Weekend Getaways: Explore the Monuments of Ludwig Mies in Chicago

Discover the Windy City through its architectural history

Chris Gaitten
AMA Plaza and Marina City, as seen from LondonHouse

In a list of the world’s 25 most significant buildings of the postwar era, published in August by The New York Times Style Magazine, only one architect appeared twice—Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the German-born modernist pioneer. Though best known for New York City’s Seagram Building, his longtime home of Chicago boasts more of Mies than anywhere else.

The largest collection of his buildings is on the South Side, at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he helmed the architecture department after leaving Germany in 1937. His signature aesthetic—rectangular forms of glass and steel with exposed skeletons—can be seen in residential high-rises along Lake Michigan, from the Commonwealth Promenade Apartments in Lakeview (1959) to Hyde Park’s Promontory Apartments (1949), near a manmade peninsula with a scenic picnic spot.

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Mies’ later developments, many completed after his death in 1969, are concentrated in the downtown Loop. The most ambitious, requiring 16 years of work, is the Chicago Federal Center—three buildings seemingly carved from obsidian. Another of his sleek black towers, on East Wacker Drive, houses the Chicago Architecture Center, which offers exhibits, tours and ever-popular cruises. Chicago River expeditions—available through other tour companies as well—provide incredible views of dozens of iconic structures, including Mies’ 52-story AMA Plaza, which rises in stark contrast to next-door neighbor Marina City, Bertrand Goldberg’s whimsical corn-cob residential towers. Reserve a rooftop table at the LondonHouse hotel on the opposite bank for a photogenic vantage point.

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The skyline’s newest addition is the wavy blue glass façade of the St. Regis Chicago, overlooking the river mouth. The skyscraper is the world’s tallest building designed by a woman, the city’s own Jeanne Gang, and it provides a graceful counterpoint to Mies’ rigid heaviness. Here’s hoping Chicago will someday overflow with her work too.

Flights from Columbus to Chicago

United, six daily; American, five to six daily; Southwest, two to three daily; United and American fly to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, while Southwest goes to Chicago Midway International Airport.

Travel Tip: Timing is Everything

Check ahead with tourist attractions about whether they require timed admissions, a common COVID-era safety policy.

This story is from the October 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.