From Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies Van Der Rohe, the Best Architecture Across Illinois

Chicago is rightly known as one of the world’s best cities for architecture, from the time it built the world’s first “skyscraper” — the 10-story Home Insurance Building in 1885 — to the construction of the 1,454-foot tall Sears Tower in 1974, then the world’s tallest building, to now, with all its cutting-edge developments. But it’s not only Chicago that boasts great architecture in Illinois. Around the state, from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in the suburbs to notable structures in the countryside, creative buildings abound in the Land of Lincoln.

An Architectural Boat Tour of Chicago

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Exploring Chicago by water. (Photo: Jessicakirsh/Shutterstock)

Taking one of the Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is a must-do, not just for architecture buffs, but for anyone interested in history. It’s also a great way to enjoy an afternoon sightseeing along the Chicago River. The tour sails for 90 minutes, passing under 13 bridges, with guides giving fascinating narration on the life and times of over 50 buildings built from the 19th to the 21st centuries. The water-level view provides a great platform for photos, without having to worry about car or pedestrian traffic.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greatest Hits, Oak Park

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A Frank Lloyd Wright home. (Photo: Manuel Hurtado/Shutterstock)

The famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright had his home and studio in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park for 20 years. This is where he created and developed his unique Prairie Style architecture. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust provides guided tours of the Wright studio, as well as access to private homes and Wright landmarks throughout the area. Perhaps the most notable is the iconic Robie House on the south side of Chicago.

“Less is More” with Mies Van Der Rohe, Chicago

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The Federal Building in Chicago. (Photo: Esther Westerveld/Flickr)

A pioneer of modernism in architecture, German-born Mies Van Der Rohe popularized the term “less is more,” with his designs of unadorned steel-and-glass rectangular buildings and homes across Chicago. Considered revolutionary at the time, his designs still impress with their use of space and lines. Many Chicago landmarks like the Federal Building and One IBM Plaza (aka 330 North Wabash) are still noteworthy, as well as the Lakeshore Apartments and the Illinois Institute of Technology

John Deere Headquarters, Moline

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The John Deere Headquarters. (Photo: Ctjf83/Wikimedia Commons)

You wouldn’t think a tractor company would be a forward-thinking leader in architecture, but the John Deere Headquarters won a wagon-full of awards when it was built in the mid-1960’s. Designed by the same architect who crafted the St. Louis Arch, this steel-and-glass building out in the plains of Illinois still looks modern while maintaining a rugged industrial feel. Visitors can tour a display floor filled with the latest Deere machines (remember, nothing runs like a Deere…) and study a historical exhibit. The nearby John Deere Pavilion is also well worth a visit, with its kid-friendly Discovery Zone.

Willis Tower, Chicago

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The Willis Tower, which dominates the Chicago skyline. (Photo: Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock)

Once the tallest building in the world, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) looms 110 stories above the southern edge of the Loop. On the 103rd floor, the Skydeck affords stunning views of the skyline and — on a clear day — a vista spanning four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. For those comfortable with heights, step out on the glass boxes of the Ledge, which extend 4.3 feet beyond the side of the building. There’s a dizzying view 1,353 feet below.

The Baha'i Temple, Wilmette

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The Baha’i Temple. (Photo: Henry Tsui/Shutterstock)

The Baha'i Temple — a distinctive pointed, domed building with lovely gardens— is worth a journey to Wilmette, 14 miles north of downtown Chicago. The temple is as peaceful and reflective on the inside as it is spectacular to view from the outside. Its 138-foot tall dome is surrounded by nine pillars, and all of its white concrete and quartz is decorated with fantastic religious and ornamental designs. 

The Tribune Tower, Chicago

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A highlight on the Chicago skyline: the Tribune Tower. (Photo: Gary718/Shutterstock)

One of the coolest features of this 1920’s era 463-foot tall neo-gothic stone Tribune Tower building (which still houses the Chicago Tribune newspaper offices) are the 150 imbedded stones in the walls taken from famous buildings around the world, including the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Coliseum of Rome, and the Taj Mahal. Also check out the Hall of Inscriptions in the lobby, adorned with quotes supporting freedom of speech and the press (along with a curious relief map of the U.S. made out of shredded money).

Illinois State Capitol Building, Springfield

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Inside the Illinois State Capitol. (Photo: Nagel Photography/Shutterstock)

The soaring silver dome of the Illinois State Capitol building is more than 70-feet higher than that of the U.S. Capitol. The statue in the central rotunda is titled “Illinois Welcoming the World,” making it a hospitable place for visitors. When legislature is in session, you can perch in the balconies and watch government in action. But at any time of the year, it’s worth a visit to tour the statuary and murals decorating the building’s interior and gaze up at the awe-inspiring stained glass ceiling of the dome.

For more information on traveling in Illinois, head to enjoyillinois.com.

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