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To Market, to market in Chicago

Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA Editor-in-chief

Chicago is the most rational city in America. The place where the grid hits the land with absorbing clarity, where the skyscrapers stand in rows with plenty of shoulder room. The city that Mies emblazoned with his personal mark. A city embodying the iconic American personality—direct, optimistic, strong, and unambiguous. You catch the pattern of the lights, flying into O’Hare. You can see it in the lakefront vista. Chicago is a city like a handshake.


Perhaps no more unambiguous building exists than the Merchandise Mart, a mid-continental temple to commerce—the Midwestern counterpoint to the Pentagon, a mega-scaled structure for seeing and selling. It’s Sears on steroids, the world’s largest commercial building handling 3 million people per year in 1800 showrooms. All 3 million seemed crowded into Neocon.

For two days of my lifetime I trekked through the corridors, seeking out what was really new and separating it from the hype. My primary discovery: the economy isn’t dead. Instead, the fashionably black-clad throngs were ogling the new furnishings, carpets, accessories for the workplace, air-kissing each other to the staccato accompaniment of sling-back heels on terrazzo. All those goods, those designer-designed office environments and ergonomically conceived chairs are going to find their way out of the warehouses and into offices, from Kankakee to Canada. If the wheels of the general economy have slowed, no one told the crowd in Chicago.