Chicago is a city of rich history and vibrant neighborhoods, but the city’s crown jewel is its downtown area and world-famous skyline. From the Willis Tower (or Sears Tower for those who resist) to the John Hancock Center to Water Tower Place, each building has its own story. Explore the architecture of Chicago’s skyline in our interactive below.

From the Willis Tower (or Sears Tower for those who resist) to the John Hancock Center, we often consider the skyline as a whole, forgetting that each building has its own story. Which is why we created this interactive animation, built-to-scale view of the Chicago skyline, as seen from Lake Michigan.

The interactive piece is built to-scale, and the scaling and building data comes from Emporis. Meanwhile, the “fun facts” for each building come from our architectural cruise, and more specifically, our docents.

  • The Skyscrapers

    The stars of the skyline are our taller scrapers, like the Willis Tower. Completed in 1973, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the United States until the completion of the second One World Trade Center Building in New York City. The John Hancock Center actually was completed before Willis in 1969, 100 floors of prime structural expressionism. A highlight is the 360 degree skywalk on the 95th floor, where four different states (Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan) can be seen. Another popular building housed in downtown is Water Tower Place, named for the nearby Chicago Water Tower. It is one of the few buildings in the area that was not destroyed by the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.

  • Mid-Sized Buildings

    Mid-sized buildings also have their place in the Chicago skyline, partly due to their unique stories. The Wrigley Building, for example, originally was designed as a headquarters for William Wrigley Jr.’s chewing gum company. At 333 N. Michigan, viewers will be able observe an optical illusion, as the 34-floor building looks to be at the center of the street due to its orientation along Michigan Avenue. And, for those cold, windy Chicago winters, we have Harbor Point. Completed in 1975, this building boasts one of the largest and deepest indoor pools in the city.

  • Recent Additions

    Aqua, finished in 2009, is the tallest building designed by a female-led firm in the Western Hemisphere. One of the most unique designs on the river tour, each of the building’s balconies is a different size, boasting “waves” made to reflect the building’s name. Trump Tower, also completed in 2009, can’t be missed as a newer addition to the skyline, with the name Trump displayed proudly on the building’s facade. Possibly due to its well-known place in pop culture, the Tower has been the site of shooting for several recent movies, including The Dark Knight and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. In a tribute to this century’s aim to be more “green,” 340 on the Park, finished in 2007, was the first residential building in the United States to receive LEED silver certification.

  • More to See

    Of course, this all just scratches the surface when it comes to the history of our famous skyline. For the best view of the city, join us on an Architectural River Cruise.