Regional Modern: Chicago's Take on Contemporary Design

I was raised in a suburb north of Chicago and lived in that city following faculty, so seeing what makes this area’s modern and contemporary architecture unique has become second nature to me.

Chicago is a location whose architecture, for better or worse, is perceived as descending from Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. All these excellent names are certainly inspirational, but such a lineage may also be daunting. Below is a sampling of a few of the Chicago-area homes on that appear to be produced from a number of these names, especially Wright and Mies.

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Bud Dietrich

First let us briefly discuss a few of these 20th-century precursors of modern and contemporary architecture. One of the most influential architects of all time would be Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived in Oak Park early in his career and built a lot of homes there and at different parts of Chicago.

This 1902 home in Oak Park is an example of his Prairie style, which uses strong horizontal lines, overhanging roofs, along with other identifying features to relate the home to the region’s landscape. This influence can be seen in both traditional and modern architecture now.

The apparent antithesis of Wright is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, whose famous 1951 Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, set the bar for glass-box homes. Privacy concerns and sub/urban locations may limit the use of this considerably glass today, but the ease, rectilinear geometry and structural expression are still located in a number of homes in the vicinity of Chicago. (The Farnsworth House is open to the public as part of this National Trust for Historic Preservation.)

Less well known, at least outside Chicago, are Keck & Keck, who created space-age homes for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, but whose later work could be regarded as a “warm modernism.” This approach will be for the most part that which many of today’s architects in the region embrace: simple types and geometries a la Mies balanced by warm materials and horizontal lines a la Wright.

Clearly, there is a lot more to these than these formal traits, however in Chicago, regional layout incorporates historic figures, not just climate, materials, along with other factors of location.

Burns and Beyerl Architects

This project changed a 1960s ranch home into what’s known as the “Modern Bridge House.” (A bridge between new and old, perhaps?) This previous life of the home is quite difficult to ascertain a testament to the cohesive design that sets the entry behind a screen wall. Behind are glass walls that bring light indoors yet preserve privacy by being put back and partially screened.

Burns and Beyerl Architects

Developed by the same architects as the “Modern Bridge House,” this city home, for good reason, pares down the windows facing the street. A strong horizontal over front porch is balanced by the vertical wall that it meets. I am imagining the stair is next to the wall, supporting the vertical slot window.

Searl Lamaster Howe Architects

This urban home balances metal panels and brick walls for the exterior enclosure. Or in design-influence terms, the coldness of Mies is put beneath the warmth of Wright.

Thomas Shafer Architects LLC

This home is a lovely synthesis of Mies and Wright. Traces of the former are located at the glassy second floor, increased like the Farnsworth House. The latter’s influence could be seen from the rock foundation that frees up the second floor, the well-articulated wood along with the horizontal lines.

Thomas Shafer Architects LLC

A closer look in the roof deck adjacent to the horizontal plane atop the home shows one reason horizontality is important in Chicago. The property is level; additionally, Lake Michigan is a strong all-natural presence that produces the horizon line that a lot more prominent and precise.

Becker Architects Limited

In this house overlooking Lake Michigan, the predominance of the cradling shape of this design create the lake the attention of the home.

Landon Bone Baker Architects

1 popular getaway destination for Chicagoans is Indiana Dunes, a brief drive into the south and east. This home on the dunes reaches towards Lake Michigan with its ample covered porch.

Landon Bone Baker Architects

This addition/renovation of a commercial building on the town’s north side was designed by the same architects responsible for the prior home on the dunes. Here, metal, brick, and glass are balanced at the hybrid that divides the line between new and old.

This home in Oakbrook (maybe not Oak Park), Illinois, certainly owes a debt to Wright, but it goes away from this sway with bigger expanses of glass along with a verticality that balances the strong roofline.

Another view of the home indicates the well-thought-out and pleasing balance of rock, wood, and glass.

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