Chicago Architecture Tour
Must-see on your Chicago architecture tour
About 145 years ago, raging fire destroyed thousands of buildings in Chicago and left about 300 people dead. While the tragedy left 100 000 Chicagoans homeless, it spurred a building boom leading to some of the greatest architectural marvels in the US.
WILLIS TOWER (PREVIOUSLY SEARS)
Created by Bruce Graham, the tower stands at 1.454 feet and has 110 stories. It’s the world’s biggest occupiable floor and was the tallest skyscraper in the US for twenty years. While it’s no longer the tallest, it remains the largest. Eleven years after its construction, a tourist entrance called the Skydeck Pavilion was built and is the highest observation deck in the US. The tower attracts an average of 1.5 million tourists a year.
Why see it? The 360° views span up to 50 miles, and if it’s a particularly clear day, you can see four states from the top; Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan!
Fun Fact: About 43 000 miles of telephone cable runs through the building which is enough to cross the US 15 times.
Film cameo: The interior and parts of the exterior can be seen in the 2013 Superman film, Man of Steel. The tower was used as offices for the Daily Planet.
Towering over the Chicago River, Marina City is one once the tallest residential structures in the world. Its quirky corn-cob shape adds character to the Chicago skyline. Bertrand Goldberg’s marvelous design has a different type of dwelling on each floor, which makes the interesting effect of the balcony.
Why see it? If you’re just visiting, you should check out the House of Blues for some “food that feeds the soul.” If you’re looking for a place to stay in Chicago, the apartments have great amenities. The building has no right angles which facilitates the easy, free-flowing open plan.
Fun fact: This was the first large scale building designed by Goldberg.
Film cameo: The building is featured in many films, including I, Robot, Source Code and Stranger than Fiction.
This neo-gothic beauty was the creation of John Howells and Raymond Hood. It is 336 stories high. The tower was home to media conglomerate Tribune Media.
Stone reliefs from across the world have been built into the lower levels. Owner of the Chicago Tribune at the time, Robert McCormick, asked reporters to bring back rocks from various locations. Some of these sites include the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, Lincoln’s Tomb and China’s Great Wall.
The tower was inspired by the Rouen Cathedral in France and a stone for the site of the Rouen can be found in the tower.
Why see it? The lower levels contain around 149 fragments, including a moon rock.
Fun fact: There are carved images of Robin Hood and a howling dog near the main entrance. The images represent Hood and Howell respectively and commemorates the creators.
Film cameo: The snipers in Transformers: Dark of the Moon shoot from the 26th floor, just below the buttresses.
CARBIDE AND CARBON
Designed by the Burnham Brothers, the art-deco styled Carbide and Carbon building is 503 feet tall and has 37 floors and very popular on this Chicago architecture tour. The building was designed to be the regional headquarters of the company that developed the first dry cell battery. It has since been developed, maintaining most of the features of the lobby.
The cap of this unique building is cloaked in a one five-thousandths of an inch of genuine 24 karat gold. Its iconic bronze trim reaches from the tip of the spire to ground.
Why see it? The Carbide and Carbon building is now the home of Chicago’s hard rock hotel; excellent amenities and exciting nightlife and restaurants.
Fun fact: It’s a popular myth that the Burnham Brothers fashioned the structure to mimic a champagne bottle which is dark green and topped with gold foil. Its gold-leafed tower being consistently illuminated through the night further encouraged the myth.
Film Cameo: The top of the construction was the filming location for an opening shooting scene in the 2008 film Wanted.
Aqua is a tranquil looking building in Lakeshore East. Jeanne Gang’s structure has 82 stories and is a mixed residential building. Because it is surrounded by high rises, the balconies were designed to stretch outwards for 12 ft. This creates an interesting undulating façade that has become part of Chicago’s character. The balconies are uniquely designed and no two look the same.
Why see it? Aqua’s design focusses on sustainability. The terrace was refined to maximize solar shading. There are rainwater collection systems and energy efficient lighting and the green roof on the tower base is one of the biggest in Chicago.
Fun Fact: The project was the largest ever awarded to an American firm headed by a woman
SEVENTEENTH CHURCH OF CHRIST, SCIENTIST
The Church’s circular design makes for an interesting and rather different structure, particularly for a church. 44 Years after the establishment of the church, it finally found a home in the quaint structure designed by famous Chicago architect, Harry Weese.
The entrance of the building is via a bridge that runs over a garden.
In the auditorium which seats 764, no seat is more than 54 ft. from the platform. Additionally, Weese designed an invisible sound reinforcement system with 350 microphones so that anyone can be heard when giving testimony without needing to walk to the mic.
Why see it: The auditorium is home to a 3.316-pipe Aeolin-Skinner organ!
Fun Fact: The church has no windows. External light enters through a skylight, at the top of the oculus in the buildings conical roof.
Film cameo: The interior amphitheater was used as the set for the Choosing Ceremony scene in the 2014 film Divergent.
Chicago’s architectural landscape is a maze of a combination of unique and innovate designs, ranging from neo-gothic landmarks to art-deco inspired structures. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to spend some time just appreciating their historical beauty.
Places to Stay in Chicago
Obviously, you are going to need a place to stay while in Chicago so that you can kick your feet up at the end of the day following your Chicago architecture tour. It goes without saying that there are many hotels to choose from and we can’t list them all.
We are big fans of Kimpton Hotels. They are chic, unique, boutique hotels that each have their own personality. We have never seen two alike.
You can learn more immediately below:
A little less than a year ago, Thompson Hotels opened a hotel in Seattle, our home base. And we love it! Chicago has one too. Though we have never been to this one, I feel pretty confident in saying the odds are pretty good that it is equally stylish and well appointed. I’m pretty sure you will be right at home in this boutique hotel right in the middle of the Gold Coast.
About the Author
Apex Window Werks, author of Chicago Architecture Tour, is a Chicago window repair company that is rated A by Better Business Bureau, it is listed in Angie’s List and has lots of positive feedback from happy clients. Feel free to visit their website for more details about the services they offer.
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