The Best Photos of Chicago’s Incredible Architecture

As one of the most culturally significant cities in America, Chicago features some of the most incredible architecture in the world. The unique location on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River makes for some striking contrasts between natural and man-made landmarks. Here are some of the best photos of these unique buildings, but trust us when we say they're even better in person.

The Rookery

Interior of the Rookery
Credit: Ken Lund/ CC BY-SA 2.0

This building was designed by Chicago architectural masters Burnham & Root in 1888 and then redesigned by Chicago’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1907. The signature feature of The Rookery is its multistory mezzanine that features an oriel stairway. The entire area is enclosed in a glass ceiling that lets the sun light up the marble that is embossed with gold patterns.

Marina City

Chicago river with Marina City buildings
Credit: PapaBear/ iStock

One of Chicago’s most iconic structures, Marina City was designed by local architect Bertrand Goldberg. The two cylindrical buildings famously feature a corn cob-like appearance. When the 588-foot towers opened officially in 1962, they were the tallest residential buildings in the world. Marina City’s one-of-a-kind architecture has also been used by a variety of entertainers. The towers were featured in the opening credits of the “Bob Newhart Show” and on the cover of the indie-rock band Wilco’s notable album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

Tribune Tower

Skyscrapers in downtown Chicago, Tribune Tower in middle
Credit: xavierarnau/ iStock

The Tribune Tower was constructed to mark the 75th anniversary of the "Chicago Tribune" newspaper and features elegant limestone designs with buttresses in a Gothic Revival style. This building was completed in 1925, following a design by Howells & Hood that was selected from more than 200 proposals. As an added bonus, the Tribune Tower pays homage to other legendary edifices; the façade includes fragments from some of the greatest buildings in history, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, Westminster Abbey, the Great Wall of China, and the Parthenon.

theMART

Merchandise Mart in Chicago
Credit: Henryk Sadura/ Shutterstock

Known as the Merchandise Mart since its construction in 1930 until recently, theMART was designed by Alfred Shaw. The massive Art Deco building incorporates three distinct styles of construction — warehouse, skyscraper, and department store.

theMART has adapted to the times and is now home to a new architectural innovation. The Art on theMART project began in 2018 and is the largest digital art projection in the world. Designs are projected onto the river-facing side of the building, covering an area that spans over two acres.

Robie House

Robbie house with greenery
Credit: arboresce/ flickr

This Frank Lloyd Wright original was built in 1910 and is a perfect example of the Prairie-style architecture that made the designer famous. The house consists of two long rectangular spaces that meet in the middle, with ample lighting to accommodate the space. The home was a private residence for the Robie family for only a year before it was sold and converted into a dormitory for the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Aqua Tower

Aqua Tower
Credit: piet theisohn/ CC BY 2.0 

One of the most recent contributions to Chicago’s pantheon of incredible architecture is Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower. Completed in 2010, the 82-story building is covered in aqua-colored glass that is interrupted by wavy concrete balconies that create the illusion of rippling water. The dynamic design stands out in a city whose architecture mostly adheres to older styles.

The tower not only features an innovative design but includes modern conveniences as well. In its underground parking garage is Chicago’s first public electric vehicle charging station.

John Hancock Center

Street view of Chicago's John Hancock Center, with straight line architecture on display
Credit: Paul Brady Photography/ Shutterstock

One of the most widely known skyscrapers in the city, the John Hancock Center is one of the crown jewels of Chicago’s skyline, extending 100 stories in the clouds. It was designed by Bruce Graham in 1968, and from its observatory visitors can see four different states on a clear day. The imposing black tower was derided as too industrial at the time of its completion but is now considered one of the best examples of late 20th century architecture.

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