Chicago School (1880-1920)

Chicago School became paramount during the decade after the Chicago fire in 1871, giving birth to the first modern skyscrapers and to an incredible new look to american cityscape.

Chicago fire panorama.
Chicago fire panorama.

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The Winds of Change

After 1871 Chicago Fire, new buildings were designed with steel structures in order to be fire-proof. The early structures from the First Chicago School featured traditional load-bearing walls with bricks and stones. The metal skeleton frame allowed the architects to project skyscrapers.  William Le Baron Jenney built the world’s first completely iron-and-steel -framed edifice in the 1880s. The building will be demolished in 1931.


Home insurance building
Home insurance building.

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Chicago School Characteristics

The architecture of this movement is rational and functional, it can be considered the first architecture completely detached by European tradition. The adoption of steel was in contrast to Henry Hobson Richardson’s aesthetic principles, which rejected the concept of metal-framed building, in favour of European styled lithic structures like his Trinity Church in Boston. When Chicago architects switched to metal, they expressed the qualities of the material to perfection.

Sullivan's 3-section Guaranty Building skyscraper design mimics a classical column, perhaps the result of his L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts training in Paris.
Sullivan’s 3-section Guaranty Building skyscraper design mimics a classical column, perhaps the result of his L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts training in Paris.

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 Icons of the Chicago School

The artists associated with this movement were: Daniel Burnham who worked with John Root, William Holabird, Martin Roche and Louis Sullivan, which is associated with Dankmar Adler. Here are important works from this designers:

  • Monadnock Building was built between 1889 and 1891 by architects Burnham and Root. Root died at the age of 41, during the construction of the edifice. At the same time John Root and Daniel Burnham had the responsiblity for the construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition, which had to be opened the following year. The Monadnock left the mark upon a historic transition in the improvement of structural methods. Most of the buildings that preceded it were supported by their outside walls. This one needed strong and heavy supporting walls. The Monadnock layed on a floating foundation system projected to revolutionize the way tall buildings were built on the “Windy City”‘s spongy soil.
Monadnock Building, Chicago

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  • The Auditorium is one of Chicago School masterpieces. It combined Dankmar Adler‘s engineering creativity with Louis Sullivan‘s architectural virtuosity. Innovations in foundation technology allowed the construction on the spongy land. The latest techniques were used to give the building uninterrupted spans.
Auditorium Building. Chicago.
Auditorium Building, Chicago.

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Info source: https://www.britannica.com

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