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Architecture of Three Cool Chicago Government Buildings

By Jenn Harrman on May 7, 2014


So many cities across America have a neo-Classical style civic center and I think it’s fantastic that Chicago didn’t end up with one. Chicago government buildings, instead, have an awesome blend of historic, modern, and postmodern styles of architecture. Happily, we get to see all three on our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour.

Many Chicagoans have renewed their drivers license at the DMV in Helmut Jahn’s J. R. Thompson Center. I know that I have had plenty of CTA commutes where my day started by walking under the brilliant natural light of the Thompson Center’s grand atrium. Or maybe you’ve gotten your license for marriage…or divorce at the Daley Center. Whether you live in Chicago or just planning a visit, you may find its worth a closer look architecturally at these Chicago government buildings near our civic center.

City Hall/Cook County Building

The City Hall/Cook County Building looks from the outside like a seamless whole structure, thanks to Holabird and Roche’s smart design. However, is really a building split right in half. Cook County, which occupies the southern half, started their half first, and then the city completed the building design. Chicago’s most famous rooftop garden can also be found on the roof of city hall. Designed to test green roof systems, native and non-native vegetation, heating and cooling benefits, and reductions in rainwater runoff, the rooftop garden was completed in 2001.

chicago picasso daley center cor-ten
Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

The Daley Center

The Daley Center is faced with Cor-Ten Steel, the same material as the Picasso sculpture. This super strong material is great for sliding down. Children naturally use the Picasso as a slide, which makes sense since the material was historically used for making slides on playgrounds.

The Cook County Building

The Cook County Building is the pale yellow skyscraper that looks like someone stamped the windows out of it. Instead of being built by the government, which is more typical, this government building in Chicago was bought. The Brunswick Corporation, of bowling fame, had this building constructed. The company made everything from beautiful carved wood bars to the systems that retrieve your bowling ball.

–Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director


Chicago Detours offers guided walking and bus tours of architecture, history and culture to public and private groups. We are a passionate team of educators, historians, artists and storytellers, and are proud to be one of very few tour companies in Chicago that is rated five stars on both Google and TripAdvisor.


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