Gotham City’s great cityscape
We explore Chicago’s amazing architecture from a luxury bolthole at the Langham Chicago.Neil Churchill December 16, 2015
In a city famed for its architecture and skyline, moving into the old headquarters of information technology giant IBM, is not very sexy. But as the old saying goes, don’t judge a book – or a 52-storey building – by its cover.
Occupying 13 floors inside the black glass and steel rectangular skyscraper is the two-year-old Langham Chicago, a haven of art, design and luxury hidden away inside a steely, austere façade; the pearl inside an oyster’s shell.
That may be a little harsh. The building is certainly not a horror. In fact Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, aka, the Godfather of the modern skyscraper, master of the phrase “less is more”, designed it.
In most cities the building would be a standout tower – indeed it was declared a Chicago Landmark in 2008. But in the Windy City, design competition is fierce across the cityscape. Its neighbour is the gleaming Burj Khalifa lookalike Trump Tower; the John Hancock Centre is arguably the city’s more famous all-black skyscraper; while the Willis Tower, the city’s tallest, smokes all competition.
But those who have seen beyond the dark sheaths of double-paned glass and businesslike ground-level foyer know the world that awaits guests one floor up at the Langham, and with it the reasons why it has quickly gained status as Chicago’s number one hotel.
With 22ft high floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning views of the Chicago River and the surrounding buildings’ epic architecture, two large fireplaces and numerous paintings on the walls, the lobby sets the theme for a hotel inspired by art and design with astonishing levels of comfort and detail.
A prime example is right above your head. Hanging from the ceiling is a stunning installation of 500 glass blown pebbles of differing colours, lit from above with LED lights. It’s safe to say the spacious and airy lobby would put many boutique art galleries to shame. All 316 rooms (48 suites) are similarly influenced by art and design. Two things however wonderfully overshadow both of them: luxury and comfort.
Warm, neutral colours and rich textures accent the wood panelled floors of the bedrooms. Large rugs, comfy chairs and a leather chaise longue bathe in the natural light afforded by yet more floor-to-ceiling windows, with 10 feet of head space making even the smallest rooms (516 sq. ft.) feel sufficiently large.
Custom-designed cellarets and mini bars house a Nespresso machine and edible treats, while 55-inch TVs adorn the walls. The lights, of which there are many, are controlled by a single operating panel and even the curtains and drapes shut at the touch of a button.
The marble- and granite-filled bathroom in our Club Suite had a whirlpool bath, glass rainfall shower, heated mirrors and double sinks, which made it feel more like a micro-spa than an en suite. Non-Club rooms come with the modern trend of a window looking back into the bedroom; ‘reveal’ opaque privacy glass maintains modesty at the touch of a button.
The hotel’s Club Lounge on its highest floor offers arguably the best views at the Langham, with a sweeping vista of Michigan Lake, the river and the surrounding buildings. A light lunch, evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served for Club guests, but the breakfast buffet will be your main cause for visiting.
An a la carte breakfast option is also served in the all-day dining venue Travelle, where glass walls take the popular open kitchen concept and turn it into something ever so slightly zoo-esque.
The adjoining 1950s-styled cocktail bar of the same name was heaving on the Thursday night we visited, turning almost the entire second floor of the hotel into a social hotspot. That may have been down to the design and art displays that inhabit the bar, or maybe it was the 1,600 bottles of wine to choose from. Either way, the building has come a long way from housing computer processor boffins.
There is also a luxurious Chuan Spa and Health Club occupying the entire fourth floor, using traditional Chinese medicine across more than 40 treatments. The adjacent 67ft swimming pool is perfect for those who like to do their laps each morning, and is complemented by an exercise studio and fitness centre.
Possibly the biggest selling point of the Langham Chicago however, is its location. Perched on the banks of the river, just a stroll in opposing directions to either the retail strip Michigan Avenue or culture district Millennium Park, you can happily fill your time within a 1km radius of the hotel’s steps.
What we would recommend however is one of the city’s architecture tours, preferably by boat, along the Chicago River. The city rebuilt quickly after The Great Fire of 1871, which almost wiped out the real estate industry. Each new construction project reflected the times and mood the country was going through during the end of the 19th Century.
As a result there is little architecture conformity. The buildings change in era and style from one to the next – the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower becomes the French Renaissance Wrigley Building, becomes the ultra-modern Trump Tower; it’s an awe-inspiring upwards view that confuses, and delights, the eyes.
It’s not just the buildings though that will leave an architecture enthusiast weak at the knees. There are 38 moveable bridges crisscrossing the river, and they are just as worthy of image memory on your camera phone as the buildings.
The city’s metro system, the ‘L’, rides across some of them on a double-decker styled lattice of iron, clanging through the city like a noisy paintbrush on an urban canvas. You can’t help but perform a double take in anticipation of a caped crusader clinging onto the rear carriage. This is Gotham City after all.