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Madeline and Jennifer Take Chicago

A short while back, BBA's own Madeline and Jennifer flew east to the great city of Chicago, Illinois, to explore and conquer NeoCon, the National Exposition of Contract Furnishings.

Complete with lectures and city tours over 3 full days, NeoCon has been held in Chicago at the Merchandise Mart since 1969. The show has grown every year to become a Mecca for designers seeking inspiration, furnishings and great city tours. Boasting more than 700 exhibitors spread over 16 floors of the Merchandise Mart, NeoCon has expanded to become the quintessential designer's show, now easily comparable with the Hospitality Show held annually in Las Vegas.

Beyond the staggering and exceptional display of furniture there was also a large offering of fabric, carpeting, art, and lighting. Entire floors of the show were dedicated to larger companies such as Herman Miller, Steelcase and Knoll. Although contract furnishings have traditionally been designed for offices and conference spaces, the furniture today looks more classic and residential for instance, Mies Van Der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona chair, Ray and Charles Eame's plywood chairs and Fritz Hansen's Egg chair.

Favorite picks? For Jennifer it was the Knoll showroom; The vignettes within the showroom were colourful and engaging, showcasing her particular favourite classic line of furniture, while Madeline was equally impressed by the Herman Miller and Steelcase showrooms where the typically commercial furniture lines crossover easily to residential lobbies and other hospitality uses.

And then it was time to hit the town... Designer style.

Madeline and Jennifer boarded the architectural boat tour guided by the Chicago Architectural Foundation. The vessel cruises the arms of the Chicago River revealing more than 50 of the most iconic buildings that define the Chicago skyline. Afterall, these buildings are central to the study of design and seeing them first hand was a full circle moment for our BBA designers.

Another poignant moment in the tour, the Chicago Tribune building with its breathtaking mix of neo-Gothic, sits next to the new Trump Hotel, which resides nearby historical giants Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) and Mies Van Der Rohe's IBM Tower, reflecting Jeanne Gang's Aqua Building. Chicago's entire skyline represents the move from the historical Beaux Arts style, through to Bauhaus minimalism to the glass reflections and textural façade expressions of the 21st century which have allowed Chicago to retain its roots, while at the same time, expressing its architectural growth.

Next, they visited Millenium Park which was conceived by city mayor, Frank J. Daley, who began a major greening initiative of Chicago in celebration of the millennium. Designed by a number of prominent architects such as Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Frank Gehry and Thomas Beeby to name just a few, Millenium stands in the company of the world's best parks, comparable to Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.

Millenium Park is also renown for its numerous outdoor sculptures. The impressive Cloud Gate, floating like a transparent bubble in amongst the sky line, designed by British artist Anish Kapoor, attracts tourists and Chicagoans alike with its interactive appeal. Walking under the sculpture and gazing upwards reveals dizzying reflections in the curvature of the form.

After regaining their balance, Madeline and Jennifer visited the Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. With its iconic zinc paneling, the open-air theatre rises out of the trees and beckons its guests. Also of note: the BP-commissioned bridge, also designed by the prolific Frank Gehry... Incredible.

The opportunity to see world renowned historic and contemporary architecture, tour contemporary designed hotels and restaurants, walk a nationally prominent trade show floor, experience an interactive and iconic public park and of course, to indulge in Chicago-style deep dish pizza, has given these two intrepid designers both invaluable inspiration and insight. We suggest that you watch closely for Chicago-influenced nuances, coming to their projects soon!

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