Explore Chicago

Famous Buildings/Architecture

Things to Do — By adamgauzza on November 3, 2011 at 4:28 am
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Photo courtesy of Ron Cogswell

Chicago is well-known for its incredible buildings; here are some of the most famous architectural landmarks in the windy city.

The Wrigley Building sits at the south end of the Magnificent Mile. Completed in 1931, William Wrigley, Jr’s chewing gum company holds its headquarters in this beautiful white terra-cotta clad office building. Its shape is modeled after the Seville Cathedral’s Giralda Tower, but its ornamental design is an Americanized version of French Renaissance style, a combination dreamt up by the building’s chief designer, Charles Beersman for the project’s architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. Make sure to see the incredible lighting after dark that helps make the Wrigley Building a major Chicago landmark. Just down the block is the gothic Chicago Tribune Tower, completed in 1925 and designed by contest winners Raymond Hood (who would later design Rockefeller Center in New York City) and John Howell. Initially a controversial project, the gothic style of the building went directly against the modern aesthetic forged by the Chicago School of architecture.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (built in 1889 and 1898, respectively) in Oak Park housed Wright and his family for the first 20 years of his career. In his studio, he and his colleagues began to devise the Prairie School of architecture, examples of which you can see all over the city including the Robie House on the University of Chicago campus and Unity Temple on the Near North Side. Public tours are available of all of the above.

The Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, is the city’s (and the western hemisphere’s) tallest building. Completed in 1973, the building was designed by the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Sears, Roebuck, & Company. With its antenna, the tower stands at an astonishing 1,729 feet. Designed by the same firm, the John Hancock Center stands at the top of the Magnificent Mile just inland from the lake. The architects took inspiration from Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” aesthetic. Its design minimized the need for internal support beams and use of steel, greatly increasing the available interior space and saving approximately $15 million. Its characteristic external X-shaped bracings were designed by Fazlur Kahn.

The Merchandise Mart spans two city blocks and rises up twenty five stories. In 2007 it became the largest LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental and Design for Existing Buildings) certified building in the world. Built by Marshall Field & Co. and completed in 1930, the Merchandise Mart has become the epicenter for the design industry in Chicago with wholesale showrooms showcasing kitchen, bath, and residential furnishings. The Civic Opera House, home to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, was built in 1929 and completely restored in 1996. As the second largest opera house in North America, the building was the vision of Samuel Insull and designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. A hybrid of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, the interior of the building is luxuriously ornate and includes a famous painted fire curtain (depicting the parade scene from the opera Aida) created by American artist Jules Guerin. It sits right on the Chicago River on LaSalle Street below an office building which helps support the opera company.

This is only a taste of Chicago’s incredible architecture. With so many incredible sky srapers in the downtown area and beautiful homes nestled into more residential neighborhoods, Chicago is a design fan’s destination.

Tags: Frank Lloyd Wright, John Hancock Center, Lyric Opera, Magnificent Mile, Merchandise Mart, Oak Park, Robie House, Tribune Tower, Willis Tower, Wrigley Building
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