Learn what’s behind Chicago architecture’s Wow Factor

The Art Deco Carbide & Carbon Building, Chicago Illinois (Scarborough photo)Thanks to a confluence of imaginative architects (and the unexpected redecorating opportunities left by the devastating 1871 Great Chicago Fire) the Windy City has a jaw-dropping collection of spectacular buildings.

A number of innovations were hallmarks of the “Chicago School of architectural style: steel-frame construction, refined exterior embellishment, sheets of plate glass and some of the first modern skyscrapers.

One of my favorites in the city is the 1929 Carbide & Carbon Building on Michigan Avenue. It is a soaring Art Deco marvel and I never tire of walking around it to see what new flourishes pop up that I hadn’t noticed on previous visits.

Carbide & Carbon Building, Michigan Ave entrance, Chicago IL (Scarborough photo)You can stay there if you’d like — it now houses the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago.

I don’t have any formal training in architecture; I just love cool buildings, but I don’t always understand or appreciate what I’m looking at.

Rather than wander around with a construction engineering history book under your arm, I recommend guided tours with the nonprofit Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF).

My teen daughter and I took their lively docent-led architecture tour on the Chicago River (there’s not a bad seat in the house – I mean, on the boat) so if you only have time for one, that’s the tour I’d recommend.

Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Tiffany lamps, Chicago Architecture Foundation gift shop (Scarborough photo)The CAF’s main office is just across from the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue, a few blocks down from that great Carbon & Carbide building.

I was amazed at the giant whiteboard absolutely stuffed with upcoming guided tours and programs of every description.

The gift shop is a most dangerous collection of interesting doo-dads related to the city and her lovely buildings. I barely made it out alive! 🙂

Chicago Architecture Foundation commuter mugs (Scarborough photo)Although I can always use another commuter coffee mug, and it’s to support a good cause, right?

The CAF “ArchiCenter” is open 361 days a year; call them at (312) 922 – 3432 extension 240.

If you’re taking the Chicago-area subway (Chicago Transit Authority) get off at these nearby stations:

  • Adams/Wabash station for the Brown, Green, Orange, and Purple lines
  • Jackson/State Station for the Red Line
  • Jackson/Dearborn Station for the Blue Line

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