Chicago architecture – what to see

Stroll down Michigan Avenue and gaze up at icon after icon. Soaring Chicago architecture reflects the boom years of the city that’s been a business hub since it was first founded. And there are all sorts of other buildings that are well worth a look too. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite Chicago architectural sights.

1) Willis Tower

A true gem. Willis, formerly known as the Sears Tower, held the crown of the world’s tallest building for an unbeaten 25 years. But it’s not all about the height — the design has gained plaudits too. The Willis is actually nine structures joined together, giving extra strength in bad weather — essential in the Windy City. 

2) Crain Communications

Gleaming white and with black pinstripes for windows, the cosmopolitan Crain Communications Building manages to make its own unique mark amongst all the other buildings jostling for attention on Michigan Avenue. By the way, that sloping roof is purely for decoration — the stories that it’s to stop a shadow being cast on the beach are just that — stories!

3) Lake Point Tower 

It may hark back to the late 1960s, but Lake Point still shows off its up-to-the-minute style. The curved lines make it quite unlike any other of Chicago’s skyscrapers and the organic shape means the views from every window are superb. No wonder so many A-listers have chosen to live here, including Halle Berry, Tom Cruise and Kurt Russell.

4) Pavilion at Lincoln Park Zoo South Pond

This may not be a skyscraper, but it’s still pretty special. The pavilion is designed to be an outdoor classroom where people can come and learn about nature in the urban environment. It’s also very popular with locals and doubles up as a wedding venue.

5) The Carbide and Carbon Building

Welcome to 1920s Chicago. Having developed the world’s first dry cell battery, Carbide and Carbon wanted to make a fresh statement to attract new business. The building they came up with is still making a statement today, with its glittering façade of gold leaf, bronze and polished black granite. Take a look at the opulent lobby too.

6) Marina City

Back in the 1960s, town planners wanted to lure suburban dwellers back into the city. They asked architect Bertrand Goldberg to design a place where people would want to live, and Marina City was his vision. The two ‘corncob’ towers had everything people needed, including parking, offices and a theatre. And it stood the test of time, because the area is now one of the most popular residential districts in the city.

7) Robie House

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House is often dubbed the best example of his celebrated ‘Prairie Style’. The horizontal lines mimic the Midwestern landscapes, and natural materials of brick and wood give the house a simplicity that’s utterly elegant. You can tour the house from Thursday to Monday.

8) Museum of Science and Industry

The World Fair of 1893 gave Chicago the chance to show the rest of the planet what it was made of, and the Museum of Science and Industry is one of two buildings still standing since that iconic year. Perfectly symmetrical, the building is beautifully neo-classical, with Ionic columns and limestone facades.

9) Millennium Park

A public park and civic center on the lakefront, Millennium Park plays host to a variety of stunning public art, including Anish Kapoor's famous reflective sculpture, Cloud Gate (fondly referred to as 'The Bean'). Construction on Millennium Park began on former railroad tracks in 1998 and, despite opening 4 years behind schedule to a budget blowout of $500 million, the park's 2004 debut attracted over 300,000 people, with celebrations lasting three days. 

10) Pritzker Pavilion

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Pritzker Pavilion takes pride of place in Millennium Park. It’s a band shell designed for live music performances, created from Gehry’s trademark stainless steel. To overcome the legal height restrictions in the park, the Pavilion is actually classified as a work of art rather than a building.