How architectural superstars Strawn and Sierralta see Chicago

Published On 09/12/2013 Published On 09/12/2013

Like Hart to Hart before them, Chicago architects Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta are partners in life and business who often find themselves joining forces to kick butt…resses. Hailed in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Dwell, they were tapped as finalists for the 9/11 Memorial just three months after finishing graduate school, and their boundless imagination has dreamed up projects from History Channel's "City of the Future" to something called "Supertall Superfarm". We asked them what about their hometown inspired them most. Here's what they got back with.

© Jeremy Atherton, 2006

Friends with Benefits: Friends of the Chicago River
Ensuring the protection of Chicago’s waterways since 1979, FCR provides an impressive number of ways to go out and explore all 156 miles of it. Want to get under the McCormick Bridge without becoming a troll? Visit the Chicago River Museum. Want to get up close and personal? Take an Urban Canoe Adventure. Want to scuba dive? Don’t scuba dive, that's nuts.

© Jeremy Atherton, 2006

Crown Jewel: S.R. Crown Hall
The masterpiece of master architect Mies van der Rohe, the S.R. sits in the middle of IIT’s College of Architecture, which is bad for the morale of aspiring architecture students, but good for the morale of you, since it's a 10 minute train ride away and offers guided tours.


Water World: Marina City
Erected in 1963, this "city within a city" is a paragon of "groundbreaking design that re-imagined living in urban centers". That’s a nice bit of erudition to drop when wolfing down a Smith & Wollensky steak or catching Hanson (yes, Hanson) at the House of Blues.

Actual Size: The Matchbox
It might be small, and it might get packed, but these mojitos and margaritas have been drawing Brian and Karla's praise for over a decade. So go light The Matchbox up like you're Taio Cruz, and buy everybody a round because you're kind of rich.

Neal Jennings

It's More Than Houses: Open House Chicago
OHC will take you inside over 150 marvels of design that aren’t normally open to the public, like the stage of Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavillion. Bring a mouth harp so you can say you played a gig there.

Building Relationships: The Chicago Architectural Club
Chicago birthed Frank Lloyd Wright and the skyscraper, so it's no wonder that Architectural Club’s informal lecture series draws some of the biggest names in buildings and puts you face to face with them in intimate conversation.

Fired Up: 1871
Named for the year of the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 "is metaphorically the city’s attempt to remake itself after the global economic turmoil". Giving support to a whole community of digital entrepreneurs since 2012, they're just getting started, but they’re already hot. Check out the Founders Series, which features great minds informally talking shop in what -- given the presence of the beverage in this video -- could only be called an informal setting.

Julie Qiu/

Star Power: GT Fish & Oyster
With Michelin-starred chef Giuseppe Tentori behind the menu, GT challenges everything you know about American seafood. Snag an expertly prepared lobster roll, a peach jam and apricot filled sip of the Rose Colored Glasses, and, of course, bivalves -- if they're good enough for oyster maniac Julie Qiu, they're good enough for the oyster general public.

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1. McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum 376 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60601

Honor Chi history by starting at river level, gazing up at the massive gears that make up our most famous moveable bridge, then spiraling your way up the five-story bridgehouse to catch picture-perfect views, all for a totally-worth-it four dollar admission fee.

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2. S. R. Crown Hall 3360 S State St, Chicago, IL 60616

Completed in 1956, this Mies van der Rohe stunner -- which he once described as "almost nothing" because of its simplistic design -- not only rocks Landmark status, it's home to the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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3. Smith & Wollensky 318 N State St, Chicago, IL 60611

If you prefer your steaks dry-aged and butchered on site and a your wine lists lengthy, and if you prefer enjoying those steaks and wines with a scenic view of Chicago while you sit along the water in Marina City, you might want to hit up this classic.

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4. House of Blues 329 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60654

Fans of R&B, Gospel, Jazz and Roots-based Rock & Roll migrate to this venue inside historic Marina City on the reg. Even if you're not a music fan you should get the all-you-can-gorge Gospel Brunch every Sunday, because it's all-you-can-gorge.

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5. The Matchbox 770 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

As the self-proclaimed "most intimate bar in Chicago" at only 460sqft, The Matchbox is not for those who require substantial personal space. It is, however, for folks who enjoy high-quality cocktails like fresh lime juice gimlets and Manhattans garnished with tasty french cherries, paired with emphatic conversation with friends and strangers at very close range. Having stood at the corner of Ogden and Milwaukee for over 75 years, the divey hallway-eqsue space is a Chicago staple, with red tin ceilings, a dark-wooded bar, and ever-present rows of christmas light dangling above shelves crammed with liquor. The place serves a handful of bar snacks -- panko-crusted mozzarella, bacon-wrapped-scallops, wings -- and in the warmer months, there is side walk seating available (with far more space and far less character than the joint's interior).

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6. 1871 222 Merchandise Mart Plz, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the rebuilding of one of America's biggest cities are the inspiration for this community of digital entrepreneurs who call this shared environment their office. Want to see it for yourself? Get a tour.

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7. GT Fish and Oyster 531 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Headed up by Michelin starred chef Giuseppe Tentori, this eatery has been taking seafood out of its shell since 2011 with inventive, progressive, and surprising takes.



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