What do the Chicago Water Tower, Wrigley Building, Merchandise Mart, Willis Tower, Trump Tower, John Hancock Building, Marina Towers, and the Aqua building have in common? They are all some of Chicago's truly unique architectural wonders, and we think one of the greatest ways to see them is on a tour. Make sure your camera battery is fully charged; your lens is about to get a workout.
- Rookery Building
On the National Register of Historic Places and a Chicago Landmark, the picturesque Rookery was designed by famed architectural partners Burnham and Root. Built during a transition period in architectural construction, it uses both load-bearing masonry and a skeletal frame-distinguishing elements of the Chicago School of Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the two-story skylight lobby in 1905-1907.
- Wrigley Building
For over 75 years, the Wrigley Building has been recognized as one of Chicago's most attractive buildings. Its sparkling white terra-cotta cladding, well-proportioned architecture and nighttime lighting have established it as a symbol of Chicago in many books, films and television programs. This building is an unforgettable site-day or night-for Chicago residents and visitors.
- The Merchandise Mart
Encompassing 4.2 million square feet, it's the world's largest commercial building, largest wholesale design center, and one of Chicago's premier international business locations. The massive space hosts many trade shows and events, and public areas include the Luxe Home kitchen and bath showrooms, retail shops, and The Chopping Block, a local cooking school offering classes for individuals and groups.
- Willis Tower
An architectural achievement, the skyscraper designed by the renowned firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill rises to a height to 1,450 feet. See breathtaking, 360-degree views of Chicago from the Western Hemisphere's tallest building on its observatory Skydeck Chicago and experience The Ledge.
- Marina City
Designed by the great Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg, these riverside "corn cobs" fascinated Chicago and the world when it opened in 1962. At that time, it was the tallest residential building in the world and the tallest concrete structure in the world.
- Aqua Tower
Located near the shores of Lake Michigan, this water-inspired tower is no standard skyscraper - it's more like outdoor sculpture. This shimmering multi-use high rise by "genius grant" MacArthur Fellowship winner Jeanne Gang connects strongly to the outdoors and the city, with outdoor terraces that give it its distinctive undulating appearance.
- Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
The great 20th century architect's residence and workplace during the first 20 years of his career was his architectural laboratory. Here in Oak Park, Illinois, he and his associated developed a new American architecture, the Prairie style, and designed 125 structures, including such famous buildings as the Robie House, the Larkin Building and Unity Temple.
What better place to start than on a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour? With 85, walking, bus, and boat tours available, you have plenty of choices. You should definitely try to catch their popular River Cruise boat tours on Chicago's First Lady during the summer season – the official boat tour company for the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Other skyline tours by boat can be had aboard Chicago Line Cruises, Shoreline Sightseeing, and Wendella Sightseeing Boats. All offer great views and great stories of Chicago's iconic skyscrapers.
Of course, your feet can show you the sights as well. In addition to its Signature Architectural + Historical Walking Tour, Chicago Savvy Tours guides you through the works of specific architects, the city's vast system of underground roads and tunnels, and other fascinating sites. Then there is the Chicago's Finest River Walk Tour, which highlights – you guessed it – the Chicago River and its icons. Finally, if you want to explore on your own terms, try Metrowalkz Self-Guided Walking Tours. For less than $12, you can download all sorts of audio tours including one on Loop Architecture.
No other architect has had quite the mark on the Chicago area as Frank Lloyd Wright. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust offers tours of the Rookery Building downtown, the Robie House in the Hyde Park neighborhood, and FLW's home and studio in the nearby suburb of Oak Park. Additionally, the Unity Temple in Oak Park is one of Wright's seminal works and definitely worth the trip. You can easily access Oak Park via the CTA "L" train. Really, you have no excuse not to go!
Please note: Some of the above tours are available seasonally and are weather dependent. Please check with each tour company for availability.