The original building was erected in 1960, but burned down in 1967. Although there was popular support to rebuild the hall on a different site, Richard J. Daley elected to use the same site. On January 3, 1971, the replacement building, now called the East Building, opened with a main exhibition hall that is 300,000 square feet. The building also contains the Arie Crown Theatre, the second largest theatre (by seating capacity) in Chicago.
The North Building, located across Lake Shore Drive, is connected to the East Building by an enclosed pedestrian bridge. The North Building was built in 1986. In contrast to the dark, flat profile of the East Building, the North Building is white, with twelve concrete pylons on the roof which supprt the roof using 72 cables. The HVAC system for the building is incorporated into the pylons, which give the building the appearance of a rigged sailing ship.
The South Building, the most recently completed, opened in 1997 and contains more than one million square feet of exhibition space. When it opened, it more than doubled the space in the complex.