Things to do in Chicago

Tallest Buildings In Chicago

Wondering how tall Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers are? We have your answer here.

Architects in Chicago have built some fairly impressive and towering buildings. They’ve changed the city’s skyline.

In the 1920s, some of the world’s most brilliant architects were behind Chicago’s tallest buildings. Among them are the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building. Both buildings stand between 400 and 500 ft. (0.15 km) tall.

Chicago’s growth transformed its skyline as single-family homes and small shops gave way to large structures. Today, these skyscrapers dominate the city’s landscape. Next time you’re in town, be sure to check out the 12 tallest buildings in Chicago. Each of these majestic buildings provide stunning views and are must-see landmarks.

1. Willis Tower (Formerly Sears Tower)

Willis Tower, a building that towers above Chicago's skyline at 1,450 feet, remains the tallest in the city. Known for being the 12th-tallest skyscraper globally, this architectural marvel didn't rise until 1973. Make your way to Willis Tower’s marvelous Skydeck on the 103rd floor for breathtaking views; the swift 70-second elevator ride to the top will pop your ears. But a little discomfort on the ride up is a minor and fleeting inconvenience for awaits you at America’s highest observation deck.

On a clear day, the vista extends 40-50 miles, offering views of Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Willis Tower, characterized by its unique architectural elements, invites the daring to step onto The Ledge—a series of glass boxes extending 4.3 ft. from the Skydeck. With three layers of thick glass separating you from the ground 1,353 ft. below, it's an exhilarating challenge not for the faint-hearted.

Photographer: vichie81

2. Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago

Trump International Hotel & Tower enhances Chicago’s skyline with its impressive presence on the waterfront. This towering structure features ninety-two stories, providing 5-star service and a luxurious 23,000-square-foot spa, making every guest feel esteemed.

Initially designed by Adrian Smith, Trump International Hotel & Tower was originally supposed to become the tallest building in the world. That, however, was curtailed in the wake of 9/11. However, the building emerged as a notable fixture in Chicago's architectural heritage upon its completion in 2009.

Trump International Hotel & Tower is located strategically along the Chicago River, overtaking the surrounding area, including the bustling Chicago Riverwalk. The area is alive with eateries, parks, and activities such as boat and kayak rentals. As one of the tallest skyscrapers in 2023, it will soon be eclipsed by the planned Tribune East Tower.

Photographer: Keith J Finks

3. St. Regis Chicago

St. Regis Chicago is an architectural giant in the Windy City. Completed in 2019, this towering edifice stretches 1,198 feet (0.37 km) high with 101 stories, making it the third-tallest building in Chicago. Fun fact: this is tallest skyscraper globally designed by a woman. Celebrated architect Jeanne Gang is the mastermind behind this design, earning well-deserved praise for her innovative vision.

St. Regis Chicago impresses with its distinctive structure, featuring three interconnected towers that ripple like waves against the skyline. The use of alternating glass shades on the windows enhances its visual appeal and transforms the entire area's aesthetic. Functioning as both a hotel and residential space, it stands as a testament to futuristic design and practical utility.

The St. Regis Chicago is not just a notable addition to the city's skyline; it is a pioneering example of modern architecture and design ingenuity, setting new standards in the architectural world.

4. Aon Center

Aon Center is something of a monumental beacon in Chicago. It was initially erected as the headquarters for the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. Known for its architectural significance, this towering structure was designed by Edward Durell Stone, famed for his work on Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center. Originally the second tallest in Chicago, the Aon Center, while still reaching an impressive 83 floors and 1,136 feet (0.35 km), is now the city’s fourth-tallest building.

Over the decades, the Aon Center has endured many changes, notably in its external facade. The building's initial covering of 43,000 slabs of Italian Carrara marble proved unsuitable, as the harsh Chicago winters led to cracking. By the early 1990s, a more durable granite was chosen to replace the marble, ensuring the Aon Center maintained its iconic status amid Chicago's evolving skyline.

Aon Center, characterized by its resilience and adaptability, continues to dominate Chicago’s Loop, embodying the spirit of the city's architectural innovation and corporate prestige. As a symbol of strength and renewal, the Aon Center captures the essence of both its historical roots and its forward-looking ethos in the heart of Chicago.

Photographer: Stephen Finn

5. 875 North Michigan Avenue (Formerly John Hancock Center)

875 North Michigan Avenue, formerly known as the John Hancock Center, commands Chicago's skyline and offers some of the best views in the city—you might even say breathtaking. This iconic building hosts the 360 Chicago Tilt, where visitors can experience the thrill of leaning out over the city at an elevation of 1,030 ft.. At the CloudBar, located at 875 North Michigan Avenue, guests can steady their nerves with a martini or margarita while taking in the breathtaking sights of the Magnificent Mile.

Developed in the mid-1960s by Jerry Wolman, and financially backed by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, 875 North Michigan Avenue its early engineering and financial challenges. Today, it’s a vibrant centre of urban life, featuring over 100 floors bustling with shops, restaurants, and residential areas. It is especially renowned for the dynamic white light display at its peak, which celebrates various events, including Christmas and local sports victories, making 875 North Michigan Avenue a notable landmark in Chicago’s cultural and architectural heritage.

Photographer: Lanzabananza

6. The Franklin Center

The Franklin Center, a definitive fixture in the Chicago skyline, has been a prominent feature since its introduction in the late 1980s. Locally known simply as “The Franklin,” the building plays an integral role in the city’s architectural heritage. Standing at 60 stories and reaching 1,007 feet, The Franklin Center is a significant presence in the Loop, just a short distance from the Chicago River. Its architectural design includes setbacks that enhance the area with cascading sunlight off its granite-clad exterior.

Initially a singular entity, The Franklin Center evolved into a more complex landmark when the former AT&T Corporate Center merged with the adjacent USG Building. These structures are now connected by a 16-story atrium, which forms a breathtaking and functional fusion of space, design, and historical significance at The Franklin Center.

The Franklin Center stands out for its distinctive coloring. It has a deep, rich red at its base, transitioning to a light rosy beige towards its peak, which softens the imposing gothic details. While it may not claim the title of the tallest building in the city, The Franklin Center is arguably the most visually striking due to its unique color palette and architectural features.

7. Two Prudential Plaza

Two Prudential Plaza is the 28th-tallest building in the United States, standing proud with its 64-story stature. Completed in 1990, this architectural marvel is instantly recognizable by its art deco-inspired chevron setbacks, which stack to form a sharply tapered pyramid. It reaches a striking height of 995 feet (0.3 km).

It forms the uniquely dubbed One Two Pru alongside its sibling, One Prudential Plaza. This complex boasts high-end office spaces and luxurious amenities, attracting prestigious tenants including the Consulate General of Canada in Chicago, key local AM and FM radio stations, and the Chicago Tribune, highlighting its desirability and elite status.

8. One Chicago

One Chicago, formerly known as One Chicago Square, is the 8th tallest skyscraper in Chicago and ranks 35th across the United States. Initiated in 2019, its construction reached completion in 2021, introducing not just a towering structure but a pivotal urban landmark. This dual-tower complex, now a bustling hub, incorporates approximately 800 residential units alongside retail outlets, office spaces, a fitness center, and an event venue.

One Chicago’s introduction helped transform both the city's skyline and the ambiance of its surrounding locale. The primary tower is set back approximately 45 ft. from the street, paving the way for a serene urban park that provides a tranquil retreat from the city's dynamic pace. The secondary tower, positioned closer to the street, boasts architectural elegance with its staggered roof terraces, a prominent podium overlooking the swimming pool decks, and a ground-level truck turntable that revolutionizes the ease of parking and enhances the residents' experience.

9. 311 South Wacker Drive

311 South Wacker Drive, completed in 1990, was once the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. Though it’s now been surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it’s still an iconic structure to this day.

The skyscraper features a unique crown with five cylinders, a 105-foot central cylinder surrounded by four smaller ones. These structures are illuminated by 1,852 fluorescent tubes, which create an eye-popping light display that switches colors depending on the celebrate holidays and special events.

311 South Wacker Drive's tenants enjoy 360-degree views of Grant Park, the Chicago River, and Lake Michigan. The five-story Wintergarden lobby, with its glass ceiling, fountain, palm trees, and Raymond Kaskey’s sculpture “Gem of the Lakes,” serves as a commuter link and an aesthetic marvel.

The building is adjacent to the largest green area in the Loop, offering access to a farmers market, concerts, and city festivals. For those who enjoy greenery but crave a rugged nature experience, the surrounding areas offer trails for hiking near Chicago, perfect for a day trip outside the urban landscape.

10. NEMA Chicago

NEMA Chicago is 896 ft. tall, making it the tallest all-rental residential building in the city. It boasts 800 apartments spread over 76 floors. This fascinating structure pays homage to the Willis Tower with its sculpture-like design.

The middle section of NEMA Chicago, known for its cutaways, transforms the central part into a steel and concrete staircase. The upper section, characterized by its indentations, houses 70,000 square feet of amenities. These amenities include coworking spaces, an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, basketball and squash courts, a kids' room, and a ballroom.

NEMA Chicago is brimming with smart home technology, such as touchless building entry and apartment access. This technology has had a major impact on city living in Chicago at large, enhancing convenience and security.

11. 900 North Michigan

900 North Michigan is Chicago's 11th-tallest skyscraper. It embodies luxury living and urban shopping. This 871-foot structure is clad in limestone and green glass, which adds a reflective quality. Four color-changing lanterns at the top enhance its luminescence.

900 North Michigan is known for its green roof, which was designed by Hoerr Schaudt. What was once a barren rooftop is now a lush, multipurpose area. Tenants can enjoy the greenery, host cookouts, or gaze over the city from this transformed space.

The skyscraper occupies a six-story atrium, with prime Michigan Avenue frontage for some. Zigzagging escalators connect other shops, making the building a key part of Chicago’s commercial district.

12. Aqua Tower

Aqua Tower exemplifies Jeanne Gang's architectural brilliance. The skyscraper is characterized by its 80-story, 859-foot-tall structure. This Chicago landmark, built on a former rail yard, features white concrete balconies that extend up to 12 ft., creating a rippling effect. These balconies offer residents expansive views and are designed to mimic topographical features around the Great Lakes.

Aqua Tower's design prioritizes sustainability, with terrace extensions providing solar shading. The building boasts energy-efficient lighting and water-efficient irrigation, contributing to its LEED-NC certification. These efforts reflect Gang's commitment to environmentally conscious design.

Gang's innovative approach with Aqua Tower has cemented her reputation and highlighted Lakeshore East as a prime location for living, working, and leisure. This architectural masterpiece continues to garner attention for its unique design and sustainable features.

Photographer: Raoyang Yang

Explore the Soaring Modern Skyscrapers of Chicago

Chicago's skyscrapers are impressive, showcasing the city's architectural evolution. Like the former John Hancock Center, Chicago’s skylineoffer breathtaking views and a taste of the city's vibrant history. Staying at places like the NEMA immerses visitors in the city's architectural marvels.

Live shows in Chicago reflect its rich cultural scene, providing an evening of spectacular performances. These shows merge imagination and innovation, paralleling the creativity seen in Chicago's skyscrapers. Booking tickets to these performances ensures an unforgettable Chicago experience.

When planning your skyscraper-hopping adventure, make time for these cultural highlights. Chicago's shows are known for their creativity and are as iconic as the city's buildings. Enjoy a perfect blend of entertainment and architectural beauty in this dynamic Midwestern city.

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