The buildings and architecture of Chicago have influenced and reflected the history of American architecture. The built environment of Chicago is reflective of the city's history and multicultural heritage, featuring prominent buildings in a variety of styles by many important architects. Since most structures within the downtown area were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 (the most famous exception being the Water Tower) Chicago buildings are noted for their originality rather than their antiquity.
Chicago is world-famous for its plethora of unique architectural styles, from Chicago Bungalows and Two-Flats to the grand Graystones along Logan Boulevard and Lawndale Avenue, from the skyscrapers of the Loop as well as a wealth of sacred architecture such as the city's ornate "Polish Cathedrals".
Main article: List of tallest buildings in Chicago
Beginning in the early 1880s, architectural pioneers of the Chicago School explored steel-frame construction and, in the 1890s, the use of large areas of plate glass. These were among the first modern skyscrapers. William LeBaron Jenney's Home Insurance Building was completed in 1885 and is considered to be the first to use steel in its structural frame instead of cast iron. However, this building was still clad in heavy brick and stone. The Montauk Building, designed by John Wellborn Root Sr. and Daniel Burnham, was built from 1882 to 1883 using structural steel. Daniel Burnham and his partners, John Welborn Root and Charles Atwood, designed technically advanced steel frames with glass and terra cotta skins in the mid-1890s, in particular the Reliance Building; these were made possible by professional engineers, in particular E. C. Shankland, and modern contractors, in particular George A. Fuller.
Louis Sullivan was perhaps the city's most philosophical architect. Realizing that the skyscraper represented a new form of architecture, he discarded historical precedent and designed buildings that emphasized their vertical nature. This new form of architecture, by Jenney, Burnham, Sullivan, and others, became known as the "Commercial Style," but it was called the "Chicago School" by later historians.
In 1892, the Masonic Temple surpassed the New York World Building, breaking its two-year reign as the tallest skyscraper, only to be surpassed itself two years later by another New York building.
Since 1963, a "Second Chicago School" emerged from the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The ideas of structural engineer Fazlur Khan were also influential in this movement, in particular his introduction of a new structural system of framed tubes in skyscraper design and construction. The first building to apply the tube-frame construction was the DeWitt-Chestnut Apartment Building which Khan designed and was completed in Chicago by 1966. This laid the foundations for the tube structures of many other later skyscrapers, including his own constructions of the John Hancock Center and Willis Tower (then named the Sears Tower) in Chicago and can be seen in the construction of the World Trade Center, Petronas Towers, Jin Mao Building, and most other supertall skyscrapers since the 1960s. Willis Tower would be the world's tallest building from its construction in 1974 until 1998 (when the Petronas Towers was built) and would remain the tallest for some categories of buildings until the Burj Khalifa was completed in early 2010.
Further information: List of Chicago Landmarks
Numerous architects have constructed landmark buildings of varying styles in Chicago. Among them are the so-called "Chicago seven": James Ingo Freed, Tom Beeby, Larry Booth, Stuart Cohen, James Nagle, Stanley Tigerman, and Ben Weese. Daniel Burnham led the design of the "White City" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which some historians claim led to a revival of Neo-Classical architecture throughout Chicago and the entire United States. It is true that the "White City" represented anything other than its host city's architecture. While Burnham did develop the 1909 "Plan for Chicago", perhaps the first comprehensive city plan in the U.S, in a Neo-Classical style, many of Chicago's most progressive skyscrapers occurred after the Exposition closed, between 1894 and 1899. Louis Sullivan said that the fair set the course of American architecture back by two decades, but even his finest Chicago work, the Schlesinger and Meyer (later Carson, Pirie, Scott) store, was built in 1899—five years after the "White City" and ten years before Burnham's Plan.
Sullivan's comments should be viewed in the context of his complicated relationship with Burnham. Erik Larson's history of the Columbian Exposition, The Devil in the White City, correctly points out that the building techniques developed during the construction of the many buildings of the fair were entirely modern, even if they were adorned in a way Sullivan found aesthetically distasteful.
Chicago is well known for its wealth of public art, including works by such artistic heavyweights as Chagall, Picasso, Miró and Abakanowicz that are all to be found outdoors.
City sculptures additionally honor the many people and topics reflecting the rich history of Chicago. There are monuments to:
There are also plans to erect a 1:1-scale replica of Wacław Szymanowski's statue of Frédéric Chopin along Chicago's lakefront. in addition to a different sculpture commemorating the artist in Chopin Park.
In the 21st century, Chicago has become a leading urban focus for landscape architecture, and the architecture of public places. Building on 19th-20th century legacies of architects such as, Burnham, Frederick Olmsted, Jens Jensen and Alfred Caldwell, modern projects include Millennium Park, Northerly Island, the 606, the Chicago Riverwalk, Maggie Daley Park, and proposals in Jackson Park.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School influenced both building design and the design of furnishings. In the early half of the 20th century, popular residential neighborhoods were developed with Chicago Bungalow style houses, many of which still exist. The two-flat apartment building, along with the larger three- and six-flat buildings, make up 30% of Chicago's housing stock. A two-flat includes two apartments, each of which occupies a full floor, usually with a large bay window and with a grey stone or red brick facade. The apartments typically have the same layout with a large living and dining room area at the front, the kitchen at the back and the bedrooms running down one side of the unit.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Chicago influenced the later Modern or International style. Van der Rohe's work is sometimes called the Second Chicago School.
Many organizations, notably Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois are devoted to promoting the preservation of historic neighborhoods and buildings in Chicago. Chicago has suffered from the same problems with sinking property values and urban decline as other major cities. Many historic structures have been threatened with demolition.
1940 to the present:
Chicago architects used many design styles and belonged to a variety of architectural schools. Below is a list of those styles and schools.
In 2010, Chicago Magazine selected 40 still existing properties for their historical and architectural importance, opening an on-line forum for debate. The top ten chosen were: