Chicago's distinct skyline has captivated many throughout the years. Legendary architect (and Chicago resident) Frank Lloyd Wright once said: "Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world." And of course, if there was one person who knew a thing or two about beautiful architecture, that's definitely Wright, whose home in the Oak Park neighborhood is one of the Windy City's many architectural masterpieces.
While most of Chicago was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1871, architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and Wright used this as an opportunity to rebuild the city as a modern metropolis. It is in Chicago, for example, where the first skyscraper—at least by 19th century standards—rose on the northwest corner of LaSalle and Adams Street, a 10-story structure designed by William Le Baron Jenney. Over the next 100-plus years, the city's skyline will add hundreds of landmark buildings making Chicago an open-air architectural museum.
Today, there are many ways to enjoy the Windy City's outstanding architectural landmarks and monuments, and the best one might be to hop on a boat along the Chicago River. Chicago's Architecture Foundation offers an hour-and-a-half cruise during which you'll see and learn interesting facts about more than 50 buildings located along the river.
If you have a little more time on your hands, you can opt for a walking tour of the Loop area that generally takes about two hours. Some of these tours take you inside certain buildings—a must for interior design lovers—so you can marvel at some of the most beautiful interior spaces in the city. Many tour operators also offer private tours with a customized itinerary which is also a great way to explore Chicago's architectural legacy.
Whichever way you decide to do it, we can guarantee you won't be disappointed. To help you start planning, we rounded up the must-see buildings to include in your Chicago architecture tour.
Formerly known as the Balaban & Katz theater chain's flagship, this performing arts Chicago landmark is probably just as famous as the city itself (or rather its iconic marquee). The ornate French Baroque building opened its doors in 1921, bearing witness to Chicago's glamorous (and controversial) Roaring '20s. Inside, the grand staircase and beautiful ceiling murals add to the building's opulence.
Studio Gang's 2009 modernist Aqua Tower was a worthy addition to Chicago's skyline. The 86-story residential mixed-use building's striking design was inspired by elements of topography and features irregularly shaped concrete floor slabs making each balcony unique in shape and size. Aqua Tower also has one of the largest green rooftops in the city. If you'd like to stay and experience the iconic building for a night or two, Chicago's Aqua's Radisson Hotel occupies floors one to 18.
Designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1967, the midcentury modern twin towers of Marina City overlook the Chicago River. While Goldberg liked to compare the bays of the towers to a sunflower's petals, to others, they resemble kernels on a corncob. Regardless of which description you prefer, Marina City has become one of the architectural symbols of Chicago.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright's most renowned residences, the Robie House in Chicago's Hyde Park, is the pinnacle of the architect's Prairie style. The house's strong horizontal lines and cantilevered roofs are its brick-and-limestone facade's most notable features.
This late 19th-century building is one of those architectural gems best experienced from the inside. The glass ceiling covering the two-story lobby and its elaborate ironwork and white marble moldings are truly a work of architectural art.
Take a break from walking with more beautiful designs in Chicago's Millennium Park. Interestingly enough, the park was built on top of an enormous parking lot in 2004 and now attracts more than four million visitors per year. Some of the world's most renowned architects and artists, such as Frank Gehry and Anish Kapoor have left their mark in the park that is a landscaping masterpiece.
Willis Tower aka Sears Tower
Craving some jaw-dropping panoramic views of Chicago? Head to the Skydeck of the Willis Tower. You can reportedly see as far as 50 miles out on a clear day. If you are not afraid of heights, step out on the Ledge, a glass balcony that hangs 1,353 feet above the ground. The building itself was the tallest structure in the world for 25 years until 1973.
Unlike most Gothic buildings around the world that are usually religious structures, Chicago is home to three skyscrapers that are distinctly neo-Gothic, and the Fisher building in one of them. (The other two are Chicago temple and Chicago Tribune). Its façade features dragons, eagles, and various aquatic creatures, designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham in 1896. The 20-story structure is one of the oldest in the city.
The Marquette building was added to Chicago's skyline during the 19th-century building boom. A visit will not be complete without taking some time to admire its stunning mosaics, terra cotta ornamentation, and bronze reliefs.