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Chicago’s Architecture

View towards north direction from Willis Tower Observation Deck towards John Hancock Tower (the black skyscraper in the distance)
View towards north direction from Willis Tower Observation Deck towards John Hancock Tower (the black skyscraper in the distance)

Visitors from around the world come to Chicago, the birthplace of the modern building, to view its architectural marvels. From historic landmark buildings to contemporary technological masterpieces, Chicago is home to unique and innovative designs that have shaped American architecture.

Daniel H. Burnham, creator of the famous Chicago Plan of 1909, counseled city leaders with an important view of the future: “Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood…. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work.” Burnham helped chart the future of the city that gave the world its first skyscraper, developed the iron skeleton and the floating foundation, created the “Prairie” style of design, and became the site of one of the tallest buildings on earth.

The Hotel Burnham –formerly the Historic Reliance Building, one of Chicago’s most significant architectural landmarks– is a premier product of Daniel H. Burnham’s architectural style known as “the Chicago Style.” The Hotel Burnham is a 122-room European-style hotel located at 1 W. Washington Street (at State Street).

Today, thanks to the genius of Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Helmut Jahn, and hundreds of others, Chicago is a living museum of architecture. To fully appreciate the rich foundations of design on which Chicago was built, take one of the many guided tours which include architectural and historical information. Several companies offer narrated bus tours of the city, most of which include architectural attractions.

Architecture Highlights in Chicago

We’d like to introduce major highlights of the Chicago Architecture. Here’s our list:

  • Federal Center and Plaza (Jackson Boulevard and Dearborn Street); work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • 1886 Rookery Building, (LaSalle and Adams Streets); designed by Burnham and Root with a lobby remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Robie House, (5757 S. Woodlawn Avenue, near the University of Chicago); example of Wright’s Prairie School of architecture
  • Chicago Cultural Center, (78 E. Washington Street)
  • 1889 Auditorium Building (Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway)
  • Carson Pirie Scott store, (1899) (1 S. State Street)
  • Chicago Board of Trade Building (LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard)
  • Home Insurance Building, which was at the northeast corner of LaSalle and Adams Streets; Status: demolished in 1931
  • Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) (bounded by Wacker Drive, Jackson Boulevard, Franklin Boulevard and Adams Street)
  • AON Center, formerly the Amoco Building (200 E. Randolph Street)
  • John Hancock Center (875 N. Michigan Avenue)
  • James R. Thompson Center 100 W. Randolph Street
  • Harold Washington Library Center (400 S. State Street)
  • Millennium Park
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Art Institute of Chicago’s new Modern Wing and Nichols Bridgeway, both designed by Renzo Piano
  • NBC Tower, designed by Adrian Smith
  • Marshall Field Store (111 N. State Street)
  • Shedd Aquarium (1200 S Lake Shore Dr)
  • Wrigley Building (410 North Michigan Ave)
  • Glessner (John J.) House (1800 Prairie Avenue)
  • 190 S. LaSalle Street, by Philip Johnson;
  • 333 W. Wacker Drive, by William Pederson;
  • the serpentine River City, by Bertrand Goldberg;
  • Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies (610 S. Michigan), designed by Krueck and Sexton;
  • 900 N. Michigan Avenue, housing Bloomingdale’s and a shopping mall, also by William Pederson

Read more about above buildings here in our article: Architecture Highlights of Chicago


In this section we’ll introduce the world-renowned architects who made Chicago’s skyline and architecture in general so famous:

  • Daniel H. Burnham
  • Louis Sullivan
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Helmut Jahn
  • Frank Gehry

Read more about them in our article: The influential Architects of Chicago

Interested in Architecture?
The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) offers expert insight and many tours

Formerly known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Chicago Architecture Center is a nonprofit cultural organization with tours, exhibitions, programs and events for all ages.

The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) was founded in 1966 as the Chicago Architecture Foundation to save the historic Glessner House. Since then, the CAC has grown to become one of the largest cultural organizations in Chicago. For more than 50 years, our educators, 450 volunteer docents and 150 guest services volunteers have shared the stories of Chicago architecture with millions of Chicagoans and visitors.

Visit the CAC at 111 E. Wacker Dr. to view the 4,250-building scale model of Chicago or shop in our award-winning store. Or choose from 85 tours by boat, walking, bus or “L” train.

Find A Tour | Chicago Architecture Center · Chicago Architecture Center – CAC (architecture.org/)

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