Yes, when we think of architecture we think of buildings, but architecture is also comprised of landscape. In other words, the design of natural features like trees, hills, and ponds for parks. The history of Chicago landscape architecture is a fascinating one, and one that contributes to the uniquely, very green cityscape of Chicago today.
Early on in Chicago's history, real estate speculators and investors recognized the need for open space in the very congested city that erupted in the late 1800s. Parks were seen as a civilizing agent in the extremely rapid development of the city. All kinds of people had come to Chicago, from all parts of the world and all social classes. Parks were to be places where everyone came together in search of peace, and as an escape from their regular work lives. Plus parks were a great way to sell residential land at a premium.
With Chicago's magnificent parks and the boulevards that connect many of them, the city has a remarkable amount of green space. In addition to massive parks, many of them well outside of downtown Chicago, the long boulevards are canopied with giant trees and outlined in verdant lawns. While the boulevards were originally intended as pretty places for carriage rides, now they are a perfect place for a biking exploration or a Sunday drive. The Chicago boulevards were to connect all the major parks, but over time a few of the stretches have been eliminated.
Chicago's most known park is not actually even part of the Chicago Park District, which is the largest municipal governing park body in the country. Millennium Park is actually part private space, part public space, as private funding made this exaggeratedly over-budget, and exaggeratedly successful project come to fruition in 2004. This park is the antithesis of Chicago's old parks, as it functions more as a part of the flashy, contemporary city rather than an escape from it. Here you get concentrations of tourists milling around contemporary art installations. Millennium Park is an example of Chicago's philosophy of "make no little plans." For more information about Millennium Park events, click here.
For the polar opposite of Millennium Park, make some time to explore the much more historic Jackson Park, perhaps after a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry. Much of this landscape dates back to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which was held here in... 1893. Landscape architect maestro Frederick Law Olmsted designed Jackson Park. You may also know him for the first major urban American park of Central Park in New York City. He believed in using the natural landscape as a basis for park design, however in Chicago that was a challenge considering the very flat, unvaried landscape, so he had to throw in some extra creativity. Olmsted designed a network of waterways, so that you could opt to travel the fair via boat, as well as islands, groves, and gently curved paths that would contrast with the hard lines of the Chicago urban grid.
Lincoln Park is home to the Chicago History Museum, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Peggy Noetabart Museum, North Avenue Beach, Green City Market, and plenty of gardens, waterways for boat rental and green space for wandering.
Technically Millennium Park is part of the historic Grant Park. Remember the parks were designed to bring people together, so you'll find lots of walkways that were meant to be places for people to promenade and people-watch in Grant Park. Lollapalooza takes over the park every August, as well as many other festivals, like SummerDance. Buckingham Fountain, with its baroque barrage of dramatic streams of water and nighttime lighting, is a centerpiece of Grant Park.
These parks are just an introduction to the beautiful landscapes that one can find in Chicago. While the newer ones offer a sensory explosion, the older parks create a more introspective reflection among more subtle manipulations of design in the urban landscape.
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