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27 iconic Chicago buildings, mapped

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

27 iconic Chicago buildings, mapped

Famous neighborhood architecture from Pullman to Edgewater that showcase the city’s history

By Jay Koziarz Updated Jan 16, 2019, 11:11am CST

Credited for inventing the skyscraper, Chicago and its lasting mark in the world of architecture is internationally renowned. The city has an abundance of remarkable structures and no shortage of residents and tourists eager to learn the history.

While a list of notable downtown buildings could easily reach triple digits, Chicago is far more than just its central core. Encompassing 77 beautiful neighborhoods, the city has its share of local icons that give each area a sense of place.

The following overview singles out 27 structures for both architectural importance as well as their contribution to Chicago’s cultural identity. Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments or drop us a line.

1. Willis Tower

Willis Tower Skydeck, 233 S Wacker Dr Chicago, IL 60606Visit Website

If you want to be factually correct, this iconic Chicago building is known as the Willis Tower. But longtime residents might call this building the Sears Tower. Completed in 1973, the 1,450-foot tower is the undisputed king of the Windy City skyline and held the title of the world’s tallest building for decades. It is currently in the middle of a $500 million makeover which will include a food hall, glass skylight, rooftop greenspace and an entertainment experience at the base of the popular Skydeck observatory.


2. 875 North Michigan

John Hancock Center, 875 N Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60611Visit Website

It is difficult to visualize the Chicago skyline without the famous supertall, formerly named John Hancock Center, now known by its address. Sharing many similarities with the Willis Tower, the SOM-designed skyscraper is perhaps the best example of structural expressionism. Rising 1,128 feet to the roof and nearly 1,500 feet to the tip of its twin antennas, the building was one of the tallest buildings in the world when it was completed in 1969. 

3. Aon Center

Aon Center, 200 E Randolph St Chicago, IL 60601

Originally known as the Standard Oil Building or “Big Stan,” Chicago’s third tallest skyscraper was later renamed the Amoco Building and ultimately the Aon Center. Completed in 1973, the monolithic office tower’s white facade was initially wrapped in 43,000 thin slabs of Italian Carrara marble. The skyscraper was later re-clad in white granite after the marble started falling off the building and was deemed structurally unsafe. There’s also plans for a third observatory with a “thrill ride” and a glass elevator at 1,185 feet.

4. Aqua

225 N Columbus Dr #220 Chicago, IL 60601(844) 820-8181Visit Website

Completed in 2009, the Jeanne Gang-designed Aqua skyscraper is a relative newcomer among Chicago’s most notable buildings. Featuring dramatic undulating balconies reminiscent of a waterfall, the 859-foot-tall combination hotel, apartment, and condominium tower earned the title of the world’s tallest building from the innovative firm. That honor will soon belong to Gang’s latest project, the nearby 1,186-foot Vista Tower.

5. Tribune Tower

Tribune Tower Chicago, IL 60611

The design of this famous skyscraper was the winning submission from John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood in a 1922 competition held by the Chicago Tribune newspaper. In addition to its notable neo-Gothic design, the structure features fragments from some the world's most famous structures—the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, and the Great Pyramids—embedded in its exterior. Big changes are coming to the landmark building, plans for 165 condos within the tower and a supertall skyscraper just behind it were announced last year.


6. The Wrigley Building

400-410 N Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60611(312) 229-8941Visit Website

Just across from the Tribune Tower is another one of Chicago’s most famous early skyscrapers—The Wrigley Building. Built by the Wrigley Company in the early '20s, the terra cotta complex actually consists of two buildings: a 30-story south tower connected to a 21-story north tower via a 14th-floor elevated walkway. The structure was also Chicago’s first air-conditioned office building.

7. Marina City

Marina City, 300 N State St Chicago, IL 60654

Designed by visionary architect Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1968, Marina City was the original city within a city development. Perched on the edge of the Chicago River, the all-concrete complex suddenly made it cool to live downtown and included innovative amenities for the time, such as an on-site grocery store, bowling alley, and marina. The towers’ famous corn cob shape make the duo an instantly recognizable Chicago icon.

8. Merchandise Mart

Visit Website

Sporting its own zip code, the 4,000,000-square-foot Merchandise Mart was the biggest building in the world in terms of total area when it opened in 1930. The massive Art Deco structure has long housed many of Chicago’s home furnishing show rooms and has become a favorite among Chicago’s tech companies. Most recently, the city launched Art on the Mart, a massive multimedia video art display on the facade.

9. Civic Opera House

20 N Upper Wacker Dr #400 Chicago, IL 60606(312) 332-2244Visit Website

Resembling a giant armchair, Chicago’s 1929 Civic Opera House consists of a 45-story office tower flanked by two 22-story wings. The riverfront building sports Art Deco ornamentation both inside and out and a performance space with 3,563 seats. The Civic Opera House is the second largest opera auditorium in the country behind New York’s Lincoln Center.

10. James R. Thompson Center

100 W Randolph St #4-300 Chicago, IL 60601(312) 814-6676Visit Website

Completed in 1985, Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center has been polarizing since its inception. The Helmut Jahn-designed building sports a dramatic glass atrium as a nod to turn-of-the-century civic spaces like Union Station. Chicago’s most audacious postmodern building is also one of its most endangered. Deteriorating and facing a deferred maintenance bill of hundreds of millions of dollars, the state-owned Thompson Center has been eyed for redevelopment by Illinois lawmakers, but the latest efforts appear to have stalled for now.


11. The Rookery Building

209 S LaSalle St Chicago, IL 60604(312) 553-6100Visit Website

With an original design by the legendary firm of Burnham & Root from the 1880s and an interior lobby renovation performed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905, this early skyscraper is notable not only for its architectural pedigree, but also for being the oldest surviving high-rise in Chicago. Take a tour with the Chicago Architecture Center and get a glimpse of the landmark’s 11th floor architects’ library.

12. Chicago Water Tower

806 Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611(312) 742-0808Visit Website

The Chicago Water Tower is a short limestone structure built in 1869, a symbol of the city and its rebirth following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It was one of the few buildings to survive the devastating fire and also is the country’s second oldest water tower. The castle-like building houses a gallery that showcases the work of local artists and photographers.

13. Auditorium Theatre

50 E Congress Pkwy Chicago, IL 60605(312) 341-2310Visit Website

One of the oldest surviving concert halls in the downtown area, the gorgeous Auditorium Theater from Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan first opened in 1889. The venue has played an important role in Chicago’s cultural history serving as home to both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Opera. Roosevelt University owns the theater and rescued it from decay. Today, the theater is working to restore original gold stencilwork based on photos found in the Art Institute archives.

14. The Field Museum

1400 S Lake Shore Dr Chicago, IL 60605(312) 922-9410Visit Website

The Field Museum traces its roots back to the Columbian Exhibition of 1893, when its collection was on display for visitors. Named after Marshall Field, who donated $1 million, made a permanent home possible at the Neoclassical building in Grant Park in 1921. Only a fraction of the 40 million objects are on display, the most iconic being SUE the T. Rex, who just moved to a new home within the museum last year. Stanley Field Hall has a few new residents too: a flock of flying reptiles, a 122-foot long titanosaur, and floating plants.

15. Chinatown Gate

2206 S Wentworth Ave Chicago, IL 60616

One of the most visible neighborhood markers in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, the Chinese-inspired gateway at the intersection of Wentworth and Cermak frames one of the area’s most busy commercial corridors. Designed by architect Peter Fung and installed in 1975, the structure draws inspiration from a wall in Beijing. The letters near the top of the gate translate to “the world belongs to the commonwealth,” a famous saying in early 20th century China.

16. The Robey

2018 W North Ave Chicago, IL 60647(872) 315-3050Visit Website

Formerly known as Northwest Tower, the 186-foot Art Deco tower is the tallest and most visible landmark in Chicago’s vibrant Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. The 1928 office building reopened as The Robey with rooftop views and antique elevators.

17. S. R. Crown Hall

3360 S State St Chicago, IL 60616(312) 567-3230Visit Website

Housing the Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture, S. R. Crown Hall is considered a masterpiece work by the godfather of modernism Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The rectangular steel and glass structure embodies the designer’s “less is more” philosophy and was described by Mies as his “cleanest structure.” After the latest renovation, Crown Hall looks as fresh as when it was completed in 1956.

18. Humboldt Park Field House

1400 N Sacramento Ave Chicago, IL 60622(312) 742-7549Visit Website

This field house with Georgian and Tudor details is situated at the center of a 219-acre park named for the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. It was designed in 1928 by Norwegian firm of Michaelsen & Rognstad and has intricately designed event spaces with terrazzo flooring and beautiful plaster ceilings. It overlooks a huge lake where visitors can walk several nature paths or ride in a swan paddle boat.


19. Wrigley Field

1060 W Addison St Chicago, IL 60613(773) 404-2827Visit Website

Wrigley Field is nothing short of a Chicago institution. Built in 1914 by architect Zachary Taylor Davis who served as a draftsman for the legendary Louis Sullivan, the classic ballpark offers a unique throwback to a bygone age of baseball. The grittiness that used to exist around the stadium has been replaced by a new hotel, restaurants and Gallager Way. However, there’s plenty of nostalgia left once inside the Friendly Confines.

20. Andersonville Water Tower

Andersonville Chicago, IL

While an old water tank painted to look like the Swedish flag may not seem very noteworthy to outsiders, the landmark is a deeply loved neighborhood icon for Chicago’s Andersonville community. After standing atop the former Lind Hardware Store since 1927, the original wooden tower was removed in 2014. The neighborhood raised money for replica of the blue and yellow tank recreated in more durable steel and fiberglass. It was installed above Clark Street a few years back and can be seen emblazoned on local art, neighborhood guides and more.

21. Edgewater Beach Apartments

5555 N Sheridan Rd Chicago, IL 60640(773) 907-2130Visit Website

Designed by architect Benjamin Marshall, the 1928 Edgewater Beach Apartments is one of the North Side neighborhood’s most recognizable buildings. Clad in an unmistakable shade of “sunset pink,” the structure originally connected to the now-demolished 1918 Edgewater Beach Hotel. The surviving apartment building overlooks Lake Michigan at the north end of Lake Shore Drive.

22. Garfield Park Conservatory

300 N Central Park Ave Chicago, IL 60624(312) 746-5100Visit Website

Plans for this 4.5-acre horticultural oasis began in 1905 with the lofty goal of creating the world’s largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof. Taking design inspiration from the Midwest’s rural haystacks, famed Danish-American landscape designer Jens Jensen teamed with architects Schmidt, Garden, & Martin and engineers from Hitchings and Company to build a structure that was both sturdy and an elegant expression of the newly emerging Prairie School style. Since opening in 1908, the Garfield Park Conservatory has impressed both visitors and Chicago residents alike with its six greenhouses and two exhibition halls.


23. Union Stockyards Gate

South Union Avenue Chicago, IL 60609

Established in 1865, the Union Stockyard was instrumental to the city’s rise to the become the center of the American meatpacking industry and “hog butcher for the world.” While the sprawling stock yard once encompassed 475 acres of holding pens and railroad tracks, a 1934 fire destroyed nearly 90 percent of the complex. Today, Union’s iconic 19th century limestone gate is the most visible remaining relic from Chicago’s meatpacking heyday.

24. Frederick C. Robie House

5757 S Woodlawn Ave Chicago, IL 60637(312) 994-4000Visit Website

If there’s any one house that best reflects Frank Lloyd Wright’s unique Prairie School style, it’s the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Built in 1909 for a young industrialist, the Robie House was conceptualized and constructed with custom furnishings, art glass windows, and other details. The house emphasizes the horizontal over the vertical with its low-hanging cantilevered eaves, earthy colors, and natural building materials. It was one eight Frank Lloyd Wright buildings nominated to be UNESCO World Heritage sites.

25. South Shore Cultural Center

7059 S South Shore Dr Chicago, IL 60649(773) 256-0149Visit Website

Originally built as the South Shore Country Club, this icon of Chicago’s South Side was penned by architects Marshall and Fox in 1905. Purchased by the Chicago Park District in 1975 and renamed as the South Shore Cultural Center, the landmarked Mediterranean Revival building features painstakingly restored historic details, a grandiose ballroom, and golf course.


26. Pullman National Monument

11141 S Cottage Grove Ave Chicago, IL 60628

Located on Chicago’s Far South Side, Pullman was the site of the country’s first planned industrial community in 1880. Conceived by railroad car tycoon George Pullman, the former company town is famous not only for the Romanesque architecture of its 1880 Clock Tower and Administration Building, but also the role it played in Chicago’s labor and civil rights movements. Pullman’s historic district was declared Chicago’s first and only National Monument in 2015.


27. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

951 Chicago Ave Oak Park, IL 60302(312) 994-4000Visit Website

Though technically outside of Chicago’s city limits in Oak Park, Illinois, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is arguably one of the area’s most famous and influential of Wright’s buildings. Built in 1889, the structure on Chicago Avenue served as Wright’s personal home and design studio where a whole generation of architects honed and refined the iconic Prairie School style. Today, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust manages and maintains the property as a museum.

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