Home / News / He started drawing the Chicago River and kept going.

He started drawing the Chicago River and kept going.


“I can’t stop,” said Ryan Chester, sitting in a window of the Wrigley Building on the south side of Chicago’s Riverwalk; It lay before him, crowded with tourists and workers on their lunch break. “I really can’t,” he said again. He had already put so much into it.

It was already a draw at 5.5. Miles of the Chicago River and buildings visible beyond its banks, hand-drawn – Drawing one foot of downtown Chicago in a week. Started 2019 and finished 2021 using the same roll of continuous writing paper. When he was finished, Chester, an architect with the firm JGMA, had a 50-foot blueprint of Chicago seen from the north and south banks of the Chicago River, from the harbor locks on DuSable Lake Shore Drive to the Bertrand Goldberg River. The city on the southern branch.

So complex and obsessive that the University of Chicago Press has just published a coffee table version: “Chicago Reflected: A Skyline Drawing From the Chicago River,” a 10-foot accordion-like reproduction with a thoughtful essay by Chicago native Thomas Dyja. Reflected: A Skyline Drawing From the Chicago River”). Third Coast for context”). Dyja creates Chester’s remarkably detailed gray-and-white sketch that reveals the scope of the city, from Jules Guerin’s vision of Chicago’s future for Daniel Burnham to Franklin McMahon’s sketches of Chicago courtrooms and streetscapes for magazines and Chicago newspapers. places it in the lineage of artists. . But Chester’s Chicago, Dyja writes, is a panorama of “a pleasure waterfront for tourists and those still working downtown,” with recreational boats set against slender glass towers.

A ghost one.

Chester has slipped in some of the architecture of the past, as well as buildings that were still being built at the time he was drawing. Chester said it was “purely a fantasy of perspective and skyline.” Past, present and future at the same time. It all started because “some young architects in my office started a sketching club and went into the city to sketch on their lunch break.” It didn’t stop when winter came. He took this as a mild rebuke for how dependent architects had become on computer design.

“Drawing was the reason I became an architect,” he said.

But the advantage of doing it by hand — you notice it more, he said — “is not so noticeable now.” He missed the hand-drawn lines, the stray traces of a flawed image. So it doesn’t stop: Instagram (@ryanchesterarchitect) is filled with sketches of a new project: demolished Chicago buildings, standing tall once again, but like heavy ghosts in 2023.



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