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DNC Guide: Architecture

Immerse yourself in iconic architecture

Chicago is proud to welcome visitors from around the world to our great city for the Democratic National Convention 2024. While you’re here, we invite you to come experience what makes Chicago a city like no other — and why we’ve been named the Best Big City in the U.S. for an unprecedented seven years in a row.

Chicago’s skyline is a testament to architectural legends like Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Jeanne Gang, and Daniel Burnham. Everywhere you turn, you’re surrounded by iconic structures, from the towering marvels downtown to treasured sites in bustling neighborhoods. From historic landmarks to scenic boat tours, here’s a curated collection of can’t-miss Chicago architecture experiences.

We’ve created these Chicago guides with five specially curated activities to help DNC visitors experience different aspects of our great city. To delve deeper and make the most out of your time in Chicago, keep exploring with our guide at the link below.

Explore our museums and history guide to Chicago

1. Experience a Chicago architecture tour

Chicago First Lady Cruises on the Chicago River
Chicago First Lady Cruises on the Chicago River

The Chicago skyline is a stunning mosaic that includes everything from Gothic Revival structures that withstood the Great Fire to the pioneering modern skyscrapers built by visionary architects. Embarking on a Chicago architecture tour is the best way to experience Chicago’s diverse built environment.

Some of the most picturesque and informative architecture tours are scenic boat cruises that sail the Chicago River and hug the Lake Michigan coast. See unmatched views of Chicago’s architectural marvels from the Chicago River with expert guides providing unique insights and stories along the way. For skyline views from Lake Michigan, several tour companies offer leisurely cruises that sail past architectural points of interest.

You can also explore the city’s architecture on land with walking or bus tours. These tours allow you to go inside some of the city’s most stunning buildings or delve into the remarkably diverse architectural styles tucked away in the city’s neighborhoods.

2. Visit the Chicago Architecture Center

Chicago Architecture Center Skyscraper Gallery
Chicago Architecture Center Skyscraper Gallery, photo by Tom Harris

At the heart of a city famed for its architectural splendor, the Chicago Architecture Center is a must-visit destination.

This hub of design and innovation offers a deep dive into the city’s architectural heritage through fascinating exhibits and detailed scale models of famous skyscrapers. As the starting point for some of the city’s most popular architecture tours, the center provides a window into the stories that have shaped Chicago’s skyline, serving both as a tribute to the past and a gateway to the city’s future.

The Chicago Architecture Center’s building is just as impressive as the collections. Designed by modern master Mies Van Der Rohe, One Illinois Center offers stunning views of the Chicago Riverwalk and easy access to river boat tours.

3. Marvel at downtown skyscrapers

Thanks to a population boom and a desire to rebuild quickly after the Great Chicago Fire, the city began to grow upward with iron and stone instead of wood. In 1885, the Home Insurance Building — the world’s first skyscraper — ushered in a new era for the Chicago skyline. Since then, the city’s architects have continued to build higher and more imaginative buildings.

An Art Deco masterpiece, the Carbon and Carbide Building was designed to look like a champagne bottle with its polished black marble walls with real gold details. The Tribune Tower is a magnificent homage to the Gothic Revival style, with Art Deco and French cathedral elements. And of course, you can’t miss the Wrigley Building’s gleaming white terracotta exterior, modeled after the Giralda Tower in Spain.

There are also many contemporary marvels in downtown Chicago. Architect Jeanne Gang designed the gleaming Vista Tower, the third tallest building in Chicago and the tallest building in the world designed by a woman. For a sky-high perspective of the city’s many skyscrapers, check out the view from above at observation decks like the Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower or 360 CHICAGO at 875 N. Michigan.

4. Delve into neighborhood historic districts

Market Square arches_Photo by Eric Allix Rogers_Courtesy of Historic Pullman Foundation
Market Square arches; photo by Eric Allix Rogers, courtesy of Historic Pullman Foundation

Each neighborhood in Chicago has its own vibe and flavor. And of course, the distinct architectural styles are one of the top reasons to explore the city’s many historic districts.

There’s nothing like the Pullman neighborhood. This planned industrial town was built for Pullman’s Palace Car Company to attract the most skilled workers and is now a National Monument and a preserved window into the past.

For a taste of the Gilded Age, the Astor Street District of historical revival styles of the Gold Coast’s many stately residences are truly a sight to behold. It’s also home to a notable landmark — the city’s last wood-paved street from before the Great Chicago Fire.

Or take a stroll through Bronzeville, known as the Black Metropolis of Chicago, where many buildings are known for their cultural significance and architectural beauty. Must-see sights are monuments to the city’s Black history including The Forum, the Chicago Defender building, and the Supreme Life building.

5. Surround yourself with Frank Lloyd Wright gems

Rookery

From his early works to a famed UNESCO World Heritage site, Frank Lloyd Wright looms large throughout Chicagoland.

The Robie House in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood is considered one of the best examples of Wright’s signature Prairie style — one of the reasons it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can explore this history-making home during a guided tour of the striking interior

In the Loop, The Rookery was designed by Burnham and Root in 1888, but Frank Lloyd Wright was called in to redesign the light court and lobby in 1905. Today, its ornate ironwork and soaring glass ceiling make it one of the city’s most photographed interiors.

Nearby Oak Park is also a must for Frank Lloyd Wright fans — it’s home to the world’s most extensive collection of his work. Take a guided tour of the Wright Home and Studio where he created his signature Prairie style. Nearby is the Unity Temple, Wright’s only surviving Prairie-style public building, also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Explore all Chicago DNC guides