Take a Walking Tour of the Windy City’s Architectural Wonders

An architecture tour of Chicago is on every visitor’s must-do list. It’s not surprising, given the city’s collection of incredible buildings. In fact, Chicago claims to have invented the skyscraper. Any Windy City architecture tour allows visitors to marvel at the feats of engineering and architecture that span styles from turn-of-the-century to modernism. Our architecture tour, however, homes in on the stones that helped build these great buildings, and helped to make Chicago the Paris of the Prairies.

Indeed, the stones in the Polycor portfolio are a fixture of the Chicago skyline; superior Indiana limestone, unmatchable GEORGIA MARBLE™, subtle but strong JAY WHITE™ granite and flawless, even grained BETHEL WHITE granite have helped the Windy City skyline cut such an imposing figure.

Shedd Aquarium

At the southern edge of Grant Park is Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. It was built in 1929 and was, for many years, the largest aquarium in the world. It’s home to over 32,000 animals, from tiny seahorses to Beluga whales. You can also see reptiles, birds, white-sided dolphins, friendly sea otters, arctic penguins, and, naturally, all kinds of fish and coral species. The museum’s collection is cleverly displayed by geographic regions, including the Caribbean Reef, Amazon, the Great Lakes, Asia and Africa. The Shedd is named after John G. Shedd, a Marshall Field executive who funded the project. Its location, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is just right for an aquarium. Naturally, the space offers amazing views of the lakefront, but also of the city skyline. Have lunch on the aquarium’s patio to take in the views. The aquarium’s distinctive and exhibit-friendly octagonal shaped architecture is eye-popping: Prestigious Chicago firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed it to look like a neoclassical temple, and it features an elaborately carved stone facade. The architects used GEORGIA MARBLE™ WHITE GEORGIA™ from the Polycor quarry. Marble was the height of fashionability when the museum was built, as it is today. In 1991, the modernist Abbott Oceanarium addition, was annexed to the aquarium. It was sheathed in the same classic marble as the museum, proving its value and desirability over the many decades the aquarium has been enjoyed.

Field Museum

Next, it’s about a two minute walk to the state-of-the-art Field Museum, a legacy of Chicago’s Field family of the department store fame. In 1921, the natural history museum moved from its South Side home to its current location in Museum Campus, neighboring the Shedd Aquarium and other Chicago cultural institutions. A visit to the Field should include saying hello to the star of the museum, Sue, the largest, best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil in the world, and a journey to the Underground Adventure, where museum goers shrink to a tenth of their size. (And why not also stop for an ice-cold pint of Tooth & Claw, Sue’s signature beer at the onsite bistro?) The museum is not only one of the largest natural history museums in the world, it’s also one of the outstanding downtown Chicago structures of the 1920s and 1930s. The imposing museum comprises nearly half a million square feet. It was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and made of GEORGIA MARBLE WHITE GEORGIA™, 350,000 cubic feet worth. Twenty acres of the lustrous stone were used in the floor space, making the Field Museum the largest marble building in the United States. The museum was recently updated so that it could acquire LEED status, a fascinating exercise for a building with neoclassical stone walls. The characteristic colors of White Georgia™ marble—a soft blend of shimmering white crystals, gently brushed with subdued light grey veining- give the building a timeless brilliance.

Apple Store

Sir Norman Foster, the famed modernist architect, is the name behind Chicago’s recently inaugurated Chicago flagship Apple Store on North Michigan Avenue, at the top end of Grant Park. The new ultra-modernist addition to the Windy City’s storied architecture legacy beckons people in with its transparent look. It’s a large glass rectangle with a witty Mac-book shaped roof, a look in step with Apple’s forward-thinking design. The space is meant to be a community hangout as much as a retail store. For the cladding Foster used INDIANA LIMESTONE – STANDARD SILVER BUFF a neutral, cool gray buff material featuring subtle silver colored veining, for the Apple Logo sign that is a design highlight in the hyper-minimalist space. Proof, once again, that the natural stone is a match for all sorts of projects: from pavers and steps to the most iconic urban buildings. The store is an excellent spot to take a rest if you’d like. If you want to learn how to use all those filters on your iPhone why not sit in on one of the free Apple classes they give daily? After make sure to stop in at nearby iconic Garrett Popcorn and grab a bag of their famous Chicago mix.

The Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry attracts close to two million visitors per year covering diverse areas like energy, the environment, the human body, space exploration and transportation. Located on the South Side, not far from the University of Chicago, the Beaux-Arts building designed by Charles C. Atwood, was built for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition as the Palace of Fine Arts. After the fair the building was occupied by the Field Museum. But in 1921 the Field Museum moved to its current home in Grant Park and the building, which was initially constructed as a temporary structure, started to deteriorate fast. In 1926, Julius Rosenwald, owner of Sears, Roebuck & Co. came to the rescue. Inspired by a visit in 1911 to the Deutsches Museum in Munich featuring interactive exhibits, he wanted to bring such a museum to Chicago. His $3 million gift founded the Rosenwald Industrial Museum.

The plaster-clad building was reconstructed with Indiana limestone and Georgia marble. The original exterior, including the 24 carved caryatids, was kept while the interior was adapted to its new purpose as an industry museum. In 1928, the museum changed its name to the Museum of Science and Industry, and it officially opened in 1933, just in time for the Century of Progress Exposition. The building was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1995.

Tribune Tower

When preparing a home for his influential newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, in the 1920’s the illustrious publisher Colonel McCormick, wanted “the most beautiful office building in the world.” An international design competition was held. Entries came from the four corners of the earth. The winner was Hood and Howells’ with a design for a building that would become a fixture on the Chicago skyline. The Tribune Tower incorporates several architectural styles. The building’s crown recalls a Medieval European tower, which was said to be inspired by the famous Tour de Beurre of the Rouen Cathedral in France. But this was built in large part as a working office building. The Lower Office, the four bottom stories of the building, is a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture, with ornamental detailing, vertical piers and horizontal spandrels characteristic of the style. It’s sheathed in INDIANA LIMESTONE – FULL COLOR BLEND™, a stone with a reputation for being highly amenable to carving. In fact, many of the limestone wall carvings were done right on the building site. It well served the Art Deco skyscraper style of this gorgeous building.

The Ritz Carlton

Next stop: Check into—or just check out—the stunning Ritz Carlton hotel. Well-situated on the Magnificent Mile, the Ritz Carlton is a part of the fabric of Chicago. The hotel recently completed a $100 million renovation. When the building was originally built in 1975, Polycor White Cherokee™ and GEORGIA MARBLE PEARL GREY™ were used to sheath the facade of the building. While imagining the renovation several years ago, the hotel insisted on maintaining a connection between the building’s exterior and interior. The stunning new interior is now brimming from floor to ceiling with the same Pearl Grey™ marble, including sleek 19-foot marble columns in the lobby inspired by the building’s marble exterior. The quarry was able to cut the marble slabs to 1 cm allowing the Ritz Carlton to say that has the thinnest marble slabs on the market. Such ingenuity has, needless to say economic advantages. By causing a two-thirds reduction in weight, the lightweight marble meant less manpower and time and thus less cost to the project. The renovation is a great exercise in tradition meets industrial ingenuity.

NY Life Insurance Building – The Kimpton Gray

The grand New York Life Insurance Building is in the Financial District adjacent to Chicago’s Loop neighborhood. It was designed by William Le Baron Jenney, who was known as the Father of the American Skyscraper. It was completed as a 12-story structure in 1894 (later adding two more stories) and featured design elements unique to its time. The three-story base was clad in Jay White™ granite, a distinct white stone from the quarries of Maine. The stories above were in terra cotta, an innovative mix of materials at the time. Though it had maintained a protected heritage status it wasn’t in use after the recent financial crunch. But in 2016 the building was beautifully reimagined as a boutique hotel, now called the Kimpton Gray.

Civic Opera House

On the western outskirts of the loop,The Civic Opera House covers a block bounded by the Chicago River, and three major city center streets. The 42-story tower is flanked by two 22-story wings, making it look like a giant throne. The structure hosts one of the world’s largest and finest opera houses and was a cutting edge work of architecture when it came up in the late 1920s. The building was the vision of electronics magnate Samuel Insull who wanted his opera house to embody “the spirit of a community which is still youthful and not much hampered by traditions.” The new temple of music took just 22 months to build, thrusting its massive INDIANA LIMESTONE – STANDARD BUFF ™ walls upon the city with a frenzy of excitement and appreciation. The first opera performed there was Verdi’s Aida, a legendary evening in Chicago history. The massing of huge slabs of limestone into a thrilling vertical building helped make the Opera House an integral part of the famous Chicago skyscraper style.

National Hellenic Museum

Waiting for you at the last stop on your tour is the National Hellenic Museum. The museum celebrates Greek culture through the ages, including its contribution to American society. (Remember, Greece is the birthplace of Democracy!) The museum opened its doors on Halsted Street in Greektown, the original Greektown neighborhood of the United States, in 2011. A dramatic open stairway links the museum’s rotating galleries that showcase over 17,000 artifacts from thousands of years of Greek history. The Museum was designed by Greco-American architect Demetrios Stavrianos; it’s a modernist building—a stone cube floating on glass—that nonetheless heavily references classical Greek architecture. The building was constructed with natural Indiana limestone and glass, materials which represent the artistic and technological traditions with which Greeks have impacted the world through the ages. The Indiana limestone shows all its assets in this project and lovely addition to Chicago’s architecture: from natural beauty to consistency, versatility, durability, and cost effectiveness.