Chicago Architecture: More than Meets the Eye

March 25, 2013

Chicago architectureIt’s been estimated that 50 million tourists trek to the Windy City every year. On top of that, the city is the most populous in Illinois and the Midwest with more than 2.7 million residents. But, how many of these tourists and residents are actually seeing the city? To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The Chicago Architecture Foundation has a plethora of tours to ensure you don’t “miss” Chi-Town.

Founded in 1966 to save the Glessner House, the Chicago Architecture Foundation remains a leading organization for design and, you guessed it, architecture, and their tours  continue to be on Chicago’s top ten most visited cultural destinations. Who better to provide a tour, right? Their offerings range from boat to Segway tours, but with more choices than toppings on a deep dish, here’s a narrowed down list of the best they have to offer.

For those with a real thirst for architectural excellence, the most comprehensive tour is the Highlights by Bus tour. Covering a whopping 30 miles of real estate in Chicago, it lasts for a total of three-and-a-half hours. You will get your architectural fix with a dash of history folded in. This tour includes architecture from the city’s founding to present day. You’ll even stop for some interior views at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the Mies van der Rohe’s IIT campus. Frank Lloyd Wright was quoted as saying “Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful city left in the world,” so take a tip from Frank, and actually see the city while you’re in the city!

If you’re looking to spend a little less time exploring, but still want a healthy dose of history, then you might want to try the Skyscrapers & More Trolley Tour. It lasts for almost two hours, and is a great introduction to the city. Ride a charming trolley through the emerging neighborhoods, spacious downtown parks and commercial developments. Cruise down the “Magnificent Mile” in style, and then hop off the trolley at three different stops to see specially-selected vantage points that are not often seen by visitors or residents. You’ll learn how the city’s environmental settings and public transportation systems helped shape the growth of what we know as Chicago today.

Now, to the “L” Train. To really elevate your experience, you might want to take a ride on Chicago’s famous “L” Train for the Elevated Architecture: Chicago’s Loop by “L” tour. “L,” short for elevated, is Chicago’s rapid transit system. In its early days, all of the platforms of the train were elevated, and thus the term “L” Train was born. This tour runs for two hours, and offers a unique perspective due to its 20-foot rise on pedestrians. A word to the wise: This particular tour involves walking and stairs, so dressing for the weather and for the walk is a must.

If you really want to walk around Chicago like you own the place, take the Pedway West: Warm Walk, Cool Architecture tour. Come see the “city below the city,” a network of tunnels that were built to help Chicagoans in times of inclement weather. Before you even ask, no, it’s not just a tour of blank hallways. It actually includes some glorious interiors as well as a skywalk. It will be 90 minutes of walking, so again, comfortable shoes are encouraged. Stop wondering about the Pedway, and come explore it for yourself! Think of it as urban spelunking.

Come discover what Chicago really has to offer from an architectural (and historical) standpoint. Frank Lloyd Wright was quoted as saying, “An architect’s most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board, and a wrecking bar at the site.” Lucky for us, the only tools we need are the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s tours for inspiration!

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