AIA Illinois 150 Great Places FAQs

Great Places = Great Communities

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the American Institute of Architects in 2007, AIA Illinois has created a special recognition program featuring 150 Great Places in Illinois. These places were selected by a state-wide committee of architects working with local officials and other organizations to showcase the best of Illinois. The list of Great Places was limited to the built environment rather than natural environment to emphasize the creation of designers of all types. Examples of the works by urban planners, landscape architects, urban designers and the local builders are all part of the list. The list emphasizes the collective sense of place created in cities and towns as well as buildings designed by individual architects. The list spans the entire period of human settlement in Illinois, which gives a strong historical dimension to it. Approximately half of the places have a historic designation and the other half date from the last fifty years.

What makes a "Great Place?"

A special theme of the national AIA recognition program for the 150th anniversary is that of utilizing the AIA's 10 Principles of Livable Communities. First on this list was the principle of "design on a human scale," which emphasizes "compact, pedestrian-friendly communities." Other Principles include that of "mixed-use development," "preserved urban centers," and "vibrant public spaces." The list of Great Places includes many examples that illustrate these principles and more. More information about the AIA's Principles of Livable Communities can be found at

What kinds of Great Places are there?

The AIA Illinois Great Places encompass the built environment of Illinois. The list included planned communities as well as individual houses. There was no specific limit on the types of places that could be nominated, but they all had to be publicly accessible. The requirement of public access makes the list tend towards civic and commercial structures and limits private houses to those that have been turned into "house museums." The Great Places list includes churches, schools, offices, court houses, museums, and planned communities. The Great Places list can be sorted by type of use, location, and architect, which will provide the viewer with a way to use this list for educational and tourism purposes. The Great Places list includes notable structures by famous architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, but also includes structures by anonymous builders and urban places with multiple designers.

One special aspect of this list is that of the "thematic" nomination. A thematic nomination had to recognize a specific kind of place or building that was consistently identifiable but was generally created by more than one designer. A regional example is that of the Chicago Bungalow. There are more than 70,000 of these in the city of Chicago, and a local organization to promote their continued viability. At the state-wide level there are the Carnegie Libraries. This was an era of library buildings in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century that was noteworthy for the classical revival style buildings.

How were the Great Places selected?

An AIA Illinois Great Place had to meet several criteria. First among these was the sense of how well did the place meet the AIA's 10 Principles of Livable Communities? These guiding principles help establish an overall framework. Secondly, the places had to be publicly accessible, which limited individual private homes and other structures that might be architecturally distinctive but did not help educate the public. A third and more difficult definition was that of size. How big could a place be and still be a place? The working definition for our selections is that of a place that could be experienced by standing in one location. The only exception to this was a designed landscape that was created by an identified planner or landscape architect. There are several communities that are listed because of their importance in urban planning and several parks that were designed by landscape architect. We did not include structures such as bridges which are primarily transportation infrastructure and not a pedestrian experience.

The selection committee for this project was created by the six AIA chapters of Illinois, under the leadership of AIA Illinois. Each chapter nominated a core of places based upon the population of their region. Each chapter developed its own nominating committee, and was encouraged to work with other local organizations. The total list was then developed to provide a range of place types, eras and designers that represent a wide spectrum of Illinois.

How do I find out more information about specific Great Places?

The AIA Illinois Great Places web site is the host location for visitors.

What is AIA Illinois doing to recognize these Great Places?

Each local AIA Chapter in Illinois will work with the individual sites for a recognition ceremony. AIA Illinois has created a graphic identity package of framed certificates, window stickers and plaques that can be used for local commemoration. The AIA Illinois Great Places web site will be maintained by AIA Illinois into the future.

What if I want to visit these Great Places?

The AIA Illinois Great Places web site contains links to local web sites for virtually all of the 150 Great Places.