We’re especially excited about this month’s Designer Dailies. Vas Kiniris, owner of Zinc Details, a modern design showroom in San Francisco, chronicled his family’s summer vacation—an architectural road trip across America. Fallingwater, here we come!
When we think of great architecture, we tend to think of Europe, or perhaps the East and West coasts of the US. We often overlook the middle of America. This summer my family and I chose to rediscover American design by doing a road trip across our country’s heartland, starting in Chicago and ending up in New York City. Some of the country’s most influential modern design destinations are located along this route. As a trained architect and design gallery owner, visiting these places has been a lifelong dream. The trip taught me that the US has many amazing and inspirational design sites that are right under our noses. They are uniquely American, and represent an important legacy for us and for the rest of the world. Here are a few highlights from our two-week journey, which began in our hometown of San Francisco, where we boarded the California Zephyr Amtrak for Chicago.
After we left San Francisco, we spent three days and two nights on Amtrak’s California Zephyr. It was a beautiful train ride watching the open Western landscape whizz by. The food was even quite good.
Arriving in Chicago, we immediately hit the architectural boat tour on which we admired the city’s diverse collection of skyscrapers. One is Marina City, a seminal ’60s design and “a city within a city.” It takes up one entire block in downtown Chicago.
We couldn’t get enough of Chicago skyscrapers. Here I am, suspended on a plexi observation platform on the 108th floor of the Willits Tower. It’s the tallest building in the U.S. Whew!
We also visited Millennium Park, which Time magazine called an “artfully rearranged . . . civic phantasmagoria.” Here’s a snap of Cloud Gate, a public sculpture by Indian-born, British artist Anish Kapoor. Locals call it “the bean.”
We spent an entire day in Oak Park outside Chicago where Frank Lloyd Wright designed so many of his famous residences. Here I am with my family in front of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first home and studio. This was his architectural laboratory.
Then, we hit the road in a rental car and headed to Plano, Illinois, for the Farnsworth House, built by Mies van der Rohe in 1951. This beautiful white temple is in the middle of a vast meadow and next to the Fox River. Mies said, “The essentials for living are floor and roof. Everything else is nature and proportion.”
Next, we made our way to Detroit, Michigan, where we saw another iconic project by Mies van der Rohe, the Lafayette Park residences. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this is a collection of one- and two- story townhomes, a small neighborhood shopping center, and two high-rises set adjacent to a 19-acre park. Detroit has seen many challenges over the years, and the energy and vibrancy of this complex is truly inspiring. An 80-year-old resident actually let us walk through her condo!
Also in Detroit was the legendary campus of Cranbrook by Eliel Saarinen (Eero “Tulip chair” Saarinen’s father). Cranbrook has a fascinating design legacy.
Here’s my son Nick checking out a George Nelson Exhibit at the Cranbrook Art Museum. We fully enjoyed that.
As we headed through Pennsylvania, we visited an Amish family in Ephrata that we met on the train to Chicago. We spent the night on their farm where enjoyed wonderful Amish hospitality. Amish country is beautiful and the history of Amish furniture-making is fascinating.
On the road through Pennsylvania, we stopped to see Fallingwater, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1936. This is definitely a place everyone should see, but be forewarned—it’s in the middle of nowhere! It’s a masterpiece for its integration of nature and man. Plus, you can’t take a bad photo of the place. I wish I could live there.
Seeing great design makes you hungry. We took a chocolate break at the Hershey’s chocolate factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
There are so many museums to visit in Washington, D.C. that it’s impossible to see them all. We loved the National Gallery of Art. The foyer has the longest mobile by Alexander Calder that I’ve ever seen. It’s 76 feet long and weighs 920 pounds!
At the National Portrait Gallery, my daughter Eva and I enjoyed the Sculpture Group Symbolizing World’s Communication in the Atomic Age designed by Harry Bertoia in 1959 for the electronics company Zenith. “We live in a time dominated by these invisible forces,” said Bertoia.
Our trip ended in New York City where we enjoyed a tour of the United Nations. It was a highlight of the trip. The UN complex was designed by the three great international designers of the post-World War II era: Wallace Harrison, Le Corbusier, and Oscar Niemeyer. Leading artists were also commissioned to design for the headquarters including Marc Chagall.
After the UN, we headed downtown to visit The High Line. It’s impossible to underestimate how influential this project has been on other metropolitan areas in the US and abroad. It’s a monument to the American industrial past and shows a way that cities can use design to recreate a vibrant community in a disused urban space. I hope my hometown San Francisco will follow the lead.
Before we flew home, we ended our American road trip with a visit to the World Trade Center Memorial—it was awe-inspiring and hopeful!
Thanks to the Kiniris family for taking us along with them on vacation.