Aren’t you just a little bit curious?

For years, I held the section of Golf Road that slides under I-90/94 in a degree of reverence. Seen from the highway, it seemed like a little downtown, a place where great and interesting things must surely be happening. What gave it this mythical aura? One and only one building: the Optima Condominiums, a veritable floating city that hovers over this stretch of crowded highway.

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I do have to wonder what kind of perverse, photographer-hating architect orients his building so that the best views are from the highway.

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But that’s no slight against the building’s non-highway-facing facades. From almost any angle, Optima Old Orchard Woods is an incredible mass of glass-walled homes, layered and piled upon one another in a magnificent symphony of space and materials. If ever there was a building to convince doubters of the merits of glass facades, this is it. It’s a structural feat as well, with cantilevers in every direction and even a massive multi-story bridge in the middle.

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The Optima building is in a tense location: on one side, the roaring Edens Expressway, one of the most traffic-choked Interstates in the nation, with the suburban detritus of the Skokie Golf Mills area beyond it. On the other side, a Forest Preserve – undisturbed wildlands coursing like a green river through the suburbs.

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Impressive by day, this building truly comes alive at night, with facades that are an ever-shifting checkerboard of light and dark.

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Like its cousins in Evanston, the Optima Old Orchard derives much of its sense of place by piling inhabitable spaces one on top of the other. The breezeway roof is a sun balcony. The pool is on the second story and looks over the entry court. Balconies and terraces are everywhere.

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With only one small retail store in the base, it’s not quite a self-contained city (nor is it terribly urban – there’s no rail transit anywhere closeby). But it does a good job of looking like it!

Aren't you just a little bit curious?

(The title of this blog post, by the way, comes from a rooftop banner which adorned the building for a time. Intended to stir up the interest of potential residents, it instead came across as a plaintive plea for attention, perhaps explaining why it didn’t last very long.)

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2 thoughts on “Aren’t you just a little bit curious?

  1. I am so pumped that you wrote about this place! I've always admired it while driving up that section of 90/94. Although I am a little dismayed to find out it's not an entirely self-contained city (how I'd always imagined it). I had this fantasy that I could move in, do all my grocery shopping, exercising, living and working in one self-contained unit, like living on the moon. Whenever I pass this place I point it out to my husband, "there's that building!" (I just realized I did this as a kid, too, with certain houses and buildings — always mentioning them as we drove by, "There's the stone house!") Your post made me feel better — like I'm not the only one obsessed by this ultra-modern, weird suburban monstrosity that, by all accounts, I should hate — but don't.

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