Recently, Kim and I spent a few days in Chicago, and we made sure to check out the Chicago Architecture Center’s cool new space. While we were there, we decided take their Art Deco Skyscrapers: The Riverfront tour. We saw so many excellent examples of Art Deco Architecture! Today, I’m sharing a few of the buildings on the tour.

Looking up at an Art Deco skyscraper with grey base and tan upper floorsEngineering Building (205 W. Wacker)

Art Deco was a popular design style during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The style was heavily influenced by the machine age and the economic prosperity of the times. Buildings have strong emphasis on vertical elements, and the exterior ornamentation is linear and geometric. (My What is Art Deco Architecture post has more information on the style.)

Art Deco Skyscrapers: The Riverfront tour is a ninety minute, guided, walking tour in the Chicago Loop. As the name suggests, most of the buildings are along the Chicago River/Wacker Drive, but there are a couple buildings that are a few blocks off the river. It’s a nice length – not too long or strenuous, but not too short, either. My favorite part was getting to actually go inside the buildings.

Our tour guide, Angela, did a great job of giving the historical context of the 1920’s, providing background information on buildings, pointing out details, and answering questions. Usually, you don’t pay a lot of attention to buildings, because you’re more focused on getting to where you’re going. Taking an architectural tour is an opportunity to slow down, really look around, and connect the historical dots.

Grey Art Deco ornamentation on Engineer's Building in Chicago.Engineering Building detail

Chicago Art Deco Architecture Tour

On the tour, we looked at several Art Deco buildings: 333 N. Michigan, Carbide and Carbon Building, Ford Motor Club, Trustees System Service, La Salle-Wacker Building, Engineering Buildingand the Merchandise Mart.

In this post, I’ll be taking a closer look at three of those buildings: the Chicago Motor Club, Trustees System Service, and the Merchandise Mart.

Chicago Motor Club

The Chicago Motor Club was designed by Holabird & Root and completed in 1929. It was the home to a “virile and fearless organization of motorists.” (Insert your own snarky comment here ?) The building was restored in 2015, converted into a Hampton Inn.  The lobby is quite gorgeous and even includes a Model A car on the balcony.

Art Deco exterior with limestone cladding, black columns and nickel decorative spandrel panels.Main entrance

Black Art Deco decorative column, nickel relief panel, and limestone wallEntrance column and spandrel panel

Art Deco Architecture - decorative nickel panel in a fountain designEntrance spandrel detail

Art Deco Architecture - interior nickel carved relief panelDecorative panel in lobby

Art Deco style light - three opaque platters with nickel spacersLobby lighting fixture

Art Deco nickel relief panel of a birdDecorative panel in lobby

Model A car sitting on a balcony with Art Deco nickel relief panel and railing.Lobby balcony

Trustees System Service

This former banking building was designed by Thielbar & Fugard and completed in 1930. It features so many typical Art Deco elements: from the ziggurat on top, to the carved relief panels of mythological figures, to the decorative metal panels at the entrance.

Building exterior with brown lower floors and tan upper floors.Two tone masonry exterior

Art Deco Architecture - light tan building top shaped in a ziggurat with a crown.Ziggurat and crown

Round faced brick columns on Art Deco building.Curved face brick

Art Deco Architecture: building entrance with black metal decorative panels and bronze revolving door.Entrance

Limestone wall with black granite carved Art Deco shieldFacade ornamentation

Art Deco limestone panels carved with mythological figures of Hermes and DemeterHermes & Demeter carved panels

Art Deco carved limestone panel of HermesHermes panel

Illuminated black metal panels in an Art Deco design, behind black mullionsMetal screen at entrance

Merchandise Mart

Finally, we visited the Merchandise Mart. Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White for the Marshall Field Company, it was the world’s largest building (4,000,000 s.f.) when it opened in 1930.

Art Deco Architecture: exterior of massive limestone building.Exterior facing the Chicago River

Art Deco building exterior of limestone with chevron carvingsChevron motif

Limestone chevron window frame and green metal window sign with Art Deco designWindow  frames

Art Deco lobby with terrazzo floors, decorative window frames and large murals. Main lobby

Art Deco style terrazzo floors in a chevron design. Terrazzo floor of main lobby

Very large Art Deco bronze letter box. Mail box in main lobby

If you’re in Chicago, I really recommend taking one of Chicago Architecture Center’s tours. Especially the Art Deco Skyscrapers. I think this tour cured my Art Deco “itch”. At least for awhile.

Here are some great books about Art Deco:

Art Deco Architecture: Design, Decoration, and Detail from the Twenties and Thirties

American Art Deco: Architecture and Regionalism Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America





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Collage of Art Deco Architecture - dark grey building ornamentation

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