James R. Thompson Center

The State of Illinois Building opened in 1985. Helmut Jahn from Murphy / Jahn architecture firm designed the futuristic building. The building was renamed after Governor James R. Thompson in 1993. The government center is a triangular structure that is rounded towards Randolph Street. This creates a public square on the south-east corner, with a sculpture by Jean Dubuffet. The highlight is inside the James R. Thompson Center. The circular atrium is a breathtaking 17 storeys high and is covered by a bevelled glass cylinder. Stairs and elevators on the inside of the atrium create a varied space that has been clad in light blue and salmon colored glass elements. The atrium continues down to the basement, where there is a public space used for events and press conferences. In the basement is a food court with various restaurants.

Other buildings by Helmut Jahn:

Messeturm Frankfurt, Sony Center Berlin, Diamond Building Johannesburg


Randolph St/Clark St



O'Hare Airport

Helmut Jahn planned the new terminal at O'Hare Airport for United Airlines in 1988. The terminal is part of the U-shaped airport, but does not continue the existing Y-shaped development of the gates. Helmut Jahn designed an elongated terminal as an extension of the main building, which is connected to a satellite Terminal via a tunnel (photo) under the runway. The underground tunnel is illuminated with backlit glass surfaces, which provide variety with colorful gradients.

Other Murphy / Jahn buildings:

Messeturm Frankfurt Sony Center Berlin



O'Hare Airport, Chicago


Marina City

Bertrand Goldberg, a student of Mies van der Rohe, created with Marina City one of the most striking buildings of the 1960s. The two 179 m high residential towers at the Chicago River are called corn cobs. But Marina City does not just consist of these two towers. The project also includes an office building, which was built behind the twin towers, and a theater, which is located on the square in between. Marina City was designed as a city within a city, it opened in 1964. At that time, many residents left Chicago and moved to the suburbs. Marina City created urban living space for singles who didn't want to move to the vicinity. The motto "24-hour urban living" was underpinned with restaurants, shops, swimming pool, fitness center, bowling alley and other attractions. The round towers of Bertrand Goldberg are a counter-concept to the prissy country life and the boxes built by Mies van der Rohe. The apartments are located above the parking lots, that occupy the lower part of the towers. The residents have a good view on Chicago from all apartments. The floor plans look like a piece of cake. The round balconies are made of concrete.

The office building has been converted into a hotel. The Marina City stands directly on the Chicago River and is one of the most famous buildings of Chicago.


Dearborn Street


IBM Plaza

The black IBM Plaza office tower was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was completed in 1971 by C. F. Murphy Associates after his death in 1969. With a height of around 212 m, it is Mies' tallest skyscraper in the USA. The IBM Building is located directly on the Chicago River, between Marina City and the Trump Tower. The skyscraper is little different from its predecessors. Mies van der Rohe has used the same scheme for office buildings since the Seagram Building in New York City. A rectangular, black box made of steel, with a recessed, glazed entrance area, the floor covering and wall surfaces are made of travertine. IBM moved out of the building in 2006 and the tower was renamed AMA Plaza in 2013, after the new tenant American Medical Association. The Longham Hotel, one of the best hotels in the United States, is also located in the tower.


330 N Wabash Ave


Trump Tower Chicago

The Trump International Hotel & Tower was designed by Adrian Smith from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the skyscraper was completed in 2009. The tower is 357 m high, with antenna 423 m. This makes the Trump Tower the second tallest building in Chicago only the Wilis Tower is higher. The reinforced concrete tower tapers upwards and has recesses at stories where the use changes. The parking lots are below, the hotel follows and the apartments are at the top. The height of the recesses relates to the neighboring Wrighley Building and the AMA Plaza skyscraper.

Adrian Smith was also the architect of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, currently the tallest skyscraper in the world. The construction and facade of the Trump Tower in Chicago are very similar to the Burj Khalifa. Both towers were built around the same time, but the Burj Khalifa is almost twice as high at 828 m.

401 N Wabash Ave


The Rookery

The Rookery was built in 1888 by the architects Daniel H. Burnham & John W. Root. The strange name comes from the property, which already had this name before construction started. After the Great Fire of 1871 there was a horse stable that attracted many pigeons, and a provisional town hall was also on the site. The combination of birds, smell and politicians led to this ironic name. The building has a dark red sandstone facade and appears very heavy, because the facade had to be built as load-bearing wall. The special feature of The Rookery is not the facade, but the glass covered courtyard, which was by then considered a to be a sensation. An atrium of glass and iron, covers the two lower floors. Via a cast-iron staircase or hydraulic elevators, you can ascend from the ground floor to the second floor. The inner courtyard was covered with light tiles and terracotta.

In 1905 Frank Lloyd Wright received the order to renovate the inner courtyard. He completely rebuilt the lobby and replaced the construction and all materials. Frank Lloyd Wright designed an elegant Art Nouveau hall with white marble and golden decorations. A few years later, the open elevators were closed by William Drummond and decorated with bird motifs by Annette Byrne.

The Rookery was modernized in 1992 and shines in its old glory.


209 S LaSalle St



Carbide and Carbon Building

The Carbide and Carbon Building was built in 1929. It is one of the most beautiful Art Deco buildings in Chicago. It was designed by the sons of Daniel Burnham, who ran an architecture firm as the Burnham Brothers. The base of the 153 m high tower is made of polished granite. The bronze entrance is framed by black marble from Belgium. The slim tower is covered with green terracotta. Filigree Art Deco details and a golden tip crown the Carbide and Carbon Building. The office tower was built for the Union Carbide and Carbon Company. The tower was converted into a hotel in 2004.


230 N Michigan Ave


Lake Point Tower

The 197 m high Lake Point Tower by George Schipporeit & John Heinrich was in 1968, the tallest residential tower in the world. The students of Mies van der Rohe have created a very elegant building on Lake Michigan, that adapts an unrealized design of their teacher. The floors rise on a Y-shaped floor plan and allow a good view from every apartment. The Lake Point Tower is not only elegant, it was also the first building to use curved glass elements in high-rise construction. Due to the strong winds on Lake Michigan, the apartments have no balconies. The façade consists of dark aluminum profiles and brown sunshades. On the roof top sits the restaurant Cite, in the pedestal are parking lots and shops. On the pedestal is a park designed by Alfred Caldwell with swimming pool.


Illinois Street/Lake Shore Drive




Lake Shore Drive Apartments

The two high-rise apartment buildings at Lake Shore Drive are architectural icons designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. This is where Mies implemented his typical high-rise construction for the first time. The two rectangular towers were built 1949-51 on a triangular lot at Lake Michigan. Both towers are almost identical, but stand different directions on the property. Together they form a right angle that opens up to the lake.

The revolutionary thing about the Lake Shore Drive Apartments is the construction consisting of a steel skeleton and a glass shell. Both were used at that time in Chicago, but Mies van der Rohe implemented it more consistently and did not hide the construction behind the curtain wall. The building is completely glazed, glass and construction become one. Mies van der Rohe designed a glass towers in Berlin in 1921 wich was not built. It was way ahead of its time. The Chicago Board of Trade Building from 1931 is also a steel skeleton structure, but it is hidden behind stone slabs with window openings. Mies van der Rohe even emphasizes the steel structure by reinforcing the supports with double-T beams. They are not required statically, but because the load-bearing steel structure had to be covered with concrete for fire protection reasons, it just looked better. The steel profiles on the facade became his trademark, which was used on many other high-rise buildings.

A roof connects both buildings on the ground floor. The base area of ​​the towers is open between the outer supports and the glazed entrance area (photo). The ground floor appears spacious and elegant due to the light travertine panels.

The core of the building is in the middle, from here you can reach the apartments via the hallway. Due to the few supports, the floor plans are open and can be divided freely. The floor-to-ceiling windows can be opened and white blinds serve as sun protection.

The towers have 26 floors each and are around 82 m high. There are 380 apartments in each tower. There are underground car parks under the building.

The Lake Shore Drive Apartments were the prototype of the modern skyscraper and its principles were transferred to the construction of office towers. The Lever House, which also has a fully glazed facade, was built in New York in 1952.


860 N. Lake Shore Drive



The Aqua Tower by Studio Gang Architects was completed in 2009. The design is based on a rectangular glass tower, which is covered by wavy concrete structures. The waveform is not only used as a balcony, it also serves as sun protection for the facade. The apartment and hotel tower is 262 m high and has 84 floors. The reinforced concrete skyscraper offers space for around 750 apartments and 225 hotel rooms. In the base next to the high-rise are retail spaces, with a roof garden on top. The architect Jeanne Gang worked for Rem Koolhaas and runs the architecture firm in Chicago together with her husband Marc Gang.


225 N Columbus Dr



Chase Tower

The Chase Tower was built in 1969 for the First National Bank of Chicago. In 2004 the office tower was sold to JPMorgan Chase and is called Chase Tower since. When it opened, the 259m high skyscraper was the 5th tallest building in the world. Today, the Chase Tower doesn't even make it into the top 10 of Chicago. Architects C. F. Murphy Associates together with Perkins & Will, designed a curved tower that tapers from the base upwards. The steel tower has 60 floors with a usable space of around 200,000 m². The sculpture Four Seasons by Marc Chagall stands on the square in front of the Chase Tower.


10 S Dearborn St



Richard J. Daley Center

The Chicago Civic Center is a public building that houses courtrooms and office space. The 197 m tall office tower was built by C. F. Murphy together with SOM in 1965. The building structure allows the two-story courtrooms to be turned into two office floors and vice versa. The steel skeleton construction is clad with Corten steel and the windows are made of tinted bronze. The Civic Center was renamed Richard J. Daley Center in 1976, in honor of the former mayor of Chicago.

In front of the Richard J. Daley Center stands a sculpture by Pablo Picasso. The square in front of the Richard J. Daley Center is used for public events and markets, which made the square a center within the Loop District. However, before the skyscraper was built, there were many shops on the property that had provided life in the city core.


50 W Washington St


Metropolitan Correctional Center Chicago

Harry Weese's Prison Tower was designed for the Metropolitan Correctional Center of Chicago. The tower has a triangular layout, because with this shape one guard could observe the most prison cells as possible. The windows are narrow and high so that no occupant can fit through and escape. The administration is located on the lower 9 floors, above is the technical floor, which can be recognized by the notches in the facade. On top of this, are the floors with the prison cells. There are sports fields on the roof, which are spanned by wire mesh. From the outside you can only see the long slot in the top of the facade. The Metropolitan Correctional Center serves only for the stay of the accused pending trial, in a nearby court. Due to the few windows, the unusual high-rise looks like an elegant sculpture.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center opened in 1975. Harry Weese previously worked at SOM and became world famous with the design of the Washington DC Metrostations


71 W Van Buren St


Federal Center Chicago

The Federal Center in Chicago consists of three buildings by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that were built between 1964-74. The commission came from the U.S. General Services Administration, which modernized official buildings across the country. On the property was a large courthouse with a post office by Henry Ives Cobb, which was demolished for the new Federal Center. The first new building was the Everett McKinley Dirksen Building from 1964. The Dirksen Federal Building is 117 meters high and has 27 floors (in the photo on the left). It mainly serves as courthouse.

The John C. Kluczinsky Building (center) and the U.S. Post Office (right) was built in 1974. The Kluczinsky Federal Building is the tallest building on the Federal Plaza with 171 m. It hosts offices from many different U.S. Authorities. Since Mies van der Rohe died in 1969, both buildings were carried out by his project partners Murphy, Schmidt, Garden, Epstein and Erikson.

The U.S. Post Office is a flat hall made of steel and glass, which, like the other two buildings on the square, was painted with anthracite paint. The glass panes are mado of tinted bronze. The post office has a core in the middle that is closed, the rest is open space. All details are clear and simple. Like the entire square, the roof of the post office follows the grid and is divided into square elements. Since you can see the roofs in Chicago, it is designed like a fifth facade.

The Federal Plaza was divided into 28 ft (8.5 m) squares by Mies van der Rohe. All buildings and other objects fit into this grid. This allows the floor slabs to run into the building. Everything fits together down to the smallest detail. The only thing that breaks this strict order is the Flamingo by Calder, which provides the perfect contrast with its red color and its curved shape.


Federal Plaza 230 S Dearborn St


BP Bridge + Pritzker Pavilion

Millennium Park was built around 2004 on former tracks and parking lots as an extension of Grant Park. Frank O. Gehry designed the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the BP Bridge for the new park. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is an open stage in the park, the metal structure is bend upward to cover the artists. The open auditorium consists of fixed seats and a meadow that is covered by the trellis like a vault. The trellis consists of steel pipes to which the audio system is attached. The open air stage therefore has a very good sound system.

The second structure by Frank O. Gehry in the park is the BP Bridge. The pedestrian bridge winds over Columbus Drive and connects the Jay Pritzker Pavilion with the Maggi Daley Park. The BP Bridge (photo) is clad with stainless steel plates and also serves as a soundproofing wall for the Pritzker Pavilion.

Other buildings by Frank O. Gehry:

Guggenheim Bilbao  Disney Concert Hall  Fondation Louis Vuitton  Frankfurt-Goldstein  Gehry Tower Hanover  Spruce Street NYC



Millenium Park


Illinois Center

The Illinois Center is a densely built quarter with different uses on Magnificent Avenue. The project started in 1967 with Mies van der Rohe's master plan. The architect from Germany designed two office buildings, One Illinois Center (111 E. Walker Dr.) and Two Illinois Center (233 N. Michigan Ave.). The other buildings are similar to Mies van der Rohe's architecture, but were designed by other architects. The buildings by Fujikawa, Conterato and Lohan Associates can hardly be distinguished from those of their master. This is because Joseph Fujikawa took over Mies van der Rohe's architectural firm after his death in 1969 and implemented his master plan.

The One Illinois Center and Two Illinois Center buildings were constructed in 1970 and 1973. Buildings 205-225 N. Michigan Ave, 303 E Walker Dr. and 233 E. Walker Dr. were realized between 1980-85.

In between there are other buildings that do not fit the Mies scheme. Overall, the Illinois Center is uninviting. There are hardly any squares or other places that invite to linger. The Illinois Center looks very technical and cold. Federal Center had a public square and is a masterpiece of urban design, while the Illinois Center is built using the same architecture but ist just a boring business location. The Chicago Architecture Center is located in One Illinois Center.


233 Michigan Ave



John Hancock Center

The John Hancock Center with its black wedge shape and two white antennas is an architectural monument of the modern age. The 344 m high tower was world famous for its X-shaped struts on the facade. The John Hancock Center is 457 m tall with antenna. Bruce Graham designed the skyscraper together with the civil engineer Fazlur Kahn for the architecture firm SOM. The office tower was named after the main tenant, John Hancock Insurance, the nickname was "Big John".

The reinforcement on the facade reduced the construction area in the interior, which also enables a more flexible division of the floors. When completed in 1969, the John Hancock Center was the tallest skyscraper in Chicago and the second tallest building in the world only toped by the Empire State Building. In 1973 it was surpassed by the Standard Oil Building.

The John Hancock Center is a mixed-use tower, with shops on the lower floors, technical areas, and parking spaces. The office floors are located between floors 13-41. The apartments are located between the 44-92 floors. On top is a radio station, a restaurant and the viewing platform 360° ​​Chicago.


875 N Michigan Ave


Standard Oil Building

The Standard Oil Building was built in 1973 by the architects Edward Durell Stone + Perkins & Will. With a height of 346 m, it surpassed the John Hancock Center and was the tallest skyscraper in Chicago until the Sears Tower was built. The straight tower was clad in white Carrara marble, which did not withstand the Chicago weather for long and had to be replaced in 1992 by speckled North Carolina marble. Nevertheless, the Chicagoers love their "Big Stan". After the office tower was sold to the AON insurance group, the tower was renamed AON Center.


200 E Randolph St


Sears Tower

The Sears Tower was with a hight of 442 m, the tallest skyscraper in the world from 1974 until 1998. The office tower was designed by SOM architect Bruce Graham. Sears was the largest mail order company in the world and its employees were spread across many locations in Chicago. Sears wanted to concentrate all employees in one building and as the largest retailer they wanted to build the tallest building in the world.

The engineer Fazlur Kahn designed a building consisting of nine square tubes arranged in a square. This construction is very stable and allows a great height. The individual tubes are of different lengths, so that the tower tapers upwards. With antenna, the Sears Tower is 527 m tall.

The Sears Tower was the tallest skyscraper in the world. It was surpassed 1998 by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur with 452 m (including the spire). The Taipei 101 exceeds the roof height of the Sears Tower, with its 448 m.

After the decline of the Sears Company, the tower was sold and renamed Willis Tower in 2009. New main tenant is the Willis Group Holdings.


233 S Wacker Dr.


Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is the city's most famous museum. The museum complex consists of many buildings that were built between Michigan Avenue and Grant Park in 1893. The main building was designed by the architects Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge in a classicist style. The Modern Wing was designed by italian architect Renzo Piano in 2009. Under a cantilevered roof there are two levels, a new entrance, a shop and a restaurant under the roof. The addition of Renzo Piano is very restrained, the roof looks like a provisional cover made of corrugated iron. In fact, the "Flying Carpet" called roof consists of curved aluminum panels that let the light shine filtered into the museum.

Other buildings by Renzo Piano:

The Shard  Center Georges-Pompidou  Weltstadthaus  California Academy of Sciences


Monroe/Columbus Dr.



McCormick Place

The Lakeside Center at McCormick Place was built in 1971 by C. F. Murphy. The huge exhibition hall was built directly at Lake Michigan. According to the Burnham Plan, the banks were supposed to be kept free from construction forever. The original design by Mies van der Rohe was continued by Murphy. This makes the Lake Side Center somewhat a reminiscent of the New National Gallery in Berlin. The project's architect Gene R. Summers had previously worked in Mies van der Rohe's office for 16 years. Due to the projecting roof, the building only needs a few supports in the interior. These had to be clad for fire protection reasons and look clumsy.

The Lakeside Center is seen by many citizens as a mistake because it was built on the banks of the lake. A lot of trees have been planted around the huge hall to hide the building. The best place to see the building is from Lake Shore Drive.


2301 S Lake Shore Dr


Crown Hall IIT Chicago

The Nazis had closed the Bauhaus in 1932 and Mies van der Rohe emigrated to America in 1938. He founded an architecture firm in Chicago in 1939 and had a teaching assignment at the Armor Institute which merged with the Lewis Institute in 1940 to form the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Mies von der Rohe was commissioned to design the new IIT campus. He determined a module of 24 x 24 feet (7.315 m) with a height of 3.65 m. This is the standard size of an American classroom. All buildings are on this grid and are arranged symmetrically. The buildings are all steel skeleton structures painted black. The bays are filled with glass or brick. Through balanced proportions, clearly defined structures and material-appropriate construction, a coherent university campus has emerged over the years. Mies van der Rohe designed 20 buildings. The concept also includes landscape planning by Alfred Cladwell, who designed a park around the buildings. The trees deliberately set the opposite accent by ignoring the strict order of the buildings. As a result, the IIT campus looks like a landscape park with isolated buildings.

The Crown Hall houses the College of Architecture and was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1950 and built in 1956. It is the heart of the campus and, as such, falls off the grid to demonstrate the ideas and principles of the IIT. Mies said the Crown Hall should represent. For this reason, the building has to be great. The glass Crown Hall seems to float above the earth, the Crown Hall has a footprint of 120 x 220 feet (36.58 x 67.06 m). The ceiling is suspended from the cross beams, which means that the hall is free of supports. However, two shafts pierce the large room today. The hall is otherwise only divided by low wooden walls that only reach the height of the frosted glass windows. The translucent glass surfaces surround the lower area of ​​the Crown Hall, the upper part is made of clear glass, which can be darkened with sun protection slats. Only the entrance area is also transparent. A staircase leads to the entrance with a large platform, which stands on few supports and also gives a floating impression. Handrails and railings are so narrow that you can hardly see them. As a result, the flat, open impression of the stairs predominates. The light travertine flooring contrasts with the black construction, which becomes invisible in the dark room under the stairs.


3360 S State St


Alumni Memorial Hall

Mies van der Rohe's Alumni Memorial Hall was the first building on the new campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. It corresponds to the grid of 24 x 24 ft. And is the prototype according to which many other institute structures were built. The steel skeleton structure is filled with glass and light yellow bricks. The steel structure is made visible at the corners of the building. The facade springs back slightly and exposes the construction. The Alumni Memorial Hall was opened in 1946 and is also known as the Navy Building.


3301 S Dearborn St


Galvin Library

After the death of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1969, the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill SOM was commissioned with the other buildings on the IIT campus. Together with Walter Netsch, SOM built the John Crerar Library in 1962. In 1985 it moved to the University of Chicago campus and the IIT library was renamed Paul V. Galvin Library.

The building is similar to the Crown Hall, but does not come close to its master in detail. The base is made of concrete and looks heavy. As a result, the Galvin Library lacks the lightness of Mies Crown Hall. The beams lay on the roof and are not connect to the rest of the building. The entrance area of the library is in the basement, to which one descends by stairs from the IIT path. Nevertheless, the building fits well into the campus.


35 W 33rd St


Hermann Hall

Another building by Walter Netsch with SOM is the Grover M. Hermann Hall from 1962. The Hermann Hall was constructed like the Galvin Library and stands on a concrete base. The entrance is on the raised ground floor. As a result, the stairs lead up to the main Hall like at Crown Hall by Mies. But the railings and the substructure of the stair landing are less elegant. The flooring was made of speckled granite instead of travertine. You have to take a close look to detect that it is not designed by Mies van der Rohe.


3241 S Federal St


Innovation Center IIT

The Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus was designed by John Ronan Architects. The institute is intended to support students at the university in turning their ideas into commercial concepts. In the Victor Morgenstern Pitch, students can present their ideas to an audience. The rectangular building fits into the master paln by Mies van der Rohe. The Innovation Center opened in 2018 and differs significantly from the buildings from the classic modern era. John Ronan's building is white, partially open on the ground floor and the facade of the two upper floors is made of ETFE membranes. The film made of ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer lets a lot of light into the building with a very low weight. ETFE membranes were also used at the Allianz Arena in Munich.

The floor space is located at two inner courtyards, some of which are green. The floor areas can be divided flexibly. The construction is made of white painted steel. The ground floor is completely glazed.


3137 S Federal St



McCormick Tribune Center

The IIT campus is cut into two parts by an elevated railway. The design of Rem Koolhaas connects these two halves with a multifunctional building, which is located below the elevated railway. The McCormick campus was built in 2003 by OMA. The train was placed over the building in a sound-absorbing corrugated iron tube made of stainless steel. The actual building is strongly angled and covered with colored glass elements. The McCormick Tribune Center connects directly to a Mies van der Rohe cafeteria on the east side. The new building offers an urban mix of different functions. It is the heart of the campus, connected to the center of Chicago. 

Other buildings by Rem Koolhaas OMA:

Architectural Guide Rotterdam   Architectural Guide The Hague



3201, S State St




Soldier Field Stadium

According to the Burnham plan, the shores of Lake Michigan should be kept clear of structures. The Soldier Field Stadium was built in 1924 according to the plans of Holabird & Roche. The stadium looked like a Greek temple perched over an amphitheater. The sports arena was renamed in honor of the American soldiers who had served in World War I. In 2003, the Soldier Field was rebuilt by the New York architecture firm Carlos Zapata Studio. Zapat places a futuristic glass and metal structure in the old shell made of Greek columns. The mixture is unusual but very interesting. The Soldier Field is the home of the Chicago Bears (American Football) and Chicago Fire (football).

Other buildings by Carlos Zapata:

Bitexco Financial Tower


1410 Museum Campus Dr



Solstice on the Park

The residential high-rise Solstice on the Park was designed by the architectural firm Studio Gang. The south facade is oriented towards the light of the sun on the day of the summer solstice. The glass facade takes up exactly this angle and allows less sun to shine into the apartment. The apartment does not heat up so much in summer and therefore uses less energy for cooling. The low-lying sun can penetrate unhindered in winter and provide solar warmth. In the upper part of the building there are 3 floors behind a slope, in the lower part, there are only 2 floors. From Solstice on the Park you can see Lake Michigan and the Museum of Science and Industry. The residential tower with 250 units was completed in 2018 and is located directly at Hyde Park, in the south of Chicago.


1616 E 56th St


Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House is located about 60 kilometers west of Chicago in the small town of Plano at the Fox River. Mies van der Rohe designed the weekend house for Dr. Edith Farnsworth in 1951. The doctor wanted a vacation home in the nature to recover from the stress of everyday work in Chicago. The building was designed as a glass house for one person. All outer walls are made of glass, in the core of the building there are two bathrooms, a storage room and the kitchenette.

The problem with a glass house is the heat in summer and the cold in winter. To protect the house from overheating, Mies van der Rohe placed the building in the shadow area of ​​a large tree. However, since the large glass panels cannot be opened, it is not possible to ventilate the interior, which made the Farnsworth House too hot in summer. The simple glazing and the underfloor heating were unsuitable for the winter because the heating took too long to warm up the building. Condensed water collected on the glas and dripped onto the floor. Because of these errors, Ms. Farnsworth did not pay her bill and legal proceedings ensued. After the judgment, the architect had to forego a small part of his fee.

Mies van der Rohe was of course aware of the building's problems, and he deliberately chose this type of construction. Opening sashes on windows mean wider window frames, convector heating under the windows, would have increased the height of the floor slab and sun protection elements in front of the facade changed the whole appearance. At that time, air conditioning systems were still very expensive and not fully developed.

What makes the Farnsworth House an architectural icon?

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was concerned with the unity of man and nature and his design principles such as proportions, detailed training and the principles of modern architecture. Accordingly, each building is a new prototype that can be mass-produced.

Farnsworth House is made of glass and steel, the materials of industry. It is aligned horizontally and appears to float above the ground. The proportions are balanced and the details are perfectly planned. You don't see any screws, the supports are not directly under the roof but slightly offset, the roof floats and seems to be connected to the supports only by magnetism. As with a piece of furniture, bumps were sanded off and eliminated with three layers of paint. All materials are noble and artfully processed. The building blends into the landscape, the boundaries between interior and nature disappear.

The owner

Mrs. Farnsworth wanted to use the building like a normal vacation home. But it is not a normal holiday home, it is a work of art in the landscape to experience the tranquility in nature. Simple and humble, like a Japanese tea house, in a Japanese garden. Clear and pure.

The house was planned by Mies according to the high water levels of the time, about 1.6 m above the normal water level. As the suburbs of Chicago were sealed, the Fox River overflowed more and more often. Eventually the house was flooded and all furniture was destroyed.

Dr. Farnsworth sold the house in 1972 to the British property owner Lord Palumbo, who understood the building like a Picasso. He hired Dirk Lohan, Mies' grandson, to renovate the Farnsworth house. An air conditioning system was installed on the roof and the oil heater was replaced by electrical equipment. The landscape around the house was redesigned and made accessible to the public. The interior was ruined by two more floods. Lord Palumbo sold the Farnsworth House in 2003 to a support association. The new owners want to install a hydraulic lift to protect the building from future flooding.

How to get there

Farnsworth House can be visited on a Chicago tour organized by the Chicago Architecture Center. For prices, dates and other information check the link. Those who travel by car should make reservations in advance.



14520 River Road Gate 1, Plano, IL



Map Chicago Architecture