By Jodie Jacobs

Hardly a block can be walked downtown Chicago without spying an architectural gem. Indeed, architecture walking and boating tours are popular with visitors and residents. However, these five buildings by different architects favoring different styles are worth checking out whether interested in a tour that includes them or searching alone.


The Art Institute of Chicago – The Modern Wing
159 E. Monroe St.
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 443-3600

When designing a contemporary wing for a museum as traditional looking as the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1893 Beaux-Arts building, meshing two styles could be problematic. Architect Renzo Piano solved the issue by configuring the Modern Wing to face Monroe Street so the two buildings are not viewed simultaneously. Opened May 16, 2009, the new building has its own street entrance and one connected to Millennium Park by an elevated path also designed by Piano. An airy, bright building, the Modern Wing is known for its “flying carpet” roof screen composed of computer-modeled blades that can be angled as the lighting changes.


Marina City Towers
300 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 644-1187

The Marina City Towers overlooking the Chicago River at State Street instantly denote the city thanks to several movies including “The Hunter,” a 1979 film where a car went into the river from the garage’s 17th floor. Designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg in 1959, the towers were his way to stack apartments so each had its own view and few right angles. When completed with 65 stories in 1964, the towers were the world’s tallest residential apartment structures. Backed by a building services union worried about the exodus of residents to the suburbs, Goldberg conceived Marina City as a model for urban, mixed-use buildings. Parking needs were answered with garage levels under the apartments before the concept became popular. Other needs were solved by turning the site into a self-contained complex with a marina, stores, offices, restaurants, theater, gym and bowling alley.

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James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-4190

That pie-shaped slice of layered torte wrapped in glass on Chicago’s Randolph Street is the James R. Thompson Center. Named for the former Illinois governor, the building was called the State of Illinois Center when opened in 1985. Designed by Helmut Jahn of Murphy & Jahn, it makes a postmodernism statement as it curves on Randolph Street from Clark to LaSalle Streets. Its tenants, primarily State of Illinois agencies, say the glass causes temperature problems but few would argue about its street impact and by its impressive, inside atrium bordered by glass offices. Artisan stores and kiosks fill the street level and the Illinois Art Museum welcomes visitors on the second level.

Chicago Board of Trade (Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images))

Chicago Board of Trade Building
141 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 435-3590

The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) Building, an iconic example of art deco, has loomed over the southern end of the LaSalle Street financial district since 1930. Designed by Holabird & Root, the building received Chicago landmark status in 1977 and went on the National Historic Landmark and National Register of Historic Places lists in 1978. It houses the CME Group formed when CBOT and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange merged in 2007. The statue of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, atop the roof and sculptures of bulls and figures holding grain and corn adorning the façade symbolize the building’s activities in high, art-deco style.


Auditorium Building and Theatre
50 E. Congress Parkway
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-2110

The Auditorium Building and Theatre at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway doesn’t shout out from Chicago’s current skyscraper skyline but when completed in 1889, it was the city’s tallest building. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan and completed in 1889 to be an opera house and hotel, it went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. The distinctive arch entrances are Sullivan hallmarks that are repeated inside the stunning theatre. Known for outstanding acoustics, the theatre housed the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1891 through 1904. Roosevelt University has occupied the building since 1947.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on