clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Walking Tour of Chicago Architecture, Part Two: A Skyscraper Canyon Near Jackson

New, 3 comments

Yesterday, we started our tour of Chicago's historic architecture on Dearborn Street. Today, Curbed contributor Shawn Ursini picks up where he left off to explore the evolution of modern skyscraper design.

As we continue our tour through the Loop, crossing Jackson Boulevard presents a major shift not only in regards to the era of architecture being viewed, but also how structures meet the sidewalk. On previous blocks featuring historic skyscrapers, buildings came right up to the lot lines, wasting none of the valuable real estate. But as construction technology advanced, building taller and thinner became possible, ushering in a new trend in postwar modernism: plazas, ground-level setbacks and lobbies set within arcades. Our path takes us past this new generation of high-rises.

200-299 South Block of Dearborn: Adams Street to Jackson Boulevard

Federal Center
(Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Schmidt, Garden and Erikson; C.F. Murphy Associates; A. Epstein and Sons)
211 South Clark Street: Loop Station Post Office (1973)
219 South Dearborn Street: Everett McKinley Dirksen Federal Building (1964)
230 South Dearborn Street: John C. Kluczynski Federal Building (1974)
International Style

The full city block bounded by Dearborn, Adams, Jackson and Clark Street has long been designated a location for the federal government. A building constructed in the immediate aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, completed in 1879, was quickly outgrown by the government workforce and demolished in 1900. A large Beaux-Arts building designed by Henry Ives Cobb rose in its place, which, despite its classically inspired façade, was constructed on a modern steel frame. Eight interior office floors, serviced by elevators, were capped with a large dome that rose 300 feet into the air.

This grand building also had a rather short life. In 1960, Congress authorized its replacement, a new federal complex. A team of architects representing four Chicago-based firms, led by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, collaborated on the complex, which was originally slated to include two buildings but morphed into three structures flanking a central plaza.

The buildings reflect the Miesian philosophy of "less is more" and "god is in the details," with carefully proportioned structures that use modern materials to provide decoration. The facades were composed of large expanses of bronze-tinted glass, broken up by steel beams running vertically along the exteriors serving as mullions, which created shadows and visual texture. At the corners of the towers, the column edges are exposed, creating what became known as the "Mies corner," a commonly seen feature on his towers. This very minimalist form of modernism became known as the International Style and was a very universal form of architecture which would look similar no matter where the building was constructed, regardless of context.

The project started on the east side of Dearborn Street. To construct a 30-story federal office building with courtrooms, crews closed off a segment of Quincy Street and demolished Quincy Street Garage, a 25-story elevator parking facility, one of the tallest buildings solely dedicated to automobile storage ever constructed. After demolition of the domed structure, construction began on the taller, 43-story office tower and the single-story post office. The post office was placed along Clark Street within its own building to maintain an open plaza (access to the below-ground loading dock could be obtained from the western edge of the site, and the plaza would have unobstructed access for pedestrians in a space defined by three new structures, thus creating an outdoor room).

In the center of the plaza, surrounded by the black painted steel structures, sits a bright red flamingo sculpture designed by artist Alexander Calder. The sculpture was placed in the plaza the same year the entire complex was finished in 1974. Shortly after opening, the office towers were given their present names to honor the service of two Illinois politicians: Dirksen and Kluczynski, both of whom represented Illinois in the United States Congress.

100-199 Block of South Dearborn: Monroe Street to Adams Street

Citadel Center
131 South Dearborn
Postmodern (Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura; DeStefano+Partners: 2003)

Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill designed this 39-story tower, originally known as the Dearborn Center. He's known in Chicago for designing 77 West Wacker Drive, a very visible postmodern tower along the river with a heavy emphasis on classical features. The Citadel Center still makes overt reference to classicism, but the tower itself is sheathed in modern materials. It also sits on a site originally occupied by the Fair Store, an early high-rise designed by William LeBaron Jenney in 1892 that was demolished in 1985. Parts of the Fair Store's original foundation were tied into the new Citadel Center.

The curtain wall facade is largely made up of butt-glazed glass, a sleek exterior held together by thin strips of sealant rather than mullions (the glass is anchored from behind). Contrasting the Miesian facade of the Federal Center, it's a showcase of the evolution of glass exteriors.

33 West Monroe Street
International Style (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: 1980)

This shorter office tower has a exterior typical of filler buildings of its time, a simple skin of windows set into a metal frame. It's a repetitive set of proportions used across the entire structure. Like the towers of Federal Plaza to the south, this building creates wider sidewalks along its two street edges through the use of a ground floor arcade.

A set of three stacked interior atriums set this building apart, eating up what would otherwise be valuable, rentable office space. The first of three atriums begin on the ground floor and serve as the main lobby. Accounting firm Arthur Andersen's global headquarters was located here before the company was dissolved amid the Enron scandal in the early 2000's. The top of 33 West Monroe creates a stair step effect between the Inland Steel Building to the north and the Citadel Center to the south, although Citadel was the last of the three to be constructed.

Marquette Building
140 South Dearborn Street
Chicago School (Holabird & Roche: 1895)

This 16-story tower on the corner of Adams and Dearborn streets was developed by Boston investor Peter Brooks and Chicago developer Owen F. Aldis, after the successful completion of the Monadnock Building. The historic name references Father Jacques Marquette, a French explorer and missionary who passed through Chicago with Louis Joliet in 1673. The first non-natives to travel the Chicago River and map out the portage routes between the South Branch of the waterway and the Des Plaines River to the southwest, the pair were instrumental in creating the city's maritime economy, and their names are plastered across the region.

Composed almost entirely of Chicago windows set between uninterrupted vertical piers, the exterior of the Marquette expresses the underlying steel frame within. The decidedly modern façade still includes a few historical references, such as terracotta accents along the base and a neo-Renaissance cornice at the top. The cornice was stripped from the facade in the 1950's, leaving the uppermost floor and its smaller sash windows looking incomplete in relation to the rest of the tripartite facade. A full renovation of the building conducted a few years ago fully restored the cornice to its full glory.

The building's true bragging rights, however, come from the ornate lobby, decorated with white Carrara marble and bronze panels above the elevators depicting the journey of Marquette designed by J.A. Holzer and created by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.

55 West Monroe
Modern (Murphy/Jahn, Inc. Architects: 1980)

Originally named the Xerox Center, the 41-story tower provides a contrast to the darker International Style buildings nearby. The Dearborn Street facade was set back from the property line along the sidewalk, as a nod to the Marquette Building, and adds additional breathing room. With its smoother glass curtain wall and rounded edge, the tower holds the corner of Dearborn and Monroe Street (legend has it that the curved facade was inspired by the look of a piece of paper falling out of a printer.) Panels of white aluminum form the spandrels between the floors, providing a splash of brightness within the skyscraper canyon.

0-99 Block of South Dearborn: Madison Street to Monroe Street

Inland Steel Building
30 West Monroe Street
International Style (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill: 1958)

When the Inland Steel Company commissioned SOM to design a new headquarters, the firm set out to create the most modern building in the Loop. With that in mind, the ahead-of-its-time building boasts many firsts, starting from the ground up. It's the first high-rise constructed on driven steel piles, which anchor the structure 85 feet into the ground. A set of seven exterior columns support the office floors, a revolutionary concept that placed the skeletal structure outside of the building and led to a column-free floor plan, a layout that would become a standard for office towers.

Further advancing the open floor concept, the architects placed all the elevators, bathrooms, stairways and utility shafts in a separate tower to the east, not only leading to truly unobstructed space, but allowing for windows on all four sides of the structure.

Those weren't the building's only advances. It's also the first to use double-glazed windows in a high-rise, the first fully air-conditioned office space in the Loop, the first stainless steel façade devoid of additional decoration, and the first office tower in the Loop with an interior parking garage.

This city landmark underwent a full renovation a few years ago after it was sold to a consortium of investors including famed architect Frank Gehry. Surrounded by other modern towers, Inland Steel would still likely be state of the art if constructed today.

1 South Dearborn
Modern (DeStefano Keating Partners: 2005)

Built in the pre-great recession boom cycle, this new tower gracefully takes a step back from Dearborn Street as a gesture to the Inland Steel Building, allowing full exposure of the north facade. Garnished with a row of trees, the plaza created within the setback benefits from a pleasant shade canopy that hangs over a ground-floor restaurant. The tower, which rises 39 floors, is crowned with a passive lantern, a rectangular portion of the mechanical screen which allows natural light to pass through opaque glass during daytime hours while also providing a soft, backlit glow in the evening. Designed by the short-lived DeStefano Keating partnership, the building stands atop the former home of the First Federal Building, an 18-story Holabird & Roche tower built in 1902.

Chase Tower
21 South Clark Street
Modern (CF Murphy Associates: 1969)

The block on which this tower sits is the geographical center of the Loop. Originally named the First National Bank Building, the structure was built in response to a former Illinois state banking laws, which placed a limit on the number of branches any institution could have. That led to a demand for all transactions to take place under one roof, creating a need for large blocks of office space before the advent of computerized banking.

The swooping curve of the structure is a response to the spatial needs of the original structure: the lower floor, with banks of tellers, required more room than upper floor offices. Elevators and stairways are placed at the ends of the floor plates, adding structural stability and maximizing space efficiencies within the offices. The curved form produces a visual illusion suggesting the tower's upper floors are flaring out towards the viewer. The illusion is best seen from the sunken plaza on the south side of the structure, which contains a stand-alone mural mosaic by Marc Chagall titled "The Four Seasons."

The plaza and a close-up of the Chagall mural.

The strict Illinois laws which kept banks small also made them prime targets for acquisition after deregulation. As such, the building's name was changed to Bank One Plaza then again to Chase Tower after a series of mergers and ownership changes.

Since we've come to Madison Street, the addressed will flip from south to north. We'll hit up the north side of Dearborn up to the Chicago River during the final installment of our tour tomorrow.

Shawn Ursini

· The Curbed Guide to the Chicago Architecture Biennial [Curbed]
· Installation at Chicago's Garfield Park Illuminates an Architectural Gem [Curbed]
· 18 Hotels to Stay at During the Chicago Architecture Biennial [Curbed]