What’s That Building? Virtual World Tour Edition

The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building
The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, displays a message during a campaign to raise money for meals to the hungry amid the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Jon Gambrell / Associated Press
The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, displays a message during a campaign to raise money for meals to the hungry amid the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Jon Gambrell / Associated Press
The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building
The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, displays a message during a campaign to raise money for meals to the hungry amid the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Jon Gambrell / Associated Press

What’s That Building? Virtual World Tour Edition

The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, displays a message during a campaign to raise money for meals to the hungry amid the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Jon Gambrell / Associated Press

The architects who designed some of Chicago’s most iconic buildings have a long history of taking their talents and styles to other cities.

During the stay-at-home era, many historic buildings are offering virtual architecture tours, giving What’s That Building the opportunity to explore some of the buildings that Chicago’s culture has influenced around the world.

Here’s a list of virtual tours that allow you to see the works of several of Chicago’s most famous architects from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Each has the same design style you can see in their buildings a lot closer to home.

The Burj Khalifa

World’s tallest building: The Burj Khalifa
Courtesy of Tourist Tube

Click for tour.

About this building: At 2,716.5 feet high, this is the tallest building in the world, designed by architect Adrian Smith, formerly of the mega-firm SOM. Moviegoers got a close-up look at the building in 2011, when Tom Cruise climbed the outside in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Chicago connection: Smith’s primary Chicago landmarks are two iconic buildings downtown. The Art Deco-inspired NBC Tower was built in 1989 (a block east of Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River). The Trump International Hotel & Tower was completed 20 years later, a block west of Michigan Avenue on the river.

Take the virtual tour: In this self-guided tour, see the exterior and glittering cityscape around the Burj Khalifa. Use the arrows to navigate up the side of the building and around its base. Make sure to go into full screen (hit “View Full Virtual Tour”), where there are five different views to choose from.


National Farmers’ Bank

National Farmers' Bank
Dustin Gaffke/Flickr

About this building: After architect Louis Sullivan’s stardom faded, he built several small-town Midwestern banks — the first was the National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna, Minn. Built in 1908, it featured Sullivan’s famous use of intricate ornamental details and murals, often with references to nature. While the bank is far smaller than Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, which Sullivan designed about 20 years earlier, the bank has nearly as much detail and mural work per square foot.

Chicago connection: In Chicago, Sullivan is most well-known for his late 19th century buildings designed downtown: The Auditorium Theatre and the State Street Target, where leafy ironwork wraps the first two stories of the façade. He also designed the Krause Music Store in Lincoln Square.

Take the virtual tour: Much of this tourism video goes into meticulous detail about Sullivan’s design and later restorations. But in the first few minutes, you can view the breathtaking interior and exterior of this bank (from 32 seconds to 1:19). And see the art and stained-glass windows from 3:51 to 4:10.


Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel

Inside view of the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy
Thomas Peipert / Associated Press

About this building: Walter Netsch’s masterpiece may be the cadet chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It was designed as a row of metallic triangles that evoke both the surrounding mountain peaks and the Air Force’s jet fighters. The chapel was meant to be a spiritual space for cadets of all faiths and has no overt religious symbols on the outside. In October, the chapel closed for a multiyear renovation.

Chicago connection: Netsch, who died in 2008, was a visionary, modernist architect whose Chicago buildings include the Inland Steel Building — the first skyscraper built in the Loop after World War II — and several university libraries. The most puzzling is the maze-like Behavioral Sciences Building at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Take the virtual tour: This detailed video was produced for the chapel’s 50th anniversary in 1963. Take a look inside the chapel, its location in the Colorado Rockies and the light pouring in through the stained-glass windows.


The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Exterior shot of the Arcus Center
Courtesy of Kalamazoo College

About this building: Designed by Jeanne Gang and built in 2014, this small educational building takes up just 10,000 square feet on campus at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Yet, it’s beautiful with an unusual Y shape and clad in carbon-sequestering wood rings.

Chicago connection: Gang is best-known in Chicago for the Aqua and Vista Tower skyscrapers in Lakeshore East. When completed (scheduled to be later this year), Vista Tower will be the tallest building in the world designed by a woman-owned firm — and the third-tallest in the city.

Take the virtual tour: This video details the meaning behind the building and its relationship to Kalamazoo’s social justice program. Jump to 50 seconds in the video for views of the exterior and interiors. At 2 minutes, see aerial shots of the building and views from inside at 2:45.


D.C.’s Union Station and Metro lines

The south face of Union Station in Washington D.C.
Mark Tenally / Associated Press

About this building: Two Chicago architects, Daniel Burnham and Harry Weese, worked decades apart on major pieces of Washington D.C.’s transportation infrastructure.

Designed by Burnham, there’s a lot to look at in Union Station: big pillars of stone and floating metal staircases. Finished in 1908, it’s a grand old place, full of all the majesty and drama of the railroad era’s big city terminals.

Weese later designed parts of the rest of the Metro system in the mid-’60s. His signature element was the barrel-like stations with curving walls and honeycombed ceilings.

Chicago connection: Burnham was one of the world’s most prolific architects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Chicago, he oversaw construction of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and designed the Rookery, Union Station, Orchestra Hall and the former Marshall Field’s store (now Macy’s).

Weese designed the rounded Christian Science church on Wacker Drive and the triangular-shaped Metropolitan Correctional Center on Van Buren Street.

Take a virtual tour: Take a long, affectionate look at Union Station in this video. Pay special attention to the rounded arcade ceilings of the station, shown at 5:22. You can see views of the rest of the Metro in this video.

Dennis Rodkin is a real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor.