In downtown Chicago, some buildings let you see for miles in every direction, while others let you peer directly into the past. The Chicago Cultural Center, for instance, looks all the way back to its 1897 opening as the Chicago Public Library, wowing visitors with a columned classical design of arched portals, multicolored marble and stained-glass domes topping symmetrical wings. Vaulting skyward, in contrast, is the 110-story Willis Tower, where visitors thrill to the views from The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago. Clear-glass cases jut out from the building’s 103rd floor. The 1930 Merchandise Mart building is vast enough that it once earned its own ZIP code. Originally comprised of warehouses and showrooms for Marshall Field and Company, the building shows off its Art Deco aesthetics with chamfer angles and a terrazzo-floor lobby with a 17-mural frieze. A recent $40 million renovation, including a food hall and technological improvements, has allowed the building to compete with its newer neighbors for prime showroom and office space.
5 More Treasures of the Loop
Fine Arts Building Galleries, artists’ lofts and recording studios find a home in this 11-story 1898 remodel with stately granite columns at the entrance and an Art Nouveau interior featuring century-old murals.
The National Intricate exterior etchings and motifs of lions and other creatures lend character to this 1907 Daniel Burnham building that’s been reimagined as a modern boutique hub of retail. Here’s where you’ll find the hot new Revival Food Hall, featuring 15 fast-casual stalls that showcase the finest of Chicago cuisine.
The Rookery Daniel Burnham drafted blueprints for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the World’s Fair) in this building, which he also designed. In 1905,Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled the two-story lobby with gilded white carrara marble.
The Blackstone This luxe property has been dubbed The Hotel of Presidents for hosting 12 U.S. heads of state in its 118-year lifespan. A painstaking $128 million renovation in 2008 included the tuckpointing and refurbishing of 10,000 pieces of glazed white terra-cotta.
Chicago Athletic Association A boutique rehab at this historical men’s sports club added five bars and restaurants with cushy guest rooms above Michigan Avenue. Liven up an evening of revelry in the Game Room bar, where fair-themed bites accompany shuffleboard, chess, billiards and an indoor bocce court.
University of Chicago campus
Gothic architecture finds new and old forms on this wooded south-side Chicago school, with the ivy-covered Hull Gate and Joseph Bond Chapel well-suited for the grounds of European cathedrals. You’ll feel as if you’ve entered the Great Hall of Hogwarts while strolling through the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library, with its soaring arched ceiling and hulking chandelier. The more intimate Ida Noyes Hall charms visitors with intricately carved oak wainscoting and wrought-iron railings. Meanwhile, the blocky Henry Hinds Laboratory for Geophysical Sciences takes a modern twist on Gothic with an abundance of right angles. Additional campus marvels include the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel with its two massive pipe organs and the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, containing a giant elliptical glass dome that covers the Grand Reading Room (its futuristic look help the building land a cameo in the film Divergent).
As downtown boomed, architect Frank Lloyd Wright found a way to make the horizontal take wing in his Prairie School homes, all accented by geometric details and custom furniture. Oak Park showcases some of the best examples of this style, including the master’s own Oak Park Home and Studio starring a two-story children’s playroom with vaulted ceilings and a skylight. Take a one-hour guided tour, or if you have a few hours, combine it with a self-guided audio tour of the exteriors of seven Wright-designed homes in town. The annual Wright Plus Housewalk in May includes rarely offered interior tours of homes and buildings designed by Wright and his contemporaries.