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Building and House History

A guide to finding architectural and other information about Chicago buildings and houses.

The Architectural Drawings Collection

CHM holds a large collection of architectural drawings. They are primarily of commercial buildings but include some domestic architecture. Binders in the Abakanowicz Research Center list our holdings, arranged by architect.

With the name of the architect, contact us at to find out if we own drawings or to request that they be retrieved. Architectural drawings take from 1-5 weeks to retrieve, depending on storage location. A few of the noteworthy firms represented include Holabird and Roche/Holabird and Root; Harry Weese; Dwight Perkins; Barry Byrne; John Lloyd Wright

Finding an Architect

Various resources can lead to discovering a building's architect, though the designers of many buildings remain unknown. The more prominent the building, the better the odds of finding the architect's name.

  • Sinkovitch, AIA guide to Chicago, NA735.C4 A6 2004 REFERENCE
  • Randall, History of the Development of Building Construction in Chicago. 2nd edition. TH25.C4 R35 1999 REFERENCE.
  • American Contractor database, 1898-1912
  • Building permit microfilm, 1872-1955. Available at the CHM Research Center.
  • American Contractor and The Economist magazines. If you know the approximate date of the building, searching these publications in hard copy may help you find information.
  • Chicago Tribune database.  Real estate news, advertisements, and obituaries can help. Available in the Research Center or through many area public libraries.

When No Drawings Are Available

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show the footprint of each building on a street, as well as information on the number of stories, width of the walls, existence of a garage, etc. A digital set of maps is accessible in the Abakanowicz Research Center, as well as hard copies of maps for some areas of the city.

Around the turn of the century, many firms, such as Radford, published books of floor plans of popular styles of homes. We have a number of these books in our collection.