My Kind Of Town


  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.

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  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


By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars
and has a soul

  My kind of town.


One Response to “My Kind Of Town”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I think the feeling/idea of a living city and even “architecture is frozen music” is attempting to get at a larger relatively new concept. Non linear and self-organization theories are currently in their Renaissance.

    Since non linear theory can be applied to almost any facet of life, many different disciplines are researching with them. What it says basically is that at every scale and dimension of life and design an organic constantly evolving and adapting relationship determines the character and form. It is not a single vector path from start to end.

    A city is a living organism just the same as a single building is. Similarly a single individual is a living organism just the same as a flock of sparrows has characteristics of a living organism.

    Think of the streets in a city as its veins and the occupants as the single cells. The buildings as skeleton and the power lines as the nervous system, etc.

    The growth of a city over time follow the same rules and patterns that malignant cancer does. This never ending reconfiguration of form and function and part to whole is what makes life and cities so exciting and ever changing. Pick anything you want, and a non linear theory can explain it. Simple rules can explain extremely complex things.

    The sublime feeling of awe we get is the realization that everything relates. It is the simplistic beauty of complex phenomena that takes your breathe away.

    One of my favorites to watch is flocks of swallows.

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