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Architecture of Chicago

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Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago

The buildings and architecture of Chicago reflect the city's history and multicultural heritage, featuring prominent buildings in a variety of styles. Most structures downtown were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 (an exception being the Water Tower).[1]

Chicago's architectural styles include the Chicago School primarily in skyscraper design, Chicago Bungalows, Two-Flats, and Greystones. The Loop is home to skyscrapers as well as sacred architecture including "Polish Cathedrals". Chicago is home to one of the largest and most diverse collections of skyscrapers in the world.


Field Museum of Natural HistoryOne Museum ParkShedd AquariumThe ColumbianHilton ChicagoRenaissance Blackstone HotelOne Financial Place311 South Wacker DriveSpertus Institute200 South Wacker DriveWillis TowerChicago Board of TradeCongress Plaza Hotel111 South Wacker DriveFranklin Center North TowerKluczynski Federal BuildingAuditorium BuildingField BuildingCNA CenterCitadel CenterMetropolitan TowerChase TowerThree First National PlazaSanta Fe BuildingOne South DearbornMid-Continental PlazaBuckingham FountainRichard J. Daley CenterLegacy TowerUniversity Club of ChicagoLaSalle-Wacker Building300 North LaSalleUnited BuildingPittsfield BuildingLeo Burnett BuildingThe Heritage at Millennium ParkCrain Communications BuildingKemper BuildingMichigan Plaza SouthOne Prudential PlazaJay Pritzker PavilionTrump Tower ChicagoTwo Prudential PlazaAon CenterBlue Cross Blue Shield TowerAqua340 on the ParkThe BuckinghamPark TowerThe TidesOlympia CentreOuter Drive EastThe ShorehamJohn Hancock CenterWater Tower PlaceNorth Harbor TowerHarbor PointThe Parkshore400 East Ohio Street401 East OntarioOnterie CenterNorth Pier ApartmentsLake Point TowerNavy Pier
The 2010 Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium (Use cursor to identify buildings)
The Chicago Building is an example of Chicago School architecture.

Beginning in the early 1880s, architectural pioneers of the Chicago School explored steel-frame construction and, in the 1890s, the use of large areas of plate glass. These were among the first modern skyscrapers. William LeBaron Jenney's Home Insurance Building was completed in 1885 and is considered to be the first to use steel in its structural frame instead of cast iron. However, this building was still clad in heavy brick and stone. The Montauk Building,[2] designed by John Wellborn Root Sr. and Daniel Burnham, was built from 1882 to 1883 using structural steel. Daniel Burnham and his partners, John Welborn Root and Charles B. Atwood, designed technically advanced steel frames with glass and terra cotta skins in the mid-1890s, in particular the Reliance Building;[3] these were made possible by professional engineers, in particular E. C. Shankland, and modern contractors, in particular George A. Fuller.

Louis Sullivan discarded historical precedent and designed buildings that emphasized their vertical nature. This new form of architecture, by Jenney, Burnham, Sullivan, and others, became known as the "Commercial Style," but was called the "Chicago School" by later historians.

In 1892, the Masonic Temple surpassed the New York World Building, breaking its two-year reign as the tallest skyscraper, only to be surpassed itself two years later by another New York building.

Since 1963, a "Second Chicago School" has emerged from the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The ideas of structural engineer Fazlur Khan were also influential in this movement.[4] He introduced composite construction to tall tubular buildings, which in turn paved the way for the creation of supertall composite buildings such as Petronas Towers and the Jin Mao Building since the 1960s.[5]

Landmarks, monuments and public places[edit]

Chicago Avenue Pumping Station and Water Tower in the Old Chicago Water Tower District
St. John Cantius, one of Chicago's 'Polish Cathedrals'

Numerous architects have constructed landmark buildings of varying styles in Chicago. Among them are the so-called "Chicago seven": James Ingo Freed, Tom Beeby, Larry Booth, Stuart Cohen, James Nagle, Stanley Tigerman, and Ben Weese. Daniel Burnham led the design of the "White City" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which some historians claim led to a revival of Neo-Classical architecture throughout Chicago and the entire United States. Burnham developed the 1909 "Plan for Chicago" in a Neo-Classical style, although many skyscrapers were built after the Exposition closed, between 1894 and 1899. Louis Sullivan said that the fair set the course of American architecture back by two decades, but his work the Schlesinger and Meyer (later Carson, Pirie, Scott) store was built in 1899[6]—five years after the "White City" and ten years before Burnham's Plan.

Erik Larson's history of the Columbian Exposition, The Devil in the White City, says that the building techniques developed during the construction of the many buildings of the fair were entirely modern, even if they were adorned in a way Sullivan found aesthetically distasteful.[7]

Chicago's public art includes outdoor works by Chagall, Picasso, Miró and Abakanowicz.

City sculptures additionally honor people and topics from the history of Chicago. There are monuments to:

There are also plans to erect a 1:1-scale replica of Wacław Szymanowski's statue of Frédéric Chopin along Chicago's lakefront.[8] in addition to a different sculpture commemorating the artist in Chopin Park.

In the 21st century, Chicago has become an urban focus for landscape architecture and the architecture of public places. 19th-20th century Chicago architects included Burnham, Frederick Olmsted, Jens Jensen and Alfred Caldwell, modern projects include Millennium Park, Northerly Island, the 606, the Chicago Riverwalk, Maggie Daley Park, and proposals in Jackson Park.[9]

Residential architecture[edit]

Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School influenced both building design and the design of furnishings. In the early half of the 20th century, popular residential neighborhoods were developed with Chicago Bungalow style houses, many of which still exist. The two-flat apartment building, along with the larger three- and six-flat buildings, make up 30% of Chicago's housing stock.[10] A two-flat includes two apartments, each of which occupies a full floor, usually with a large bay window and with a grey stone or red brick facade. The apartments typically have the same layout with a large living and dining room area at the front, the kitchen at the back and the bedrooms running down one side of the unit.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Illinois Institute of Technology[11] campus in Chicago influenced the later Modern or International style. Van der Rohe's work is sometimes called the Second Chicago School.


Many organizations, including Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois, promote the preservation of historic neighborhoods and buildings in Chicago. Chicago has suffered from the same problems with sinking property values and urban decline as other major cities. Many historic structures have been threatened with demolition.

Timeline of notable buildings[edit]



1940 to the present:

Styles and schools[edit]

Chicago architects used many design styles and belonged to a variety of architectural schools. Below is a list of those styles and schools.

Buildings - a "Top Forty" List[edit]

In 2010, Chicago Magazine selected 40 still existing properties for their historical and architectural importance,[17] opening an on-line forum for debate. The top ten chosen were:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bach 1980, pp. 106–107.
  2. ^ Bach (1980), pp. 15.
  3. ^ Bach (1980), pp. 27–28.
  4. ^ Billington 1985, p. 234–235.
  5. ^ Ali, Mir M. (2001). "Evolution of Concrete Skyscrapers: from Ingalls to Jin mao". Electronic Journal of Structural Engineering. 1 (1): 2–14. doi:10.56748/ejse.1111. S2CID 251690475. Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  6. ^ Bach (1980), pp. 34–37.
  7. ^ Devil in the White City.
  8. ^ "Chopin Monument in Chicago".
  9. ^ Kamin, Blair (July 19, 2015) "Landscape Design Takes Center Stage: Chicago leads way in architecture trend focus on public spaces" Sec 1. p 7.
  10. ^ Chicago Architecture Center
  11. ^ Bach (1980), pp. 182–183.
  12. ^ "Eighth Church of Christ, Scientist". City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks Division. 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y "Chicago Landmarks - Style Guide". City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development. Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  14. ^ Janet L. Whitmore. "Chicago as an Art Nouveau City - Strand 1: Art Nouveau Cities: between cosmopolitanism and local tradition" (PDF). Art Nouveau European Route : Congress. Retrieved 2014-01-12.
  15. ^ "Chicago Landmarks - Craftsman". City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development. Archived from the original on 24 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
  16. ^ "15 Buildings That Embody Chicago's Postmodern Moment". Retrieved 2018-09-23.
  17. ^ Chicago Magazine Top 40 Buildings in Chicago


Further reading[edit]

  • Pridmore, Jay; Larson, George A. (2005). Chicago Architecture and Design (Revised and expanded ed.). New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-5892-9.

External links[edit]