World-renowned architect Rafael Vinoly took inspiration from Chicago when he was building NEMA Chicago and was inspired to make it the city's tallest rental building. The newly finished building has become a prominent icon in the Chicago skyline. The city's architecture spans a breathtaking spectrum of styles, from cathedral-inspired skyscrapers to midcentury gems that feature on indie album covers. The best way to see these buildings? Take the Chicago River Boat Architecture Tour. Here are some of the architectural wonders to watch out for.
Chicago might be the city that invented the American skyscraper, yet many of its grand towers owe a debt to the European architecture of old. One of the skyline's most recognizable sights is the Wrigley Building, a gleaming terracotta tower that takes its cue from the Seville Cathedral. The Tribune Tower is inspired by another grand church; its stately crown-shaped apex pays homage to Rouen Cathedral's Tour de Beurre. Built at about the same time as the Wrigley and the Tribune Tower, in the mid-1920s, the Chicago Board of Trade Building is a dazzling Art Deco behemoth, topped with the figure of Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture.
You may know Marina City as the “Corn Cob,” owing to the unique cylindrical shape of its apartment towers. Or you might think of it as the “Wilco Towers.” (The towers star as the artwork of the 2002 album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," by the band Wilco.) Whatever you call it, this ambitious modernist complex, completed in 1967, is something very special. Designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg as a “city within a city,” Marina remains one of the best-loved symbols of Chicago. Look out, too, for 1968's Lake Point Tower; its gracefully curved triple-winged form inspired the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Some Chicago skyscrapers are impossible to miss. The John Hancock Center reaches 1,500 feet into the heavens (including its antenna masts), and contains offices, restaurants, and luxury rentals. On special occasions, the black-hued exterior is illuminated in dazzling lights — during the holiday season, for instance, it glows red and green. Another supertall structure you'll encounter on the boat tour as it wends its way toward the South Loop is the Willis Tower. Once the world's tallest building, it's now perhaps best known for its Skydeck, where brave souls step out onto glass-floored balconies 103 stories up. Do look down ... but only if you can stomach it.