahn witnessed the destruction — and later reconstruction — of the town where he grew up during and after World War II. Because of this intimate and personal experience, he was inspired to study architecture and design as a way to participate in the process of stabilizing and beautifying the places where people live.

Jahn moved to Munich to study architecture, and relocated to Chicago in 1966 to further his studies under renowned architects Myron Goldsmith and Fazlur Khan at IIT. His career was forged when joining C. F. Murphy Associates, which was renamed JAHN in 2012 following Charles Murphy’s retirement. 

Much of the work Jahn created took inspiration from the modern aesthetic he adopted while at ITT; he also pulled from the influences of postmodernism, the Art Deco style of the ‘30s and eclecticism throughout his career. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Jahn’s mark on architecture really began as he transitioned from smaller projects to legacy-defining skyscrapers.

The Works of Helmut Jahn

James R. Thompson Center, Chicago

In 1985 Jahn designed the State of Illinois Building (renamed the James R. Thompson Center in 1994), located in Chicago, which serves as the second home to the Illinois state government. From the moment its doors opened to the public, it became one of Jahn’s most controversial designs, with mixed reviews that ranged from unabashed praise to outrage. 

The photos shows a rounded interior of a building fitted with bright colors of steel railings, staircases and beams.
The atrium inside the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, designed by Helmut Jahn

The building, with a grand atrium at its center, has a distinctive circular shape that references the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield. While the structure was considered futuristic at the time, in part due to the use of advanced architectural tectonics, it also incorporated design elements that were reminiscent of the grandeur of large public spaces of the past.

Over the years, many of Illinois’ most senior officeholders (including governors) have proposed selling the structure, much to the criticism of architects and architecture devotees concerned about the building’s future. And while the future of the building remains in question, the 17-story structure is internationally known and considered a momentous piece of postmodern architecture.

A round shaped building is lit up with lights from it's inside in the dark night.
The exterior of the James R. Thompson Center, designed by Helmut Jahn

Sony Center, Berlin

Built in 2000 at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany, the Sony Center stands as one of Jahn’s more recent architectural feats. After the city’s ruin during WWII, the original site — the infamous Nazi People’s Court — was stuck in the Berlin Wall’s No Man’s Land, and was left to decay. Once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the city looked to rehabilitate much of the forgotten architecture. 

Jahn undertook the project of this transformational urban marketplace with a desire to honor the meaning of building on and around abandoned structures. In the process, he successfully blended historic remnants and modern aesthetics to create an open, free-flowing space for all to enjoy.  

The grouping of eight buildings that makes up the Sony Center are a mix of residential, commercial and public space. Each structure is enveloped in glass, directing the flow of light and augmenting the feeling of transparency throughout the complex. The 102 meter-long roof that sits atop the complex, built by Waagner-Biro, has become an iconic feature in its own right. The medley of steel, glass and translucent fabrics, which is often illuminated in bright colors, furthers the fluid design that Jahn intended.

A wide lens photo captures four buildings faced with glass with a large fanned roof that is open above them.
A rendering of the Pritzker Military Archives Center in Sommers, Wisconsin, designed by Helmut Jahn

Pritzker Military Archives Center

The Pritzker Military Archives Center located in Sommers, Wisconsin, is one of Jahn’s final projects. The construction, which started in 2020, is taking place in conjunction with the development of a new Memorial Park Center. The center will advance the mission of the Pritzker Museum and Library to restore and preserve their ever-expanding collections. 

The state-of-the-art structure will feature an immersive 9,400 square-foot Gallery Center open to the public. The Gallery will house artifacts and exhibits provided by the parent museum and library located in Chicago. The front of the building will feature floor-to-ceiling glass frames that illuminate the interior. Brilliant red steel beams will stretch beyond the facade, creating a dramatic rooftop extending boldly beyond the building’s entrance. 

Construction on the Pritzker Military Archives Center is underway and moving swiftly; the entire Memorial Park Center will take nearly a decade to be completed.

A rendering presents a bright red steel structure with four flag poles with flags flying in its front. Around the structure green grass and trees fill the area.
The interior forum of the Sony Center in Berlin, designed by Helmut Jahn

Chicago Architecture Center Exhibit

Honoring Jahn’s accomplishments and extraordinary engineering feats, the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) has curated the exhibit Helmut Jahn: Life + Architecture. The exhibit includes an expansive compilation of ephemera including photography, sketches and models of Jahn’s most iconic works. 

For those interested in learning more about Jahn’s exemplary career in architecture and beyond, Helmut Jahn: Life + Architecture is free with admission to the CAC. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until October 31. You can purchase vouchers and learn more about future exhibits here.

Best Day Trips Close to the Chicago Area

Although Chicago is a huge city with plenty to explore, sometimes you just need a break from the bustle and noise. For our fellow Chicago residents who might need a weekend getaway this summer, here are the best day trips close to the Chicago area:

Image of a trail at Indiana Dunes National Park with snow covering part of the sand.
Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park

Chicago boasts some great beaches, but for something different, Indiana Dunes National Park is worth the drive over state borders. The park features over three miles of lakeshore lined with sand dunes, marshes, grasslands and forests. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try their Three Dune Challenge and climb three of their tallest dunes in one day. 

Rockford, IL

Less than 100 miles northwest of Chicago, Rockford’s charm is just a quick road trip away. You can’t miss the Anderson Japanese Gardens, one of North America’s premiere Japanese gardens with over 12 acres of streams, waterfalls, koi-filled ponds and more. The Discovery Center Museum or the Burpee Museum of Natural History are great spots for kids and families to explore.

Milwaukee Art Museum stands lit up in a foggy background
Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee, WI

Whether you get there by car or Amtrak train, Milwaukee’s downtown has something for everyone. Murals and public art line the streets full of boutique shops, perfect for exploring without an agenda. Don’t miss the Milwaukee Art Museum, one of the city’s many museums, for the exhibits and the architecture of the building itself. Milwaukee is also a city for beer enthusiasts, with a few historic gems related to the Pabst Brewing Company.

Oak Park, IL

This one is right in Chicago’s suburbs, but we can’t skip over Oak Park’s ties to legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His home and studio are in Oak Park, as are a series of other Prairie-style homes he designed. Take one of the many architectural tours dedicated to Wright’s work in the neighborhood.

Whether you’re exploring new museums, different scenery or a piece of architecture history, we hope this inspires you to find your new favorite getaway from the city!

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