Chicago Looks: No Norm

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IMG_8832Gallery Aesthete’s Samm Mackin (@sammymackin) was attending “The Walk,” the SAIC student fashion show.

What do you look for in a garment?
I wear a lot of black so I look for interesting details, textures and silhouette in garments that set them apart from the “norm.”

What designers are inspiring you right now?
Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons is one of the original avant-garde designers who continues to inspire me because she isn’t afraid to continually challenge the established concepts of what fashion is. Two other designers that I also find myself wearing a lot recently are Rick Owens and Julius. Read the rest of this entry »

The View From Above: How The 606 Trail Will Elevate Chicago’s Green Space Experience

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Looking West, before Milwaukee entrance

By Aaron Rose

There’s a lot to like about the 606 Trail, scheduled to open, yes, on Saturday, 6.06.

An initial plan for a long stretch of obsolete industrial infrastructure, the commercial railway known as the Bloomingdale Line, and dialogue between the City of Chicago and the Logan Square neighborhood—with the least green space per capita in the city—led to the founding of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

The vision and planning for what started out as the Bloomingdale Trail was a collaborative effort among community-based groups in Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park and Bucktown, The Trust for Public Land, the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District. More than a decade in the making, The 606 Trail creates a 2.7-mile-long transportation system and public park between Ashland Avenue and North Ridgeway Avenue that will bring 80,000 Chicago residents within a ten-minute walk of accessible public green space.

The vision for the project fuses public art and design, history, an alternative transportation route and park land into a new hybrid public space for a city whose official motto is Urbs in horto and, unofficially, the City that Works. It’s urbanature: it’s beautiful, and it’s practical.

I had the chance to see The 606 in progress—and it was, indeed, still very much in progress—in April, on a tour organized by the Society of Architectural Historians during their annual conference. The tour leader, Jean Linsner, The Trust for Public Land’s Exelon Fellow for Education, brought us out on the Blue Line to Damen and Milwaukee—a ten-minute walk along Milwaukee Avenue to The 606. Donning hard hats and orange vests, we entered the site just east of where the new Milwaukee/Leavitt Park will serve as an access point to The 606. Read the rest of this entry »

Simple and Streamlined: Sandra Marsh is Chicago’s own “Iris”

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Photo: Isa Giallorenzo

Photo: Isa Giallorenzo

Iris Apfel and Sandra Marsh have a lot of things in common: a joyous marriage with no kids, a lifetime of travel, a career centered around decor and antiques, a huge collection of objects, a certain age, and a keen eye for fashion. But they don’t share the same town, and therefore have their differences as well: while Iris is known for her exuberance and “more is more” aesthetic, Sandra prefers to keep it somewhat simple, echoing the streamlined architecture of the city she grew up in; Chicago might not have as many highrises as New York City, but the overall visual impact of our skyline is second to none. Like Iris, Sandra loves whimsical statement pieces such as the Mickey Mouse watch zealously kept in her safe, but she won’t be piling it up with anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

Showing Off: Touring the Former Home of John Hughes, Which is Now the Lake Forest Showhouse

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By Philip Berger

If you are not already a shelter magazine subscriber and a cable decorating show junkie, attending the Infant Welfare Society’s Lake Forest Showhouse [LFS] is probably not going to convert you. But it’s a pretty fine example of its genre.

It’s tempting to approach the very concept of a decorator show house with some degree of cynicism. The idea of taking an enormous house—one that is typically languishing on the real estate market—and letting loose teams of interiors professionals to finish off the various rooms in lavish and fantastical arrangements might suggest bourgeois foolishness and frivolous excess. So it may be surprising to realize the many redemptive features a show house offers: decorator show houses are extremely accurate indicators of current tastes and cultural trends; but mostly, they provide platforms for innovative stylistic ideas ranging from the baldly quirky to the blindingly glamorous. Read the rest of this entry »

Maker Beat: Activate with Susan Frame

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By Michael Workman

We sat down to talk with host of the local underground Handsome Squid Café and maker activist Susan Frame to discuss safe space civic hacking, maker communities, her Haiti art center outreach project, and concerns over the viability of the center after a recent break-in and robbery.

Tell us a little about how you got started in Haiti and in your broad spectrum of other maker outreach efforts.
In the beginning, I wasn’t thinking of doing a nonprofit; I was working in Haiti, and when I was working down there, it was about collaborating with artists, and working with my friend, transgender artist Flo McGarrell, building a wood shop. She built a space of nondiscrimination and then died from the earthquake. Three days after the earthquake, they kicked out all the queer artists and handicapped people and the women left then too because it wasn’t safe and then the director stole Flo’s identity and it was a bad situation, and so a number of us along with forward-thinking Haitians in the community got together and were talking about healing from the earthquake. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Looks: Complex Combinations

Chicago Looks No Comments »

Rebecca Blanton, left, and her model, Mabel Terry 

Columbia senior Rebecca Blanton ( was featuring her thesis collection at the 14th Annual Driehaus Awards for Fashion Excellence.

Who and what are your biggest influences?
I think my biggest influences are the nineties and Rodarte. I love the idea of layering: light fabrics with heavy fabrics, colors, textures and embellishment. Rodarte’s collections are always filled with those; they shatter the idea of what can look well together. This is how I design: visual interest of layering and texture. For instance, I combined relatively cheap vinyl fabric with high resolution printed textiles and fine wool. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chatter: Architecture Talks Back/The Art Institute of Chicago

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Photo: David Schalliol

Photo: David Schalliol


There is something slightly foreboding about capital-A architecture. The forces that create it—the archetypal genius designer working in solitude, the shadowy machinations of the means of production—remain silent and opaque. Buildings themselves tend to be stoic fixtures of the human experience, shaping it without much comment. They invite individuals to step inside with the indifferent, windmill gestures of revolving doors—except when they’re desperate, resorting to the shameless hawking of a circus sideshow with brightly colored banners and slick marketing slogans. Their shapes, expressions, massing and programs impact us to our bones, yet we have little understanding of how to push back against granite, stone, glass and steel. At least, this is one narrative. Another is that urban design is just one big lovefest: shiny, happy people holding plans. But it’s the first story that has gripped the profession with the too-firm touch of a doctor with a poor bedside manner. The diagnostician has identified the Problem with Architecture: “the public” just doesn’t “understand.” In response, “Chatter: Architecture Talks Back” offers not an antidote, but talk therapy. Read the rest of this entry »

Everyday Modernist: How Italian-Brazilian Architect Lina Bo Bardi Brought Together People and Place

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Lina Bo Bardi/Photo: Francisco Albuquerque

Lina Bo Bardi/Photo: Francisco Albuquerque

By Ben Schulman

The work of Lina Bo Bardi, the midcentury modern Italian-Brazilian architect who passed away in 1992, is something of a paradox. Working across architecture, illustration, furniture and set design, and written criticism and editing, Bo Bardi’s oeuvre illustrates that modernist sensibilities need not be diametrically opposed to the quotidian use of space, as the work of her (adopted) countryman, Oscar Niemeyer, still seems to indicate.

Although cut from the same aesthetic cloth as the expressive but inaccessible beauty of Niemeyer’s Brasilia, Bo Bardi’s work in Sao Paulo and the northeastern Brazilian city, Salvador de Bahia, vibrates with all the energy of brawling and alive South American cities.

“Lina Bo Bardi: Together,” the latest exhibit from the Graham Foundation and the first Stateside display of this collection of work in tribute to her legacy, showcases what one imagines is the thrill of experiencing Bo Bardi’s work in person, by immersing the visitor in a proxy trip to Brazil through the perspective of Bo Bardi herself. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pullman Plan: Place-Making a New (and Old) National Monument

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Hotel Florence

Hotel Florence

By Aaron Rose

Pullman National Monument, the new national park on Chicago’s South Side, tells a compelling story of urban design, industry and labor, and a movement to honor the cultural identity of a community.

Pullman, part of a larger urban and natural landscape, surrounded by advanced industrial sites and reclaimed wildlife habitat, is rare among national parks. As noted by the Midwest regional director of National Parks Conservation Association, Lynn McClure, during the three years leading up to the designation in February, and in the three months since, commitment and collaboration among members of the Pullman community—organizations such as Pullman Civic Organization, Pullman Wheelworks Association, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce—and Chicago design professionals also distinguishes the new national park.

Built by engineer and industrialist George Pullman in the 1880s for his Pullman Palace Car Company, and designed by twenty-seven-year-old architect Solon Spencer Beman and landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett, Pullman was a marvel of town planning and urban design. The late-Victorian Clock Tower Administration Building, Hotel Florence, Arcade and Market Square, the serpentine stone Greenstone Church, elaborately landscaped parks, and tree-lined streets of Queen Anne row-houses attracted a spillover of visitors in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Read the rest of this entry »

Maker Beat: City on the Maker

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The "She Crew" meets at CivicLab

The “She Crew” meets at CivicLab

By Michael Workman

Among all the different types of maker spaces throughout the city, there’s really not another quite like the CivicLab in the city’s West Loop neighborhood. Operated by Tom Tresser and Benjamin Sugar, the space is a gathering place and laboratory for what Tresser describes as “civic science,” the enthusiasm in his voice rising as he seizes on a topic he is clearly passionate about, “we make Democracy here.” As a longtime public defender in the city, he is perhaps most well known for heading up the No Games Chicago initiative that opposed former Mayor Daley’s efforts to bring the Olympics to the city. On the day I visit, almost directly inside the door, I see familiar faces from my late-nineties activist days when I was living in the Dog Patch, including the engaging writer, social theorist and activist, Peter Zelchenko, still at it after all these years. Their Aberdeen office is an impressive split-level workspace with divided cubicle walls in the front and a conference room with large wipeboards on the second level. A row of interns from the U of C and the Peoples’ Institute for Housing Justice are lined up at a table along one wall, tapping away diligently on laptops.

It’s a maker space, no doubt, and they offer some of the amenities of the usual maker space, including office resource and space rentals (pay what you can currently, though they have a stated $200/monthly rate circulating as well). Tresser’s perspective on it is also rooted in an active civic engagement that he wants to integrate into the usual maker model, including offering up ways for people to access tools and community support. Sugar provides the media side. “I come from a civic media background, and in that community people are starting to embrace a lot of DIY technologies, beyond open data,” says Sugar. “We started asking how makers were seeing things, and we saw that they were understanding their world as physically malleable. When their chair breaks, they want to know how to fix it. What’s inside of something, how to repair it. People who are activists, they see their world as politically malleable, so one of the major questions we are asking as a maker-activist space is how those two worlds inform one another.” Read the rest of this entry »