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Chicago Architecture Walking Tour - Downtown

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Stop 1 - The Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago Architecture Walking Tour - Downtown

Art Institute of Chicago © Prescott Carlson

Chicago is home to some of the United States most important architecture -- there was even an architectural movement founded by William Le Baron Jenney called the Chicago School which resulted in many of Chicago's most recognizable structures. Taking an architectural walking tour of Chicago is a great way to experience the city and discover the little details that make Chicago great. A good tour to start with is a look at some of the building's in Chicago's south Loop.

First stop is at Chicago's revered Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. In 1891 architects John Root and Daniel Burnham were given responsibility to oversee construction along Chicago's lakefront for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Root envisioned a more modern design for the fair keeping in line with the rising Chicago School, but Root suddenly died from pneumonia before construction began, and Burnham and others changed Root's designs to a neoclassical Beaux-Arts design, which is very prominent at the Art Institute. The building is symmetrical, with plenty of arches, bas-relief panels, and columns typical of the style. If you look along the top of the building, the names of many prominent artists are carved into the stone -- a bit of wishful thinking on the designers' part, as almost none of the artists have had works displayed at the museum.

On the north side is the Modern Wing, and its design by architect Renzo Piano stands in stark contrast to the main building.

Check this out: the museum's famed bronze lions flanking its entry staircase appear to be identical at first glance, but they're really not -- the lion on the south end "stands in an attitude of defiance," and the north end lion is "on the prowl."

Special thanks to Margaret Hicks from the Chicago Architecture Foundation for guiding me along.

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