One of Chicago's claims to fame is its abundance of architectural wonders, from Frank Lloyd Wright to some of America's first skyscrapers. Chicago doesn't let this go to waste as it boasts tours for every locale.
224 S. Michigan Avenue
The Chicago Architecture Foundation is devoted to the public education and interest of Chicago’s buildings and architectural style. This nonprofit organization has a visitor center and store on Michigan Avenue in the heart of the Loop, where people are invited to learn about the city’s continual contribution to the world of architectural design and innovation.
In addition to exhibitions, workshops and programs, the foundation offers a selection of tours, which are the most popular among the general public. Tours run year-round and include walking, bus and boat tours. The list of excursions is extensive, spanning from downtown sites to suburban locales. They are narrowed into categories as specific as a single building or a particular genre of construction. And now that the age of “going green” has arrived, you can even tour Chicago’s environmentally-friendly developments.
One of the coolest Chicago Architecture Foundation tours is the 90-minute River Cruise. Guests board a double-decker passenger vessel that makes its way along the branches of the Chicago River and highlights some of the city’s most notable buildings. The narrated expedition is a wonderful way to see downtown and learn fascinating facts and history about the architecture.
222 Merchandise Mart Plaza
The AIA provides lists of architectural tours.
5132 S. Woodlawn
Following concern in the late 1980s for the protection and preservation of work by Chicago’s world-renowned architect, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy was officially established in 1990. The group has thousands of supporters around the globe that include scholars, artisans and Wright building owners. The main goal of the organization is to shield any and all structures designed by Wright from demolition and neglect, whether it is under private or public control.
Lucky for us, some of Wright’s most famous homes are located in the Chicago area. His Oak Park home and studio draws thousands of visitors each year and the Robie House in Chicago is another popular tourist destination. Wright is perhaps best known for his Prairie School of architecture, which is seen in many of his residential designs. The style is defined by a horizontal character, emphasized with wide overhangs, low rooflines, repeated rows of windows and squatty chimneys.
1800 South Prairie Avenue
Historically significant 19th-century home
When it was constructed in mid-1880s, the Glessner House was unlike other homes built in its day. In fact, its severe fortress-like granite façade was quite the talk among disapproving neighbors who preferred the ornate Victorians that typified the era up to then. But the home’s owners, John and Frances Glessner, were proud of their distinctive residence and took much care in selecting their interior décor as well. The inside of the rough stone exterior is actually very inviting and comfortable, welcoming visitors into the house with open arms.
Today the historic structure holds year-round guided tours Wednesday – Sunday. Professional docents walk intimate groups of guests (no more than 12) around the treasured 19th century dwelling, revealing captivating stories and facts about its former owners and the life they led in the Glessner House. The home is the only building designed by Henry Hobson Richardson remaining in the Midwest. It was rescued from destruction and designated a National Historic Landmark in the mid-1970s. The museum contains a full collection of furniture, housewares and decorative arts from the Glessner House that exemplify the time period and offer a sample of articles from the English Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic art movements.
1827 S. Indiana Avenue
Historically significant 19th-century home
The Clarke House deserves its historic status because it happens to be the oldest building still standing in the entire city of Chicago. The Greek Revival-style home was constructed in 1836, was moved four miles to its present location in 1977, and was restored in 2004 to its original condition. It is now managed by the city and is one of Chicago’s South Side gems.
Tours of the home are offered all year, Wednesday through Sunday at 12 noon and 2 p.m. (with a maximum of 12 guests per tour). Visitors walk through the cozy accommodations of a middle-class, 19th century family and hear stories of how the structure got stuck on the “L” tracks in the middle of transportation from its initial site to its current spot in the Prairie District. In addition to regular guided tours, the house/museum holds an annual summer film festival on its grounds. The Chicago Women’s Park and Garden is right next to the Clarke House, surrounding the building with lush vegetation and scenic landscape.
5757 S. Woodlawn St.
Frank Lloyd Wright Architectural Landmark
Designed in 1908 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Robie House was built in 1910 and is a fine example of Wright’s distinctive Prairie-style architecture. At the time of its construction, the design for Robie House was considered radical and sparked a new era of residential architecture that eventually spread throughout the country.
Several different tours of the Robie House and surrounding neighborhood are offered through the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which is in the midst of restoring the home’s interior living spaces. Exterior renovations have already been completed on the deteriorating façade, but much repair and refurbishing is needed to bring the home back to its previous grandeur. Robie House tours include: Robie House Secrets and Shadows Tour, Geek’s Guide to Wright’s Robie House, Walk and Wine, Robie House Interior Tour, and Combination Robie House + Historic Neighbors Self-guided Audio Tour.
Chicago from the Lake
Tour Chicago's historic neighborhoods