I am fortunate enough to work on a high-profile design project which brings me to Chicago for a few days in the name of research. The task is to figure out what’s working and what’s not working for an office space designed by my firm to gain insight and apply solutions to future projects. The last time I felt inspired to write was my last visit to Chicago, so I find it appropriate I pick up where I left off nearly six months ago. Incidentally, it’s the same high-profile design project that pulled me away from posting new content.
As I sit on the very deep window sill of my hotel room at the Hard Rock Hotel with a view of the city to the North, and go over my thoughts from the day, I can’t help but notice how design infiltrates my every thought. Others seem unaware of the sights around them, and I’m irritated. What blows me away is the heads-down posture of walkers unaware of the beauty of historic buildings and holiday window displays surrounding them as they hustle to their destinations. I can’t believe it when my colleagues-for-the-week seem unaware of the artfully prepared food in front of them at an art deco inspired restaurant in the building named after the World’s Fair architect, Burnham. Astounded, I watch as the employees of the space I am researching appear immune to the panoramic views from the 53rd and 54th floors of the building they work in directly adjacent to Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan.
Perhaps the seeming neglect nags at me because Chicago is my favorite contradiction. It’s a place of innovation, and a place of great history. It’s of place of modern design, and of old buildings. It’s a city with natural beauty and landscape, paired against a thriving man-made metropolis. It’s timeless, and it’s stuck in time. It’s all of the things I strive for in my design work, and all that I try mercilessly to avoid. It’s the city where Donald Trump and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe have both made their mark on the skyline. Perhaps it’s my visitor’s lens that allows me a different perspective than those who breathe it daily.
You might call me an urban romantic because I get lost in the buildings, designs, history, and even fashions surrounding me, while the world hustles, and eats, and works around me. I catch myself wondering why I constantly search for timeless designs and innovations, when what surrounds me from over a hundred years past stands the test of time admired by designers and tourists from around the world.
Over dinner this evening, I noticed a group of diners wearing plaid shirts and jackets. Plaid is the trend du jour in the fashion and design world, back from the Catholic school uniforms and 80’s sofas of the past. It’s been prevalent for many cycles in fashion and interiors, and I giggled at the irony of my sitting there observing the trend while wearing a vintage 1950’s plaid skirt. I was the contradiction. My conclusion from my stay is: what’s old is new, what’s new is recycled, what’s recycled gets old, repeat. While in Chicago, I have the viewing pleasure of seeing it from all angles.
I am heading back to the Twin Cities tomorrow with my work research in hand. My team’s observations of how people work and use the designed environment lead us dangerously back to office designs of the past from many decades ago. Based on what I see of the Chicago skyline as I look out the window, it’s apparent to me it was really only a matter of time. Repeat.