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Chicago. The popular images that people have range from gangsters of the 1920s controlling the city streets, to Carl Sandburg’s description of Chicago’s stockyards as “the hog butcher to the world.” Yet, perhaps more than most American cities, Chicago is linked, in the minds of many residents and visitors, to architecture. What local taxi driver doesn’t know about the city’s tallest skyscrapers such as the Hancock and Sears Towers, or even some smaller ones such as Marina City? Some of those same urban ambassadors, along with a number of other city residents, can also tell you about the likes of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe.

With this popular architectural consciousness in mind, this volume will look at the work, built and imagined, of some of Chicago’s great architects over the past century and a half. This survey will show that creativity in design is not just a thing of the past in Chicago. The range of monuments that readers will encounter spans the decades from the early Chicago School skyscrapers of architects such as Burnham & Root and Sullivan, to the famed Prairie School works of Frank Lloyd Wright and his followers, through the influential minimally modernist masterworks by Mies van der Rohe and his disciples, to more recent and contextual designs by the so-called post-modern architects here, the Chicago Seven, which includes Stanley Tigerman and Helmut Jahn. This book concludes with an assessment of the latest works by Chicago’s up-andcoming architects.


1888, Burnham and Root

The Rookery Building is one of the great “skyscrapers” of Burnham and Root that still survives. Typical of many of their buildings, this was designed in a variation of Romanesque architecture that became popular throughout the United States after H.H. Richardson built Trinity Church in Boston. The interior, however, is an excellent example of the results of the square-donut plan for offices popularized by Burnham and his followers in subsequent buildings like the Railway Exchange. In this plan, spaces off double-loaded corridors (corridors with offices on both sides) provide the offices with light and air from the street on one side and the central courtyard on the other to the offices. The plan itself enabled a spectacular light court to be built at the Rookery’s base—a light court that was probably inspired by similar spaces in Parisian department stores of the era. Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled the interiors in 1905, and a 1990 restoration by McClier Corporation and Takayama & Associates brought the building back to that turn of the century appearance.



1910, Frank Lloyd Wright

The house in which all of the Prairie School principles found their fullest realization was perhaps that for Frederick C. and Lora Robie, designed by Wright in 1906 and built in 1908– 09. Possibly because Wright had to contend with a narrow city lot, he was forced to clarify each of the nine points. One enters through a dark, recessed vestibule on the shaded north side of the house, and, following a circuitous route, ascends a winding stair to the main level. At the top of the stair is a single enormous room, indicated by the long continuous bank of windows along the south side. The spaces for living room and dining room are subdivided by the mass of the fireplace, which pushes up through the center of the space. Even this mass, however is not allowed to interrupt the space completely, for at the top it is opened up to form two piers; through the opening the ceiling and lights of the adjoining room can be seen so that one is constantly aware of the continuity of space. The lights themselves are part of the ceiling, and the vertical upstands along which they march enclose the hidden steel beams that span the length of the house and carry the incredible cantilevers at each end.


Incorporated into the same ceiling upstands and indirect lighting and a ventilation system that carries stale air to the central chimney and vents it to the exterior through a grill in the upper chimney brickwork. Externally, the horizontal planes and extended roofs create long shadows that make the masses of the house seem to float. Rugs for the house, integrated lighting fixtures, and all the furniture was designed by Wright, creating a pervasive unity that binds all parts of the house together. Although the heating systems of the day, combined with long expanses of floor-toceiling glass, made the house impossible to keep warm in the winter, Wright carefully controlled summer heat gain by proportioning the extended southern half of the roof so that it projected just far enough to keep the sun off the glass in the summer, but allowed the low winter sun to sweep into the living and dining room and warm the floor; and the huge western cantilever of the roof, a roof that seems to float outward forever, keeps the searing afternoon summer sun off the west end of the house by means of casement windows and the long row of glazed french doors that make nearly the entire south wall.



The historically detailed limestone exterior veneer covers and protects the steel frame, marking a shift away from glazed terra cotta, up to then the preferred sheathing material. The Tribune Tower characterizes the ambivalence of the early 1920s, for both its planning and its structural frame were among the most sophisticated and advanced of the period, while the exterior skin is one of the most historically and carefully detailed envelopes. As a “traditionalist” skyscraper, however, the Tribune Tower has few equals. And as it turned out, the northern Gothic details proved just as effective in shedding water from this Chicago building as they had been originally in France. By the 1970s neighboring skyscrapers of the 1950s and 1960s, minimally detailed and badly aging, demonstrated that the historical detailing of buildings like the London Guarantee or the Tribune Tower served important and quite practical functions.

1925, Howells & Hood

Within a few years after the first world war the conservative approach to skyscrapers would begin to be replaced in a shift made very clear in 1922 by the numerous entries submitted in the competition to design of the Chicago Tribune Tower. The essential requirement, as stated in the competition program, was that the Tribune Tower be “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.” This beautiful form had to be achieved, moreover, within the guidelines of the building ordinance requiring setbacks in the upper level. The competition jury, composed of conservative journalists, city politicians, and a conservative architect, selected the design of John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood from among the 259 entries that came in from around the world. Built in 1923–1925, it is a combination of the New York tower form, using Gothic elements similar to those of Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building, combined with the tripartite organization of Chicago skyscrapers. It has a four-story base, a soaring and much plainer midsection shaft, and a setback, highly enriched Gothic crown. The setback crown, required by the new zoning law, was given the shape of a diminishing Gothic steeple and was largely based on the Tower of Butter of the Cathedral of Rouen, of 1485. At the top the Gothic details were greatly enlarged so as to be readable from the street and are to a large extent gratuitous since the steel-framed flying buttresses support nothing, but the Gothic theme allowed for the easy natural emphasis of the vertical piers.


1951, Mies van der Rohe

The precision of detail developed in the early buildings for the Illinois Institute of Technology prepared for what may have been Mies’s most influential buildings, his pair of apartment towers at 860–880 Lake Shore Drive, built in 1948–1951. Given a trapezoidal lot, Mies maintained geometric purity by using two identical rectangular slabs placed perpendicular to one another. The basic module is the bay of 21 feet, with each tower being three by five bays (nearly the golden section); each bay is further subdivided into four windows by intermediate mullions. At first it appears that one sees the actual structure, but the real structural columns are, in fact, encased by protective (and legally mandated) concrete inside this veneer of steel. The external steel plates actually make up part of the forms for the concrete. To this veneer, I-beams were welded to brace the skin and to give the surface a third dimension, creating a play of light and shadow. What one sees, then, is applied ornament as symbolic structure.

Idealism pervades the complex. Each tower is raised on freestanding columns, with a small glass-enclosed lobby at the center of the ground floor, thereby deftly eliminating the variety of small shops that had once been accommodated in the bases of apartment blocks and that had come to be viewed as clutter. While radiant slab heating was used with supplemental perimeter units, the psychological chill of winter was not lessened, and in the summer the apartments became hothouses since air-conditioning had not been included. To maintain uniformity, standard gray draperies were hung at each window; behind these, should they care to, the residents might hang their own, but they could not remove the gray drapes. Originally Mies had planned large open spaces for the apartments— residential “universal spaces”—but was eventually persuaded by the developers to put in more conventional walls, subdividing the apartments into the usual rooms. Finally, despite the varying orientations of the walls, and the widely differing thermal heat gains on the east, south, and west sides, there is absolutely no variations in the design of the four faces of the towers. They are fully interchangeable; these towers might be anything, anywhere, built for any purpose.



1956, Mies van der Rohe

Mies came to the United States in 1937 with the assistance of Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who secured for Mies a commission for the Resor summer house at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which went unbuilt. Then in 1938 Mies was appointed director of the architecture department of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and the following year he began planning a new campus for the school on the city’s south side. Since the plan would include many buildings, Mies began by laying out a comprehensive modular system across the entire site that would organize not only the buildings but also the spaces between them. The three dimensional module was 24 by 24 feet by 12 feet high. The projected individual buildings of the ensemble were likewise rationally ordered using a modularly determined black steel frame with the bays filled with glass, buff glazed brick, or a combination of the two. Each detail of the wall system was carefully studied so the industrial sash would fit precisely in the structural bays and so the brick panels would be separated from the frame by a narrow shadowed reveal; as Mies observed, God is in the details.


He deliberately avoided fitting form to functions, saying, “we reverse this, and make a practical and satisfying shape, and then fit the functions into it. Today this the only practical way to build, because the functions of most buildings are continually changing, but economically the building cannot change.” The ideal would be a single huge enclosed volume that could be subdivided by movable impermanent screens as patters of use changed. Mies achieved this in Crown Hall, built in 1956, in which the single internal space contrasts to his earlier compartmentalized campus buildings. Crown Hall is one large room, 120 by 120 feet, covered by a roof suspended from four immense transverse plate girders carried by eight major externalized structural columns. Between the horizontal roof and floor planes is a wall of glass. Two pipe chases break up the space in the space of the room (these were necessary for plumping flumes and downspouts); aside from these and the small partitioned areas for offices and the two stairs leading to the basement classrooms, the vast space is uninterrupted. Mies wishes to encourage a sense of community among the users of a building, but Mies did this by removing physical divisions altogether. His motto, “less is more,” meant that through this simplification a better architecture would be created, one he believed was more realistically adapted to modern society and building methods.



1964, Bernard Goldberg

Enticing the middle class back into the city center to live was the aim of Marina City, begun in 1959 and completed in 1967. The site was very restricted—a small area of air rights over railroad tracks running on the north side of the Chicago River—forcing architect Bertram Goldberg to be very efficient in his planning. His solution, drawn up in 1960, proposed a multilevel platform along the river, surmounted by a number of small auxiliary blocks and two sixty-story cylindrical apartment towers of reinforced concrete. Each tower would contain 448 units.

The lower level of the platform houses a boat marina, while the upper levels house shops, a restaurant, beauty and barber shops, florist, bookstore, newsstand, skating rink, and an observation terrace. In the freestanding buildings on the upper terrace are a bank, health club, swimming pool, and bowling alley, while the distinctive hyper-parabaloid form houses a theater. Unlike Constitution Plaza, which ignored its water frontage, Marina City fully exploited its setting on the river with a boat marina at its base. Marina City marked a new assertive belief in the positive qualities of urban life and a slight easing of the exodus of the middle class to the suburbs.

Goldberg made the automobile an integral part of the design, but instead of giving up large horizontal spaces he coiled a parking ramp around the bottom eighteen stories of each apartment tower. Above this helix are two stories of mechanical equipment and then forty stories of apartments. Goldberg used the cylinder to concentrate the services in a small central circular core, and he then expressed the wedge-shaped cellular units by the petal-like balconies Marina City was also significant because it is not solely a residential development but accommodations for a mix of many activities. Most noteworthy, it was intended to entice the middle class back to the city center (but, of course, rents shot up so that it became upper-income housing).


1965, Jacques Brownson

The Richard J. Daley Center was originally known as the Chicago Civic Center. Located in the heart of the Chicago Loop, the Daley Center was Chicago’s first major public building to be constructed in a modern rather than a classical architectural style. The building’s architecture is International Style and was designed by architect Jacques Brownson of C.F. Murphy Associates. This architectural style is based on the revolutionary steel and glass skyscrapers of world-famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Daley Center has 31 floors and is the tallest flat-roofed building in the world with fewer then 40 stories (a typical 648 foot building would have 50-60 stories), owing to the high ceilings needed for courtrooms. The building has no major interior columns, only twelve exterior columns shaped in plan like a cross. These columns get narrower toward the top as they support less weight. It has 87 foot steel trusses running lengthwise and 48 foot spans running crosswise, at the time unprecedented in their dimensions. The structural bays, (87 feet) are so wide that they are often compared to bridges. The building was the first ever to be clad with untreated Corrosive Tensile (Cor-Ten) steel. Designed to rust overtime, the steel actually strengthens the structure and develops a natural rust patina giving the Daley Center its distinctive red and brown color.


The Daley Center was built to house more than 120 court and hearing rooms, the Cook County Law Library and office space for the City and Cook County. It was built by the Chicago Public Building Commission and financed by revenue bonds. World renowned artist Pablo Picasso designed the three-dimensional, cubist sculpture which stands 50 feet tall and weighs 162 tons. On behalf of the City of Chicago, local architect William E. Hartman approached Pablo Picasso to create a larger-than-average sculpture to complement the soon to be built Civic Center (now the Richard J. Daley Center). Picasso not only agreed to undertake the project but, he also insisted on doing it free of charge. He donated both his design and 42 inch model to the people of Chicago as a gift. The actual sculpture was made by the United States Steel Corporation in Gary, Indiana where it was assembled, disassembled and then shipped to the Daley Center Plaza to be reassembled in the prominent place it stands today.



1970, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill

During the mid-1960s the nature of urban economics changed. The twenty-one stories of Lever House were dwarfed by new buildings commonly reached heights of fifty or sixty stories in an effort to keep ahead of soaring costs and taxes. Nearly all the new giants were variants of Mies’s deceptively simple-looking towers; in their creation and providing little or no reward for close inspection. There appeared several enormous towers by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, SOM, one of which did possess at least some measure of aesthetic sensibility—the John Hancock Center, built in 1965–1970. William E. Hartman was the partner in charge, with Bruce Graham the chief designer, Fazlur Khan the structural engineer, and many other principals involved in the complex design.

Above this are forty eight floors of apartments ranging from efficiencies to four-bedroom units, concluding at the top with an observatory at the ninety-fourth floor, a double-level restaurant and bar, and four mechanical floors. One might note, however, that no visual clues indicate these internal changes in use.

The project was an unusual combination (for the time) of business and residential uses on a relatively small lot on Chicago’s north side. When problems arose in fitting all of the services on the lot it was decided to simply stack one atop the other, creating a single shaft of one hundred stories, 1,107 feet tall.

Hence the cross-braced tapered sides, with all members so fastened together that they carry all of the gravity and wind loads and thus free the interior of any structural elements except utility core and elevator shaft—Mies’s universal spaces piled nearly a quarter of a mile into the air. The tower’s mixture of uses

Beginning at the plaza level, which contains a restaurant, skating rink, and miscellaneous shops, the building has five commercial floors for a large department store and bank, seven floors for parking, twenty floors of office space, two mechanical floors, a double level “sky lobby” with shops and a swimming pool.

and the provision of internal shops make this truly a city within a city. Happily this mega structure is divided into comparatively easily perceived visual units by the cross braces, and the tapered silhouette gives the prism a distinctive individual grace.

Such height, given the slender proportions of the tower and the treacherous winds off Lake Michigan, precluded traditionally braced steel frame construction because the necessarily large amounts of steel would have consumed too much space and drastically increased the total weight and cost. Graham and Khan therefore decided to view the tower not as a braced frame but as a rigid tube securely fastened at its base, a form of vertical cantilever.


1974, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill

The Sears Tower represents not one but nine clustered rigid tubes, each approximately 75 feet square, to achieve column-free interior spaces. Instead of combining many uses, so as to distribute traffic patterns and to minimize periodic congestion, the Sears Tower is wholly devoted to office space, nearly 4 million square feet, enough room for sixteen thousand workers including the seven thousand Sears employees. The original proposals prepared by the Sears company called for 104 stories, but under corporate pressure to surpass the Hancock tower, for the supremacy in height the architects redesigned the upper portion, trimming away some volume here and there and piling it up elsewhere to gain another six stories for a total height of 1,454 feet. The only apparent criterion was that this be the tallest building in the world, not necessarily the best or the most beautiful as had been the case with the Tribune Tower in 1922. To minimize maintenance the building was sheathed in black aluminum, which, with the smoked gray glass, gives the building an ominous appearance. Structural and architectonic articulation was kept to a minimum, making this one of those unique buildings that gets distinctly less interesting the closer one comes to it. Given the prevailing economic conditions in most cities, this seemed to be the only kind of new building that appeared economically feasible for a time. Other giants built during this time period were the Standard Oil Building, in Chicago, of 1970–1974, with 80 stories at 1,136 feet, and the twin towers of the World Trade Center, of 1966–1980, with 110 stories at 1,350 feet.


The reasons for this megalomania were many. One was the desire to open up the yawning plazas at street level (meaning more floors had to be piled on top of one another). Another was the presumptuous and arrogant hubris of building the tallest building, at almost any cost. Until someone else built something taller there was a certain public relations value to the strategem, but it was ultimately a losing game. In part this compulsion for ever greater height arose because, given the general anonymity of Modernism, the only way to distinguish a new corporate headquarters was to make it taller than its neighbors; so the style tended to encourage a drive for the clouds and beyond. The pristine Miesian glass-clad rectilinear tower thus became the symbol of the postwar period, its mythical functionalism applied indiscriminately. Though the architectural ideal of Mies’s youth was realized, the reformed society did not follow. What Mies had originally intended were isolated glass monoliths reflecting both neighboring older buildings and glimpses of the surrounding landscape; what had been envisioned as singular freestanding buildings quickly became a pervasive urban clichÊ. In postwar cities, as more and more traditional brick and stone buildings were replaced, and particularly after mirrored glass appeared in common use after 1970, the various glass boxes stared at each other blankly, reflecting only each other.



1985, Helmut Jahn

Helmut Jahn’s greatest dramatic gesture was made in a signature building commissioned by then governor William Thompson to house state offices in Chicago, built on a site diagonally across from the city hall and county buildings. Jahn shaped a tapered and rounded blue glass block around a circular central rotunda 160 feet across that rises through the full seventeen stories of the building and past the roof as a cylinder sliced off at an angle— the heroic modernist version of a classical dome. In the interest of expressing openness and interconnectedness of state operations, Jahn kept each office floor open to the soaring rotunda, but this caused problems with air circulation, especially with the accumulation of hotter air in the upper stories. With its balconies, cantilevered and open stairs, and glass-enclossed elevator cars, the rotunda proclaims technology at its most triumphant (but ascent to the very top of the transparent elevator cage is perhaps not for the faint of heart). By the mid-1980s, as the James R. Thompson Center unquestionably demonstrated, for Jahn the standardized universality of Mies had given way to highly individualized and unique creations.


2004, Frank Gehry

In February 1999, Chicago announced it was negotiating with Frank Gehry to design a proscenium arch and orchestra enclosure for a band shell as well as a pedestrian bridge, that became BP Pedestrian Bridge, crossing Columbus Drive and that it was seeking donors to cover his work. At the time, the Chicago Tribune dubbed Gehry “the hottest architect in the universe” in reference to the acclaim for his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and they noted the designs would not include Mayor Daley trademarks such as wrought iron and seasonal flower boxes. Millennium Park, project manager Edward Uhlir said “Frank is just the cutting edge of the next century of architecture,” and he noted that no other architect was being sought. Gehry was approached several times by Skidmore architect Adrian Smith on behalf of the city. The choice of Gehry was a key component of having modern themes in the park. The pavilion includes 4,000 fixed seats and a 95,000 square foot Great Lawn that can accommodate an additional 7,000 people. Early plans to incorporate a surrounding waterfall and stairway were abandoned. Jay Pritzker Pavilion features a 120 foot proscenium theatre with a brushed stainless steel headdress. The main stage, which can accommodate a full orchestra and chorus of 150 members, is connected by this frame to a trellis of interlocking crisscrossing steel pipes that support the sound system. The innovative sound system distributes sound to mimic indoor concert hall acoustics. The trellis is 600 feet by 300 feet.



2010, Santiago Calatrava

The Spire is the first Chicago project for Spanish architectural superstar Santiago Calatrava, though he has graced the shores of Lake Michigan before with the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion. Its position at the point where the Chicago River drains Lake Michigan puts it in the center of the city’s skyline, and out in front of any of the thousands of photographs taken by tourists cruising the lake each day. In its original form, this building lived up to its name. It was truly is a spire with a tapering form topped by a needle. The final design eliminated the needle piercing the sky and developed a more blunted, but still graceful, form. In a New York Times article about the building, it was compared to a drill bit, a blade of grass, and a tall twisting tree. Others have compared it to a lighthouse, which could end up being its nickname because of its location. The inability to quickly categorize the construction is what you come to expect from a Calatrava design—something both geometric and organic. Something that take a simple form and twists it in the wind like so many of his other bridges and buildings. In this case, each of the building’s floors are anchored to a central column, but offset. Then each floor is rotated slightly as the tower rises higher. The result is, indeed, something very much like a drill bit. The original plan called for the bottom 20 floors to be occupied by a hotel, while the rest of the building was to be filled with 1,200 luxury condominiums. The final configuration has this building entirely residential. Much to the disappointment of tourists and skyscraper fans, there are no plans for a public observation deck.




My senior project, Chicago/Architecture is a Hardcover book highlighting the top architectural milestones in Chicago's history. The goal of...