The towers were not entirely admired at the time they were built, yet they went on to be the prototype for steel and glass skyscrapers worldwide. Initially, it was difficult to acquire financing for the project, turned down by lenders like Baird & Warner, who considered the design scheme to be too extreme. 860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments embody a Modernistic tone with their verticality, grids of steel and glass curtain walls (a hallmark of Mies’ skyscrapers), and complete lack of ornamentation. Tenants had to accept the neutral gray curtains that were uniform throughout the buildings;no other curtains or blinds were permitted lest they mar the external appearance. Since Mies was a master of minimalist composition, his principle was “less is more” as it is demonstrated in his self-proclaimed “skin and bones” architecture.
This building, like many of his Chicago high-rise structures, causes controversy in the pure minimalist community due to its mullions. Mies is hailed as the father of "less is more"; however, 860–880 Lake Shore Drive is covered in non-functional I-beam mullions. Mies explains how the mullions do not violate his less is more philosophy in a 1960 interview: "To me structure is something like logic. It is the best way to do things and express them". The mullions on his buildings reflect the inner structure and therefore give truth to the aesthetic of the building. The idea of truth in architecture aligns with the aesthetic and principles of the international style as taught at the Bauhaus.
The buildings were finished in 1951 and were featured in a 1957 article in Life Magazine on Mies.
In 1996 they became the first buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe to receive Chicago Landmark Status.
The glass towers have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
In June 2005, the United States Postal Service included the towers in the commemorative stamp program, Masterworks of Modern Architecture, wherein they were listed as one of the “12 outstanding examples of modern buildings”.