Chicago Art Institute. Back in the city center, this stellar museum is renowned for its collection of impressionist paintings, arguably the most extensive in the country. In addition, a great design delight is to experience the museum’s quirky Miniature Thorne Rooms, 68 dollhouse-sized rooms designed to perfectly capture architectural history, from a Gothic church to a French living room of the Louis XVI period and a mid-century modernist house in California, circa 1940. 111 South Michigan Avenue; admission: $25, seniors $19
Bahai House of Worship. Rain or shine, a drive through the North Shore communities bordering Lake Michigan via Sheridan Road is thrilling, combining glimpses of this Great Lake with views of stately mansions. Your destination: this iconic temple. French-Canadian architect Louis Bourgeois designed this filigree-domed temple, shimmering with white cement mixed with crushed quartz, in the early 1900s. But it took 50 years to build and opened in 1953. inside and out, it’s a wonderful blend of Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque and Islamic styles, as befits this inclusive faith. 100 Linden Avenue, Wilmette
Day trips or around
Milwaukee. Just a 90-minute drive north on I-94 or by Amtrak train, Wisconsin’s largest city is another great Midwestern metropolis with an architectural treasure. Spend a day visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum, a beautiful building that blends modern and contemporary architecture to serve a world-class collection of global art.
Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed the museum’s original 1957 War Memorial Center, a geometric rectangle influenced by the modern style of French architect Le Corbusier. The main structure, which rests on columns, has seating below and an open floor plan inside. For a major expansion in 2001, the museum hired Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to design its centerpiece, the Quadracci Pavilion, a sculptural addition that includes outer wings, 217 feet from end to end, known as the Burke Brise Sun they create a mobile solar protection for the building. Inside, in Windhover Hall, a glass vault with pointed arches creates a grand, cathedral-like foyer. Enjoy the architecture, but don’t miss the solid collections of European paintings, photographs, and works by self-taught artists. 700 North Art Museum Drive; admission: $19, seniors $17
While in Milwaukee, visit the 20-acre site that houses the Harley-Davidson Museum, a tribute to those rugged motorcycles that are synonymous with the spirit of American travel and the freedom of the road. The museum details the evolution of these vehicles – marvels of American industrial design that blend form and function – from their origins in 1903 as motorized bicycles to the beefy motorcycles of today. You don’t have to be a mechanic or a motorcycle fanatic to appreciate this museum. 400 Canal Street West; admission: $22, seniors $16
Racine, Wis. In Racine, located 75 miles north of Chicago (on the Milwaukee Road), there are buildings like the 1939 SC Johnson Wax Headquaters, a commercial design masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright. It features an open-plan office floor, known as the Great Workroom, with gigantic tree-like columns topped with bright recessed lighting. 1525 Howe Street; offers free guided tours by reservation only, from Wednesday to Sunday, from the Golden Rondelle theater
Flat, sick. It drives 60 miles west of Chicago, largely on highways 290 and 88, to rural Plano. You will see the modernist masterpiece Farnsworth House, the famous glass house designed between 1949 and 1951 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for his client, Dr Edith Farnsworth. During guided tours of this historic International Style building, the story of this accomplished doctor and her austere but sunny multi-level home, furnished as it was in 1955, is told. 14520 River Road, Plano; guided tours from $25