Buildings with Modern Architecture in Chicago

A sunset over a city

If you love modern architecture, here is a list of buildings – old and new – that will help you understand, internalize and love Chicago’s built environment.

1. Aqua Tower

A large building

Description: Aqua Tower, completed in 2009, became the tallest building in the United States designed by a female architect. This figure will be soon surpassed by Vista Tower, also by Jeanne Gang (see point 6 of this list). Taking inspiration from striated limestone outcropping – a common feature in the Great Lakes region – the façade undulates in and out. Floor slabs across the height tower vary according to use, views and sunlight creating an undulating and sculptural elevation. Read more here.

2. The Poetry Foundation

A building with a mountain in the background

Description: The new home for the Poetry Foundation was designed by John Ronan Architects and built in 2011, being 26,000 sq ft its project area. Yet so small it is one of the most effective buildings in terms of concept. Like a poem that invites multiple readings, the space encourages repeated visits, revealing itself slowly over time. That is why the building is organized in a series of layers. Read more here.

3. John Hancock Center

Description: At the time of its completion, John Hancock Center became the world’s second-tallest structure. This tower was so relevant for SOM because it meant the beginning of a skyscraper career. After then, they went on to design Sears Tower (1973, tallest in the world for over twenty years) and the Burj khalifa (2010, currently the world’s tallest building). Don’t miss the signature lounge at John Hancock Center, which is very nice at sunset. Read more here.

4. Robie House

Description: Frederick C. Robie House is a masterpiece of the Prairie style and a forerunner of modernism in architecture. Lloyd Wright broke down old barriers, creating a residential design with a horizontal roofline, large overhanging eaves, continuous ribbons of windows, and a wide-open living space at its center. Read more here.

5. The Art Institute of Chicago

Description: The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the oldest and largest museums in the United States, was founded in 1879. In 2012, the Modern Wing by Renzo Piano opened as the new home for the museum’s collection of 20th and 21st-century art. Don’t miss the Nichols Bridgeway across the museum, also by Renzo Piano. Read more here.

6. Vista Tower

Description: This 101-story, 1,191 ft (363 m) skyscraper will soon become Chicago’s third-tallest structure – and the tallest structure in the world designed by a woman. Looking up from the river and park, the tower presents itself as three interconnected volumes of differing heights. The mixed-use tower will be the home of the Wanda Vista Hotel and 406 condominium residences. Read more here.

7. Apple Michigan Avenue

Description: Located at the intersection of the Chicago River and North Michigan Avenue, Apple Michigan Avenue cascades down from Pioneer Court to the river’s edge solving the constraints of a very difficult site. Completed in 2017, Chicago’s Apple store became another in the portfolio of Foster + Partners in addition to Istanbul (2014), London (2016) and Milan (2018) amongst others. Read more here.

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