chicago school of architecture // DESIGN HISTORY

The Chicago School of Architecture was an architectural and engineering movement that came out of the massive rebuilding of Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.  Influenced by the need for more dense building due to a rapid increase in population, this movement produced some of the first skyscrapers.  It also featured masonry, terra cotta and and other fire-proof building materials.  Chicago Style featured large plate glass windows on ground floor for retail shops and tended to be 5-8 stories high.  The buildings were divided into a base, shaft, capital with limited ornamentation – recalling the buildings of Ancient Greece.  This style introduced the Chicago bay window that had one large fixed window in the middle of two smaller double-hung windows.  Noted architects and engineers included: William Le Baron Jenney, HH Richardson, Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan, Burnham & Root and also George Wyman who worked out of Los Angeles.


Glessner House + Minneapolis Mausoleum

This Minneapolis mausoleum shares several characteristics from the Chicago style including recessed window moldings, strategically placed windows to maximize light, thick masonry exterior and limited decoration except for an ornate iron decoration over the main entrance.



Sullivan’s Wainwright Building + Nan Tien Institute & Buddhist Temple in Australia

Louis Sullivan favored terra cotta because of its lightweight, fireproof and easy to carve decorative elements.

This building is covered in extremely thin terra cotta “blades” which were simpler, lighter and less expensive than standard terra cotta.  The blades move in the wind which was designed to convey a lotus leaf.  



Glessner House + Nevada Housing Development

HH Richardson and later Frank Lloyd Wright were known for using masonry arches in their designs.

This modern example is part of a new development near Las Vegas and was designed for the “Millennial Aesthetic.”  The home has both modern and classic elements.  The rusticated brick arch framing the main entry of the house is reminiscent of HH Richardson (and later Frank Lloyd Wright).


Burnham & Root’s Monadnock + Mission Bay housing in San Francisco

The Burnham & Root skyscraper features large expanses of glass, chamfered corners, verticality and a brick façade.

This modern design, which was originally planned for the corner of 4th & Channel harkens back to the iconic Chicago building.  While it features horizontal string course, it share many features such as brick-colored exterior, chamfered corners and a sense of verticality.


Chicago’s Home Insurance Building + Michael Graves Design

Classic Chicago School buildings looked back to Ancient Greek architecture and featured a base, shaft and capital construction.  This is easy to see on the corner of William Jenney’s Home Insurance Building.  Note how the corner is designed like a square column that goes all the way up to the top of the building.  Each level has a base, shaft and decorated capital at the top.

This modern building designed by Michael Graves has both Egyptian and Greek features including columns on the lower floor and within the top capital, a grand pylon entry and minimal decoration.

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