Chicago Architecture

Tour Creator

Wendy Bright is passionate about sharing the beauty and wonder that is Chicago. She has an MA in Art History with an emphasis on architecture. For over 25 years she…Read More Bio »

Chicago

GPS-directed

Remote Tour Included

1hr/2hrs(Extended itinerary)

1km/2km(Extended itinerary)

Chicago is world-famous for its architecture.  Many important architects have left their mark on the city.  If you think about it, architecture is the only art that touches all of us every single day…and no other art so vividly expresses what Chicago is about.  In Chicago’s densely packed Loop we will explore many eras and styles of architectural construction and design.  From the very first skyscrapers in the world to the tallest skyscraper in Chicago, we will see superior examples of 19th and 20th century urban architecture.

From earliest prairie frontier structures to the computer-aided designs of today, when it comes to architecture, Chicago has it all.  The fastest growing city in the world in the 19th century was fertile ground for architectural innovation, particularly the skyscraper.  We will experience the grand sweep of history on this architecture-packed walking tour of Chicago’s historic downtown.

Avoid the Crowds

Allows you to explore without having to be shoulder-to-shoulder in a large tour group

Expert-created Tour

Written by a long-time Chicago tour guide with a Master of Arts

GPS Directions

Easy-to-follow GPS directions to get you from one point to the next on your tour

Highlights include:

The Field Building, Monadnock Building and Old Colony Building

Remote Tour Included

As with all our tours, a remote tour is included that can be enjoyed from home

Itineraries

Chicago Architecture – Extended

Chicago Architecture – Standard

  1. Outside Starbucks  - We will begin our walking tour with a brief overview of Chicago’s beginnings and explosive growth, from a swampy trading post to the world’s fastest growing city and today’s 3rd largest metropolis in the United States.
  2. Berghoff Buildings - We will begin our discussion of historic Berghoff’s with the worst and best thing that ever happened to Chicago, the Great Fire of 1871, and marvel at the city’s recovery.
  3. Marquette Building - While looking at a mature 1890s skyscraper, we will explore what a skyscraper is and why it came about in Chicago in the 1880s, about a decade before the Marquette Building, as well as the awkward development of a skyscraper style
  4. Field Building - This building was the last Chicago hurrah of the Art Deco period and remains an excellent example of the style. We will talk about what the Art Deco style is, where it originated, and how it was applied to American skyscrapers.
  5. The Rookery - We will explore the context of and motivations for this beloved Chicago landmark building and how its exotic exterior design was the work of a genius. We will observe how The Rookery’s appearance is intentionally horizontal and solid.
  6. Willis Tower (view) - One of the most famous skyscrapers in the world – and the tallest for 24 years – still proudly stands just west of the Loop. From this corner we get a good look at its majesty and explore its story and design.
  7. Chicago Board of Trade - This striking building can be seen prominently on the Chicago skyline and stands tall over LaSalle Street, Chicago’s financial district. We will discuss the importance and context of the Board of Trade.
  8. Monadnock Building - This is one of the most important buildings in Chicago. The Monadnock shows the extent of load-bearing construction at 16 stories and displays a radical (for the 1890s) design of no applied ornament, a concept that would emerge decades later in midcentury Modern architecture.
  9. Monadnock Building (#2) - There is a second, less renowned, half of the Monadnock, that we can compare and contrast here, mid-block. The southern half shows the prevailing Chicago School style of the era with its economy and efficiency, while highlighting the old-fashioned construction of the northern half and its idiosyncratic modern appearance.
  10. State and Van Buren CTA Station - Taking a break from individual buildings, we focus here on the broader built environment of Chicago: the elevated trains that encircle the Loop. We look at the history and motivation behind the El.
  11. Harold Washington Library Center - We will explore the story of Chicago’s 1991 Main Library building, its design competition, and the reasons for its unusual design.
  12. Manhattan Building - We explore the origins of the Dearborn Street skyscraper row and specifically look at one of the earliest skyscrapers in the world, the Manhattan, discussing its awkward design but the structural brilliance of its architect.
  13. Old Colony Building - We will discuss how this building is a quintessential Chicago School skyscraper, but how it is a rare surviving example of rounded bay design, and also a fantastic example of architectural preservation and adaptive reuse.
  14. Fisher Building - We begin with a look at the origins of the building – its developer and architects – and then explore its technical innovations.
  15. Federal Center - Federal Plaza in Chicago is an important spot for multiple reasons: it is the first of three midcentury modern plazas in Chicago along Dearborn Street, the result of urban planning, and it is a showcase of Modern architecture by the German master transplanted to Chicago, Mies van der Rohe, who had a tremendous influence on the and architecture as a whole.
  16. Inland Steel - We will discuss one of the most praised – but most modestly-scaled – buildings in Chicago. The Inland Steel Building is a star of midcentury Modernism with its incredible design innovations and delights to this day.
  17. Exelon Plaza - We move on to our second plaza on Dearborn Street: a celebration of Modern architecture with Chase Tower, the two-level public plaza with exuberant fountain, and the highlight: Marc Chagall’s four-sided mosaic celebrating the four seasons in Chicago.
  18. Daley Plaza and the Picasso - This is the final Modern plaza on Dearborn Street and, in some ways, the heart of the city. Daley Plaza and Center were named for a highly influential mayor and display his vision for the city, including the massive public art in the plaza, the first of Chicago’s Public Art Program, Untitled by Picasso, affectionately known as “The Picasso.”
  19. Reliance Building - A building that might not capture attention today is actually one of the most significant in Chicago: the Reliance Building is an incredible example of how glassy the newfangled skyscrapers could be.
  20. Marshall Field Store - A legendary store whose story fills volumes was contained in a block-filling, but restrained, edifice on State Street. Daniel Burnham’s designs for the multi-part building fit the elegant, world-class, sophisticated stature of the incomparable Marshall Field’s.
  21. Carson Pirie Scott Store - This incredible building was the result of risk-taking clients and the talents of the most original American architect of the time. Louis Sullivan had been sent adrift by the dissolution of his architecture firm, but still received this major commission. The Carson Pirie Scott store would prove to be one of the most influential buildings of the 20th century and the culminating work of his brilliant career.
  1. Outside Starbucks  - We will begin our walking tour with a brief overview of Chicago’s beginnings and explosive growth, from a swampy trading post to the world’s fastest growing city and today’s 3rd largest metropolis in the United States.
  2. Berghoff Buildings - We will begin our discussion of historic Berghoff’s with the worst and best thing that ever happened to Chicago, the Great Fire of 1871, and marvel at the city’s recovery.
  3. Marquette Building - While looking at a mature 1890s skyscraper, we will explore what a skyscraper is and why it came about in Chicago in the 1880s, about a decade before the Marquette Building, as well as the awkward development of a skyscraper style
  4. Field Building - This building was the last Chicago hurrah of the Art Deco period and remains an excellent example of the style. We will talk about what the Art Deco style is, where it originated, and how it was applied to American skyscrapers.
  5. The Rookery - We will explore the context of and motivations for this beloved Chicago landmark building and how its exotic exterior design was the work of a genius. We will observe how The Rookery’s appearance is intentionally horizontal and solid.
  6. Willis Tower  (view)- One of the most famous skyscrapers in the world – and the tallest for 24 years – still proudly stands just west of the Loop. From this corner we get a good look at its majesty and explore its story and design.
  7. Chicago Board of Trade - This striking building can be seen prominently on the Chicago skyline and stands tall over LaSalle Street, Chicago’s financial district. We will discuss the importance and context of the Board of Trade.
  8. Monadnock Building - This is one of the most important buildings in Chicago. The Monadnock shows the extent of load-bearing construction at 16 stories and displays a radical (for the 1890s) design of no applied ornament, a concept that would emerge decades later in midcentury Modern architecture.
  9. Monadnock Building (#2) - There is a second, less renowned, half of the Monadnock, that we can compare and contrast here, mid-block. The southern half shows the prevailing Chicago School style of the era with its economy and efficiency, while highlighting the old-fashioned construction of the northern half and its idiosyncratic modern appearance.
  10. State and Van Buren CTA Station - Taking a break from individual buildings, we focus here on the broader built environment of Chicago: the elevated trains that encircle the Loop. We look at the history and motivation behind the El.
  11. Harold Washington Library Center - We will explore the story of Chicago’s 1991 Main Library building, its design competition, and the reasons for its unusual design.

Check out a free sample of this tour!

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