Chicago: An Architect’s Playground

The Chicago River is 156 miles long and flows through Downtown Chicago south into the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, into the Des Plaines River, the Mississippi River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of its geography, the river plays a central role in the history of Chicago and was instrumental in the city’s development as a major center of the lumber and meatpacking industries during the nineteenth century.

The main stem of the river flows due west from Lake Michigan through Downtown Chicago and forms a Y that divides the city into its three geographic zones: North Side, South Side, and West Side. Forty-five movable, mostly bascule bridges connect the Chicago Loop and the rest of the South Side to the North Side. Iconic architectural masterpieces and landmarks flank both sides of the river.

The following are only a few of the ones I liked the most (Note: I purposely left off some of the more popular – and taller – buildings in Chicago like the Sears Tower, the John Hancock Center, and the AON Center in order to shed some light on these lesser-known icons):

Located at 410 N. Michigan Avenue on the north bank of the river and patterned after the Seville Cathedral’s Giralda Tower in Spain, the Wrigley Building, international headquarters of the Wm Wrigley Jr. Company, consists of two towers – north and south – connected by an open walkway at street level and two enclosed walkways on the 3rd and 14th floors. The south tower, completed in 1921 and topped by a clock tower, is equivalent to 30 stories, while the north tower, completed in 1924, rises 21 stories tall. Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, the building is distinctively clad in approximately 250,000 glazed sparkling white terra-cotta tiles.


Nighttime illumination makes it a bright feature in Chicago’s evening skyline.


The Tribune Tower is located across the street from the Wrigley Building on the east side of Michigan Avenue at 435 N. Michigan Avenue. The 36-story neo-Gothic building was completed in 1925 and designed by New York city architects, John Mead Howells and Raymond M. Hood – winners of an international design competition hosted by legendary Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert R. McCormick in search of “the most beautiful and eye-catching building in the world”. Today, The Tower serves as headquarters of media industry leader, Tribune Company.


One of the best examples of postmodern architecture, the 38-story Art Deco NBC Tower was designed by Adrian D. Smith, at the time a “starchitect” with Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Completed in 1989, the building is considered one of the greatest reproductions of the Art Deco style and not only pays homage to the Art Deco-influenced skyscrapers of New York City (RCA Tower in Rockefeller Plaza), it also pays respect to the nearby Tribune Tower (pictured above) with its use of flying buttresses. NBC Tower is home to Chicago’s NBC affiliate station, WMAQ-TV. It is located at 455 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive.


333 Wacker Drive is not the tallest nor the most expensive building in Chicago. Come to think of it, it’s not even close to being one of the most recognized buildings in the Chicago skyline. However, readers of the Chicago Tribune chose 333 Wacker Drive as their favorite building in a poll conducted in 1995. Built on a triangular lot and completed in 1983, the 36-story office building is noted for its sweeping arc of reflective green glass where the Chicago River splits into its northern and southern branches. The building was the first skyscraper designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, today one of the best known designers of skyscrapers in the world.


Although IBM no longer inhabits the building imprinted with its corporate namesake, 330 North Wabash is still commonly referred to as IBM Plaza. Designed by famed German-born architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the 47-story office building was van der Rohe’s last American building. Characterized by the International Style of architecture, the structure is rectangular in shape and is faced with dark aluminum and bronze-tinted glass throughout. The building was completed in 1973.

330 North Wabash is pictured to the left.

The building currently under construction to the right of 330 North Wabash is the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, a 92-story hotel condominium and residential condominium tower designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill that features a “striking curvilinear fae with a shimmering stainless steel and glass curtain wall” along with elegant setbacks. Intended to give it a visual continuity with the surrounding skyline, each of the setbacks is designed to reflect the height of a nearby building: the first matches the Wrigley Building, the second setback aligns with the Marina City Towers, and the third setback matches the height of 330 North Wabash. Scheduled to be completed in 2009, the building will occupy a site vacated by the Chicago Sun-Times at 401 North Wabash Avenue.

I am not a big Donald Trump fan. However, this building is fiyah! That’s fire, as in hot, to all slanguagely-impaired.

Lake Point Tower is a 70-story high-rise condominium tower located just north of the Chicago River at 505 Lake Shore Drive on a promontory of Lake Michigan. It is noted as the only skyscraper in the entire city built east of Lake Shore Drive. The unique 900-unit clover-shaped tower was designed by van der Rohe disciples, John Heinrich and George Schipporeit, to let strong lake winds easily slip around its edges, reducing their direct effects on the structure. The tower was completed in 1968.

Lake Point Tower is known to be the former home of one-time Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa.

Don’t worry Sammy, we know you didn’t take any ‘roids. The ball was juiced. And that corked bat? Well, what had happened was…

I like this building a lot. It reminds me of Tron for some reason.


Marina City Towers, located at 300 North State Street, is my favorite building complex in Chicago. Not only because of its unique design emulating two 65-story “corncobs” with a total of 896 residential units, but because of what its creation stood for in the early 1960’s. The Bauhaus-educated architect, Bertrand Goldberg (yet another van der Rohe disciple), not only designed the tallest residential towers at the time, he also attempted to reverse the pattern of “white flight” at a time when living in the suburbs became affordable to more families (mostly white) because of new mass production techniques. Goldberg attempted to reverse this trend by creating a “city within a city”, featuring numerous on-site facilities including a theater (today the House of Blues), gym, swimming pool, ice rink (today Smith & Wollensky), bowling alley, retail stores, restaurants, and a marina on the Chicago River.

Mixed-use anything owes its existence to Bertrand Goldberg and Marina City. For that I commend him.


If you’ve never been to Chicago and the towers look familiar, you probably own a copy of Wilco’s 2002 classic, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I would burn it for a fee, but that can get me in serious trouble with Nonesuch Records.

Large enough to have its very own zip code (60654), the Merchandise Mart was the largest building in the world with 4,000,000 square feet of floor space when it opened in 1930. Originally owned by Marshall Field & Co., the idea for the Mart was to centralize Chicago’s wholesale goods business by consolidating vendors under one roof. The Art Deco behemoth, located at 222 Merchandise Plaza, was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White. Today, the building stands second only to the Pentagon in terms of total floorspace in the United States and continues to be a leading retailing destination, hosting an estimated 20,000 visitors per day.


Last, but definitely not least, is a building that is nowhere near completion, but deserves mention simply because it will set a new benchmark and redefine the Chicago skyline (no easy task) when completed in 2011. The Chicago Spire, designed by THE starchitect of all starchitects, Spanish-born Santiago Calatrava, will become North America’s tallest free-standing structure and the tallest all-residential building in the world. The 150-story building with 1,200 residential units will feature a total 360-degree rotation with each story rotating exactly 2.44 degrees from the one below, likening it to a drill bit. Designed with nature as its inspiration, the skyscraper will be located at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive north of the Chicago River just west of where the river meets Lake Michigan. This is Señor Calatrava’s first building in Chicago.


This is obviously a rendition of the building from and the only photograph that I did not personally take (due to obvious reasons).

Is this building sick or what? Calatrava’s works run the gamut from public to private, from warehouses, train stations and art museums to sports complexes, residential towers, and sculptural bridges. If you are not familiar with his work, I encourage you to take 10 minutes to familiarize yourself with some of his works by clicking on his name above. The man is truly one of the greats. We are very fortunate to have him.

Pre-construction prices for the Spire were rumored to start at $750,000 for a 534 square foot studio ($1,404.50/sf) to $40M for a10,293 square foot penthouse (roughly $3,886/sf). However, with the buzz surrounding the building and Calatrava’s brand etched to everything associated with it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those prices creep up before the 20,000 square foot sales office officially opens on January 14, 2008 on the 18th floor (overlooking the Spire’s site) of the nearby NBC Tower. The power of great design.

Anyone interested in buying a unit, needs to contact me at 305.491.7179 immediately, if not sooner.

It is of most importance to note that all of these buildings except one, Lake Shore Tower (see above), are located on the banks of the Chicago River and not east of Lake Shore Drive on the shores of Lake Michigan.

In my previous post, “Chicago: City Built by Flames”, I stressed the significance of lakefront preservation for public use. Of almost equal importance was the creation of Lake Shore Drive as a 15.83-mile mostly grade-level (not raised) freeway (U.S. Highway 41) that runs parallel to Lake Michigan and allows for relatively smooth access from the South Side to the North Side of Chicago. On either side of Lake Shore Drive one has open green space in the form of Jackson Park, Burnham Park, Grant Park, and Lincoln Park and/or the glistening (at least in the summer) waters of Lake Michigan. Throughout different parts of that green space one sees cultural institutions like the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the admission-free Lincoln Park Zoo. One also sees the magnificent Soldier Field, home to Brian Urlacher’s Chicago Bears. Residential and commercial buildings with open views of the same parks and same lake abut the west side of Lake Shore Drive.

Somehow being “stuck” in traffic on Lake Shore Drive is not as bad as say, being stuck in rush-hour traffic on I-95. Put it to you this way. Imagine U.S. 1 (Brickell Avenue & Biscayne Blvd) from S.E 26th Road (which becomes William M. Powell Bridge into Key Biscayne and also marks the southern end of the Brickell Avenue residential stretch) all the way up to about N.E. 163 St. Now that you have that mental picture in your head:

  • remove all buildings east of U.S. 1 and replace them with stretches of open public green space (sprinkled with the same cultural institutions described above)
  • add sights of the shining Biscayne Bay waters (sailboats, yachts, personal watercrafts, canoes, kayaks, and all)
  • redesign architecturally-significant residential and commercial buildings to the west with views of what we just described.
  • Now picture driving (your gas-guzzling SUV, of course) home after a hard day’s night. There are no strip centers, shopping malls, gas stations, fast food restaurants, drug stores, or billboards competing for your attention. There are no street lights either. It’s just a steady flow of vehicular movement.

Now how was that?

Dare to dream – out loud.

Adrian Salgado is a Realtor Associate with RED I Realty in Miami, FL and can be reached at 305-491-7179 or


Filed under Chicago

4 responses to “Chicago: An Architect’s Playground

  1. Monica

    Papo…you’ve become “the great Chicagoan”…a true Chicago historian! Nice job!

  2. Adrian Salgado

    Mama, glad to see you posting comments. People love to tell me how much they enjoy the posts, but don’t nobody show me love up in this piece.

    I need a hug every once in a while. Thanks, mama!

  3. Dre,

    I approve the development plan for US1 and appoint you chair of the committe. Does anyone second the motion?

    Beef up your sales goal for 2008, I think you are falling short of the one bedroom pricing for the Spire.

  4. Pingback: Miami: A Tropical Chicago? « Miami Real Estate Blog

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