Next time you stay overnight in Chicago and get up for your morning run, make sure to go south along the lake a bit, past the Shedd Aquarium, and then east out the Solidarity Drive peninsula to the Adler Planetarium. Then turn around and look back.
You will see why the Economist called it “…architecturally the most interesting city in America”. And a better point of vantage could not be had. If done just as I described you’ll already be on an endorphin high and with your first look, your breath will be taken away as it was just after first hearing the major movement of some great piece of music. You will agree with (Chicagoan) Frank Lloyd Wright that “architecture is nothing more than frozen music”.
With each repeat of this experience, I get the feeling that the final reverberation ended just the second before I turned. Instruments are at rest. Orchestra standing about to bow. Remember – this is far removed from the sounds of the city. In the early AM there is near silence out there.
When I noticed a nearby statue I figured it must be of a great composer, seated, listening to a performance of his finest work. Upon closer inspection however, it turned out to be of Copernicus which in a sense is just as appropriate.
Chicago’s architecture would not be nearly so moving and dramatic had it not been for the great fire of 1871 which burned a wide swath to the ground. From the ashes arose what is there now there to be seen. A big bang of sorts. It thus makes sense to have that important early cosmologist looking upon what hath been wrought.
It is especially fulfilling to consider this particular measure of the built environment as of a whole rather than of its pieces. It is a nearly perfect oeuvre of quite large scale and, in comforting contrast to the terror and turmoil about these days, shows what can be achieved through harmonious collaboration.
Iris Murdoch wrote: “Good art, whatever its style, has qualities of hardness, firmness, realism, clarity, detachment, justice, truth. It is the work of a free, unfettered, uncorrupted imagination. Whereas bad art is the soft, messy self-indulgent work of an enslaved fantasy. Pornography is at one end of that scale, great art at the other end.”* Hardness, firmness, realism; doesn’t that sound like Chicago?
It is incredible to learn that the city was built upon a swamp; that its name relates to the onions found therein by Native Americans; and that the land from Michigan Avenue to the lake was reclaimed and filled with the conflagration’s remains;
As Carl Sandburg wrote in his Chicago Poems:Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning
And:By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul
My kind of town.