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With the 2022 AIA Conference on Architecture in Chicago beginning June 22, RECORD reached out to a who’s who of local design notables for ideas on experiencing the best of the best while you’re in town. From Jeanne Gang’s top birdwatching spot, to Bill Baker’s favorite bar, to Kate Wagner’s suggested road trip, read on for an array of insider tips that will help you see America’s most celebrated architecture mecca in a whole new light.

Neighborhood Walking Tours

Grant Park, especially Millennium Park and Cloud Gate. There is great art here, along with beautiful promenades and gardens, wonderful evening concerts in summer, and ice skating in winter—all with a backdrop of the historic great Michigan Avenue wall of Chicago architecture. It is one of the great public spaces in the world. —Adrian Smith, Partner, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

If guests are feeling adventurous, I would suggest trying the Historic Pullman Foundation’s free self-guided walking/driving tour pamphlet. Or visit a Chicago neighborhood with Chicago Mahogany Tours (covering areas such as North Lawndale, Bronzeville, Roseland, and Bridgeport), where you will be guided by Chicago native Sherman “Dilla” Thomas. His tours expose the rich tapestry of Chicago's overall history, with an emphasis on underexposed aspects of Black Chicago. —RaMona Westbrook, Founder, Brook Architecture

Easy: the Illinois Institute of Technology! Where else can you find the campus plan that would redefine the American university (and simultaneously invent the American research park) and house the largest collection in the world of buildings by Mies van der Rohe (as well as those by IIT faculty member John Ronan, the late Helmut Jahn, the irrepressible Rem Koolhaas, and the elegant Myron Goldsmith)? No brainer. —Reed Kroloff, Dean, Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture

Crown Hall Mies van der Rohe.

Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall on the IIT campus. Photo © Joe Ravi via Flickr

The 606, the city’s laid-back answer to Manhattan’s uber-chic High Line. Take the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line to this elevated former freight line, now a pedestrian and bike trail about five miles northwest of downtown. Named for the city’s ZIP Code prefix, the 606 offers a “horticultural gallery” of plantings by Michael Van Valkenburgh and views of hip adjoining neighborhoods like Bucktown and Wicker Park. —Blair Kamin, Contributing Editor, Architectural Record

Favorite Works of Legendary Chicago Architecture

The Monadnock Building at 53 West Jackson Boulevard [by Burnham & Root and Holabird & Roche]. Built after the advent of the steel frame, the six-foot-thick masonry walls on the ground floor of this brick monolith stubbornly adhere to the orthodoxies of a prior era while reaching for the sky, with dramatic results. An act of resistance in clay. —John Ronan, Founding Principal, John Ronan Architects

The Inland Steel Building at 30 W. Monroe St [1958; designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill]. I liked it so much that we walked off the street and into the office of the building one day to ask about renting space. Our studio was located in the Inland Steel Building for over 10 years, and it was a glorious space to work in. —Carol Ross Barney, Founder, Ross Barney Architects

Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House

The Robie House in 1933. Photo © Library of Congress

On the list would be Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterful Robie House [5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.]. Slipped onto its site like an elongated brick yacht in dry-dock, this turn-of-the-20th-century stunner is the apotheosis of Wright's Prairie Style. Here is an example of the master at work in his mature style—all stretched lintels, recessed mortar joints, rakish cantilevers, and banded windows in a sleek repudiation of the Victorian dandification of the age. —Reed Kroloff

Chicago is blessed with an embarrassment of architectural riches, so being asked to pick a single favorite historic building is, quite frankly, ridiculous. That said, here are three personal favorites, all easily found downtown: Louis Sullivan’s corner-turning, exquisitely decorated former Carson Pirie Scott store, 1 S. State St.; the mighty, X-braced former John Hancock Center, by SOM, 875 N. Michigan Ave.; and Burnham & Root’s muscular Rookery Building, 209 S. LaSalle St., with a spectacularly delicate light court by Frank Lloyd Wright. —Blair Kamin

Best Restaurant with Chicago Charm

The restaurant Virtue, at 1462 E. 53rd St., is in the heart of Hyde Park, which is a dynamic part of Chicago that may be overlooked by visitors who often stay close to the Loop area during their trips. By making the short trek to Hyde Park, one will be able to experience Virtue's hearty Southern American cuisine with exquisite cocktails and a soulful vibe. —Kimberly Dowdell, Marketing Principal, HOK

The bar on the 96th floor of the Hancock Center, the Signature Lounge, at 875 N. Michigan Ave. —Bill Baker, Consulting Partner, SOM

Chicagoland Road Trip: Top Spots in the Suburbs

Bahai'i Temple Louise Bourgeois

Designed by French architect Louis Bourgeois, the Bahai'i Temple was completed in 1953. Photo © Wenbinbin2010 via Flickr

The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, at 100 Linden Ave., is the only Baha’i House of Worship in North America. The construction materials are concrete with Portland cement and quartz, with intricate patterns carved in, making this a gleaming white, ethereal structure across the street from Lake Michigan. Added bonus: you can get to Wilmette and the Baha’i via the Chicago Transit Authority’s Purple Line!  —Carol Ross Barney

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, at 951 Chicago Ave. Visit the cradle of American modern architecture and see where it all began: a home base and launching point from which to explore the nearby Unity Temple and the Prairie School houses that burnished Wright's legacy. —John Ronan

Lake Forest, for its planned community center on Market Square by AIA Gold Medalist Howard Van Doren Shaw (1916), and for its wonderful ravines with stately houses on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan by architects like Shaw, David Adler, Granger, Wright, and others, all dating back between 1865 and 1950. —Adrian Smith

For those seeking a bit of Schadenfreude, I highly recommend taking a drive (and you must drive) to South Barrington in order to see the neighborhood which I consider to have the most spectacular McMansions the country has ever seen. Wander through any random cul-de-sac and you will discover a treasure trove of audacious wealth and ‘90s vernacular PoMo delirium. Once you’re done ogling, the town of Barrington itself has a delightful downtown strip of the sort Norman Rockwell used to paint. —Kate Wagner, independent critic and creator of the McMansionHell blog

Favorite Lakefront Activity

If you need a nature break during the conference, some of the best birdwatching in Chicago is found along the lakefront, just south of McCormick Place. The McCormick Bird Sanctuary is nine acres of Midwestern prairie and woodland habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife, including a wide range of avian species. You might even run into one of the ornithologists from the Field Museum, who frequent this area to monitor migratory and resident birds, as well as bird collisions with buildings—a critical issue that architects and policymakers must continue to address. —Jeanne Gang, Founding Principal, Studio Gang

You won’t regret renting a Divvy e-bike and riding the Lakefront Trail. If you are short on time, I recommend starting in Millennium Park. The southbound route toward the Museum of Science and Industry is far less crowded than the northbound one, and with restored prairie habitat full of wildflowers, it’s the more nature-minded direction. The northbound route up toward the Chess Pavilion [1957, by Maurice Webster] is where you will get more of your architectural kicks—the view from various points, including from the pavilion itself, is one of the most phenomenal in the city. Just beware of children, dogs, and, above all, geese. —Kate Wagner

Hidden Gem

The Oakland Museum, on E. 41st St., extending from the west side of S. Berkeley Ave. to the west side of S. Lake Park Ave., is a couple of vacant lots transformed in the 1990s by Milton Mizenberg. It’s a collection of abstract wood sculptures he carved in a planted landscape on three lots. In name and form, it’s an example of a resident’s ideas for new collective space in Chicago’s vacant lots on the south and west sides. —David Brown, Professor, University of Illinois Chicago

If you look at the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington St.) obliquely from a spot a bit to the north and near Dearborn Street, it looks like a woman in profile. You see her shoulder, her hair, and the profile of her face and nose. —Bill Baker

Fireside Bowl Chicago

Logan Square's Fireside Bowl. Photo © David Wilson via Wikicommons

If you, like me, are a fan of sports (intended in the loosest sense), then I highly recommend taking a trip to Logan Square and visiting Fireside Bowl at 2646 W. Fullerton Ave., a 1940s bowling alley with a bit of streamlined moderne flare mixed with dingy neon and a working and enjoyable bowling experience. The alley is doubly worth it at night when the vintage neon sign is lit up and the regulars show up with their leather bowling bags and custom shoes. —Kate Wagner

The South Side Community Art Center at 3831 S. Michigan Ave., is a community art center that opened in 1940 with support from the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. When you enter the doors of this South Side gem, you can feel the energizing presence of all the artists that have been in this building. I encourage Chicago visitors to venture out and visit the oldest African American art center in the United States and a Chicago Historic Landmark. —RaMona Westbrook

The Lincoln Park Lily Pond, at 25 W. Fullerton Pkwy. Redesigned by Alfred Caldwell in the 1930s, the recently restored landscape is a time machine transporting pathfinders to a mythical place of stone, wood, and water. —John Ronan

Visitors to Chicago can also visit a free exhibition of the 38 semi-finalist projects for the 2022 Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize at S.R. Crown Hall, the Mies van der Rohe-designed building housing the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The exhibition will be on display in the building's North Core until June 27.

—Compiled by Ilana Herzig, Izzy Kornblatt, and Pansy Schulman