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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Green Travel: Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise

by Kim Wallace

Tags: green architecture, chicago architecture, chicago river cruise, chicago architecture foundation river cruise, LEED, chicago's first lady, chicago river, willis tower, sears tower, marina city, tribune tower, aqua at lakeshore east, lake point tower,

Climb on board Chicago’s First Lady for an in-depth lesson on the city’s stunning architecture as you sail the Chicago River during the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. The tour highlights more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River and provides an outline of the many notable and new buildings in the city.

Chicago Architecture River Cruise Chicago's First Lady
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise lasts about 90 minutes and costs $32; be sure to pack natural sunscreen, sunglasses and an umbrella just in case! Photo Courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation.

My favorite buildings from the tour are a mix of old and new, retrofit and green from the ground up.

Marina City

Designed in the 1960s by Bertrand Goldberg, Marina City consists of 60-story twin towers with semicircular balconies (the towers resemble corn on the cob!). The towers stand on the north bank of the Chicago River and are home to apartments, parking garages (on the lower section), eateries, shops and a hotel. Marina City was designed with energy efficiency and community in mind; check out our friends at Apartment Therapy’s feature on a pair of Marina City dwellers.

Marina City
Shaped like corncobs, Marina City towers add texture and visual interest to the Chicago skyline. Photo By fusionpanda/Courtesy Flickr 

Tribune Tower

In 1922 the Chicago Tribune kicked off a competition inviting architects around the world to design the newspaper’s new office building. The winning neo-Gothic design from New York architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood features ornate buttresses at the top and integrates 120 stone fragments from landmarks such as the Alamo, the Colosseum and the Great Wall of China. The 34-story building is located on North Michigan Avenue. 

Tribune Tower Chicago
Dubbed "the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world," the Tribune Tower's decorative detailing caught my eye. Photo By cbnight/Courtesy Flickr. 

Lake Point Tower

Dark and curvy, Lake Point Tower radiates grace and mystery. Designed in the 1960s by John Heinrich and George Schipporeit, this modernist residential building is the only skyscraper in downtown Chicago east of Lake Shore Drive. Lake Point Tower, made from glass and steel, curves into a unique clover-shape and offers beautiful views of the Chicago skyline and bustling Navy Pier.

Lake Point Tower Chicago
Lake Point Tower is the only residential building built on the same side as Navy Pier. Photo By noktulo/Courtesy Flickr. 

Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower)

Formerly known as both the Sears Tower and the tallest building in the world, the newly renamed Willis Tower (after tenant and British insurance firm Willis Group Holdings) opened in the 1970s and was first home to Sears Roebuck. Now, the famed skyscraper is undergoing another transformation that will add another talking point to its name—energy-efficient Willis Tower! Chicago firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture is designing at $350 million retrofit to the landmark building that will reduce energy use in the base building by 80 percent and reduce water use by 40 percent, according to a podcast by the U.S. Green Building Council. First-fixes include replacing the inefficient, single-pane windows, upgrading to gas boilers that use fuel-cell technology and designing water-efficient landscaping systems.

Willis Tower Sears Tower
At 1,450 feet and 110 stories, Willis Tower overpowers many buildings in both Chicago and in the U.S. Photo By Andrew Paul Kirchofer/Courtesy Flickr. 

Aqua at Lakeshore East

Aqua at Lakeshore East is built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Aqua at Lakeshore East is still awaiting final certification from the USGBC. Designed by architecture firm Studio Gang, Aqua Tower is the fifth tallest building in the world completed in 2009. This 87-floor mixed-use building features sun-shading balconies that keep the structure naturally cooled in warm months, eco-friendly and rapidly renewable bamboo flooring, energy-efficient appliances and public electric car charging stations in the parking garage.

Aqua at Lakeshore East Chicago
Aqua's balconies add curves and dimension to an othewise straight building. Photo By gshowman/Courtesy Flickr.