Chicago has a plethora of buildings designed by very famous architects, from Burnham, Root, Atwood and Louis Sullivan to Frank Lloyd Wright to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies, once the director of Berlin's famed Bauhaus school as well as head of the architecture department at the Illinois Institute of Architecture (IIT), has several famous buildings in the Loop and Streeterville areas--the 860-880 and 900-910 Lake Shore Drive apartments, the Federal Center buildings and post office, and the IBM building, which now houses the Langham hotel on its first 13 floors.
I personally make pilgrimages to all these easily accessed buildings every time I visit Chicago, and have also made the hour-long journey to Mies' Farnsworth house in Plano, a breathtakingly beautiful ode to minimalism in a bucolic riverside setting. I actually visited the house twice on this trip--the easiest way to visit is through the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
I hyperventilated with excitement when I read the Langham was opening in the IBM building, the first hotel in the world ever to reside in an Mies building. I am familiar with the Langham brand, as the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena is but a stone's throw from my home. I had already planned a July trip to Chicago, and was booked to stay at the Radisson Blu in Jeanne Gang's iconic Aqua building, but hyperventilated again when I found out the Langham would open one week before my visit. I hyperventilated once more when my eagerness was rewarded--a kind staffer (thank you, Ms. Nielsen!) personally processed my reservation manually, before the reservations department was operational (she said although I wouldn't be the first guest arriving, I was the first individual guest reservation confirmed), and then graciously offered a special pre-opening introductory rate and an upgrade to a river view suite. I couldn't have been more delighted even if Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House were to become a bed and breakfast.
The Langham had a soft opening on July 10; my stay began on July 17. While parts of the hotel are still under construction, it is very clear the hotel has 5 star potential and aspirations. The meticulous groundwork has definitely been laid down and is quite evident to even the most casual observer. I believe the Langham group, which began in 1865 in London, is aiming for this hotel to become one of its flagship properties.
The 52 story IBM building was completed in 1971 and was one of Mies' last; he actually passed away before its completion. It stands on the north bank of the Chicago River between State and Wabash Streets, sandwiched between Bertrand Goldberg's landmark Marina City towers and Adrian Smith's less well-regarded Trump Hotel and Tower. All 3 are major pieces in Chicago's architectural chessboard. The IBM building is now known as 330 N. Wabash, and will soon be called the AMA building after the American Medical Association becomes its primary tenant in a few months. The Langham has added a brightly lit gold canopy over its entrance, but below Mies' larger entry canopy. Let's hope he hasn't turned in his grave--the canopy is one of Langham's concessions to the comfort of its guests over Mies' austere design concepts.
THE PUBLIC AREAS
I am a curious person by nature, no more so than when exploring a new hotel. My thanks to all the kind and helpful staff who escorted me into room categories other than my own and into areas still unfinished during my stay. Note the more recent photos posted on TA by hotel management are more accurate that the stylized architectural renderings initially posted.
The main entrance is off Wabash St. It is here were the doorman, valet, bellmen and "Service Stylists"--outgoing women in Chanel-like pink suits--stand. There is another entry on State St., which is now thankfully locked, because I never saw any staff or security here. The lobby was designed by Mies' architect grandson, Dirk Lohan. The gold beaded curtains echo the gold canopy. The furniture is comfortable, white, and non-Miesian, except for a backless sofa on the State St. side. This is another concession to guest comfort--Mies' furniture is striking but not particularly comfortable. Mies used travertine marble extensively in many of his buildings, and such is the case here. The alabaster head sculpture, "Anna", is by Jaume Plensa, who designed Millennium Park's Crown Fountain. The red painting be Enoc Perez was commissioned by the hotel and is a stylized rendering of the building. At least 3 art curators worked on the hotel, including Lauren Rottet, and the collection has more than 140 pieces. The building has 3 elevator banks; the Langham has taken over one bank of 8 elevators for floors 1-13, which is now called 12C for Club level. One of the staff members escorts you to the 2nd floor reception area. Note the hotel will eventually have its signature pink London taxicab house car.
Second Floor--Reception Area, Restaurants and Meeting Rooms
The 2 story reception area is where the front desk personnel and concierges stand, all behind one long counter. More Service Stylists stand at the ready. Coloured glass pebbles hang from the ceiling, mimicking the reflective and fluid qualities of the Chicago River, visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Pavilion is the only dining space open now, so it is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had a wonderful breakfast experience here, although a bit pricey. Once the hotel's other restaurant opens, the Pavilion will switch to serving light fare and Langham's famous afternoon tea service, called Tiffin at the Langham. The other restaurant, Travelle, is still under construction and was closed off by curtains. Designed by David Rockwell, it will also have a lounge some Mies furniture and live entertainment. One of its art pieces is a large video installation that was visible from the street. The restrooms by the Pavilion have prints by James Nares, an artist of interest to me.
Third Floor--Ballroom and Meeting Rooms
The hotel's largest event space, the Devonshire Ballroom, is here. along with meeting rooms. Part of this floor overlooks the 2nd floor reception area and Pavilion. I particularly liked the paintings of famous paintings grouped as if in a museum, which hang in the ballroom foyer, where there are 3 Mies backless sofas.
Fourth Floor--Chuan Spa, Fitness Center and Pool
The Spa is not yet open, which I discovered before my visit when I tried to book a treatment. The fitness center and pool are open, however. The fitness center is quite large, and there will soon be a room for classes. The pool is also large, beautiful, and white, perhaps even has travertine stone,which Mies would have loved. I was allowed a peek into the Spa's unfinished treatment waiting area, with dual cascading waterfalls over marble, as well as art by Anish Kapoor of Millennium Park's "Cloudgate", or "The Bean" fame.
I was able to get a peek at 2 rooms types unlike mine. There are 268 rooms and 48 suites. Rooms are on floors 5-12C. The Club level rooms are on 11-12C, none of which were open. The Club Lounge will be on 12C. It's possible a few of the elevators will become dedicated to Club levels. I was supposed to get a Club Level suite, but this clearly was impossible.
The rooms, called Grand Rooms, are at least 516 sq. ft. They seemed very comfortable and well-designed. The bathroom had an enclosed WC and a wet room with separate tub and shower, plus the "reveal" glass wall that looks out into the bedroom and becomes opaque with the flip of a switch. There was a vanity area next to the closet. I noticed that even rooms not categorized as "river view" still can have a glimpse of the river, since the building is situated perpendicular to the river. Primary views will be of the Trump building or the Marina City or Hotel Sax buildings.
The other room I saw was a River View Grand. These rooms face the river directly, and there are only 2 per floor, sandwiched between River View corner suites. These rooms were laid out a bit differently, with a bath with a fully separate tub and shower, and no Reveal window. The bed faces the river.
My room was a southwest facing Classic River View Suite, 1230 sq. ft. of stylish sophistication. I could very well have been the first guest in the suite. I thought of the Gloria Stuart line from the movie "Titanic" that went something like, "I can still smell the fresh paint. The sheets had never been slept in. The china had never been used". The corner suite had a full wall of floor to ceiling windows facing the river, while the other wall faced Marina City, whose east tower parking area was eerily empty for refurbishment. The southeast facing suites would see Trump Tower and a bit of the lake. There was a powder room, the living room had a small dining table for 4, a sofa bed and 2 chairs, an desk, large TV, wet bar and minibar, and a chandelier. Furniture was non-Mies. The floors were hardwood-like, with carpeted inlays. The bedroom had a Mies white leather chaise, vanity, TV, a bed throw with a cityscape on it, and more full-length windows. The bath, done in marble, white granite and travertine, had 2 sinks with another TV in the mirror, a huge oval tube, enclosed WC and bidet, and a large shower stall with a bench and 2 heads. There was a heated towel rack. The bathsheets were bespoke. The bath and closet had sliding opaque glass doors. The photographs in the room echoed those in the hallways--on my floor (7), they appropriately included photos of the Farnsworth house. Many floors feature photos by famed architectural photographer Hedrich Blessing, who worked extensively with Mies, as well as William Wegman's dog photos.
Here's what I think the room could have used:
-A magnifying mirror in the bathroom.
-Better lighting around the sinks. There was a light switch for "vanity" but it did nothing. There were 2 covered electrical plates on both sides of the mirror, however, and in the Grand Room I saw, there were lights in these spaces.
-A full length mirror somewhere in the room.
-Something tasteful to cover the naked Kleenex box, perhaps something akin to the lovely chocolate stitched leather box that held the bath amenities.
-The Chuan soaps came in plastic cases that also served as soap dishes. I think more dedicated soap dishes are in order.
-Something to protect the entry door's wood when it is propped open by the security latch.
-The room had 3 spotlights on an empty wall that probably should have featured some art.
-The daily newspaper arrived in a plastic bag, great to reuse for dirty laundry, wet swimsuits, etc. But some guests would just discard them, so the hotel should consider using those bags without a complete bottom I've seen in other hotels--they aren't useful for anything else, so guests are more likely to leave them for reuse.
Housekeeping was decent but inconsistent in terms of thoroughness. My newspaper requests were not correct until the 3rd day. One day, housekeeping took the day's papers before I could read them. The drapes and sheers are switch-operated, and they also automatically opened upon entering. Sometimes they had minds of their own and just opened whimsically.
Service overall was magnificent--professional,attentive, outgoing, eager to go the extra mile, to satisfy my endless curiosity. This will serve the hotel well in Chicago's highly competitive luxury hotel market.
All in all, another welcome entry to the city's hotel scene. This hotel would not only satisfy the luxury traveler, but also the architecturally-minded traveler, which is a somewhat rare thing, even in Chicago. For the luxury-minded, this hotel would compete well in the market already occupied by such chichi places as the Waldorf Astoria, the Four Seasons, the Ritz Carlton (my former Chicago home), the Peninsula, Park Hyatt, and Trump. For the architecturally-minded, I would rate the Langham higher than the Radisson Blu and the historic Burnham--I've stayed at both and actually spent my last night in the city at the Burnham. For an untrained but unabashed, enthusiastic Mies fan, it doesn't get any better than this. Now if only Langham would take over part of the Seagram building in New York...
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Conveniently located downtown in a landmark building designed by renowned architect Mies van der Rohe, luxury hotel The Langham, Chicago is just minutes away from the boutique-lined boulevards of Chicago’s retail hub and within walking distance to many of the city’s premier tourist sites. ... more less
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