Chicago architecture is big, a sight for sore eyes, and known the world over. The city is also considered to be “the birthplace of the American skyscraper.” So, when you think of Chicago architecture, Willis Tower stands out in this Windy City.

What was first known as the Sears Tower is iconic in the heart of America. “At 110 stories high, Willis Tower is also one of the largest skyscrapers in the world,” according to When it was completed with help from more than 2,000 workers in 1973, it was the world’s tallest building.

Previously Known as Sears Tower

Willis Tower ChicagoYou really can’t talk about Chicago architecture history without mentioning Willis Tower and its importance overall. Back in 1969, Sears Roebuck and Company was the bigwig of retailers and the world’s largest at that. With roughly 350,000 employees, the company needed a large enough office for many of those staff members. Architects Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill were commissioned for the design of the building while, “Fazlur Khan, the structural engineer, designed the ‘bundled tube’ design that handled both wind and gravity,” according to The Sky Deck.

Interesting and Cool Facts about Willis Tower

Ground broke in 1970, and the building took three years to complete. According to Skydeck, “The builders used enough concrete to make an eight- lane highway five miles long.” Some other cool and fun facts about the building include that it has:

  • 25 miles of plumbingWillis Tower Chicago
  • 1,500 miles of electric wiring
  • 80 miles of elevator cable
  • 796 restroom faucets
  • More than 145,000 light fixtures
  • 12,000 construction workers, Sears employees, and Chicagoans signed the last beam put in place

The Sears Tower name continued even after Sears Roebuck and Company sold the building and moved in 1988. It wasn’t until 2009 that it was renamed after London-based insurance broker, the Willis Group.

According to WillisTower, some additional interesting details through the years include:

  • In 1982 the broadcast antennae were added.Willis Tower Chicago
  • In 1985, Wacker Drive Atrium was added to base of the tower, featuring arched glass.
  • In 2000, Skydeck, the observation deck on floor 103, was renovated for the first time.
  • In 2009, Sears Tower became Willis Tower.
  • In 2015, Blackstone bought Willis Tower.
  • In 2017, a five-year renovation began.
  • In 2022, renovations were completed, which included Art of the Neighborhood and a rooftop greenspace.

Willis Tower is so ingrained in Chicago architecture along with other spectacular buildings. Not only is the city home to some of the world’s most unique skyscrapers, “Chicago structures also feature a range of genre-defining styles,” according to Chicago Architecture Cruises & Tours (The Ultimate Guide). There is such a diversity of styles in the city, making it a great destination for anyone who wants to be inspired by Chicago architecture.

Cruise Chicago to Get Up Close to Top Architectural Spots in the City

seadog on the chicago river

One of the best ways to see Chicago architecture, including Willis Tower, up close and personal is by taking a Chicago Architecture Cruise. You’ll get to see the architectural styles that make Chicago the city it is. They include Chicago School (or Commercial Style), the Second Chicago School (more modern), Prairie School (a Midwestern flavor), Late Modernism, Millennium Modern, Art Deco, Postmodernism, and International Style/Miesian Modern.

Start with the Chicago Seadog River & Lake Architectural Tour where you can enjoy Chicago’s iconic skyline while cruising the Chicago River. You’ll depart on the 75-minute narrated cruise directly from Navy Pier. The cruise is perfect for getting up-close views of Chicago’s unique architecture and famous landmarks. The cruise is the only tour that will take you from the lakefront, through the locks, and along the Chicago River all the way to Willis Tower. You’ll enjoy the most incredible views of Chicago’s famous buildings and unique architecture with live and entertaining narrations. You will also get the chance to enjoy the speed of Seadog after the cruise. A short speedboat ride on the lake will be just what the doctor ordered. Seadog is BYOB, so bring your own drinks to enjoy on the water (but no glass containers).

city cruises on the chicago river

Take the Premier Plus Architectural Brunch Cruise on the Chicago River for some Chicago architecture from a more formal standpoint. Dress up for this two-hour brunch cruise on the Chicago River where you can experience the best of Chicago with a three-course, chef-prepared plated menu. You will get to view the top of some incredible Chicago skyscrapers while enjoying bottomless mimosas (for those 21 and older with valid ID). The picturesque views of Chicago architecture all around the boat come with a narrated architectural tour of the city with ambient music between landmarks. Enjoy creative cocktails (available for purchase) and distinctive service from the climate-controlled interior and an open-air outdoor deck. It’s perfect for a celebratory brunch for two or even an afternoon with friends and family on the water. You will have a guaranteed table for your party size as well.

There’s nothing quite like Chicago and its inviting skyline and waterside location. Take a cruise or two to embark on a scenic tour of Chicago architecture like you’ve never seen before.