Founded by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang in 1997, Studio Gang Architects is a collective of architects, designers, and thinkers whose work engages pressing contemporary issues and their impact on human experience. Honored with the 2013 National Design Award for Architecture from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, the Studio acts as a laboratory—testing ideas on various scales, from cities and environments to material and physical properties. Each project is designed to resonate with its specific site and culture while addressing global themes such as reuse and sustainability.

This innovative approach has resulted in works such as Aqua Tower, whose facade encourages building community in the vertical dimension; Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, where fourteen acres of biodiverse habitat are designed to double as storm water infrastructure and engaging public space; and WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, which creates a new access point along the Chicago River. The Studio is based in Chicago and recently opened an office in New York.

Best Historic Architecture

Be sure to check out Burnham & Root’s Rookery building (in the financial district at Adams St. and LaSalle St.)—a reminder that ornament is always in, whether we like it or not (as long as it’s this well executed).

Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Architecture

Don’t miss the Anti-Cruelty Society in River North (at Grand Ave. and LaSalle St.). The building, by PoMo stalwart Stanley Tigerman, features a facade resembling a puppy’s face. Classic.

Another interesting facade can be found in the South Loop at State and 16th St., although we may be a bit biased. In addition to the test-pattern-inspired exterior, our design for the Columbia College Chicago Media Production Center also creates interesting spatial conditions within by referencing elements of film and video production.

Best Museums and Galleries 

The Isa Genzken retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art (at Chicago Ave. and Mies van der Rohe Way) is not to be missed!

Many of Chicago’s galleries go on hiatus around this time of year, but there are still a few shows that are definitely worth checking out, including Chicago artist Ian “Hydeon” Ferguson’s Mass Contemplation at Maxwell Colette Gallery (on Ashland, in between Augusta and Chicago).

Best Bars/Clubs

Looking to explore Chicago’s storied neighborhoods? Make the trek to Billy Sunday (in Logan Square) for fantastic and inventive cocktails. Don’t miss out on the tonics, which are carbonated, bottled cocktails. The food is fantastic, too—there’s an entire category of “Things in Jars,” which all make for ideal drinking snacks. And, equally important for architects, the interior is beautifully designed.

The legendary California Clipper (on the cusp of Humboldt Park and the Ukrainian Village) is another best bet. The atmosphere and lighting make the space feel both surreal and familiar, like walking onto the set of a David Lynch film.

To the north, the Café Brauer beer garden—adjacent to the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, a natural oasis within the city—offers excellent views of the skyline.

And for the downtown, see-and-be-seen crowd, we suggest martinis at Filini in Aqua Tower’s Radisson Blu.

Best Shopping 

Penelope’s in Wicker Park is our go-to boutique for unique, slightly quirky clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry for men and women.

Best Excursions

Chicago’s farmers’ markets take place all over the city on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays and are great for local produce, fresh flowers, and unique specialty items.

For a respite from the streetscape, head to the Garfield Park Conservatory, a gorgeous greenhouse on Chicago’s west side built in 1908. Nearby Humboldt Park is another great outdoor space and connects to the city’s historic boulevard system.

For the ultimate outdoor Chicago excursion, rent a kayak from one of the Park District’s new boathouses along the Chicago River: Studio Gang’s WMS Boathouse at Clark Park and Johnson + Lee’s Ping Tom Boathouse in Chinatown.

Best Neighborhoods

Wicker Park, of course.