I am home from Chicago. It was a ‘whirlwind’ trip as there is so much to see and do (and eat) in Chicago. Chicago to me is all about the architecture and the food. The variety of restaurants/food in Chicago is incredible. And for a very large city Chicago is quite affordable. Back in Toronto one must not forget that Toronto too has great architecture. The Toronto-Dominion Centre, designed in the International style by Mies van der Rohe, consists of six towers (TD Tower, Royal Trust Tower, Canadian Pacific Tower, TD Waterhouse Tower, Ernst & Young Tower, 95 Wellington Tower) and a pavilion (TD Banking). The original TD Centre designed by Mies consisted of two skyscrapers (TD Tower, Royal Trust Tower) plus the banking hall. The TD Tower was the first phase to open and symbolically dedicated on July 1st, 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday. The TD Centre were the skyscrapers that put Toronto on the architectural map and changed the city’s skyline forever. At 56 stories, the TD Tower is the tallest Mies van der Rohe building in the world! It was Mies’s last major work before his death in 1969. The TD Tower had an observation deck on its top floor but it was closed to the public when the CN Tower was built in 1976. I love walking around the financial district in Toronto and looking (looking way up) at these tall and impressive buildings made of steel and glass that reflect the skyline from them. Sometimes it takes a trip away to realize what is right in front of you!
Toronto – Mies van der Rohe
While in Chicago I recommend doing the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) Walking Tours. Listed as one of Chicago’s top ten cultural destinations it is a great way to learn about Chicago. Chicago is not only the birthplace of the skyscraper, it is also where most of the innovations in early skyscraper design and technology originated. The CAF is located right on Michigan Avenue near Millennium Park. I went on 2 tours; Historic Downtown-Rise of the Skyscraper and Modern Skyscrapers. The Historic Skyscraper tour includes buildings built right after the 1871 Great Chicago Fire up to The Great Depression. The tour points out the 3 architectural designs of the time – Chicago School of Architecture, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco. Looking at these incredible tall structures I had to remind myself that some were built in the 1800’s!! Such innovation! The Modern Skyscraper tour includes the years following World War II when Chicago established itself as a world-renowned city for Modern architecture. The tour points out the birth of the Mies van der Rohe minimalism (“Less is More”) to the rise of Postmodernism (“Less is a Bore”). After the tours I had an appreciation for a city that is more than just about a great shopping, baseball and hockey destination. Instead of just looking into the shop windows on Michigan Avenue and ‘The Magnificent Mile’ I started to look up and appreciate the history and beauty of Chicago.
I can now say that I have experienced the typical ‘windy city’ Chicago day with wind and rain that made my umbrella turn inside out. But yesterday was a beautiful, clear and sunny day that was perfect for walking up Michigan Avenue North and taking in all the sights along the ‘Magnificent Mile’. Lake Michigan is on the east side of the city (compared to Toronto with Lake Ontario on the south end) and the city is laid out in a grid system so it makes it easy for a tourist to navigate and find their way around downtown. Heading up the ‘Mag Mile’ I stopped at Millennium Park, an award-winning outdoor cultural centre for architecture, sculpture, music and landscape design. It is a ½ acre gathering place located in the heart of downtown Chicago. The big drawing card to Millennium Park is ‘The Bean’, a stainless steel, highly polished, huge (66 ft x 33 ft x 42 ft) bean-like sculpture. The sculpture’s surface has no visible seams and it reflects and distorts Chicago’s skyline. Great photo ops! I continued up Mag Mile and could have stopped and shopped at every conceivable retailer imaginable (one reason it is called The Magnificent Mile) but I did not stop or shop. Instead I headed to the John Hancock Center (known as Chicago’s Greatest High) to ride the elevator (1000 ft in 40 seconds) to the top. At the top you get a breathtaking 360 degree view of 4 states – Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. I recommend going to the ‘Signature Room at the 95th’ (no charge) instead of the Observation Deck. ($15 per adult) At the Signature Room the views of the Chicago skyline are outstanding; it is the perfect place to take amazing photos plus you can have a cocktail while admiring the view. And as I like to say when 95 floors above the ground, “I would rather be holding my glass than standing on glass!!” Cheers!
View of Chicago Skyline at The Bean, Millennium Park
View from the Signature Room at the 95th, John Hancock Centre
While in Chicago I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Chicago’s Oak Park neighborhood. This was Wright’s first home and studio; the birthplace of an ‘architectural revolution’. Wright built this home (for his wife and six children) in 1889 to explore design concepts that contained the beginning of his architectural philosophy. In 1898 Wright added his studio on to this home and it was here that he developed a new American architecture – the Prairie style. In 1889 Wright purchased a vacant lot in a neighborhood where the other homes were all Victorian in design. As I stood outside looking at this home I could only imagine the controversy that this house created as it was so contrasting different from all the other homes around it. What would the neighbors have thought?! There must have been an outcry at this ‘unusual’ looking building. This was after all the 1800’s. The home’s exterior is dark and severe looking. But on the inside the home is roomy with space that is well used and very bright. Frank Lloyd Wright captured sunlight and nature in his home with windows that were strategically placed and skylights. Wright actually built a living, growing tree that was on the lot into the home’s interior. It is a common misperception the Frank Lloyd Wright’s home are minimalistic, but in fact there is a high attention to detail in them which was prevalent with Oak Park. And as Frank Lloyd Wright once said “A building is not just a place to be. It is a way to be.”
Neighbour to Frank Lloyd Wright Oak Park Home - 1898
Frank Lloyd Wright Oak Park Home & Studio - 1898
I am heading off to Chicago, the windy city, for a week. Fabulous architecture. Amazing food. Lots to see and do. On the agenda is the Chicago Architectural Foundation, Historical Skyscraper walking tour. A ride up the John Hancock Center to the 95th floor for a drink that promises to give a ‘high’! I will check out the Merchandise Mart which is the world’s largest commercial building, wholesale design centre. Drop in to the Jonathan Adler shop to see what’s new. The Mag Mile, Millennium Park, Bloomingdales, Saks and lots more.
Few things in life are ever crystal clear. But clear crystal is a beautiful thing. The beauty in crystal lies in its clarity and it’s perfectly symmetrical design. The sparkle, the bling factor makes crystal appealing and eye-catching. Think crystal chandeliers, crystal decanters, the crystal ball and most recently the liquid crystal display (LCD) television. So why is it that ‘The Crystal’, the new Daniel Libeskind architectural expansion at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) is so controversial? Cantilevered out over Bloor St. in downtown Toronto, the Crystal’s overall aim was to provide openness and accessibility and to transform the entire museum complex into a dynamic centre of people, events and artifacts. To re-vitalize it. The ROM was originally built in 1914 in the style of Neo-Romanesque and the 1933 expansion was built in the Neo-Byzantine style. Both styles lean toward a heavy, fortress-like design. The new 2007 expansion by comparison is very different and diverse. Very outrageous. But original and new. Shouldn’t we begin to marry the old with the new? Not hang around in the ‘Romanesque’ period but carve out a new path? A new style. Something that reads ‘Modern’? Aren’t we in a new Millennium? Shouldn’t we leave our own mark? Let me know what you think. Is ‘The Crystal’ a forward thinking design….or not??
When opportunity occurs I like to take a walk along Bloor St. in downtown Toronto. Heading west from Yonge St. I stroll past all the shops checking out their window displays. Jewelery, shoes, clothing and decor shops all create some sort of design in their windows for passerby’s to view. The window display I was really taken with was Holt Renfrew’s. WOW! A riot of colour like you couldn’t imagine. It may be really cold outside (think snow flurries in April) but their windows were hot! The theme of their window display was “This spring you can’t live without…” and done in all the fabulous colours of spring. Various media personalities were quoted as to the items they could not live without and the items were displayed in some vibrant and lively fashion. Someone couldn’t live without lemons, lots of lemons. Someone couldn’t live without their dog. Someone else it was a great white shirt. Someone a LBD (little black dress). And of course someone couldn’t live without chocolate. This got me thinking; what could I not live without? Hmmm? I’m thinking yellow tulips, French macaroons, birdsong? So…let me know what it is that ”this spring you can’t live without”? PS. A big shout out to all the window designers out there who put smiles on our faces and thoughts in our heads!
I like checking out thrift/vintage shops. To me, it is all about the thrill of what possibly lies inside. ‘What will I find?’ I think also it is about the memories that are attached to the items. The sense of looking into and having the sentiment of a bygone era. Vintage finds will give you a sense of what the post-war 50′s, the swinging 60′s and the groovy 70′s may have felt like. I have ‘scored’ some wonderful items in these thrift shops over the years. Recently I purchased a silk Hermes scarf for $6.99 (vs. $200 plus)! I like to wear it (proudly) but if that is not your thing, re-think its purpose and sew it into a fabulous cushion cover. One time I spotted a ‘pink’ Saarinen-style dining table. I stood in front of this table for many minutes not only because the whole pink thing made me smile but because I wondered, “where could I see myself using this? Garden furniture?” I eventually moved on and left the pink classic to the next person. But one of my most interesting finds had to be a purple, full length, 100% mohair coat ($7.99). I purchased this coat and had it dry cleaned. I had no intention of ever wearing this coat but instead it was the mohair fabric that I coveted. I had been looking for months for fabric to re-cover a Louis XVI chair with. Mohair was what I had originally wanted but the cost had kept me at a standstill. With chair and coat in hand I visited my upholsterer. He had a good laugh but did agree that the fabric was a wonderful solution for the chair. One stipulation…I had to take the coat all apart. No problem. If I could save $$$ on the fabric what’s a little effort. I have now enjoyed my purple mohair chair for many years and the fabric has stood the test of time. So next time you visit a thrift/vintage shop, keep your mind open to all the possibilities that lie waiting for you!
Recently, I was driving along a section of St Clair Avenue East in Toronto’s east end and I experienced a major ‘rubber necker’ episode. I am not of the common variety, ‘bad situation rubber necker’ but what made me turn my head was a great piece of architecture. The building that I found so interesting was a church – Clairlea Park Presbyterian Church. This church was not a large cathedral style church with high stained glass windows but rather a very simple, quietly understated church. Its style is very contemporary in design and that is what appealed to me. It was built in 1956 and still looks very present day modern. Very cool! The only windows on the east side are transom windows that sit right under the eaves. The windows on the west side are of the same design as the clerestory windows but they run vertically instead of horizontally. The windows were not stained glass but simple plain glass. The roof is flat with only a slight slope which is unusual for a church. (think gothic or mansard roof) This church had a ‘Frank Lloyd Wright’ feel to it. I got back into my car and travelled a little east along St Clair Avenue and had another ‘rubber necker’ episode. Thank goodness there was no traffic on this particular day!! The second church that make me stop was – Scarborough Church of God. Now by contrast to the first church this one was very different. This also was not a large church but the pitch on this church roof was so steep it was incredible. There are 5 dormers at the base of the roof with coloured glass windows. Not stained glass. Very clean and simple. The church was built in 1958. Its style is Mid Century Modern. I thought it was very interesting that two churches located so close to each other could be so unique in design. They both warranted a closer look. Now I am curious about what both the interiors look like so you know where I will be some Sunday in the near future!
The character of a room may come from the furniture and accessories but the structure and true nature comes from the wall, ceiling and floors. The floor beneath your feet provides the most tactile sensation than any other surface. With every step, your foot registers and responds to the surface it comes into contact with. I recently had to install a new flooring treatment in the basement of my home. The basement could have a possibility of being damp so I ruled out carpeting. I decided against stone tile because it would be too cold without radiant floor heating. Hardwood was also not an option as the basement is sub-grade. My remaining options were few. In the end I decided to install cork, the glue down cork flooring that is approximately 3/16″ thick. I chose a medium dark brown stain and a 12″ X 24″ size tile. Cork is an all-natural, environmentally responsible product harvested from the bark of the cork tree. Very Green! The benefits of cork flooring are its softness, resiliency, resistance to moisture, thermal insulation, acoustical insulation and anti-allergic. Everything that I wanted. But until you live with cork it is hard to grasp how amazing this product really is. In bare feet I feel no cold coming from the concrete floor below. It has given the ‘media room’ a soundproofing quality. It feels smooth and looks fabulous. I love my cork floor!