By Tina Jepson
Chicago, the host city of NeoCon since its beginning back in the 1960s, is known throughout the United States and the world for its original and varying architecture. And since the House Tipster team, along with our friend, trade show expert, and renowned interior and product designer Christopher Grubb, just so happened to be in the Windy City for this annual event, we knew we had to talk to one of the most passionate voices on the local architecture: Wayne Johnson.
Wayne is known throughout Chicago and the surrounding region for his entertaining and informative “Wayne’s Weekend” segments on NBC. He was also won the Today’s Show “Domestic Diva” award and is a local chef. But it’s his zeal for architecture and his role with both the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust that brought him to 2018’s NeoCon at The Merchandise Mart.
Although we’re putting the finishing touches on the exclusive video interview now, you can read excerpts from the conversation here.
Christopher Grubb (C.G.): If you’re a local here in Chicago, then you know Wayne Johnson from “Wayne’s Weekend” on NBC. Wayne is also a chef with a passion for architecture.
Wayne, you’re even a docent at the Robie House. Tell us about your role at the Robie House.
Wayne Johnson (W.J.): I’ve been a docent at the Robie House for six years, and right now, the house is in the middle of a restoration. The house designed in 1908 in Frank Lloyd Wright’s characteristic Prairie Style. The early 1900s were a great time for architecture.
C.G. Chicago also is known for its urban living, and to me, Marina City stands out.
W.J.: Yes! Marina City was built between 1959 and 1967, and the architect was Bertrand Goldberg. He wanted to design a complex that brought people into the city and away from the suburbs, but still had the same amenities as the suburbs. There’s a marina, a movie theater, an office building and two wonderful towers. He thought of the towers like trees when he was designing them, with the core of the building as the trunk, and the balconies like the leaves.
C.G.: Chicago is one of my favorite cities because of the architecture. I’ve seen a lot of building repurposing here, such as the Palmolive Building becoming the Playboy Building. In 30 years, it’s estimated that around 70% of people will live in the “city.” What type of movements in urban living have you seen?
W.J.: There is a lot of adaptive reuse here, and that’s because we have so many wonderful buildings in downtown Chicago, but they’re not designed in a way that makes them commercially successful. As a result, many have become residential.
C.G: You are also a docent on the Chicago Architectural Foundation River Tour. Can you tell us about the tour?
W.J.: What’s so fascinating is that here in Chicago, we have buildings on both sides of the river as it goes through the heart of downtown. In fact, I talk about 70 buildings during a 90-minute cruise!
C.G.: What are some of the new things happening developmentally and style-wise here in Chicago?
W.J.: There’s a new building called Vista, which was designed by Jeanne Gang from Studio Gang Architects. Vista is the third tallest building in the city, and it’s residential. It’s really amazing that out of the three tallest buildings in the city, two are residential. Vista actually won a PETA award because it’s designed to keep birds from flying into it!
There are a number of planned developments happening as well, including Lakeshore East and Southbank.
Overall, I really love the playful postmodern buildings.
As you can see, Chicago is full of amazing architecture, and it was great to learn more about the city and its architectural evolution through the eyes of Wayne Johnson.
Next time you’re in the area, don’t hesitate to book one of over 80 tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation .