The Most Famous Chicago Skyscrapers

Chicago Skyline

Look at other US cities with skyscrapers, and you’ll see that Chicago is home to some of the tallest buildings in the country, partly thanks to the famous fire that destroyed much of central Chicago and the near north side in 1871. Resources poured into the city as it began to rebuild, creating a unique opportunity for building many iconic Chicago skyscrapers, and ushering in the steel-frame “skyscraper era.”

Whether you’re passing through on your way elsewhere, on a day trip, or visiting from far away — welcome to Chicago! Read on to join us for an architectural tour through Chicago history, and learn fun facts about Chicago, and more about the 5 of the most famous Chicago skyscrapers:

The Willis Tower

Even if you’re not from Chicago, or even the Midwest, chances are you’re familiar with the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). At 1,459 feet and 110 stories, it’s currently the third-tallest building in the world — although when it was completed in 1973, it surpassed the Empire State Building and spent 25 years as world’s tallest! Structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan’s innovative design uses a structurally and economically efficient layout of 9 separate square “tubes” cluttered in a 3×3 matix to form a square base. 

The new design also meant more space for the observation deck — which means there’s plenty of room for interactive museum-quality exhibits on the Skydeck 103rd floor. That includes the Ledge, a glass balcony extended 4 feet outside the tower for some particularly breathtaking views spanning up to four states. Skydeck has also been named one of the world’s most popular attractions by Tripadvisor. While you’re in the Loop, it’s easy to check out other architectural highlights like the Chicago Board of Trade Building and the Fine Arts Building.

Willis Tower at dusk

The Home Insurance Building

The Home Insurance  Building was completed in 1885 during the building boom that followed the Great Chicago Fire. Not only was it the first skyscraper in Chicago, but it’s also known as the world’s first skyscraper. That’s not necessarily due to its 10-story, 138-foot height, but because it was the first design to incorporate a steel frame to support the entire weight of the building. Architect William LeBaron Jenney’s new construction technique became known as the “Chicago Skeleton,” and went on to be used in the tallest skyscrapers around the world.

John Hancock Center

Just before building the Willis Tower, architect Bruce Graham worked with structural engineer Khan to complete the John Hancock Center in 1970. Also known by its address of 875 North Michigan Avenue, the Hancock tops out at 100 stories and employs X-bracing on the building’s exterior to resist wind loads without interior support columns, significantly increasing the available floor space. After viewing this 1,054-foot giant, stop by the nearby historic Water Tower Place or the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Carbon and Carbide Building

The Burnham Brothers designed this landmark 1929 Art Deco skyscraper — one of Chicago’s most recognizable with its polished black granite and dark green terra cotta, and gold leaf details. According to local lore, the design is based on a dark green champagne bottle with gold foil at the top. 

Even at a modest 503 feet, you’ll get a clear view of the 37-story Carbon and Carbide Building from Michigan Avenue! While you’re in the area, don’t miss other historic Burnham-designed buildings like the Reliance Building, the Rookery Building, and Monadnock Building.

Tribune Tower

In 1922, the Chicago Tribune placed an ad for a building design competition — and $50,000 in prize money for the winner. The winning Gothic Revival design by Hood and Howells borrows Art Deco design ideas, and echoes elements of medieval European architecture and 13th-century French cathedrals. The Tribune Tower was completed in 1925, and stands 462 feet. If you stop by, you’ll find the Wrigley Building across the street!

Enjoy Spectacular Chicago Views at the Willis Tower Skydeck!

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to know more about iconic Chicago skyscrapers. Planning a Chicago trip? Bring the whole family to the Willis Tower Skydeck for the best views in the city, historical exhibits, and kid-friendly events like the Skydeck Scavenger Hunt! You’ll also find a bevy of other famous locations worth visiting while your downtown!