Chicago Skyscrapers Spawn Folk Art

Falling ice sign

In the last couple of decades I’ve lived in a dozen or so cities.  But only one has had the unique combination of cold winter weather and skyscrapers that makes the classic Chicago “Falling Ice” sign a necessity.

It’s been a mild 2011/2012 Winter so far, so they haven’t been seen much.  But once we get a good, solid snowfall the city’s sidewalks will sprout with hundreds of ice warning signs, like mushrooms on a rotting log.

I haven’t lived in Boston or Minneapolis, which I imagine are the only other American cities with the right combination of weather and skyscrapers to make falling ice signs an office building requirement.  New York’s winters are mild by comparison, and when I lived there I don’t recall ever seeing one.

So later this season, when you finally start to see them sprout, don’t just ignore falling ice signs as a lawyer-driven obstruction on your way to work.  Embrace them as a a unique piece of Chicago’s urban culture.  You could even look at them as the city’s contribution to the folk art movement, as each building has its own style of sign, and it’s rare to see two skyscrapers with the exact same warning.

Here’s a gallery of various styles, sizes, and colors of Falling Ice signs from a couple of winters ago:


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. Waste Management is out! Apparently Falling (possibly..) Ice signs are in. Who pays for these? Individual building owners? Don’t give any surrounding communities that suffer from the ravages of winter effects any ideas, please. (Then everyone would want skyscrapers in their town.) But seriously, great informative article, although I might have pointed out that if you hear a sudden ‘CRACK’ for heaven’s sake DON’T look up!

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    • Editor

      Sometimes the signs are paid for by the building management. Often these are the better quality signs with the building logos on them. Sometimes they’re paid for by the contractor that is in charge of clearing ice and snow, or the janitorial company if they are not the same entity.

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