These are the most iconic buildings in Chicago

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July 22, 2020
best architecture in chicago

Chicago has its fair share of iconic buildings, but can you actually live in one of those luxury buildings? Let’s check it out.

Chicago’s architecture style can mean many different things, as the city features a variety of styles from different time periods. However, there is no doubt its architecture is so special compared to other cities in the U.S.

Chicago is actually the birthplace of some of the most iconic and innovative buildings in the country. This is due to the innovation and advancements in engineering by Chicago’s architects, such as fireproofing and a skeletal steel construction.

The advancement in urban planning and architecture was a response to Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871, a limited downtown space, and heavy winds. This fire burned for three whole days and completely demolished miles of building, sidewalks, and roads of downtown which, at the time, were all constructed of wood. 

Similar to New York City, Chicago faces many construction restrictions when it comes to skyscrapers, such as a limited land space and high winds. Due to this, Chicago architects were forced to develop new processes for engineering and construction in order to create taller, but still sturdy buildings.

This includes replacing the previously cast iron and wood builds with steel along with a new modern method of skeleton frames inside the building. These frames were a replacement for the previously external frames made of wood, stone, concrete, or cast iron.

Currently, a few of the architecture styles you can find in the city are Chicago School, Workers Cottage, Greystones, Bungalows, International Style/Miesian Modern, Postmodernism, Art Deco, Prairie School, Late Modernism, and Millennium Modern.

The most unique buildings in Chicago

If you’re curious about all the skyscrapers on Chicago’s skyline, this is your list. Best of all, if you’re looking for apartments for sale in Chicago, you just may find yourself living in one of these iconic spaces.

Tribune Tower

435 North Michigan Avenue, Streeterville, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

The Tribune Tower is a neo-Gothic skyscraper on Michigan Avenue built in 1923-1925. The original Tribune Tower was built in 1868, but was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The new Tribune Tower was built as a result of an international design competition created by “Chicago Tribune’ looking for architects to submit ideas for their new headquarters.

This competition had a large global influence on the field of architecture as audiences were able to compare contrasting ideas that came from the world’s architects at one glance. As a result, it is no wonder the design of the winner also influenced various architects around the world.

The building is 36 floors high and was home to “Chicago Tribune”, “Tribune Media”, and “Tribune Publishing”. Since then, the skyscraper has been redeveloped into luxury condominiums that features one bed, two beds, three beds, and four beds spaces for sale.

what is the most iconic building in chicago
435 North Michigan Avenue, Streeterville, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

Civic Opera House

20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60606

The Civic Opera Building is a 45 story high plus two 22 story wings, mixed-use building with a hybrid of Art Nouveau and Art Deco architectural styles. It was built in 1928, later restored in 1996, and was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1998. The building spans an entire block and was nicknamed “Insull’s Throne” after Samuel Insull because it is shaped like a huge chair

This building is home to a 3,563-seat opera house, the Civic Opera House, which is the second largest opera auditorium in North America. It is also the permanent home to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Along with the opera house, Civic Opera Building also has approximately 1,250,000 square feet of rentable office space.

Chicago Board of Trade Building

141 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60604

The Chicago Board of Trade Building is a 45-story, Art Deco skyscraper built in 1930. It is one of the most historic buildings as it was Chicago’s tallest building from 1930 until 1965. This building, designed by second generation architectural royalty John A. Holabird and John Wellborn Root Jr., is also epitome of Art Deco styling. Some features include a three-story statue of Roman goddess Ceres on the building’s pyramidal roof, geometric exterior ornamentation, throne-shaped building configuration, and limestone piers.

This building sits in Chicago’s financial district and has served as a trading venue to the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), the oldest futures and options exchange in the world, and later the CME Group. It currently features office and retail spaces for various business and companies, such as banking, insurance, healthcare, and travel services.

Sears/Willis Tower

233 South Wacker Drive, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60606

The Sears Tower, renamed Willis Tower in 2009, is one of the most well known buildings in Chicago and around the globe. It is a 110-story, 1,450-foot skyscraper built in 1973 and surpassed the World Trade Center in NYC as the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1998. Today it is still the second tallest in the United States. A skydeck was built in 1974 on the 103rd floor, the highest observation deck in the United States. It underwent extensive renovation in 2009 and created Skydeck Chicago as it is today. 

The tower was originally used as a central office space for Sears Roebuck and Company’s 350,000 employees for 18 years until 1994. Currently, it is still a commercial office skyscraper that houses more than 100 businesses such as transportation, financial companies, and law. Radio and television stations also broadcast from the tower’s rooftop.

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233 South Wacker Drive, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60606

Aqua Tower

225 North Columbus Drive, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60601

Aqua Tower is a Contemporary 82-story mixed-use residential skyscraper in downtown Chicago. Built in 2010, it is currently the world’s third tallest building designed by a woman and has a unique aesthetic and design. Aqua Tower is made up of irregular shaped white concrete balconies around the rectangular high-rise to create an illusion of undulating, rippling waves.

There are also various sustainable features added to the building and the tower is certified LEED-NC. Aqua Tower features retail and office spaces, a hotel on the 1st through 18th floors, rental apartments on floors 19 to 52, and condo and penthouses from the 53rd to 81st floors.

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225 North Columbus Drive, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60601

Merchandise Mart

222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60654

Merchandise Mart, also referred to as The Mart, is an Art Deco commercial building in downtown Chicago. It opened in 1930  on the Chicago River and was the largest building in the world in terms of surface area, with 4 million square feet of floor space. In fact, the building is so large, it had its own zip code until 2008. The Mart also received a LEED Silver for existing buildings in 2017.

The space started off as a wholesale warehouse store for Marshall Field along with rental space for other wholesalers. Today, Merchandise Mart is still a designer showcase venue with wholesale showrooms, and an office space with leased spaces by various tech companies like Motorola Mobility.

Wrigley Building

400-410 Michigan Avenue, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

The Wrigley Building is a Spanish Colonial Revival commercial building on the Magnificent Mile at the Chicago River. It was built in 1924 to house the corporate headquarters of the Wigley Company and was Chicago’s first air-conditioned office building.

The building consists of a 21-story south tower with a clock and 30-story north tower connected by walkways in between and both coated with white terra cotta. It also received an official Chicago Landmark status in 2012. Today, the Wrigley Building leases offices and retail spaces and is home to various business and retail shops.

iconic luxury building in chicago
400-410 Michigan Avenue, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

Marina City

300 North State Street, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60654

Marina City is a mixed-use residential-commercial complex built in 1963 on the north bank of the Chicago River. It’s a complex that consists of two 65-story apartment towers, a 10-story hotel, and a saddle-shaped auditorium. The hotel was originally built as an office building and the auditorium was originally a cinema.

However, the apartment towers are what stands out the most due to its circular shape, it is actually nicknamed “the corn cobs” for it’s scalloped/petal shaped edges. The apartment towers are so unique that there are no right angles in the building’s architecture and showcases curved forms instead.

Marina City was a development ahead of its time and was the original template for mixed-use high rises. It was a multi-faceted skyscraper that offered apartments for rent, condos for purchase, and commercial spaces. Many buildings in the following years took inspiration and designed their own multi-use spaces.

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300 North State Street, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60654

Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago

401 North Wabash Avenue, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

Trump International Hotel and Tower is a 98-story mixed-use condo-hotel skyscraper in downtown Chicago next to the main branch of the Chicago River. It is currently the 7th tallest building in the U.S. Built in 2009, the building design features rounded edges and three setbacks to provide visual continuity with the skyline surrounding it.

The three setbacks reflect the height of a nearby building: the Wrigley Building, River Plaza, Marina City Towers, and 330 North Wabash. Currently, the skyscraper features house lobbies, retail space, and parking garage form the 3rd to 12th floors, 14th floor is a health club and spa, then hotel condos and executive lounges form the 17th to 27th floors, residential condos on the 28th through 85th floors, and penthouses from the 86th to 89th floors.

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401 North Wabash Avenue, River North, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

Aon Center

200 East Randolph Street, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60601

Aon Center is a 83-story Mid-Century Modernism commercial office building. It was originally built in 1973 as the headquarters for the Standard Oil Company and when it was completed, it was the tallest building in Chicago and the fourth tallest in the world, earning its nickname “big Stan.”

Currently, it is the fourth tallest building in Chicago. Aon Center was designed by Perkins + Will and they used a tube-based structure, a relatively new structural form, to build it. It also stood out from other buildings due to its clad white facade. Today, Jones Lang LaSalle, Aon, and Kraft Heinz are headquartered in the tower and the lot also features a two-level landscaped plaza with fountains and trees.

most famous buildings in chicago
200 East Randolph Street, Chicago Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60601

Lake Point Tower

505 North Lake Shore Drive, Streeterville, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

Lake Point Tower is a 70-story high-rise residential building located at the head of Lake Michigan in Streeterville. It is best known for its unique curved “Y” shape and is the only skyscraper that sits east of Lake Shore Drive, giving it the best views of Lake Michigan in the city. It was built in 1968 and was the tallest apartment building in the world at that time at 645 feet.

The curved “Y” shape of the building was inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s 1922 design for a glass-curtained skyscraper in Berlin. Today, the residential building features luxury spaces to rent or purchase along with a restaurant, spa, and park amenities.

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505 North Lake Shore Drive, Streeterville, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

With these iconic Chicago buildings available to live and work in, which one would you choose to move into?

These are just a few skyscrapers that make up the charming skyline of Chicago and there is still much to explore if you’re looking to move to the Windy City!

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