Two Chicago Guides

AIA Guide to Chicago
by American Institute of Architects Chicago, edited by Laurie McGovern Petersen
University of Illinois Press, June 2022

Paperback | 5 x 10 inches | 648 pages | 580 illustrations | English | ISBN: 9780252086731 | $42.95 | "The new fourth edition of the acclaimed guidebook" (click here for publisher's description and author bio)


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Architectural Guide Chicago: A Critic's Guide to 100 Post-Modern Buildings in Chicago from 1978 to 2025
by Vladimir Belogolovsky
DOM Publishers, August 2022

Paperback | 5-1/4 x 9-1/2 inches | 280 pages | 745 illustrations | English | ISBN: 9783869224183 | €38 | "This book looks at Chicago through the prism of Post-Modernism — under the premise that this style did not cease to exist sometime in the 1990s, but is, in fact, still with us today." (click here for publisher's description and author bio)


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Full disclosure: I wrote a guidebook to Chicago architecture, too. A few years ago I teamed up with the Chicago Architecture Center and wrote Guide to Chicago's Twenty-First-Century Architecture, which was published by University of Illinois Press in 2021. Obviously I cannot review my own book, and ethically it would be unfair to review the books by Vladimir Belogolovsky and Laurie McGovern Petersen relative to my own. So I'm endeavoring here to be as objective as possible, though I ask for readers to keep in mind that I'm far from the least biased person to review their books.

Eight years ago the third edition of the AIA Guide to Chicago was released, edited by Alice Sinkevitch and Laurie McGovern Petersen and published by University of Illinois Press. Like many AIA guides, its release was timed to the AIA Convention (now AIA Conference on Architecture) being held in the city; the second edition, solely authored by Sinkevitch, was ten years before that, in 2004. I was living in Chicago in 2004 and therefore had the second edition in my library, but by the time the third edition was released in 2014 I had decamped for New York City so was using the new one remotely, if you will, navigating the maps and entries from my Queens apartment rather than across the Windy City. In the process I discovered things that stayed the same and that changed; things that improved but that also got worse.

At the start of my review of the guide's third edition, I gravitated to one of the things that got worse: the maps. The second edition had margins in the fold, which meant the two-page maps were discontinuous across a spread but that they were easier to read; no information was lost in the fold. For some reason that margin disappeared in the third edition, with the maps drawn continuously across the two-page spreads, resulting in certain numbers and labels spanning the fold and getting buried in it. I wrote that one would have to "break the binding or cut the book apart" to read those parts of the maps. The AIA Guide to Chicago is not alone in doing this, and I chalk it up to books being laid out digitally, printed physically, and the translation between the two forgotten about. Whatever the actual reason, usability in guidebooks is paramount for me, so encountering instances like these maps that are the opposite — unhelpful — is frustrating, if not infuriating.

So, when I received a copy of the fourth edition from the publisher, I immediately looked at the maps, disappointed to see that the same problem persists eight years later. (I posted a photo of one of the maps on my Twitter feed, worth a click for anyone who can't visualize what I've been describing here or who might not realize just how frustrating the issue is.) This problem is unfortunate, since it is really the only glaring negative in an otherwise excellent guidebook — one every architect living in and visiting Chicago should have. Many new buildings are included in this edition, but  they are integrated into the geographical chapters, so the most visible addition is "A New Way of Looking at the AIA Guide to Chicago," 32 pages of color plates with at the back of the book, with photos taken by Eric Allix Rogers that explain the historical styles one encounters traversing the city. While there are some odd design features here and there (e.g., the start and ends of certain geographical groupings, such as campuses, are very subtle), and some parts of the book could really use updating (e.g., the helpful introductory essay, "The Shaping of Chicago," written by Perry R. Duis for Sinkevitch's first edition in 1993 but not expanded upon since), overall the guidebook continues with the excellence of its predecessor. 

Fuller disclosure: I wrote a blurb for Vladimir Belogolovsky's Architectural Guide Chicago, after he sent me an early version of the manuscript laid out by DOM Publishers: "DOM Publishers produces the most beautiful and informative architectural guidebooks around, period, but the lack of one devoted to Chicago was a glaring omission. Thankfully, Vladimir Belogolovsky’s new guidebook makes up for lost time with a superb selection of one hundred important buildings since 1978, the year Stanley Tigerman famously sunk Mies’s Crown Hall in The Titanic. The diversity and quality of the city’s architectural production since then is on full display in Architectural Guide Chicago — a book as intellectually stimulating as it is beautiful to behold."

While the AIA Guide to Chicago, like most of the guidebooks carrying the American Institute of Architects name, is comprehensive, with hundreds of old buildings alongside hundreds of modern and contemporary ones, Vladimir Belogolovsky's book takes a more limited glance at architecture in Chicago, looking at 100 buildings between 1978 and 2025. AIA guides have a consistent format in this regard, with the voices of the writers making each unique (the New York guide, for instance, is boldly critical but also humorous compared to others); the publishers at DOM, on the other hand, have admitted that the guides they put out are directed by their authors. So the Berlin guide by Dominik Schendel, for instance, is structured as four walking tours, while the two-volume guide to Pyongyang features a propagandist North Korean text (translated into English, of course) in the first volume and illustrated essays by various writers in the second volume. Heck, there's even a guide to the Moon.

Belogolovsky writes that in his second guidebook for DOM — following one on two decades of iconic buildings in NYC — "it became clear that it was necessary to address Chicago's structures through the prism of Post-Modernism" rather than as icons like his predecessor. Tracing important aspects of postmodernism in architecture broadly (the writings of Robert Venturi and Charles Jencks, the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale, etc.) in the introduction, the author then finds a desire by architects in Chicago in the late 1970s to move beyond the repetitive formulas laid down by Mies van der Rohe after he immigrated to the city in 1938. If the Chicago Seven (Stanley Tigerman, Tom Beeby, and others eventually adding up to more than seven) did not band together in response to Miesian architecture, perhaps others would have — or perhaps the Mies formula would have continued and Chicago's architecture would have grown stale. Although the last is unlikely, that Belogolovsky opts to present the diversity of the city's architectural output over the last four-and-a-half decades makes for a particularly interesting guide to the city.

Like most guides, the AIA guides included, Belogolovsky's book is organized geographically, not chronologically, with twelve color-coded chapters reaching from the Loop (every Chicago starts in the Loop, my own included) to parts far south and north. The chronological spread of the 100 buildings sees 20 percent of the buildings from 1978 to the millennium and the remaining 80 percent this century; Post-Modernism the title says, but Belogolovsky's critical tastes skew contemporary. The book is packed with illustrations, most of them photographs of the 100 buildings and some of those giving helpful peeks into spaces off limits to the public. Aerial and panoramic views of the city covering two-page spreads — a frequent part of DOM guides — are visually stunning and helpful, with buildings labeled by their number in the book. QR codes are included for each entry, with links going to Google Maps (I noticed they are links, apparently for the publisher to track clicks, which makes me not want to use them). Lastly, following the twelve chapters are interviews Belogolovsky held with Tigerman, Helmut Jahn, Jeanne Gang, and other important Chicago architects; atypical for a guidebook, they are fitting for Belogolovsky, who seems to have conversations with architects on a daily basis, producing books in the process and populating websites with them.

I found myself agreeing with most of Belogolovsky's critical takes on the buildings but departing from him in the details. To take one example, he describes the Harold Washington Library (Hammond Beeby Babka, 1991) as a "missed opportunity" because it does not have a "generous" civic space; the large space beneath the skylight roof at the top of the building is "far from generously proportioned, let alone spectacular" to him. Yes, though I find the space atop the building grand enough; unfortunately it is reached by a warren of small spaces and a terrible entry sequence downstairs, and is often used for events rather than anything that would be described as civic. Also I fined it a missed opportunity because it was selected over schemes by other architects, including Helmut Jahn, who wanted to span two blocks and might have provided such a civic space; Belogolovsky omits this history of the project, perhaps unaware of it, or maybe just short on space. Whatever the case, this is evidence that there is so much to discuss about buildings in Chicago that there will never be a shortage of books devoted to them.