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Midwest Modernism I: The Caldwell Lily Pool

January 21, 2016

Alfred Caldwell’s Lily Pool, Chicago, 1937 (Author’s photo)

Chicago is surprisingly green. In fact, its motto is “Urbs in horto” – “City in a garden”. Among its 570 public parks, Humboldt and Garfield are particularly interesting for their prairie style landscapes. These naturalistic areas mimic Midwest prairies. They were designed by innovative landscaper Jens Jensen around 1906. Alfred Caldwell was Jensen’s student  and went on to design the Lily Pool in Lincoln Park. This is a masterpiece of modern landscape design.


Lily Pool  (Author’s photo)

It includes a circular stone meeting place, a feature used by Jensen, a limestone path around the pool and sumptuous native Illinois planting. The pool’s limestone cascades and Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired pavilion are all horizontals, appearing to grow organically out of the landscape. Eminent Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe met Caldwell at the pool. Impressed, Mies offered Caldwell a job teaching in his architecture faculty at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Caldwell also designed the landscape at IIT, a campus famous for Mies’s influential Crown Hall.


Cascade, Lily Pool (Author’s photo)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEntrance gate to the Lily Pool (Author’s photo)

The pool became run down due to lack of maintenance, but was restored in 2000 and is now an National Historic Landmark. Other work by Caldwell in Chicago includes the rooftop park on the podium at Lake Point Tower. In a neat piece of synergy, this glass tower was designed by Schipporeit and Heinrich, two former Mies students, who based it on  Mies ‘s designs for an unrealised Berlin tower from 1921.


Schipporeit and Heinrich’s Lake Point Tower, Chicago, 1968 (Author’s photo)


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