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Best Chicago Architecture

Sep 12, 2019 Arts, Culture & History

The city

Chicago Architecture Center

Chicago model
Photo cred: James Steinkamp

First-time visitors who come to town for the buildings should head directly to the Chicago Architecture Center’s new (in 2018) home along the Chicago River downtown. Two-story windows frame landmarks like the Tribune Tower and The Wrigley Building. And a vast model of the city uses 4,200 scale-model buildings to orient you for upcoming explorations. A historical film interacts with the tiny city via a light show, helping you visualize events like the Great Chicago Fire. Upstairs in the Skyscraper Gallery, you’ll walk among towering models of the world’s tallest buildings. Other exhibits highlight Chicago’s neighborhoods and show the evolution of the city’s housing over the last 150 years. Check the center’s schedule for info on upcoming programs.

Exterior of a building City night
Want to see even more?

The Chicago Architecture Center’s new location perches above the Chicago River docks, where its docent-led architecture cruises aboard Chicago’s First Lady depart.

Open House Chicago, October 19–20

Interior of a building

Come on in! During this free event, you can explore interiors of the city’s architecturally significant skyscrapers, theaters, offices, private clubs, sacred spaces and more, including many that are rarely open to the public. The weekend event lets you design your own tour by choosing from among more than 250 buildings across the city. You could step inside the basement vault of the Art Deco Chicago Board of Trade Building; admire the six-sided Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, styled like a Greek amphitheater; or marvel at The Brewster Building, a light-filled 1893 residential masterpiece with a cage elevator and suspended glass-block walkways.

Illinois’ Frank Lloyd Wright Trail

Interior of building with a large staircase Exterior of a house Exterior of a house

Though the Prairie School pioneer created treasures throughout the state—now collected into an official route for enthusiasts—Chicago claims several must-sees. A young Wright apprenticed on the Charnley-Persky House, now a museum. Robie House, a quintessential Prairie-style home on the University of Chicago campus, routinely appears on lists of the 20th century’s most significant buildings. And The Rookery, an iron skyscraper in the city’s financial district, boasts a dramatic center light court created during a 1905 Wright remodel.

Can’t make it to the Open House?

Inside Chicago Walking Tours takes participants, well, inside notable buildings during educational (and engaging) two-hour tours.

Want an all-Wright vacation?

Book an overnight stay at the Wright-designed Emil Bach House, which has two guest rooms upstairs and a Japanese teahouse in the garden.

Building Blocks and Blocks

Exhibits, performances, tours and talks with architects and artists from around the world fill fall calendars in Chicago. The months-long Chicago Architecture Biennial is the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America (September 19–January 5, 2020).

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