Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chicago architectural photographs - churches and the River

36. Chicago Churches: A Photographic Essay, by Elizabeth Johnson

Take any expressway into the city, and you will be struck by the number of spires and steeples that you see. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, a place where many people, when asked where in the city they live, name their parish. Chicago is a city of immigrants, and they brought their religions with them and built buildings in which to worship. As the city's demographics changed, a church named for a German saint fills with Mexican worshipers, a Greek Orthodox church becomes a mosque. And in the city that invented the skyscraper, we have a church housed on the top floor of an office building.

Elizabeth Johnson traveled the city (and some of the suburbs), photographing houses of worship. (The title Chicago Churches is really a misnomer, as she includes synagogues and mosques.) They range from the ghetto storefront churches to Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece, Unity Temple, from the Gothic splendor of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel to the sterility of the O'Hare Airport Chapel.

The photographs have an old-fashioned sepia tinge to them, and the buildings appear in a variety of moods. Johnson often takes a shot angling upwards, as though reaching for the heavens, and she likes to juxtapose a traditional church building with a modern neighbor, as with the cover shot of a steeple seen next to the antennae of the John Hancock. Interspersed throughout the book are quotations from the world's major religions.

A beautifully designed book, this should find a home on the shelves of anyone who loves Chicago, architecture, photography, or (like me) all three!

37. Chicago from the River, by Joan V. Lindsay

If you come to Chicago any time from May to November, I will advise you, nay, order you, to take the Chicago Architecture Foundation's Architecture River Cruise. I can't think of a better way to see some of Chicago's most magnificent buildings, and also to learn and understand the importance of the river to Chicago's history and growth. It's the best damn tour there is.

One of the reasons it's so good is the docents. The CAF training is incredibly deep, and these people know whereof they speak (even if I don't always agree with them - we're not all fans of Helmut Jahn!). Joan V. Lindsay went through that docent training and acted as a guide on river tours, so it's not to be wondered that she has penned a lovely paean to the river and to Chicago architecture. It's a slim volume, but filled with beautiful photographs and plenty of information about the buildings. The captions don't simply give the name of the architect and date of the building, but describe the style and place the building in the context of Chicago's architectural history. She's also thrown in a couple of old photographs of the city so we can see how it's changed. What's a bascule bridge? Why does the River run backwards? Lindsay knows, and tells.

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