The most profound moment of the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise is at the end. After ninety minutes of gliding along the Chicago River, the Chicago’s First Lady vessel steers out toward Lake Michigan close to Navy Pier and turns around. The docent falls silent. The cameras start flashing. “Would you mind taking a picture of us,” the couple in front of me asks. I do, and it is stunning. The view of the Chicago skyline from sea, skyscrapers and structure reaching up from the waters to grab the dimmed heavens, is magnificent. So much history – almost two centuries of design, construction, and destruction – stand before us symbolized by modern architectural marvels.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a non-profit committed to allowing folks to blissfully commit the first cardinal sin of tourists: staring upward at skyscrapers. From a rocket ship to a waterfall to an armchair, the metaphors the docent used to describe the buildings of downtown Chicago humorously animate the buildings. The Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower, Willis Tower, and Trump Tower, along with many others, are on the cruise’s checklist. Occasionally, the names of the architects and design firms blend together in an alphabet soup of white men, but that might just be part of the territory of architecture history. What might strengthen the tour is to exchange some of these specifics for interesting stories about the architect’s lives and design styles.
It was my second time on the river tour, having been once with my roommate’s parents and now entertaining my own visiting mother. Even still, it was as educational and beautiful as the first. While a bit colder than ideal, the right bundling (purchased by my mother from CVS hours before) made the 5:00pm glide through Chicago enjoyable. A full-service bar in the boat’s cabin might have allowed an escape from the weather, although I would have had to endure my mother’s scowl. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to introduce a family member to the beautiful city I now call home. And of course, it never hurts to be reminded yourself of how lucky we are to live in the beautiful city of Chicago.
River cruises continue through November 20. More information at caf.architecture.org