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.
I do have to wonder what kind of perverse, photographer-hating architect orients his building so that the best views are from the highway.
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.
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.
Impressive by day, this building truly comes alive at night, with facades that are an ever-shifting checkerboard of light and dark.
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.
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!
(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.)