Best Books on Chicago Architecture

By Amanda on May 21, 2015


People often come on our Chicago architecture walking tours and then get inspired to learn more and ask, “What are some of the best books on Chicago architecture”? Here is a list of some of the quintessential books for learning about Chicago architecture and how the city developed into a mecca for urban planning.

AIA Guide to Chicago This book is a standard reference for anyone wanting to learn about Chicago buildings. Is there an old brick building on your block that intrigues you? Or a very new development that you are wondering about? You can look it up in this book and the buildings most notable for their architecture and history will have brief write-ups that explain the year built, architect, and striking characteristics about the architecture. This book also gives some great overviews of neighborhood history.

Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon. This is a book written by an expert in environmental history. Wait, what’s “environmental history”? Basically Cronon chronicles how the growth of the massive metropolis of Chicago consumed the natural resources throughout the midwest. It’s like Chicago gobbled up anything from the Great Plains to Northern Michigan. This book blew my mind. While it isn’t necessary focused on architecture, it explains the roots for how Chicago could become such a mecca for buildings.

Constructing Chicago by Daniel Bluestone. This seminal work proposes that…gasp…Chicago development wasn’t purely fueled by commerce, but also cultural forces that shaped the city. I really like how the chapters divide the landscape of Chicago thematically, as Bluestone explores park designs, civic buildings, and churches, too. This book on Chicago architecture ultimately gives you an entirely new perspective for the social and cultural forces that have shaped how the Chicago landscape looks today. 

Lost Chicago by David Lowe. So often our desire to learn about Chicago architecture comes from the buildings we see, but what about all the buildings long gone? The city changes and grows, and part of that process is demolition. This book of Chicago architecture shows beautiful photographs of the buildings and spaces that we wish were still around. Your heart will drop seeing the gorgeous grand bar that was lost as the side of Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Building was torn off for the creation of the Congress Street Expressway in the 1950s.

Start with these necessary books on Chicago architecture, and then we can start talking about books on Chicago architects, such as Louis Sullivan or Frank Lloyd Wright.

— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director