clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Tall skyscrapers in Chicago. In the foreground is a skyscraper with a square top and glass facade.
A rendering of Chicago’s upcoming Salesforce Tower.
Courtesy Steelblue

Mapping architect César Pelli’s legacy in Chicago

The late designer’s most significant contributions to the Chicago skyline are still yet to come

View as Map
A rendering of Chicago’s upcoming Salesforce Tower.
| Courtesy Steelblue

On July 19, celebrated Argentine–American architect César Pelli passed away at age 92. Known for designing grand skyscrapers, the University of Illinois School of Architecture alumnus left his mark on cities across the globe, including Chicago. His local creations represent a diverse collection of buildings that serve a wide range of uses, including commercial, residential, educational, and institutional.

According to Chicago Tribune columnist Blair Kamin, the designer’s biggest impact on the city’s architectural legacy took place more than 9,000 miles away in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was here that Pelli’s 1,483-foot-tall Petronas Twin Towers unseated the Sears (now Willis) Tower for the title of the world’s tallest building—and did so by the slimmest of margins.

Here are eight notable Chicago-area projects designed by César Pelli and his namesake New Haven, Connecticut-based architectural firm Pelli Clarke Pelli. The list includes five buildings completed by the late architect between 1990 and 2018, two projects that are still in the works, and an ambitious 2,000-foot-tall proposal that never materialized.

Read More

181 W. Madison Street

Copy Link

Completed in 1990, the office building at 181 W. Madison Street was Pelli’s first commission in Chicago. The design features a glassy exterior framed by a metal grid and a recessed crown. The 680-foot-tall building is currently the architect’s only completed skyscraper in Chicago, but will soon be joined by a pair of new high-rises headed to Wolf Point.

Gerald Ratner Athletics Center

Copy Link

Pelli’s next Chicago project didn’t arrive until 2003 with the opening of Gerald Ratner Athletics Center at the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus. The $51 million facility includes a gym and swimming pool wrapped in glass walls and a steel roof supported by a system of protruding masts, cables, and counterweights.

DePaul University Theatre School

Copy Link

In 2013, the Pelli-designed DePaul University Theatre School opened in the heart of the school’s Lincoln Park campus. A radical departure from its more traditional surroundings, the boxy five-story structure features a glass and limestone-clad exterior concealing a 100-seat and a 250-seat performance space.

Wintrust Arena

Copy Link

Located just steps from Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, the 10,300-seat Wintrust Arena opened its doors in 2017. The venue features an undulating—almost ravioli-like roof—and is home to the Chicago Chicago Sky and DePaul University basketball teams, various concerts, trade shows, and other large events.

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital

Copy Link

This Pelli-designed medical complex opened in north suburban Lake Forest, Illinois, in 2018. The campus is impressive—especially by hospital standards—and comprises a series of pavilions arranged in a crescent shape next to a tranquil reflecting pool with waterfalls cascading into a small lake below.

Wolf Point East

Copy Link

The 60-story rental tower known as Wolf Point East broke ground in 2017 and is quickly rising at the confluence of the north, south, and main branches of the Chicago River. Featuring a glassy facade with subtle protruding fins, the 660-foot-tall tower will offer 698 apartments, impressive amenities, and stunning views when it opens this winter.

Salesforce Tower Chicago

Copy Link

After winning praise for San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower, Pelli designed this upcoming Chicago office development for the cloud software giant. Slated to rise just west of Wolf Point East, the 813-foot-tall skyscraper is on track to break ground in 2020 and welcome tenants in early 2023. The top of the building will feature prominent Salesforce signage and a quasi-public “Ohana Floor.”

Tall skyscrapers in Chicago. In the foreground is a skyscraper with a square top and glass facade. Courtesy Steelblue

Miglin-Beitler Skyneedle

Copy Link

Though never built, César Pelli’s defunct Miglin-Beitler “Skyneedle” still deserves an honorable mention. Proposed in 1989 to replace a parking garage across the street from Pelli’s 181 W. Madison Street tower, the high-rise from developers Paul Beitler and Lee Miglin would have risen an impressive 2,000 feet. The project never got off the ground due to economic factors. If realized, the tower would have easily become the world’s tallest at the time, surpassing the then-Sears Tower by 550 feet.

Loading comments...

181 W. Madison Street

Completed in 1990, the office building at 181 W. Madison Street was Pelli’s first commission in Chicago. The design features a glassy exterior framed by a metal grid and a recessed crown. The 680-foot-tall building is currently the architect’s only completed skyscraper in Chicago, but will soon be joined by a pair of new high-rises headed to Wolf Point.

Gerald Ratner Athletics Center

Pelli’s next Chicago project didn’t arrive until 2003 with the opening of Gerald Ratner Athletics Center at the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus. The $51 million facility includes a gym and swimming pool wrapped in glass walls and a steel roof supported by a system of protruding masts, cables, and counterweights.

DePaul University Theatre School

In 2013, the Pelli-designed DePaul University Theatre School opened in the heart of the school’s Lincoln Park campus. A radical departure from its more traditional surroundings, the boxy five-story structure features a glass and limestone-clad exterior concealing a 100-seat and a 250-seat performance space.

Wintrust Arena

Located just steps from Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, the 10,300-seat Wintrust Arena opened its doors in 2017. The venue features an undulating—almost ravioli-like roof—and is home to the Chicago Chicago Sky and DePaul University basketball teams, various concerts, trade shows, and other large events.

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital

This Pelli-designed medical complex opened in north suburban Lake Forest, Illinois, in 2018. The campus is impressive—especially by hospital standards—and comprises a series of pavilions arranged in a crescent shape next to a tranquil reflecting pool with waterfalls cascading into a small lake below.

Wolf Point East

The 60-story rental tower known as Wolf Point East broke ground in 2017 and is quickly rising at the confluence of the north, south, and main branches of the Chicago River. Featuring a glassy facade with subtle protruding fins, the 660-foot-tall tower will offer 698 apartments, impressive amenities, and stunning views when it opens this winter.

Salesforce Tower Chicago

Tall skyscrapers in Chicago. In the foreground is a skyscraper with a square top and glass facade. Courtesy Steelblue

After winning praise for San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower, Pelli designed this upcoming Chicago office development for the cloud software giant. Slated to rise just west of Wolf Point East, the 813-foot-tall skyscraper is on track to break ground in 2020 and welcome tenants in early 2023. The top of the building will feature prominent Salesforce signage and a quasi-public “Ohana Floor.”

Tall skyscrapers in Chicago. In the foreground is a skyscraper with a square top and glass facade. Courtesy Steelblue

Miglin-Beitler Skyneedle

Though never built, César Pelli’s defunct Miglin-Beitler “Skyneedle” still deserves an honorable mention. Proposed in 1989 to replace a parking garage across the street from Pelli’s 181 W. Madison Street tower, the high-rise from developers Paul Beitler and Lee Miglin would have risen an impressive 2,000 feet. The project never got off the ground due to economic factors. If realized, the tower would have easily become the world’s tallest at the time, surpassing the then-Sears Tower by 550 feet.