in wonderment at traffic speeding 1,450 feet below my feet
makes me dizzy. I am in what they call ‘skybox’ sticking out of
the side of the 108th floor of Sears Tower, the mother of all
skyscrapers in North America in the city of Chicago. The skybox is
made of glass, not just its three sides, but even the floor is sheet
glass. You step onto it gingerly, hoping you never hear the dreading
sound of splintering glass, as the mind conjures up images of a great
If you manage to overcome this dread, the reward is an amazing view of a forest of skyscrapers that constitutes the Chicago skyline. Sears Tower, now re-christened Wills Tower, dwarfs them all around it.
Everything about Chicago is towering and larger than life – be it the vertical urban landscape that redefined the rules of modern architecture over a century ago or the revolutionary personalities who redefined contemporary social and political norms. After all, it was Chicago that produced Martin Luther King Jr and more recently, Barack Obama.
This was also the city that spawned the most dangerous gangsters – Al Capone loved Chicago – hideous hoodlum haunts and venal gambling dens.
Chicago is perched on
one of the largest lakes on the planet. It is visible even from outer
space. In the evening, the setting sun turns Lake Michigan into a
molten expanse of silver.
While the aerial view of the city, both from the plane and from Wills Tower is fantastic, don’t miss out on the worm’s eye view and the tunnel effect you get as you glide in a boat through the city’s meandering waterways or pedal through its vibrant streets. There is also an architectural tour of the city by boat. Hemmed in by soaring towers on both banks of the canal, their glass frontage reflecting psychedelic and contorted images of the buildings opposite, the effect is art nouveau of a unique style. These boat tours are conducted by Chicago Architecture Foundation and give an authentic account of the city’s architectural history.
After the great fire of 1871, which burnt the entire city, razing all buildings to the ground and killing hundreds of its residents, the resilient Chicagoans rebuilt their city almost immediately and set ablaze a new trail in modern architecture.
Today, the defining features of Chicago skyline are its acres of glass and reinforced steel, buttressed by tube-frame construction, pioneered by a Bangladeshi engineer Fazlur Khan.
In a reflection of its eclectic and inclusive culture, the Chicago art scene seems to have its fair share of Asian and African contributors. For instance, the Millennium Park has a unique contraption called Cloud Gate, designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. Kapoor competed with many worthies to get his handiwork selected. Inspired by mercury, the Cloud Gate is made entirely of reinforced steel. Much like a concave mirror, it contorts and reflects Chicago skyline in its many crumpled shapes and is an eye-catching piece of novel art.
Chicago by night is a neon-city. Millions of lights lend an ethereal glow to this city perpetually blanketed in fog. The trendy bars and nightclubs come alive and the mood is festive, forming an electrifying nightscape that holds its own against any in the world. Busy sports bars and pubs, including the immortal Murphy’s Bleacher’s and Old World-style Irish Oak Pub entice you with their seductive neon signs. There is also that quintessential American institution, the House of Blues with its art-deco interiors and scintillating music. At the entrance, a signboard proclaims B. B. King’s famous line "Nobody loves me but my mother, but she could be jiving too". What better way to fight your blues with the collective rhythm when indeed, everyone seems to be jiving as if there’s no tomorrow.