Many famous buildings in Chicago are renowned for its architecture, creativity, and innovation. Did you know that there are also many buildings here that once held the world record for the tallest building in the world?
The architecture dates back to the early 20th century. Check out this video for some interesting locations used to film the movie “The Untouchables”!
The Most Famous Buildings in Chicago
Here is a list of the most famous buildings in Chicago. Read this roundup or click the name in the list to learn something about it, and where it’s located.
333 W. Wacker
Known for its reflective curves of the Chicago River and clouds above, this building is a favorite among Chicagoans.
The greenish glass facade transforms throughout the day to mirror its surroundings like an ever-changing art canvas.
Address: 333 Wacker Dr. | Architect: W. Pederson, Established: 1970
333 S. Wabash
The distinctive red facade is the headquarters of CNA Financial Corporation. This building was painted red to create eye-catching attention, nicknamed Big Red.
It is also known for casting messages to the city by using the lights that radiate through the windows..
Address: 333 S. Wabash St. | Architect: W. Lesnikowski, Established: 1972
The tower is recognized as the world’s tallest building designed by a woman and is on the list of Illinois’ 25 Must See Places!
The wavy balconies were designed to capture views of nearby landmarks. The famous tower was named Aqua to fit the nautical theme of buildings on the Lake Shore.
Address: 225 N. Columbus Dr. | Architect: J. Gang, Established: 2009
Carbide and Carbon Building
This Art Deco high rise on Michigan Ave was transformed into the Hard Rock Hotel and then changed to the St. Jane Hotel.
It is very unique in that the exterior features polished black granite with a dark green tower covered with terra cotta and gold leaf accents.
The famous building was the film location for several movies and TV series.
Address: 230 Michigan Ave. | Architect: Huberb, Daniel Burnham, Established: 1928
Chicago Board of Trade
The Art Deco skyscraper located in the financial district of the Loop serves as a primary stock trading location. The building is a popular sightseeing attraction and location for film and has won numerous awards for preservation efforts.
At the top of the building, Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain stands tall while holding a sheaf of wheat in one hand and a bag of corn in the other to honor the heritage of the commodities market.
Address: 141 W. Jackson Blv. | Architect: Holabird & Root, Established: 1930
If not measured by exclusive use for religion, this is the tallest church building in the world based on the distance from the street to the top of the spire.
There are three sanctuaries. The first is four stories tall and seats approximately 1,000 people. The second is known as Dixon Chapel and is located on the second floor.
The third is known as Sky Chapel and is the smallest of the three, seating only 30 people.
Address: 77 W. Washington | Architect: Holabird & Root, Established: 1924
Civic Opera House
Seating over 3500 in the second-largest auditorium in North America, this build stands second only to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
Music comes alive during the opera season. The venue is also used for other art performances.
Address: 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr. | Architect: Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, Established 1929
The center was named after mayor Richard J. Daley and is a premier civic center in the Windy City.
The center’s modern design primarily houses offices and courtrooms for Cook County.
The plaza is well known for its unnamed Picasso sculpture, seasonal farmer markets, and city-sponsored events like Chicago’s Christkindlemarket.
Address 50 W. Washington St. | Architect: J. Brownson, Established 1965
Edgewater Beach Apartments
Address: 5555 N. Sheridan Rd. | Architects: Marshall and Fox, Established: 1928
Field Museum of Natural History
Known as The Field Museum, it is one of the largest museums in the world and is known for collections that originated from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Today, it houses permanent exhibitions and attracts up to 2 million annual visitors.
Address: 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. | Architect: Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, Established: 1893
James R Thompson Center
Originally, the building was designed to accommodate the State of Illinois Center. Structure and climate problems has plagued this center.
The large open atrium is also not the best use of square footage. Thus, the building was sold in March of 2022 and tenants have moved from the office spaces. Today, the building is mostly empty and may be demolitioned.
Address: 100 W. Randolph | Architect: H. Jahn, Established: 1985
Lake Point Tower
Well-known for its graceful curves and Y-shape in an extremely picturesque location, this residential skyscraper is located on the waterfront at Lake Michigan near Navy Pier.
The address is the envy of the city with curved outer walls that prevent residents from seeing into other living spaces.
Address: 505 N. Lake Shore Dr. | Architect G. Shiporeit, J. Heinrich, Established: 1965
Originally designed to be a city with a city, this building is known as “the corn cob”. The mixed use of space allowed residents to shop, eat, and find entertainment without leaving the complex.
The riverfront is also a great spot for watching the dyeing of the river in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
Address: 300 N State St. | Architect: B. Goldberg, Established: 1968
The original reddish exterior has since darkened due to city pollution. However, the trademark Chicago windows, and style are duly noted as a prime example of the Chicago School of Architecture.
Address: 140 S. Dearborn St. | Architect: W. Holabird and M. Roche, Established 1895
Located in the Printer’s Row neighborhood, this structure was originally the center of Chicago’s print and publishing industry. Today, it is used for residential housing.
The interior is dark but lovely with metal railings and glazed wooden doors. The outside walls are very thick because the building sits on a mud foundation.
Address: 53 W. Jackson | Architect: Burnham & Root, Holabird & Root, Established: 1891
South Shore Cultural Center
Built at the turn of the 20th century, the center today serves the community with programs for the youth.
In addition, there are banquet facilities for private events. The golf course still operates and the beach, picnic areas, and nature center are open to the public.
Address: 7059 S. South Shore Dr. | Architect: Marshall and Fox, Established 1908
Also known as the Stone Container Building, this structure looks as though there are two separate sides with a top shaped like a diamond or triangle. It is equally stunning at night.
Address: 150 North Michigan Ave. | Architect: S. Schlegman, Established: 1984
This distinctive building has received numerous awards and also won the Best Structure Award. It is stacked like chevrons and is the sixth tallest building in the United States.
Address: 180 N. Stetson Ave. | Architect: S. Wright, Established 1990
Formerly the Standard Oil Building and then renamed the Amoco Building, this is the third tallest structure in the city of Chicago.
The facade is clad in Carrara marble from Tuscany, Italy. At great expense, it was replaced with white granite due to deterioration.
Address: 200 E. Randolph St. | Architect: E. Stone, Established: 1973
The Art Institute of Chicago
Recognized as Chicago’s #1 museum, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums worldwide.
The museum is also home to the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art outside The Louvre in Paris and hosts about 1.5 million visitors annually.
Address 111 S. Michigan Ave. | Architect: R. Piano, Established 1879
The Auditorium Building
This building was designed as a multi-use complex including a theater, hotel, and office space.
It was once home to the Chicago Civic Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and currently hosts season performances of the Joffrey Ballet and not-to-miss annual performances of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Address: 430 S. Michigan Ave. | Architect: D. Adler, L. Sullivan, Established: 1889
The Chicago Theater
This is one of the earlier movie palaces created by movie magnates Balaban & Katz.
The elaborate theaters grew throughout the city and enabled movie-goers to escape everyday life.
Concerts and city events continue to be hosted here and tours of the interior are also available. The theater is also a favored spot for Instagram photos.
Address: 175 N. State St. | Architect: George and Cornelius Rapp, Established: 1921
The Chicago Cultural Center
One of many architectural gems of Chicago, this is one of the best free attractions in the Loop.
Located just off Michigan Ave., across from Millenium Park, you won’t want to miss the key points of architectural interest at the Randolph St. and Washington St. entrances.
There is also a replica of the Doge Palace’s assembly Hall (Sydney R Yates Gallery), an ornate room of Carrara marble (Preston Bradley Hall), and a 38-food Tiffany glass dome which is said to be the largest in the world.
Address: 78 E. Washington St. | Architect: R. Spencer, C. Coolidge, Established: 1897
The John Hancock Building
Located on the Magnificent Mile, the name was changed to 875 North Michigan Ave but Chicagoans still lovingly refer to it as the John Hancock.
It was once the second tallest building in the world after the Empire State Building and the tallest building in Chicago. The 95th-floor restaurant is a great location for overlooking Chicago and Lake Michigan.
There is also an observatory deck (360 Chicago which boasts views of up to four states), TILT (a moving platform that leans over the edge of the building0, and an open-air SkyWalk.
Another interesting fact is that the 44th-floor lobby has the highest indoor swimming pool. The construction was financed and named by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Address: 875 N. Michigan | Architect: F. Kan, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, Established: 1969
The London House
The London Guarantee Building (or London Guaranty & Accident Building) is a historic 1923 commercial skyscraper.
The building is now a Curio hotel in the Hilton brand. Their rooftop bar delivers beautiful views of the city and the Chicago River.
Address: 85 E. Wacker Dr. | Architect: A. Alschuler, Established: 1922
The Merchandise Mart
Located on the Chicago River, this building is so large that it once had a proprietary zip code.
Year-round, the building is home to wholesale showrooms, exhibits, and trade shows.
Art on theMART is a digital art show that is quite popular during the holiday season in Chicago.
Address: 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza | Architect: A. Shaw, Established: 1928
The Rookery Building
Considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago, the name Rookery came about because pigeons and other winged birds flocked the exterior.
One of the most notable features is the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed light court, as well as the oriel staircase. Due to its prohibition-era architecture, the building was also used in famous films such as The Untouchables.
Address: 207 S. LaSalle St. | Architect: Burnham & Root, Established: 1888
The Water Tower
This famous tower survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 while practically everything in the surrounding area burned to ashes. It has since been a proud symbol of Old Chicago.
Today, it houses a small art gallery and features the work of local artists, filmmakers, and photographers.
Address: 806 N. Michigan Ave. | Architect: W. Boyington, Established 1869
Formerly (and still referred to by Chicagoans as) the Sears Tower, this famous tower once surpassed the former World Trade Center in New York as the tallest building in the world and held that honor for about 25 years.
The Skydeck opened as the highest observation deck in the U.S and is one of Chicago’s most visited tourist attractions.
A renovation included the extension of retractable glass balconies called “The Ledge” which offers transparent views of the streets below.
Address: 233 S. Wacker Dr. | Architect: F. Khan, B. Graham, Established: 1973
This stunning skyscraper was once the headquarters of William Wrigley, the famed chewing gum magnate.
Today, the building continues to be used as office space for companies like Groupon and Chicago’s Chamber of Commerce. It also hails as one of the most Instagrammable spots in Chicago.
Address: 400-410 N. Michigan Ave. | Architect: Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, 1920
The original Tribune structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago and rebuilt. Today, it stands as home to three major media outlets (TV, newspaper, and radio) in Chicago.
On the exterior, rocks and bricks from historically significant sites were incorporated into the facade of the lower walls.
Embedded stones include artifacts from Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb, the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, the Palace of Westminster, the Great Pyramid, The Alamo, Notre Dame of Paris, the Great Wall of China, and many others.
In its design and construction, the building was known as the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world. Free tours are offered annually.
Address: 435 Michigan Ave. | Architect: R. Hood, J. Howells, Established: 1925
Home to the Chicago Cubs and one of six major sports teams, the stadium is located in the Wrigleyville neighborhood.
The ballpark is famous for the outfield walls covered in ivy leaves and Cubbie fans love the tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” started by Harry Caray.
The park is used for other sports events like soccer, hockey, and football. The park has been host to spectacular concerts with renowned artists like Billy Joel, James Taylor, Lady Gaga, and Jimmy Buffett.
Address: 1060 W. Addison St. | Architect: Z. Davis, Established: 1914
Final Thoughts on the Most Famous Buildings in Chicago
I have to admit that when traveling to different cities, the architecture astounds me. Since my husband is an architect, he notes buildings and designs that I would have otherwise missed.
This is the main reason that I wrote this post. People know a few things that Chicago is most famous for, like Cloud Gate or Millennium Park. But they aren’t always familiar with the contributions or why these famous buildings in Chicago have architectural significance.
This post was a labor of love, and I enjoyed compiling it for you. This page has some great videos of architecture at the University of Chicago.
If you’re fascinated by historical landmarks, you won’t want to miss the captivating stories housed within the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum.