Height of Innovation

Chicago’s newest resident, the Chicago Architecture Center, explores the city’s influence through its design marvels and muses

The city that invented the skyscraper in 1885 remains an innovative hub of art, architecture and design. Its towering skyline, recognized as one of the most spectacular in the world, embodies diverse styles from Renaissance-inspired to Art Deco, modernist and contemporary.

Chicago continues to reach new heights with a focus on green technology and sustainable development, as well as adaptive reuse and restoration of iconic buildings. Recent initiatives, including the new Chicago Architecture Center, illuminate the city’s architectural legacy and its global impact.

In a prime spot facing the Chicago River and Tribune Tower, the architecture center aims to inspire thinking about “why design matters” with engaging exhibits and tours. Supersize scale models of skyscrapers from around the world highlight engineering feats and design excellence, while other exhibits fast-forward to imagine future cities and ways to harmonize urban and natural systems. 

Docent-led tours include walking and biking in characteristic neighborhoods, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park. But the favorite tour is a 1.5-hour architecture river cruise with First Lady Cruises, which spotlights classic gems and striking designs—from Wrigley Building’s clock tower to the “corncob” Marina City and the ultramodern Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, with undulating terraces.

Numerous vantage points offer impressive views of Chicago’s cityscape, including rooftop bars, daredevil observation decks and the famous reflective Cloud Gate sculpture known as “The Bean” at Millennium Park. You’ll catch the urban vibe strolling The 606, an elevated linear park (similar to the Atlanta BeltLine) and along the newly revamped Chicago Riverwalk, where you can chill at a European-style café or rent a kayak.

When dark falls, the city’s dazzling skyline is further enhanced with the new digital art show, Art on theMART, a brilliant projection across the broad facade of the former Merchandise Mart.