Loop District Architecture Walking Tour, Chicago

Loop District Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), Chicago

Chicago features an outstanding architectural legacy, having long been connected with some of architecture's most important names: Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Holabird & Root, and others. The multi-layered Loop District, in particular, offers an extensive number of Chicago’s famous architectural “must-sees” – from modern skyscrapers to historic buildings that were instrumental in their development.

Start your walking tour with Aqua Tower’s rippling facade of irregular balconies, praised by architecture critics for its fascinating visual impact. One of the tallest high rises built during Chicago’s skyscraper boom of 2000-2009, it is noted for the unique design of its balconies, which give the building a remarkable silhouette.

Meanwhile, the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) is still the 2nd-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, standing in the western Loop – the heart of the city's financial district. Its neighbouring landmark, the historic Rookery Building (1888), best exemplifies the development of the Chicago school with a unique style featuring exterior load-bearing walls and an interior steel frame, which at the time provided a transition between accepted and new building techniques.

Among other historic architectural gems are the Chicago Theatre – one of the city’s most-photographed structures for its flashing marquee built in 1921; the iconic Union Station, whose high ceilings and Corinthian columns inspire a sense of awe since 1925; or the Harold Washington Library Center, whose dramatically beautiful exterior, featuring five massive owls looking down from the top, is hard to miss.

Take this self-guided walking tour to explore the Loop District’s most iconic constructions that have contributed to a great deal of Chicago’s worldwide fame.
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Loop District Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Loop District Architecture Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Chicago (See other walking tours in Chicago)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Aqua Tower
  • Chicago Theatre
  • Chicago City Hall
  • Civic Opera House
  • Union Station
  • Willis Tower / Skydeck Chicago
  • Rookery Building
  • Marquette Building
  • Fisher Building
  • Harold Washington Library Center
  • Fine Arts Building
  • Auditorium Building
Aqua Tower

1) Aqua Tower

The Aqua Tower is located on the 200 block of North Columbus Drive and is surrounded by high-rises. Aqua is an 86-story mixed-use residential skyscraper in the Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago. Designed by a team led by Jeanne Gang, the building is the tallest in the world, at 859 ft, to have a woman as lead architect. The Aqua was named the Emporis Skyscraper Award 2009 skyscraper of the year and was shortlisted in 2010 for the biannual International Highrise Award.

To capture views of nearby landmarks for Aqua's residents, Gang stretched its balconies outward by as much as 12 feet. The result is a building composed of irregularly shaped concrete floor slabs which lend the facade an undulating, sculptural quality. The green roof on top of the tower base is one of the largest in Chicago.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most unique buildings in the world; each balcony is unique in size and shape giving the appearance of water flowing in waves.

The building houses the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel (floors 1-18), as well as condos that can be rented.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Chicago Theatre

2) Chicago Theatre (must see)

Chicago Theatre is a legendary theater located in Chicago's lively downtown area. This theater opened in 1921 as a grand movie palace, promoted as the "Wonder Theatre of the World." In the theater's early years, silent films were screened accompanied by live orchestras and their in-house Wurlitzer theatre organ.

The ornate building features French Baroque-style architecture and stands seven stories high. The theater's grand lobby is lavishly decorated and features a beautiful staircase that sweeps up to the mezzanine and balcony levels. Exquisite murals adorn the inside auditorium ceiling. Through the years, the Chicago Theatre has hosted premiere films, stage shows, live jazz, and a variety of live entertainment.

A restoration was completed on the theater in 1986. Today, it continues to operate as a performing arts venue with seating for 3,600 patrons. The theater hosts big-name live music concerts, theatrical performances, stand-up comedy, and special events. You can't miss the iconic vertical "CHICAGO" sign on the building, standing almost six stories high! This magnificent theater is a national landmark.
Chicago City Hall

3) Chicago City Hall

Chicago City Hall is the official seat of government of the City of Chicago in Illinois. Situated on a city block bounded by Randolph, LaSalle, Washington, and Clark streets, the 11-story structure was designed by the architectural firm Holabird & Roche in the classical revival style. The building was officially dedicated on February 27, 1911. Chicago City Hall's entrance features four relief panels sculpted in granite by John Flanagan. Each of the panels represents one of four principal concerns of city government: playgrounds, schools, parks, and water supply.

As visitors enter the building, they are greeted with elaborate marble stairways and bronze tablets honoring the past city halls of Chicago from 1837 to the present. In 2001, the roof gardens were completed serving as a test for the impact green roofs would have on the heat island effect in urban areas, rainwater runoff, and the effectiveness of differing types of green roofs and plant species for Chicago's climate.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:30am-4:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Civic Opera House

4) Civic Opera House

One of the world's most beautiful constructions, Civic Opera House, is located in the heart of Downtown Chicago, in the famous Loop District. The construction of the building is characterized as a hybrid of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architectural styles.

The Civic Opera House has 3,563 seats, making it the second-largest opera auditorium in North America, right behind New York City's Metropolitan Opera House. Built for the Chicago Civic Opera, today it is the permanent home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Why You Should Visit:
Turn of the century charm and high art at reasonable prices!
The building is huge (so it's very rare that you can't get a last minute seat) but has excellent acoustics.

Don't forget to go downstairs to see the great mini-museum that is always interesting.
You may also treat yourself to a backstage tour to learn about how an opera comes together.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Union Station

5) Union Station

Union Station is a Chicago train station that opened in 1925, replacing an earlier 1881 station, and is now the only intercity rail terminal in Chicago. Union Station was built on the west side of the Chicago River and stands between Adams Street and Jackson Street. It is, including approach and storage tracks, about nine and a half city blocks in size, and almost entirely beneath streets and skyscrapers (only its impressive head house is not). Since the station is underground, exhaust from the trains is a problem which is demonstrated by its dark ceilings.

Upon its completion, Union Station was hailed as an outstanding achievement in railroad facility planning. Today, the monumental neoclassical station is the last remaining railroad terminal still used by intercity trains in Chicago.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Willis Tower / Skydeck Chicago

6) Willis Tower / Skydeck Chicago (must see)

Sears, Roebuck, a Chicago icon since 1906, had outgrown its offices in the city's west area. The search for a new site would not be an easy one. Shifting the headquarters to the suburbs would not do. Company executives began to focus on the western border of the Loop district. The Loop site was finally acquired in 1970.

It was decided that the new building would be either 70 stories of 60,000 square feet each or 60 stories of 70,000 square feet each. The Sears merchandise group would be moved in, and the remaining spaces would be rented out. Plans revealed the tower was intended to be 1,450 feet high. It topped out in 1973 with over 100 floors.

In subsequent years the tower would undergo renovations and changes in ownership. Sears itself moved out to Hoffman Estates in Illinois in 1990. The building continued to be called Sears Tower until 2009 when Willis Group of London leased part of the building and obtained naming rights. Sears Tower was now Willis Tower.

The Tower was designed by architect Bruce Graham and the structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan. The basic design concept was nine square "tubes" bundled in a 3x3 matrix having a square base with 225-foot sides. The Tower was the first building to use this innovative design, both efficient and economic.

The Willis Tower Observation deck on the 103rd floor, called Skydeck, is 1,353 feet above street level. It opened to the public on June 22, 1974. There is a second observation deck on the 99th floor. Retractable glass balconies were installed in a renovation of the Skydeck in 2009. The balconies are all-glass boxes that project up to four feet from the sides of the Tower. Elevators reach the top in 60 seconds.

Every year, almost two million tourists visit Skydeck, the highest in the United States, and enjoy breathtaking views spanning 50 miles and four states on a clear day.
Rookery Building

7) Rookery Building

The Rookery Building is a cornerstone of Chicago’s rich architectural heritage, showcasing the work of the city's two great design architects, John Wellborn Root and Frank Lloyd Wright. The building was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1972 and was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1975.

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a temporary city hall was built at the corner of LaSalle and Adams Streets around a water storage tank. The tank was a hangout for crows, and the locals called it "the Rookery." This was a reference to the birds and also a reference to corrupt politicians in the building.

In 1888 architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root completed their 11-story commercial building at the Rookery site and named it "Rookery." John Wellborn Root carved a pair of rooks into the Romanesque main entrance on La Salle Street.

The Rookery was truly transitional with elevators, fireproofing, and electric lighting. John W. Root planned to have as much natural light in the building as possible. He developed a hollow square plan. Offices in the building would be lighted from the outside or the central two-story light court with its glass-paneled ceiling and grand staircases.

In 1905 Burnham commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to renovate the interiors, especially the "light court." Wright removed Root's ironwork and replaced it with Carrara marble incised with gilded arabesque designs. The Rookery became a white and gold commercial center.

The double set of ornate stairs winds upward. A wrap-around balcony climbing up to the second floor creates the sense of "clockwork." The facade of the Rookery is of marble, terra cotta, and brick. The overall style is Romanesque, featuring touches of Roman Revival and Queen Anne. A second renovation in 1931 included Art Deco details.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust conducts tours Mondays through Fridays. Inside Chicago has daily walking tours of the Rookery. The Rookery has been a locale for films such as Home Alone 2 and The Untouchables.
Marquette Building

8) Marquette Building

The Marquette Building, completed in 1895, is a Chicago, Illinois landmark that was built by the George A. Fuller Company and designed by architects Holabird & Roche. The building was one of the early steel frame skyscrapers of its day, and is considered one of the best examples of the Chicago School of architecture. The architects, Holabird & Roche, used trademark long horizontal bay "Chicago windows" on the Marquette Building. These are large panes of glass flanked by narrow sash windows. The grid-like window frames and spandrels are facilitated by the steel structure which enables non-load-bearing masonry walls.

The ensemble of mosaics, sculptures, and bronze of the Marquette Building entry and interior honors Jacques Marquette’s 1674-5 expedition. The mosaics are by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his chief designer and art director, Jacob Adolph Holzer; they contain panels of lustered Tiffany glass, mother-of-pearl, and semi-precious stones.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fisher Building

9) Fisher Building

The Fisher Building is 20-story, 275-foot-tall neo-Gothic landmark building located at 343 South Dearborn Street in the Chicago Loop community area of Chicago. It was designated a Chicago Landmark on June 7, 1978. At the time of its completion, the building was one of two buildings in the city that was 18 stories tall, the other being the Masonic Building.

To this day, the Fisher Building is the oldest 18 story building in Chicago that has not been demolished. The Fisher Building features terra-cotta carvings of various aquatic creatures including fish and crabs. In addition, there are eagles, dragons and mythical creatures depicted on the facade as well. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1976.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Harold Washington Library Center

10) Harold Washington Library Center

The Harold Washington Library Center is the central library for the Chicago Public Library System. It is named for former Mayor Harold Washington. The Harold Washington Library opened on October 7, 1991. After the refurbishment of the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977, where the central library had been housed, much of the library's collection was placed into storage. Upon the building's completion in 1991, the new Mayor Richard M. Daley named the building in honor of now-deceased Washington, an advocate of reading and education among Chicagoans as well as an advocate of the library's construction. Since completion, the Library has appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building in the world.

Why You Should Visit:
Special displays & collections worth visiting on each floor!
There are poetry readings, art exhibits, and the children's library is unparalleled.

Be sure to take the elevator straight the 9th floor to see the gorgeous glass ceiling and enjoy the sunshine and quiet of the Winter Garden.
The 8th floor has practice rooms for musicians and is where you can listen to rare recordings or play the piano.
The old library, now Cultural Center, is equally interesting and has the world's largest Tiffany dome in its own magnificent room.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 9am-9pm; Fri-Sat: 9am-5pm; Sun: 1-5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fine Arts Building

11) Fine Arts Building

Fine Arts Building was constructed in 1884. It is one of the few remaining buildings in Chicago designed specifically for working artists. The bronze cast elevator doors and ornate clocks are among the building's original features. This historic building houses two theaters, several offices, some amazing shops and music studios.
Auditorium Building

12) Auditorium Building

The Auditorium Building was originally built in 1889 as Chicago's Opera House. Today, it combines a hotel, office space and a spectacular theater. The building features Eclectic Romanesque Revival architectural style. Its main highlights are the proscenium arch over the theater stage painted with 45 life-size classical figures, and the mosaics inside the building which are estimated to include 50 million pieces of marble.

Walking Tours in Chicago, Illinois

Create Your Own Walk in Chicago

Create Your Own Walk in Chicago

Creating your own self-guided walk in Chicago is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour

Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
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Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles

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