Best Books on Chicago Architecture

People often come on our Chicago architecture walking tours and then get inspired to learn more. “What are some of the best books on Chicago architecture”? In our opinion, these are the quintessential books for learning about Chicago architecture, planning, and history.

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 book examines Chicago from the perspective of environmental history. Wait, what’s “environmental history?” Cronon chronicles how the growth of the massive metropolis of Chicago consumed the natural resources throughout the midwest. Chicago gobbled up anything from the Great Plains to Northern Michigan. This book blew my mind. The book doesn’t focus on architecture, but it explains how Chicago could become such a mecca for buildings.

Constructing Chicago by Daniel Bluestone.

This seminal work proposes that…gasp…Chicago’s development wasn’t fueled by commercial consideration alone. Cultural and aesthetic forces helped shaped the city we know today. 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

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Ellen

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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