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The Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

Considering we all spent a lot of time indoors in 2020, we’ll take any excuse to get outside this summer. Thankfully, there are numerous mental and physical perks to spending time in the great outdoors, whether it’s on a hiking trail or on your own terrace. Here are just a few of the many health benefits of being outdoors:

Boost Your Mood

Studies have shown being outdoors lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s a marker for stress. Spending some time outside can help with stress, anxiety or depression, not to mention the added physical benefits of just spending a few minutes in the sun. Vitamin D helps with bone growth, regulates your immune system and can help battle depression. Even if it’s just a quick reset, getting out of the house and into nature can really boost your mood.

Improve Your Vision

Just like we’ve all spent more time inside over the past year, we’ve also spent more time on our screens. Whether you’re back in the office or working from home, your eyes probably need a break. Staring at computers, tablets and smartphones for long periods of time can cause Computer Vision Syndrome, but spending time outdoors can alleviate blurred and double vision, red eyes and headaches.

Photo of Optima Signature 7th Floor Outdoor Deck
Optima Signature 7th Floor Outdoor Deck

Refresh Your Focus

Nature and green space lets our brains take a break from the chaos of life (and in some cases has even reduced symptoms of ADHD). Spending more time outdoors is also linked to higher levels of concentration, creativity and improved mental clarity.

We hold these health benefits in high esteem, and it’s one of the many reasons we design our residential and communal spaces to invite the outdoors inside. Connecting to nature is an easy way to take some time and connect to yourself and to the environment around you.

The Arts Club of Chicago

An iconic creative space in Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago has been a hub for contemporary art in the Windy City for more than 100 years. Only a five-minute walk from Optima Signature and Optima Chicago Center, The Arts Club of Chicago exhibits international works from both established and emerging artists, breaking new ground for over 100 years. Today, we explore the fascinating history and unique details that make The Arts Club of Chicago a beloved neighbor within our Streeterville community.

A Scandalous Start

Founded in 1916, The Arts Club of Chicago was founded by artists and advocates after The Armory Show garnered negative attention when it exhibited at the Art Institute. As the first major exhibition of modern art in America, Chicagoans were shocked and scandalized. The Club’s founders took note of the negative reception and aimed to normalize modern art by curating exhibits tailored to Chicago, enabling the Club to present new, cutting-edge culture for residents and visitors alike. 

Finding a Home

Over the years, the Club has moved from an office space, to Michigan Avenue, to the Wrigley Building;  in 1951, it moved to 109 East Ontario Street. The new space was created just for The Arts Club by architectural legend Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Sadly, in 1990, the owner sold the building, which led to The Club’s current John Vinci-designed two-story building located in Streeterville. Although much of Mies’ architectural work was lost in the move, the building remains an homage to his design and his steel staircase was restored and remains the focal point of the first-floor space, adjacent to Alexander Calder’s Red Petals

The Club Today

Today, The Arts Club offers three or four major public exhibitions a year, along with displaying work from its permanent collection. The Club also offers a broad, rich calendar of programming, bringing lectures, demonstrations, gallery talks, films, music, dance presentations and other educational programming to Chicago, and to our Optima communities. 

For hours and visitor information, visit The Arts Club of Chicago website.

Office Collaboration Spotlight

From the big picture to the day-to-day details, Optima’s success depends on our team communicating and working together. We sat down with two members of our architecture team, Pete Foerster and Colin O’Donoghue, to learn more about how Optima’s office collaboration creates engagement, cohesion and community. 

With architecture teams based in two locations, what keeps you all connected and engaged? 

Pete: “When the Arizona office opened in 2000, we wanted the two teams to be symbiotic and to have the same processes. Our processes, policies and standards remain the backbone of how we all operate.” 

Colin: “The most natural and easy way to collaborate is when one office has a demanding schedule that requires more help. When a project in a specific location has a demanding schedule, we can all jump in and help out. This gives us a chance to speak daily, if not hourly, with our team in Arizona.”

How has your experience at Optima shaped the way you work with other architects?

Pete: “Working at Optima for almost 20 years, many of my historical best practices have come from how long I’ve worked with David Hovey Sr. I understand and take pride in the company philosophy and I’m happy to teach it to others. My door is always open for anyone on my team.”

Colin: “Our architecture team embraces Optima as a family-owned and design-led business. We really see ourselves as family members. You’re able to let your guard down internally and to learn from each other. At Optima, you have to think more holistically and problems actually get solved quicker.”

Can you share a specific example of when collaboration yielded surprising or exciting results?

Pete: “When the Arizona office opened in 2000, we wanted the two teams to be symbiotic and to have the same processes, but that’s hard to accomplish. Our team had to create new standards to keep things running efficiently. Having our core values helped remind people of what’s important.” 

Colin: “With the roof deck at Sonoran Village, there are a lot of systems coming through the roof, but we had to divert them to accommodate amenity spaces. We had a very elaborate duct system that was tricky to resolve, but working with the field team, we were able to solve the problem together so it wouldn’t affect the roof terrace.”

With a talented group of people across two offices, our architecture team is an inspiring example of how collaboration works within Optima. As Pete says, “every day can be a surprise and every day can be a learning opportunity.”

Modernism in Chicago

According to the Tate Modern Museum, Modernism “refers to a global movement in society and culture that from the early decades of the twentieth century sought a new alignment with the experience and values of modern industrial life.” Within a broader cultural narrative, modernism emerged as a criticism of nineteenth-century societal order, and trickled down into everything from political activism, urban planning, psychoanalysis, art, and of course, architecture. As we’ve previously explored, Modernist architecture has an important place in America’s history. But how does it factor into Chicago’s past?

After the great Chicago fire in 1871, the city was a blank slate, re-planned over an entirely new grid. With the world’s first skyscraper completed by 1884 (at only ten stories), Chicago was positioned to be a groundbreaking city for architectural innovation. Our triumphant World’s Fair of 1893 solidified the city’s confidence and paved the way for Daniel Burnham to create his comprehensive city plan. Chicago’s architects banded together to decide how to best develop ever-evolving skyscrapers within the city. One such architect was Louis Sullivan, who helped found the Chicago School of architects around his belief that “form forever follows function.” 

If Sullivan’s creed sounds familiar, it’s because function over form is a cornerstone belief embedded in the Modernist tradition. In the mid-1900s, architects from the growing practices in Europe came to the United States to avoid World War I, and subsequently, World War II. Iconic architects, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, came to Chicago to set up shop. Striking buildings of steel and glass defined an entire generation of skyscrapers, and still add to Chicago’s diverse range of architecture. 

Chicago was a city that pioneered the world’s forte into stretching and sweeping skylines. Beginning with sleek and simple Modernist structures, Chicago’s architecture is now made all the more standout by the dynamic mix of styles it holds. From Art Deco to Art Nouveau, Chicago School to International Style, Modern to Postmodern, each style is made more its own when juxtaposed with its counterparts.

Through our own addition to Modernism in Chicago, we are proud to create buildings that contribute to the movement’s and the city’s larger legacy. To learn more about Chicago’s Modernist history, the Chicago Architecture Center offers tours specifically dedicated to the style and craft. 

The Life and Work of Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse is often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century. Leader of the Fauvist movement, his work was expressive, colorful and rigorous, often depicting flattened forms and decorative pattern. He operated with a unique way of seeing, stating, “I don’t paint things, I only paint the difference between things.” To understand the influential work of one of art history’s greatest minds, we first examine his life.

Henri Matisse working on a cut paper collage, a preferred medium in his later years after falling ill.
Henri Matisse working on a cut paper collage, a preferred medium in his later years after falling ill.

Matisse’s Early Life

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (1869 to 1954) was a draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor, most renowned for his work as a painter. Born to a wealthy grain merchant in Northern France, he first studied law before finding his calling as an artist. His mother gifted him art supplies during his recovery from appendicitis. Through the gift, Matisse discovered “a kind of paradise” in creation, and made the decision to abandon law for a lifelong pursuit in art. 

In the last decade of the 19th century, Matisse studied art in Paris, and was influenced by the work of early masters and modern artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Éduoard Manet. However, an 1896 trip to the island of Belle Île introduced Matisse to Australian painter John Russell, who then introduced Mattisse to Impressionism and the work of Vincent van Gogh, Russell’s dear friend. Seeing the vibrancy of Impressionism and van Gogh’s work, Mattisse’s style transformed with brilliant hues. Of his experience with Russell, Matisse said he, “explained colour theory to me.” 

The Red Room (1908), Henri Matisse.
The Red Room (1908), Henri Matisse.

The Art of Matisse

After time spent learning from Russell, Matisse was plunged into the world of Fauvism at the turn of the century. The style began around 1900, continuing beyond the first decade. Part of an innovative group later dubbed “Fauves,” Matisse explored his new understanding of color through paintings with tones bright, clashing and dissonant from those natural to their subject. Even though he helped to pioneer Fauvism, Matisse never really fit in with the crowd due to his conservative appearance and strict bourgeois work habits. And although the radical movement eventually declined, Matisse nevertheless forged on. 

The work that Matisse created during this period set the stage for the work he would create for the rest of his career. His focus on color continued, explored through what he called “construction by colored surfaces.” Even as his style and subject matter changed from abstract, to decorative interiors, to cut-out paper collages at the end of his life, this approach remained the same.

We are lucky to hang the work of Henri Matisse in our own communities. His consideration of form and color is reflective of our own thought process, and serves as a reminder that while style may change over time, a well-formed approach will always shine through.

 

Rooftop Amenities at Optima

Across all of our projects and properties, we believe amenities are essential to building wellness-focused, holistic spaces. From our single-family homes to our multi-family residences, we carefully curate our outdoor and indoor amenities to reflect these values. One of our favorite applications is utilizing our rooftop areas, particularly in our multi-family residences. Although rooftop gardens and green spaces have existed since the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, new technologies have allowed us to expand into sophisticated, expansive systems of features. Optima began using green roofs in Chicago back in the early 1980s, and have evolved our practice to include both green space and amenities throughout our properties in Arizona and Illinois. 

The rooftop views from Optima Sonoran Village.
The rooftop views from Optima Sonoran Village.

One of our favorite aspects of moving out to Arizona was creating outdoor spaces that celebrated and embraced the desert atmosphere. Our Arizona rooftop amenities include heated pools, built-in seating areas, spas,cold plunges, rooftop running tracks, outdoor yoga studios, entertaining spaces with barbecues and fire pits, and of course, panoramic mountain views. At Optima Sonoran Village in particular, we maximized the small footprint of the building to offer incredible views of Camelback mountain and to create socializing space for residents. 

With state-of-the-art features and unparalleled views of the surrounding environments, our rooftop spaces across our Arizona projects create the perfect backdrop for time spent outside with loved ones. 

The rooftop at Optima Chicago Center.
The rooftop at Optima Chicago Center.

Despite the cold Chicago winters, our projects within the city still take advantage of their rooftop space for dynamic city views and amenities for our residents to enjoy. With outdoor heated swimming pools, cabanas and bars, outdoor saunas and steam rooms, outdoor terraces, fire pits, herb gardens, dog parks and outdoor children’s play areas, both Optima Chicago Center and Optima Signature feature plenty of enticing areas and activities. 

Our building amenities are an integral step in our process of creating functional, beautiful and welcoming spaces, and in utilizing our rooftops, we extend our creativity into designing desirable, innovative outdoor space.

Redwood at Optima Signature

Our design is often driven with sustainability and efficiency in mind. This leads to the thoughtful incorporation of unconventional materials in many of our projects whether that be for the exterior facade or an interior accent. One such detail, the redwood in the lobby at Optima Signature, is an unconventional material that serves to juxtapose the strength of the building’s steel-and-glass exterior.

 A striking statement throughout the Optima Signature lobby, the barge wood adds a soft, natural texture behind the front desk, creating a stark contrast to the surrounding steel and glass. The wood lines the north wall of the lobby in long planks and is the first sight to greet residents and visitors when they enter the building. Though now on display for all in our community, the wood came all the way from California in the 1850s.

Barge wood in the lobby at Optima Signature.
Barge wood in the lobby at Optima Signature.

The planks are redwood, formed from one massive log that sat on the bottom of the Big River in Mendocino California. This particular log was a “sinker,” the name given to the handful of logs that unfortunately sank during their river journey from a redwood forest to the sawmill at the mouth of the Big River, not far from San Francisco. 

For over 100 years, the log sat at the bottom of the Big River, until it was salvaged by Arky Ciancutti. Ciancutti began a redwood salvage business in the 1970s, raising large redwood logs that had previously sat forgotten at the bottom of the river. This particular log, Ciancutti determined, was from the first growth period of the redwood forest. He knew this because it was more than six feet in diameter and had axe-shaven markings at its ends, indicating that it was cut down, prior to the invention of the “raker tooth” saw of the late 1800s.

A close-up look at the barge wood at Optima Signature.
A close-up look at the barge wood at Optima Signature.

Having sat in the river for over one hundred years in mineral-rich water, this redwood log developed a truly rare and unique “curl” pattern within the grain of the wood. To highlight this unique feature, the wood was cut into three-inch-planks that ran the full length of the log. We then carefully installed these planks, with their raw beauty intact, leaving the live edges of the wood as is. The planks were then hung vertically in the lobby space, the orientation the same from which they grew. 

From a river in California to the lobby of a Chicago residential building, our barge wood at Optima Signature has a unique story that connects our urban lobby back to nature, and reflects our commitment to sustainability and longevity. 

Neighborhood Spotlights: Our Favorite Streeterville Spots

Home to Optima Signature and Optima Chicago Center, Streeterville is one of Chicago’s many thriving neighborhoods. Nestled just north of the Loop in downtown, the Streeterville area intersects the art, culture, food and event scenes of the Windy City. Here are just a few of our favorite spots:

The Chicago Riverwalk

Whether you’re looking for a fun Friday night out or to learn more about Chicago’s history, the Riverwalk is your destination for a good time. Spend an evening at City Winery’s riverside location, hop on an architectural boat tour or go for a quick jog around downtown Chicago. Although best experienced in the city’s warmer months, the Chicago Riverwalk is a fantastic spot for Optima residents, visitors and locals alike. 

The Restaurant Scene

Like the rest of Chicago, Streeterville boasts plenty of amazing restaurants and drinkeries. For a night of fantastic food, The Purple Pig’s tapas, the pasta at Volare Ristorante, or a lobster roll at the Hampton Social are just around the corner. From Sunday brunch to Friday evening date night, Streeterville’s culinary scene doesn’t disappoint. 

Streeterville, with Optima Signature in the skyline
Streeterville, with Optima Signature in the skyline

The Culture

Within Chicago’s vast cultural ecosystem, Streeterville claims a handful of spectacular museums and organizations. The Museum of Contemporary Art, located up Michigan Avenue, is one of the world’s largest contemporary art venues, established in 1967. One of Chicago’s most iconic destinations, Navy Pier is home to the Children’s Museum, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and events throughout the year, including EXPO Chicago. 

We’re proud to have strong roots in Chicago, and excited to be a contributing part of the Streeterville neighborhood; Stay tuned for more neighborhood spotlights on our other Optima communities.

Business Suite Spotlight

One of our cornerstone beliefs at Optima is that our buildings can help improve the lives of those who reside within them by offering everyday comforts and conveniences and we’re constantly searching for ways to innovate and improve.

It’s no secret that coworking spaces and the ability to work remotely, or from home, has become increasingly popular in the professional sector. In 2018, a staggering 1,000 new coworking spaces were introduced in the United States alone — and experts don’t see the trend slowing down anytime soon. Some estimates claim that freelancers will even outnumber full-time employees in the workforce by 2027. 

An Optima business suite at Optima Signature
An Optima business suite at Optima Signature

We were happy to respond to the growing need by integrating our own rentable, commercial business suites into our multi-family communities, starting in 2010 with Optima Camelview Village. Since Optima Camelview Village, we have designed business suites at Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Chicago Center and Optima Signature with a live-work-play environment in mind. At each site, we have seen measurable success as the remote working trend continues to be on the rise and residents take advantage of the opportunity to utilize a workspace right in their own home.

Optima Signature in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, IL
Optima Signature in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, IL

Having business suites within our communities makes work feel like a more comfortable, more convenient experience. And that’s exactly what we want to bring to our residents and tenants. 

 

A Transparency on Glass

Whale Bay House, Optima DCHGlobal, Inc., New Zealand.
Whale Bay House, Optima DCHGlobal, Inc., New Zealand.

For decades, glass has been a stylistic signature of Modernist architecture. From the first Modernist structure ever built to the steel-and-glass aesthetic of Modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the material has provided a timeless transparency that is crucial to minimalist design. But glass hasn’t always been as functional as it is aesthetic. 

A History of Glass

Glass is one of the oldest man-made materials, with use dating back to 7000 B.C. It was first utilized for decorative purposes in 3000 B.C. by Egyptians mainly in pottery and other decorative trinkets and first used as windows by the Romans around 500 B.C.

However, at that time, the masonry required to create glass also didn’t allow for larger, stronger pieces to be created, so its use was therefore sequestered to windows and detailing, such as stained glass murals.

In the 19th century, the manufacturing renaissance introduced iron, steel and other materials that provided the strength and durability necessary to support larger glass constructions. The support of these materials, combined with the capability to produce glass in larger sheets, allowed architects to experiment with creating structures utilizing glass in more creative ways.

The Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton.
The Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton.

The Crystal Palace

This new design potential allowed for greenhouses, large railway stations and other public structures to be made of glass. Such new usages inspired Joseph Paxton, an architect in London, to design the Crystal Palace in 1851 using 300,000 sheets of glass. The Crystal Palace was the first architectural creation to utilize an all-glass exterior, and is also considered the first Modernist structure ever created.  

To overcome the harsh effects of a glass exterior, Paxton utilized translucent screens of calico hung externally between the ridge beams of the structure’s roof glazing, covering the entire exposed rooftop and protecting against the transparent building’s vulnerability to heat. This functional feature eventually transitioned into a cornerstone piece of Modernist design. 

7120 Optima Kierland in the Kierland neighborhood of Scottsdale, AZ.
7120 Optima Kierland in the Kierland neighborhood of Scottsdale, AZ.

Glass at Optima

The idea of transparency, open space and functional materials are still relevant and desirable today. At Optima, we use floor-to-ceiling glass to create an indoor-outdoor relationship, allowing for sweeping views and connecting our indoor living spaces with the natural spaces just outside.

At 7120 Optima Kierland, we use a combination of low-e, UV-treated glass, perforated sunscreens and horizontal louvers, to create texture and rich variation of shades and shadows, while allowing for breathtaking views.

Optima Signature in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, IL
Optima Signature in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, IL

At Optima Signature, glass preserves the sweeping lake views to the east and dynamic city views in all other directions. Glass also unifies Optima Signature with its sister tower to the west, Optima Chicago Center. While the glass curtainwalls of each building are different — silver-toned in the case Optima Chicago Center, and transparent green for Optima Signature — the podiums share a unifying black ceramic frit glass with dot pattern. Optima Signature expands the palette with areas of red glass that wrap the podium as it extends south to define the east edge of the plaza.

As we reflect on the history of glass and how it has become a viable aesthetic and functional choice when designing today, we return to the material time and again to design and build the stunning Modernist steel-and-glass structures in our portfolio.

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