Macy's

When we think about architecture, we often conjure up images of giant skyscrapers, but some of my favorite buildings are actually stores. It's strange because, personally, I prefer Chicago's other attractions, like museums, theater, the lakefront, or dining to shopping any day. But this city has several places that are just as famous for their history and architecture as they are for their storefront windows and sales.

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State Street

The newest, and well, also the oldest, is the City Target on State Street. This building, designed by Louis Sullivan, strikes just about anyone who walks by it, regardless of their knowledge of architecture. Originally designed in 1899, this building, which for most its history housed the now-defunct Carson, Pririe & Scott department store, today holds the recently opened City Target.

They executed a major renovation of the building that makes this building to be both contemporary and relevant to today's tastes while, simultanously, maintaining its historic character. Sullivan used naturally inspired design motifs to create organic, swirling shapes of ironwork ornamentation, both outside and inside around the tops of the columns. Beyond ornamentation, Sullivan designed the building with the approach of an organic, interconnected organism, but to fully explain this idea in architecture we would have to dedicate an entire blog post.

The Magnificent Mile

Burberry Store

On the entirely opposite end of the historic spectrum, the recently completed Burberry Store on Michigan Avenue exaggerates the possibilities as buildings as an expression of brands. While many corporate buildings over history have tried to communicate a brand message through their structure, like the Inland Steel Building, which is built of shiny, prominent steel, Burberry takes it to another next level. The exterior of the structure criss-crosses with the signature Burberry pattern. Beyond just a two-dimensional ornamentation, the pattern creates a three-dimensional texture to the facade. I remember seeing it in construction and the stripes were made of layers of different materials.

The Former Marshall Field's Building

Macy's Clock

Lastly the mother of most any retail architecture of Chicago would be Macy's, AKA the former Marshall Fields. One of the largest buildings in the world built to be solely a single store, this behemoth of a building often distracts people by its overwhelming amount of shopping options. Imagine that, right?! But take a moment to experience its architecture and you will be astonished. First off, walk around the outside the building to understand that what seems like one continuous structure from the inside is actually three connected, and very different buildings. From the southeast side of Washington Street, you can see the oldest building on the block, with its endearingly lopsided window frames and ostentatious, historic ornamentation.

Macy's Atrium

Inside the two atriums of Macy's will likely make your jaw drop. One reaches up 13 floors. Natural light illuminates the space through skylights, and you see a harmony from the columns punctuated by geometric patterns in the metal railings. You'll find the other atrium on the south side of the building. On the interior architectural tour we do with my company, Chicago Detours, I've had several locals come and say they can't believe how they ever missed the ceiling here, despite that they've been in the store countless times. Louis Comfort Tiffany, of the famed "Tiffany lamps," designed the glittering mosaic that adorns the ceiling. Made of Tiffany's signature favril glass, which has a mother-of-pearl-esque opalescent sheen, this mosaic ceiling mixes with swirls of plaster to for an oh-my-god-Chicago-is-amazing experience of color and light. And of course, that is ultimately why we are looking at architecture in the first place, right?

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