It’s commonly understood that the best way to explore a new place is to go straight to the locals. Each week in the Urbanist, we take that wisdom one step further by seeking out not just locals but local experts — those who are especially well versed in their cities’ newest and most noteworthy scenes — to give us insider recommendations. This week, we asked architectural and urban designer Paola Aguirre Serrano, founder of Borderless urban design studio and a visiting artist at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for her picks in Illinois’s largest city.
“Chicago has an incredible (and complicated) history, but you can feel its ambitious future too. You have the ‘big city’ — skyscrapers, the financial district, the Loop (which is what locals call the downtown central business district) — and the ‘hyperlocal neighborhood’ feelings in very short distances. It’s a common misconception that everything worth seeing is in the Loop. Each neighborhood is its own universe. I also love the relationship of the city and the water, where man-made meets nature. When architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham worked on the ‘Plan of Chicago’ in 1909, public space as civic space was a huge ambition. Today, Chicago’s lakefront is 20 continuous miles of accessible public space. I love walking along the shoreline. My husband and I actually started a photography project about this called From the Shore to capture all 1,638 miles of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.”
Her Other Musts
“Oak Park is considered the first suburb of Chicago. There, you can see many Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, including his home and studio (951 Chicago Ave.) and the Unity Temple, which is just three blocks away. (In Chicago, there are two historic Wright sites: the Robie House on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park and the Bach House in Rogers Park.) When you go to the studio-house, they give you a little pamphlet if you want to do a self-guided tour of the neighborhood — there are lots of other nearby houses by Wright. (The Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum, 339 North Oak Park Avenue, is also right there.) I always have brunch at Lake Street Kitchen + Bar Restaurant (1101 Lake St.). The Farnsworth House (14520 River Rd.; 630-552-0052) is a little over an hour’s drive in Plano, Illinois. You have to be an architecture nerd to want to go there. It’s one of the most famous houses by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and set such a precedent for modern architecture, a steel and glass house that’s elevated from the ground. Milwaukee is also an easy trip from Chicago via Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service, which drops you off right in Downtown Milwaukee, or an hour and a half drive. Be sure to check out the Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee Public Market (400 N. Water St.), and the Milwaukee Art Museum (700 N. Art Museum Dr.). There are a lot of historic buildings in the Historic Third Ward. The Public Market is really fun. It’s a newer structure, a modern building with a warehouse feeling with different food vendors and artisan stands. The Milwaukee Art Museum is an architectural landmark, especially the Quadracci Pavilion by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. And they’re all right next to each other on the Riverwalk District.”