Skyscrapers of Chicago From the River

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 started it all.

The city had to first burn down before it could build up. And up and up.

Before the fire of 1871, the city of Chicago was a city of wood. When the city was rebuilt, wooden buildings where banned in downtown by bylaws. Architects had to find other building materials and they chose steel!

A great way to see Chicago’s architecture, especially the skyscrapers, is from the Chicago River. And the best way to do that is to take an architectural boat cruise.

Cruises are offered by many companies but the best are run by the Chicago Architecture Center, so I boarded Chicago’s First Lady at 3:15 and sketched the scene before we departed (featured sketch).

Each cruise has a volunteer docent that gives history and insight into the towering buildings the boat passes under. Our docent, Mike, was especially interested in my sketches. I feel the best way to understand architecture (or anything else really), is to sketch it. I planned to do some quick sketches on the tour but I was too engrossed with the architecture and history to open a sketchbook and make that pen dance.

What follows are some photos from the cruise.

The twin 61 story residential towers of Marina City (1967).
A Chicago Art Deco masterpiece the Union Carbide and Carbon Building (1929). It is said that the top of this build was designed to look like a Champagne bottle. You be the judge.
Another Art Deco masterpiece: the Merchandise Mart (1930).
One of Chicago’s newest skyscrapers: the St. Regis tower, at 1,198 feet is the third tallest skyscraper in Chicago. The 101 story tower was completed in 2020. It was designed by Jeanne Gang making it the tallest building in the world designed by a woman.

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