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    Mies on Lake Shore Drive

    by Neil Harris

    When German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the famous twin-tower Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago, these modern icons, also known as the "Glass Houses," took their place in line along a lakefront history exhibit of the city's residential architecture. Editor

    Chicago is a lakefront city. For much of its length, a wall of buildings looms over Chicago's lake-lined parks, beaches, and its most celebrated boulevard, Lake Shore Drive. Strictly speaking, Lake Shore Drive is not a boulevard, but its low speed limits, noncommercial character, and scenic borders differentiate it from most other eight-lane highways.

    The views from this strip of road define a popular sense of the larger city and, except for a quarter-mile (400-meter) stretch that parallels the ribbon of Michigan Avenue office buildings, the western vistas consist largely of apartment houses. Even some of the Michigan Avenue buildings themselves are undergoing residential conversion.

    Thousands and thousands of windows look out on Lake Michigan, and behind them are the residents of an apartment city. Chicago is also a city of bungalows, and a city of three and six flats, and a city of "El" (elevated) tracks and warehouses and factories. Yet, its glamour lies heavily in those highrise apartment houses, many of which are more than 80 years old and flaunt their pinnacled and ornamented fronts with an assurance undiminished by more recent stylistic changes. The most luxurious among them boast spaces and features that match the richest fantasies.   >>>

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    This article is excerpted from Chicago Apartments: A Century of Lakefront Luxury by Neil Harris, with permission of the publisher, Acanthus Press.

     

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    ArchWeek Image

    Lobby of the Lake Shore Drive Apartments by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
    Photo: Hedrich Blessing, courtesy Chicago Historical Society

    ArchWeek Image

    The two 26-story towers also known as the "Glass Houses."
    Photo: Richard Nickel, courtesy Chicago Historical Society

     

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