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An Architect's Guide to Chicago

A list of Chicago must-sees. These suggestions were collected from architects and designers who have been or live in the area and were collected for my trip up there next weekend for Neocon World’s Trade Fair. The list is categorized and ranked in order of importance for our 5-day itinerary. I hope to have a future posting on Chicago after Christopher, Atticus, and I get back to share what we actually got to experience.

There are many ways to get to Chicago but as an early birthday gift to Atticus we are taking the train. It is the longest way to travel but it was less expensive and we all get to sleep. Click on the map above to an interactive map of the points of interest listed below.

Millennium Park is by far the most raved about place to see for the art and architecture. Millennium Park contains the Crown Fountain designed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, the Cloud Gate or "bean" sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. Public outdoor concerts are held at the pavilion and the audience enjoys the music from the “Great lawn”. Admission and most activities are free to the public.

Neocon and Merchandise Mart is the main reason for the trip to Chicago. Today is the last day to register online. You can still register at the door but this will take time to fill out the forms. I only have one day to tour the latest products so my focus is furniture.

Architectural Tours of the Loop The most recommended way to see the city is by boat where most of the skyscrapers are visible from the Lake Michigan shoreline.
*The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers many architectural and historical tours – by foot, bus, or boat - of different areas of the city.
*For those who have read the book "The Devil in the White City", the Chicago Architecture Foundation also offers a 3-1/2 hr tour to see the significant landmarks in the non-fictional book about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. For those like me who have not read it, it is a recommended read for the historical account of Chicago before and during the trip.
*Another company that claims to have the best architectural boat tour is Chicago Line. Most boat tours start off at Navy Pier.
Prices range from $25 to $36.

Frank Lloyd Wright Oak Park, Unity Temple, and the Robie House. If you're a Wright fan, Chicago has lots but most of it is not in the loop. Oak Park is the most famous area. It's a near suburb that has Wright's home and studio as well as a number of houses he designed and Unity Temple. There are guided tours available. The Robie house is south of downtown in a beautiful area around the University of Chicago.

Best View The two tall ones are the Sears Tower and The John Hancock Tower. The Sears Tower is taller but the 96th floor Signature Lounge cocktail bar bar/restaurant above the 94th floor observation deck of the John Hancock building is said to be the best city view. I’ve been told the price of a martini is cheaper than the observation deck price. Dusk is the best time to see the city when the lights of the city start to turn on.

Navy Pier is really family friendly with plenty of activities, shops and food that look out onto the lake. It also has the 150 foot Ferris wheel for a spectacular view of the city. Free summer concerts are also held here.

Museums The Field Museum of Natural History, Art Institute of Chicago and the Planetarium are all world class institutions and all in the same area. The Museum of Contemporary Art is farther north but still recommended. Also for you Mies fans, he lived in a building right by that museum on Pearson Street.

Grant Park has the beautiful Buckingham Fountain. The view of the lake here is also great.

Crown Hall, ITT campus, "Mies' tour de force"

Garfield Conservatory It’s suggested that if the Dale Chihuly installation is a permanent thing here, it is pretty spectacular.

Soldier Field features a Carlos Zapata renovation.

Pizzeria Uno is the most famous place for Chicago style deep dish pizza. Uno is the original and Duo is the second location downtown. They also have many locations all around the country.

Frontera Grill is a local favorite for authentic Mexican food. It’s at the top of the local list.

Rosebud Italian restaurant is also a local favorite for Italian cuisine. The wait is usually long but well worth it.

Vermillion is a newer restaurant recommended by food critics. It is a fusion of Indian and Latin American cuisines.

Ra Sushi has reasonably priced sushi and although is a national chain, it is still recommended.

Japonais offers contemporary Japanese cuisine and sushi in an architecturally designed interior.

Sushi Samba is more than sushi. The Japanese cuisine is paired with a vibrant atmosphere that continues well into the night. See their website for the upcoming events.

Metropolis magazine’s recent article Taste of the Town guide has great restaurant suggestions that have well designed interiors to match the well designed dishes.

Shikago is the most interesting from this list. It is Asian modern cuisine within the Loop.

Greek town is an area of downtown recommended for numerous authentic Greek Restaurants.

Prairie Avenue Books is the largest architectural book store in the world. The place is furnished with designs by architects such as Mies Van de Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. I have been warned to hold on tightly to my wallet here.

Below are the picks of shops that interest me most from Design Sponge's Chicago Design Guide. They are categorized by area.

{Bucktown/Wicker Park}
Sprout Home Indoor and Outdoor eco-friendly furniture and accessories.
hejfina Clothing store with a great selection of dresses.
grow Baby and kids store with hip furniture and clothing.
Modern Times Mid-century furniture, jewelry and art.
Virtu Handcrafted pieces and gift store. I'll be checking out the custom paper goods/stationary.

{Lincoln Park/Lakeview}
I.D. Furniture and accessories.
Art Effect Clothing and gifts.
Praha Eclectic and reasonably priced furniture.

{Andersonville/Lincoln Square}
Haus Artwork

{Loop/West Loop}
Orange Skin Modern furniture from designers such as Karim Rashid.
Salvage one Mid-century furniture and salvaged vintage home items such as doors and mailboxes.

The Crown Fountain at Millenium Park. The Crown Fountain features a digital screen of changing faces and a unique water fountain that gushes out of the teeth of the faces. Kids love it.

The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. Cost is $6/person.

The Shedd Aquarium is downtown and is well-recommended.
Lincoln Park Zoo is located in a great site by the lake. Admission is always free.

Wrigley Field for a Chicago Cubs baseball game or a tour of the historic stadium on off days. Lowest ticket price for a game is $35. Tour price/person is $25.

Tai Chi class at Millennium Park's great lawn on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Yoga is also available. Classes are free.

The stretch of lakefront between Fullerton Avenue and Addison Street is full of grassy stretches to lie out and spend an afternoon reading or simply daydreaming.

Olive Park another contemplative spot for locals.

Osaka Garden features a tranquil strolling garden, moon bridge, Shinto gate, and typical Japanese foliage. It was created in 1934 as a thank you to Japan for a building given to Chicago for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition.

Hotel 71 where we are staying is probably the prime spot for our relaxation. See our previous posting on the hotel here.

Recommended City Guides

Special thanks to James, Nathan, Sarah, Chooch, Sheetal and Juan.

Graphic design by Sophorn McRae. {I had a list of photo credits that has been misplaced. If your photo has been used, please contact me so I can give proper credit or if preferred request it taken down.}


  1. Chooch! I haven't heard his name since my Memphis days! Tell him Carrie says hi (if he even remembers me!!) :)

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. Nice blog yourself!

  2. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site. It really gives me an insight on this topic. You can find more information about architecture here.


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