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The greatest American architect of all time? That was the honour bestowed on Frank Lloyd Wright in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects. In a career spanning more than 70 years, he designed a whopping 1000 structures. Lloyd Wright favoured "organic architecture", where built structures mimicked nature, and developed a new approach that came to be known as "prairie style". He spent the first 20 years of his career in Chicago, where his legacy lives on, particularly in the Oak Park neighbourhood. There you'll find the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, which he designed and resided in from 1889 to 1909. Nearby is Unity Temple, the only surviving building from Lloyd Wright's prairie school period. A total of 22 other Wright-designed structures in this district make it an essential stop for the architecture enthusiast. See flwright.org
SEARS (WILLIS) TOWER
True Chicagoans never refer to it by its new name, Willis Tower. To them, it always was and always will be Sears Tower. In 1970, Sears was the largest retailer in the world. It wanted the largest, most impressive headquarters in the world, so it commissioned one of the first super-tall skyscrapers ever built. Bold and beautiful at 110 stories, it was the tallest building in the world for 25 years after its unveiling in 1974. A Chicago landmark, Sears Tower was designed to withstand the Windy City's ferocious gusts. See it from a different angle – if you dare – when you buy a ticket to experience The Ledge, a glass balcony jutting out from the 103rd floor. See theskydeck.com
Fans of German-born architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe like to make pilgrimages to the Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Chicago. There they marvel at the largest group of buildings designed by "Mies", the Bauhaus-influenced master of American modernism and one of the 20th century's most influential architects. Docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation offer main campus tours, with an emphasis on the two decades between 1938 and 1958, when Mies was head of the School of Architecture. Given the task of designing a new campus from scratch, Mies created a spacious, open, learning space that to this day is considered one of the most beautiful in the US. See architecture.org
ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
When the Art Institute of Chicago unveiled its newly built Modern Wing in 2009, it became the second largest art museum in the US, second only to the mighty Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, the new wing granted much needed additional footprint to the museum that has been delighting locals and visitors for almost 140 years. The expansion cost the museum's donors about $US300 million for the commanding glass-and-steel statement of modernity as a counterpoint to the original 1893 beaux arts facade. As for the museum's permanent collections, with more than 300,000 works on display ranging from ancient Greek sculptures to postwar pop art, plan to stay awhile. See artic.edu
If it's a sunny day, walk from the Art Institute to the adjacent Millennium Park and enjoy some top-notch people-watching. The immensely popular public space has been influenced by a roll-call of architecture superstars. Frank Gehry designed the $US60 million Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue where music festivals and the like attract huge crowds. Over at Cloud Gate, the stainless steel structure known to all as "the Bean", Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor's creation forms the perfect backdrop for selfies. And Spaniard Jaume Plensa's contribution to the park, The Crown Fountain, makes the perfect splash with a reflecting pool that kids of all ages can't wait to dip their toes in. See cityofchicago.org
JOHN HANCOCK CENTRE
A striking skyscraper with its tapered frame of black steel, the John Hancock Centre has been an iconic fixture on the Chicago skyline since 1969. Designed by Bruce Graham (also the visionary behind Sears Tower), under supervision by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the building boasts an expressionist inside-out facade that must have packed a futuristic punch 50 years ago. Soaring high above the famed Magnificent Mile, the building was named for one of the original tenants, the John Hancock life insurance company. Now called 360 Chicago, it's been reimagined as a tourist destination, complete with open-air Skywalk, 360-degree viewing platform and a popular restaurant on the 95th floor. See 360chicago.com
Kristie Kellahan travelled with assistance from Choose Chicago.
Join Traveller's editor on our exclusive US architecture tour
Traveller editor Anthony Dennis invites readers to join a unique expert-led tour of the best architecture of the US.
In partnership with escorted journey specialists Collette, Traveller editor Anthony Dennis would like to invite readers on an exclusive, expert-led architecture, design and heritage-themed tour of the US, including Chicago. You'll travel in June this year in the company of carefully-selected special guests, with the tour including a strong focus on Wright as well as Griffin. There's also the opportunity to stay in and tour some of the most historic hotels in the US as well as visiting the architecture capital of New York City. See traveller.com.au/traveller-tours-usa-june-2018