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The 50 most beautiful buildings in Chicago: 10–1

We searched Chicago's skyline from the skyscrapers to the side streets (and beyond) to find our favorite examples of the city's architectural excellence

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© Jeremy Atherton
Edgewater Beach Apartments
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Photograph: Tim Long Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust

Robie House

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Photograph: Courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Foundation
Wrigley Building
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Museum of Science and Industry

5/10
Photograph: Daniel Schwen

Chicago Board of Trade

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Photograph: Courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Foundation

Civic Opera House

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Baha'i House of Worship

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Photograph: Zach Weiss

Tribune Tower

9/10
Photograph: Anne Evans

Marina City

10/10
Photograph: Vincent Glielmi

Carbide & Carbon Building

Edgewater Beach Apartments, 5555 N Sheridan Rd

Completed in 1928

The northern reaches of Sheridan Road have an air of the ring-a-ding-ding seaside resorts of yore. At the start of a long row of mod condo towers and erstwhile hotels, the Edgewater Beach Apartments sit like a massive pink wedding cake or something from a Wes Anderson movie. Benjamin Marshall of Marshall and Fox designed the X-shaped structure to complement its yellow twin, the Edgewater Beach Hotel, built 12 years prior in 1916. The hotel is long gone, but something romantic and nostalgic remains about this place, even as it shows its wrinkles. As you sit in the unavoidable traffic outside, you expect to see the ghost of Marilyn Monroe (who stayed here) shopping for hats and vanilla ice cream.

Fun fact Big bands led by swing titans like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller played here and broadcast on the Edgewater Beach Apartment's own radio station, WEBH.

Robie House, 5757 S Woodlawn Ave

Completed in 1910

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Robie House as a residence for the Robie family (who only lived in the house for 14 months, before financial difficulties required them to sell it), and the Prairie Style building has also been a dormitory and dining hall for the Chicago Theological Seminary, the University of Chicago Alumni Association and the Adlai E. Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. The house, which consists of two long, box-like sections that meet in the middle, is a great example of Prairie Style architecture, which echoes the lines of the Midwestern landscape. In 1997, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust restored the house, which is open for public tours.

Fun fact Wright designed the interiors of his Prairie houses as well, selecting the furniture, lighting and other elements to best suit the space.   

Wrigley Building, 400–14 N Michigan Ave

Completed in 1924

Really two buildings connected by a walkway on the 14th floor, the Wrigley Building commands attention from its perch on the Chicago River due to its beauty, of course, but also because bright lights illuminate its six shades of white stone every evening. Perhaps the best vantage point to appreciate the building is from the Terrace at Trump Tower, where you can get an up-close look at the two-story-tall clock face and notice details you can’t see from the ground.

Fun fact This was the first office building in Chicago to have air conditioning.

Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr

Completed in 1893

The Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the old Palace of Fine Arts Building, one of two remaining structures from the 1893 World’s Fair (the Art Institute building was partly funded by the Fair). While most of the buildings at the fair were temporary, the Palace of Fine Arts was not, and it was made of brick, with a plaster exterior. During the fair, it showcased 10,000 works of art, primarily American and European oil paintings. The building was spruced up a bit when it became the MSI in 1933—the exterior is now made from limestone, and there’s a brand new interior.

Fun fact After the fair, the building became the Columbian Museum, which focused on natural history and was later renamed the Field Museum. In 1920, the Field relocated to its current space, and in 1933 the Museum of Science and Industry opened.

Chicago Board of Trade, 141 W Jackson Blvd

Completed in 1930

The Board of Trade Building, one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Chicago, has a notable cap: a 6,500-pound, 31-foot-tall statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain. The statue, sculpted by John H. Storrs, is a nod to the building’s role in commodities, and it has no face, since Storrs thought the building would be so tall that no one would ever see it. The building has two distinct sections: the original Art Deco tower, which was built in 1930, and the 23-story postmodern expansion that was added to the building’s south side in 1980.

Fun fact When it was built (and also after renovations and additions in 1980 and 1997), the trading floor was the largest in the world.

 

Bahá’í House of Worship, 100 Linden Ave, Wilmette

Completed in 1953

It took 41 years to construct this jewel of Wilmette, after the cornerstone was laid by Abdu’l-Baha in 1912. That's a level of patience and detail only afforded by religious structures. One of seven Bahá'í temples on the globe, all of them shaped as a nonagon, the North American dome is perhaps the most classicist. Architect Louis Bourgeois (insert North Shore joke here) gave our lakefront a taste of the old far east. There are fewer more beautiful ways to laze away an afternoon than strolling through flowers in the surrounding gardens.

Fun fact Rainn Wilson of The Office and soft-rock duo Seals and Crofts are of the Bahá'í faith and have visited the temple.

Civic Opera House, 20 N Upper Wacker Dr

Completed in 1926

This Nouveau beauty's got it going on in the back side. As you cross the Madison Street bridge, the monolithic Civic Opera House stunningly looms over the Chicago River, a sheer cliff of Art Deco stone. The throne-shaped home of the Lyric Opera was the dream of electricity magnate and billionaire Samuel Insull, and was designed by the firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Even the font is fantastic—CIVIC OPERA BVILDING cast humbly against the blank wall. Trump should have been taking notes.

Fun fact Citizen Kane was partly based on Samuel Insull, especially the bits with Susan the opera singer.

Tribune Tower, 435 N Michigan Ave

Completed in 1925

When the Tribune decided to build a new office on its 75th anniversary in 1922, it held a contest to pick a new design for "the world's most beautiful office building." The winning design, a neo-Gothic building with flying buttresses and spires, came from New York architects John Mead Howells and Raymond M. Hood (later the namesakes of the first-floor restaurant, which has a heck of a beer selection). The 36-story building is made with a steel frame and Indiana limestone, the same kind of rock that covers the walls in Howells & Hood.

Fun fact The exterior base of the Tower features embedded stones from locations around the world, including the Alamo and the Great Wall of China. And stones are still being added: After 9/11, a piece from the World Trade Center was attached.

Marina City, 300 N State St

Completed in 1964

Architect Bertrand Goldberg had grand designs for Marina City when he began planning the project in 1959, envisioning a city within a city, with apartments, shops, restaurants and offices sharing a complex of buildings. Built on a piece of prime riverfront property, the development was one of the first projects to combine residential and commercial use on such a large scale. Today, the 65-story towers have been converted into condominiums, the complex’s theater houses the House of Blues and the former office building is now a hotel. Much has changed, but the majestic concrete swells of the iconic cylindrical towers still stand out amid a city full of angular structures.

Fun fact Marina City was the first building in the United States to be constructed using a tower crane.

Carbide & Carbon Building (a.k.a. Hard Rock Hotel), 230 N Michigan Ave

Completed in 1929

From its golden spire and gold leaf–draped cornices down to the brass metalwork above its entrances, this Art Deco gem exudes the excesses of the Roaring ’20s. What sets it apart, though, are the building’s green terra cotta tiles, which are said to mimic a champagne bottle, and the tower its foil top. In a sea of gray and glass, this skyscraper is as refreshing as a glass of bubbly.

Fun fact The building’s architects were Daniel and Hubert Burnham, sons of Chicago’s favorite city planner Daniel Burnham.

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