A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.
So I went to Chicago. About a months ago, beginning of August to be precise. I scrupulously studied online maps, checked for the best hotel locations and even published a peculiar urban legend about the Windy City (remember my old Chicago post?). I’ve done my homework well therefore my drive was pleasant and comfortable (like it can be otherwise with today’s GPS navigation and satellite radio…). The weather was warm, the traffic was light and the hotel happened to be just as it was advertised on the web…
Now, don’t even expect me to come with the lengthy picturesque descriptions of this magnificent city. It is impossible. Some places are indescribable – you must go there and see it by yourself. Yet I’d like to share few rather scattered reflections that crossed my mind along the journey… So take it as a jazz gig where each axe plays its own part, but all of the sudden you start to recognize a cool common theme. So here’s my modest improvisation for you, Chicago!
…and then of course some of my photos…
Prior to my trip I talked to many friends who have already been to Chicago. I asked for some general tips: where to park, what to see… When I told people about my plans to visit Chicago their initial spontaneous response was practically identical regardless of their educational background or financial status. They would roll their eyes up and would say in a dreamy voice: “Oh… Chicago… I love it. What a great place!” There was such passion in their tone. It was like all of them were hearing some lovely melody which soundlessly played inside their heads…
I would never get such unanimity asking about… New York or London. Naturally some folks would rant against “crazy mess” of New York or rainy London sky. People always find a good reason to complain. Not about Chicago though. Everybody loves Chicago!
I know only few other cities like that in the world: Florence in Italy and St. Petersburg in Russia. Everyone who goes there never mentions any deficiencies or disappointments. Of course those places are not perfect, yet there is something special, magical, miraculous in their atmosphere. Antique Greeks called it Harmony.
So I was thinking: why places like Chicago, Florence or St.-Petersburg are so charming? Where rests the secret of that noble elegance? What makes them so unique and adored? The magic of these cities is surprisingly in “not in being the first”. Not being the strongest, the fastest, the richest or the most influential city in the country. They gladly yield those “doubtful assets” to New York, Rome, Moscow. They don’t compete with them; they let those noisy places to take the first spot. Instead they compete with the Infinite Time. They don’t want to be large. (Size is not the only thing that matters, as you know). Architecture is a frozen music. However music is not always pleasant to the ears. It can be loud and irritating, it can be tasteless, at times it is not even a music but a cacophony. Same goes for the architecture. And that’s the secret – architectural music of Chicago is always wonderfully melodical. It is always “a true Mozart” so to speak, never “a fake Salieri”. It is always a Harmony, a magnificent Harmony.
A City where you are proud to be an Architect
Chicago is probably the only place on Earth where the tribute to the architects is publically paid in full. Funny, but the public doesn’t realize a basic truth: any city, town, village in the world had been created by the architects. Not by politicians, war heroes or money-bags, but by architects. The entire physical presence of any city, its buildings, shops, streets, parks, promenades, plazas, squares, boulevards, alleys, and other impressive features are designed by the invisible armies of gifted artists. Those artists: architects, planners, landscape specialists, designers, decorators are behind of the charisma of our built environment. And no one ever mentions it. What a shame!
If you take a popular hop-on/hop-off tour in NYC – they overwhelm you with silly info about the movie-stars living around the Central Park and about the prices of their apartments. You’ll also hear the stories about Wall Street financiers’ scams. The closest thing to the architecture they would ever come up with is the proud mentioning of the eccentric developer Donald Trump and his architectural atrocities. They won’t tell you much about the visionary architects and engineers who designed the skyscrapers and created that astonishing urbanism of Manhattan.
The same thing happens everywhere: North America, Europe, Russia. Go to Paris, Rome or Moscow – stylishly dressed guides will provide you with the wide panorama of historic events. It is going to include the kings, cardinals, czars, their mistresses and dogs, brave generals, revolutionary leaders with blood on their hands, sleazy politicians, prominent union activists, local winners of the talent show and pop-music celebrities. It’s going to be about everyone, but architects. They might mention I.M. Pay in Paris as a part of grandeur hallucination by grandly corrupted former president Francois Mitterrand. In Rome or Florence they present Michelangelo’s divine opuses as Papal sacerdotalism or Medici’s political sotto voce affairs.
Well, Chicago is different. No doubt Chicago has enough prominent personalities. Yet names such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe are mentioned on the city tours more often than the names of Al Capone or Barack Obama. Chicago appreciates its architects; Chicago loves its architects and also makes sure that visitors share this vision. Chicago guides are wise and intellectual. On the tours they prefer to describe buildings silhouettes rather than building’s celebrity-residents; they let you know about the controversial views of the famous architects and architectural movements’ nuances. They don’t bother you with the chronicles of political struggle or high-society gossips. They educate the public.
And you know what? Public loves it. Don’t underestimate people’s intelligence, thinking that masses are inert, that average folks would prefer to hear about the latest Mel Gibson’s scandal. That’s not true. Just go and see the eyes of tourists in Chicago. A simple people: farmers from the Mid-west, loud Texans, European freaks with tattooed necks, young kids dressed as rappers… See their eyes, please.
Harmony for the anarchist
Theoretically speaking, I am an anarchist. (Theoretically – because I am а gutless conformist who’s not able to live up to the absolute freedom principles, instead I cowardly comply with the idiotic rules of the society … and pay taxes).
Anyway… I hate formal organizations of any stripes and colors. I truly believe that the sole purpose of their existence is inability of lazy impotent incompetent people (a.k.a. parasites) to live a dignified life on their own. So parasites create “structures” and “rules” in order to enslave creative minds, clearheaded humans. Parasites feed on their flesh and blood and then claim that they protect public interests or help citizens to manage their own wellbeing. It’s all a big fat lie. Thus I hate youth movements, professional associations, labor unions, political parties, state government … The very concept of the State in its present shape is corrupted and false to me. It makes me sick.
Put it briefly, to me the bureaucracy (or more specific: the Bureaucratic Government) is the greatest evil on the planet. See how sincere is my hate toward the “organizations”?!
In Chicago I saw something that should not exist in accordance with my logic of life: an organization working for people, an organization spreading a word of wisdom and making our pathetic world a better place. (Those few paragraphs above are written in order to convince you that this is not some sort of advertisement or a hidden placement, as in Hollywood flicks.)
The name of that organization is CAF – Chicago Architectural Foundation. Of course you pay for their services which include numerous city tours and great store in the heart of the Loop (they are not American version of Mother Theresa). But their cause is noble. CAF people are sincerely concerned with explaining to the crowd that there is an architect behind every building in Chicago, just as there is a composer behind every song. They proudly show to the public festive music notes of Chicago symphony. And as I said before, crowd enjoys it. People are not deaf or blind – oh, no! They see a magnificent city. They hear an architectural harmony; they hear music of Chicago.
And now, just as promised, some images. I hope you enjoy the concert…