Reach For The Sky

The world’s first skyscraper was completed in Chicago in 1885. Since then the midwest metropolis has developed into one of the world’s architecture capitals. GANT cruise along the Chicago River to have a look at ten of the highlights. By Helena Gustavsson

Chicago skyline The 10-story Home Insurance Building, completed in 1884, is considered the world’s first modern skyscraper. It’s gone today but many beautiful, innovative and tall buildings have been added to the Chicago skyline since, causing the city to be dubbed the “birthplace of modern architecture.” The Midwest metropolis wears its title with pride and this year Chicago is hosting the first American architecture biennial.

Marquette Building On our way to the river boat tour, organized by Chicago Architecture Foundation, we stop at the Marquette Building, an early steel frame skyscraper completed in 1895. It is considered one of the best examples of the Chicago School of architecture, which emerged after the fire of 1871 that destroyed 18,000 buildings in the city. The Marquette Building’s lobby is decorated with mosaics by Tiffany depicting the life of Jacques Marquette, the first European settler in Chicago. A short walk east of the Marquette Building is the Chicago Institute of Art with its Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing.

Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most well-known American architects, with Fallingwater in Pennsylvania has been called "the best all-time work of American architecture.” He came to Chicago in 1887, right after the big fire, and spent 20 years in the city. Wright was devoted to developing a truly American architecture and is well known for his Prairie style, inspired by the broad, flat landscape of the Midwest. There are tours of his home and studio located in the suburb of Oak Park.

Wrigley Building Millionaire William Wrigley Jr. wanted an impressive headquarters for his chewing gum company so he commissioned a neoclassical skyscraper with a grand view of the Chicago River and crowned by a clock tower. The Wrigley Building was completed in 1924 and the shape of the tower was patterned after La Giralda, a minaret that is part of Seville Cathedral in Spain. It was the first office building in Chicago to offer air conditioning.

330 North Wabash / AMA Plaza This is one of the last buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the German born avant-garde architect and former Bauhaus director, who’s motto was "less is more" and "God is in the details.” Mies ran the architecture program at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) for 20 years and had a profound influence on Chicago’s cityscape. His buildings are noted for simplicity, revealed structures and open spaces. He was trying to create architecture in tune with its time, and his work is sometimes called the Second Chicago School.

Marina City a.k.a. “The corn cobs” These iconic buildings, completed in 1962, were designed by Bertrand Goldberg (a student of Mies van der Rohe) who envisioned a "city within a city.” In the 60s, downtown Chicago was no longer a popular residential area and the idea was to draw Chicagoans back from the suburbs by offering a home in the same complex as a theatre, gym, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley, stores, restaurants and marina. The interiors have almost no right angles and the condos are pie-shaped.

Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower Sears Tower was completed in 1973 and reaches 1,451 feet (442 m). For almost 25 years it was the tallest building in the world, now it’s down to 12th place. It remains the second tallest building in America, only beaten recently by One World Trade Center in New York — but only if you count the spire. A large part of Sears Tower was leased by insurance brokerage Willis Group in 2009 and the name was officially changed to Willis Tower. The Skydeck draws 1.3 million tourists annually.

Trump Tower In July 2001 Donald Trump announced that his new skyscraper would reach 1,500 feet (460m) and be the tallest building in the world. But then 9/11 happened. Concerns that the tower could become a future target made Trump change his plans and the skyscraper finally landed on 1,389 feet (423m). The building has three set-backs that reflect the height of surrounding buildings and rounded aerodynamic corners that can better withstand the infamous winds of Chicago.

111 West Wacker Drive / Waterview Tower When construction started on 111 West Wacker in 2005 the plan was to build the 90-story Waterview Tower & Shangri-La Hotel. But the economic crisis hit hard and work stopped in 2008. For a few years nobody knew what was going to happen with the concrete skeleton. Last year the building finally opened, significantly lower but with a stunning facade, and the price per square foot quickly reached the highest in the city.

Aqua Tower “Pools” of glass surrounded by rounded balconies of white concrete give the impression of water cascading down the sides of this 82-story high skyscraper. It was designed by Studio Gang, the firm headed by Jeanne Gang, one of the stars of contemporary Chicago architecture. Other interesting structures by Studio Gang are the Pavilion at Lincoln Park Zoo and the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, which has a roof inspired by Eadweard Muybridge's stop-motion photographs of rowers.

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