clock menu more-arrow no yes
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

1. 181 W. Madison Street

Copy Link
181 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60602

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.

2. Gerald Ratner Athletics Center

Copy Link
5530 S Ellis Ave
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-3871
Visit Website

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.

3. DePaul University Theatre School

Copy Link
2350 N Racine Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 325-7917
Visit Website

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.

4. Wintrust Arena

Copy Link
200 E Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 791-6900
Visit Website

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.

5. Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital

Copy Link
1000 N Westmoreland Rd
Lake Forest, IL 60045
(847) 234-5600
Visit Website

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.

6. Wolf Point East

Copy Link
313 W Wolf Point Plaza Drive
Chicago, IL 60654

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.

7. Salesforce Tower Chicago

Copy Link
333 W Wolf Point Plaza
Chicago, IL 60654

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

8. Miglin-Beitler Skyneedle

Copy Link
201 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60606

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...

1. 181 W. Madison Street

181 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60602

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.

181 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60602

2. Gerald Ratner Athletics Center

5530 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637

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.

5530 S Ellis Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

3. DePaul University Theatre School

2350 N Racine Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

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.

2350 N Racine Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

4. Wintrust Arena

200 E Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60616

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.

200 E Cermak Rd
Chicago, IL 60616

5. Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital

1000 N Westmoreland Rd, Lake Forest, IL 60045

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.

1000 N Westmoreland Rd
Lake Forest, IL 60045

6. Wolf Point East

313 W Wolf Point Plaza Drive, Chicago, IL 60654

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.

313 W Wolf Point Plaza Drive
Chicago, IL 60654

7. Salesforce Tower Chicago

333 W Wolf Point Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654
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.”

333 W Wolf Point Plaza
Chicago, IL 60654

8. Miglin-Beitler Skyneedle

201 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60606

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.

201 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60606