Top 40 Buildings in Chicago

EDIFICE REX: Chicago reigns as the country’s architectural king, as our top 40 buildings proudly attest

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#10: Sears Tower
233 S. Wacker Dr.
(Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1974)
The city’s giant is an engineering marvel—and I will never, ever, refer to it as the Willis.

#9: Farnsworth House
14520 River Rd., Plano
(Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1951)
A transcendent modernist masterpiece, this glass-walled single-story, single-room house floats elegantly alongside the Fox River.

#8: Frederick C. Robie House
5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.
(Frank Lloyd Wright, 1909)
Prairie style perfected—even Wright had to move in other directions or risk repeating himself.

#7: Auditorium Building
430 S. Michigan Ave.
(Adler and Sullivan, 1889)
Adler’s engineering skills and Sullivan’s design savvy concocted a feast for the ears and the eyes.

#6: S. R. Crown Hall
3360 S. State St.
(Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, with Pace Associates and C. F. Murphy Associates, 1956)
Mies’s clear-span design captures space and light within a deceptively simple glass box defined by steel columns and girders.

#5: Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company
1 S. State St.
(Louis H. Sullivan, 1899, 1903; D. H. Burnham & Co., 1906; Holabird & Root, 1961; major restorations in 1980 and 2010)
Rising from richly ornamented ground floors, the former department store’s spare upper stories showcase serene rows of light-luring Chicago windows.

#4: Monadnock Building
53 W. Jackson Blvd.
(northern half: Burnham & Root, 1891; southern half: Holabird & Roche, 1893)
Massive, austere, and exciting, its mix of steel frame and load-bearing walls signaled the onset of a new age in architecture.

#3: 860–880 North Lake Shore Drive
(Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, with Pace Associates and Holsman, Holsman, Klekamp & Taylor, 1952)
Startling in their day, these 26-story glass towers established the Mies aesthetic and influenced architecture around the world.

#2: The Rookery
209 S. LaSalle St.
(Burnham & Root, 1885–1888; lobbies and light court: Frank Lloyd Wright, 1907)
The celebrated skylit atrium and spiral staircase can unfairly overshadow the building’s audacious exterior and Root’s unseen but ingenious floating foundation.

#1: John Hancock Center
875 N. Michigan Ave.
(Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1969)
Bruce Graham, the architect, and Fazlur R. Khan, the structural engineer, paired big-shouldered brawn with cross-braced panache in this defining skyscraper of the second Chicago school of architecture.

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4 years ago
Posted by Glessner House

I was most interested to read your list of top 40 buildings, and was delighted to see that the John J. Glessner House came in at #19. I would like to let your readers know that the house is open to the public as a house museum, as is entry #34, the Henry B. Clarke House. For more information on tours, please visit www.glessnerhouse.org.

4 years ago
Posted by Uptown

Where is the Uptown theater???

4 years ago
Posted by BeenThere

What about the Chicago Temple (world's highest church)? 77 W. Washington
That's got to beat out Aon Building (and about 20 others).

4 years ago
Posted by V

You guys must have reporters from California writes this nonsense. Enough with the idiotic and incorrect lists already.

4 years ago
Posted by larry1365

I believe you should include the gothic Fourth Presbyterian Church which was built on a dirt Pine Ave., in 1914, and now flourishes admidst new skycrapers on northern Michigan Ave. Its serene Garth (grass coutryard), with its Children's Fountain, is a peaceful piece of tranquilty alongside the bustling mecca of tourism & commerce. The church's amazing stained glass windows were created by Charles Connick, whom the New York Times upon his death in 1945 called the "world's greatest contemporary craftsman in stained glass."

4 years ago
Posted by PointSpecial

Wait... are these in order?

That Aon is on this list at all is a travesty... but that it is higher on the list than the Trib or Wrigley building?

35 E Wacker (Jeweler's Building)?
Smurfit-Stone?
10 S Deerborn (Chase Tower)?

4 years ago
Posted by webdiva

I'm glad you noted that Schipporeit and Heinrich took a Mies van der Rohe design and turned it into Lake Point Tower. S&H had worked for van der Rohe before that, which is how they knew about the plans. The original plans were for an office building; the big changes were all on the inside, which S&H changed to create apartments instead, whereas the exterior remained as Mies had designed it. I still think of it as a Mies building, even though his proteges got it built.

As for the Sears Tower, f you're going to call it by that name (which I approve) and not by that silly name the new owners use, that just coincides with historical architectural tradition: a building is typically known by the name it had when it was first built. For example, the Tribune Tower will always be that, no matter who may occupy it in the future; same goes for the Marshall Field & Co. Building -- Macy's may do business there now, but they're the only people who call it by the new name, and that won't last when/if Macy's goes out of business some day. And the Robert Morris building is no such thing (although the second Leiter Building has less of a ring to it).

Similarly, you should be calling the 'Aon' building the Standard Oil Building. The Hotel Burnham may occupy the Reliance Building, but it's still the Reliance Building. The so-called Chase Tower is really the First National Bank Building, even though that enterprise is long gone. The Smurfit-Stone Building is really the Associates Center. And so on. That doesn't mean people won't still try to rename buildings just because they buy/occupy them; it just means they'll be wrong when they do try. Can you imagine anyone trying to rename the Rookery Building, or the John Hancock?? The new names would be completely meaningless.

We retain original building names, just as we keep our own names instead of changing them every time we move or get a new job, because we need to remember who we are and where we came from. The building names are part of a city's identity, developed over decades or centuries. History trumps vanity every time, and well it should.

Oh, BTW, @pointspecial: no, it's not a travesty that the Standard Oil Building was included -- it was much more impressive when it was all clad in white marble; but the adhesive used by the construction company didn't hold more than a few years, pieces fell off, the marble thus became a safety hazard, and it all had to be removed. I keep wishing technological advancement would find a solution, so that the building could be re-shod in Cararra marble and returned to its former glory. You had to see it all luminous at dawn and dusk to get the full impact.

One last note: the John Hancock Center is famous for more than its distinctive design. In order to get it built, Fazlur Khan had to develop new engineering algorithms that would keep a building that tall together. Those algorithms subsequently allowed the Sears Tower and all other mega-tall buildings around the world to be constructed. Which just goes to show you: we not only invented skyscrapers in Chicago, we also invented the means of building them ever taller. Everywhere. Eat that, New York.

4 years ago
Posted by naromwc

I find it odd that you excluded SkyBridge located at 737 West Washington
If memory serves me correct, it won the USA AIA residential highrise design of the year award in 2003 ( meaning the best residential design built in America for that year.) I also remember the very high praise it received from the Tribune's achitectural critic when it was built.
I do not mean to denigrate any of your choices. I just want to point out the inconsistancy of the Tribune's choices relative to the aricles published in the Tribune saying it was, architecturally speaking, one of the most important buildings built in Chicago for a long long long time

4 years ago
Posted by naromwc

I find it odd that you excluded SkyBridge located at 737 West Washington
If memory serves me correct, it won the USA AIA residential highrise design of the year award in 2003 ( meaning the best residential design built in America for that year.) I also remember the very high praise it received from the Tribune's achitectural critic when it was built.
I do not mean to denigrate any of your choices. I just want to point out the inconsistancy of the Tribune's choices relative to the aricles published in the Tribune saying it was, architecturally speaking, one of the most important buildings built in Chicago for a long long long time

4 years ago
Posted by LVVAN

Maybe I didn't spend enough time with this list. But, is it possible that there is not a Sullivan building on this list. Every architecture student goes on tours of the Sullivan buildings in Chicago!

4 years ago
Posted by genie

Since the notion of such a list is silly and so many of your choices are as well [although you did get many of the big buildings], I'll supply some of my own: Harry Weese's Time-Life Building and Eugenie Townhouses; Wright's Bach house and a few others [the others not IN Chicago, but neither are a number of yours];the Field Building; the Palmolive Building;the Pickwick Theatre;the Board of Trade Building;Executive House Hotel [probably the most unfairly overlooked tall building on the skyline];the Astor Street Apts.;the Chicago Cultural Center; the auditorium at Navy Pier;the Chicago Water Filtration Plant;Saarinen's University of Chicago Law School; Netsch's Northwestern University Library;Netsch's administration building at UIC; the aquarium; the Chicago Theatre; the Kemper Insurance Building; that wonderful restaurant building in Lincoln Park and the greenhouse there; the Brewster Apts. just off east Diversey, Chicago's hidden treasure; the skylit courtyard building on the northeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn in which Clarence Darrow once had his office.

---To name just a few.

4 years ago
Posted by genie

Since the notion of such a list is silly and so many of your choices are as well [although you did get many of the big buildings], I'll supply some of my own: Harry Weese's Time-Life Building and Eugenie Townhouses; Wright's Bach house and a few others [the others not IN Chicago, but neither are a number of yours];the Field Building; the Palmolive Building;the Pickwick Theatre;the Board of Trade Building;Executive House Hotel [probably the most unfairly overlooked tall building on the skyline];the Astor Street Apts.;the Chicago Cultural Center; the auditorium at Navy Pier;the Chicago Water Filtration Plant;Saarinen's University of Chicago Law School; Netsch's Northwestern University Library;Netsch's administration building at UIC; the aquarium; the Chicago Theatre; the Kemper Insurance Building; that wonderful restaurant building in Lincoln Park and the greenhouse there; the Brewster Apts. just off east Diversey, Chicago's hidden treasure; the skylit courtyard building on the northeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn in which Clarence Darrow once had his office.

---To name just a few.

4 years ago
Posted by benny1

Good list and could easily go on to include many more locations I'm sure. I haven't been home for many years but i feel that the Mdse. Mart should have been included or has it been torn down to make room for a parking lot? How about the Florence Hotel down South in the Pullman area. I believe it was named after Pullman's daughter.....maybe it's gone now too as I said I haven't been home in a very long time sadly. Thanks, S V.

4 years ago
Posted by allenchicago

The most glaring omission is The Legacy Condominium. No new building sits more magnificently on the skyling than this beauty.
And it just as magnificently sets-off the wonderful older buildings all around it.

4 years ago
Posted by Tim Bosanoz

Well it was a good effort,but you missed two houses by the internationaly famous architect Bruce Goff. The Ford House in Aurora, Illinois and the Unseth House in Park Ridge, Illinois. Considering the amount of replys perhaps you should do a follow-up article!

2 years ago
Posted by AChicagoan

The most shocking omission is the Marshall Field and Company Department Store Building, 111 North State Street, Chicago.

The prototype for all other modern department stores world-wide, Burnham's design arguably bests Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott with breath-taking interior rooms and atria. Carson Pirie Scott's interior does not compare. Philadelphia's Wannamakers; Boston's Filene's; London's Selfridges and Harrods; Paris' Bon Marche; NYC's Lord and Taylor, Bloomingdale's and Sak's; Berlin's KaDaWe and on and on. All were based on this building which is actually six-eight buildings, depending on how you look at it. Also featured is world's largest work of Tiffany mosaic.

1 year ago
Posted by FormerChicagoYouth

Why is the Bahai Temple in Wilmette always overlooked on every "Great Buildings In Chicago(land)" list? It might not be thought of as an architectural masterpiece but one can't not be almost overwhelmed by it's impressive size and magnificent location and, let's face it, its utter uniqueness.

6 months ago
Posted by ilrealtor

My favorite building in Chicago is the Fine Arts Building 430 S Michigan. I always take people inside this building as it is the only building that still has elevator operators. Go to the top floor and if not in use go to the dance hall and look out the window and you will see the most beautiful view of Buckingham fountain and then walk down each floor and listen to the violins and if inclined go to the best book store for classical music sheets or take a yoga class in the building.

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