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Soaring skyscrapers, historic homes, magnificent churches, glamorous hotels—and that only scratches the surface of Chicago’s architectural treasures. Learn from the experts at the Chicago Architecture Center and discover the brilliant minds and incredible stories behind the city’s urban landscape. 

The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the awareness and appreciation of Chicago’s outstanding architectural legacy, boasts a year-round calendar filled with tours, exhibits, and programs.  

Incredibly well-versed in the history and design of the city’s major landmarks, hidden gems and famed architects, the CAC docents will wow you with their extensive knowledge and interesting factoids. For example:

  • Did you know the design of Willis Tower (née Sears) was based on cigarettes?
  • Or that there's a pedestrian tunnel system below ground called the Pedway?
  • Or that the Monadnock building, located at 53 West Jackson Boulevard, was built with 100 different shapes of brick?

These “professors of architecture” are certified with hundreds of hours of training and will school you on all these fascinating tidbits and more. From the ever popular architecture river boat cruise and the Frank Lloyd Wright outings to the annual 2-day, citywide event Open House Chicago, you’ll walk away with an even greater appreciation for your surroundings.

ARCHITECTURE TOURS

The Chicago Architecture Center will inspire you to discover why design matters. On any given tour (they offer over 85 different ones!) you may traverse the underground Pedway, cross bridges covered in history, or rumble above and below the streets aboard the ‘L’ train.

They have all modes of transportation covered, so take your pick:

  • Boat: In 1993, the Chicago Architecture Center began giving the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise Aboard Chicago’s First Lady. Still running today, the river cruise is the #1 architecture tour in Chicago. The perspective from the famous Chicago riverfront is not only unique, but the experience is incredibly relaxing. It is definitely a must-do during the April to November tour boat season. View all boat tour options in Chicago.

  • Walking: Head out on foot and get up close and personal with Chicago’s iconic buildings. Pricing starts at just $20 and the offerings change daily so this is certainly one of the best ways to explore. Consider a walking tour of Tiffany Treasures, the newest skyscrapers like Trump International Hotel & Tower (N. America’s tallest building) or the Art Deco Board of Trade building anchoring the “canyon” in the Loop’s financial district. The sampling goes from historic to modern.

  • Bus: From the comforts of a climate-controlled ride, the all-season bus tours cruise to architectural hot-spots while you sit back and learn from the docents on board. Besides the fascinating, if not dark, Devil in the White City bus tour that explores the serial murders during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, coach transportation makes it easy to head to River Forest and Oak Park for the Frank Lloyd Wright By Bus tour.

  • ‘L’ train: Elevated over 20 feet above ground and with tracks that twist and turn between buildings, the Chicago ‘L’ system is a perfect mix of sightseeing and urban transit. Behind each train window is an architectural showcase with a constantly changing view. Look out and you may be passing gargoyles on buildings on the Elevated Architecture: Downtown “L” Train our. Or perhaps it’s an office window or home with people looking back at you.

  • Bike: Take to the streets on two wheels. If you want to cover a lot of ground but prefer a more adventurous option over the standard motor coach, pedal at a leisurely pace with other biker/architecture enthusiasts. The 4- to 5-mile long bicycle tours ride to the lakefront or through the historic boulevard system known as Chicago’s “green necklace.”

EXHIBITIONS

The Chicago Architecture Center boasts breathtaking exhibits that give you an inside look at our magnificent city and architecture around the world. Learn how Chicago became the city of architecture with a look at its fascinating neighborhoods, housing styles and architects in the Chicago Gallery. See how design and engineering innovations have spurred a race to build ever higher into the sky in the Building Tall exhibit, filled with supersized models of famous skyscrapers from Chicago and around the world. And view more than 4,200 buildings in one spectacular room with the cinematic and interactive Chicago City Model Experience.

PROGRAMS & EVENTS

CAC presents programs on design, preservation issues or time-honored architects and styles throughout the year. 

Attend a program in the CAC’s custom-designed, state-of-the-art Joan and Gary Gand Lecture Hall--a place where design professionals and Chicagoans can meet, discuss and debate the latest architectural projects and innovations in technology, design and urban planning. The CAC also offers hands-on experiences and award-winning teaching tools for children, with education offerings like field trips, workshops, summer camps, classes and festivals.

The major calendar event for Chicago Architecture Center is Open House Chicago, a behind-the-scenes building bonanza held in October. For design-o-philes and architecture geeks, having 48 hours and 150 places to explore for free equals heaven. Especially given that many of these sites are usually off-limits to the public, such as the dramatic cupola atop the Jewelers Building, the Counselors Chambers in Chicago’s City Hall, and secret tunnels and rooms from Capone’s era hidden in a steakhouse restaurant.

RETAIL SHOP

In the CAC Store , you'll find all things Chicago, perfect for gifts and souvenirs. City skyline posters and prints? Check. Frank Lloyd Wright coasters? Check. Books and DVDs on Daniel Burnham? Check. How about a LEGO Willis Tower or a mousepad with Louis Sullivan designs? Yes, they have that too. Browse and buy online as well as shop.architecture.org.

PLAN YOUR VISIT

Plan your visit with the Chicago Architecture Center and dig deeper into the city’s visually-stunning and ever-changing landscape. For the complete CAC tour schedule and program descriptions, visit architecture.org. Book your tour tickets online, in person at the Chicago Architecture Center or at Chicago's official Visitor Information Centers.

 

Related Listings

Chicago Architecture Center
111 E. Wacker
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 922-3432

 

Chicago's First Lady Cruises
112 E. Wacker Dr. on Chicago's Riverwalk
Chicago, IL 60601
(847) 358-1330
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