Chicago School (1880-1920)

Chicago School became paramount during the decade after the Chicago fire in 1871, which gave birth to the first modern skyscrapers.

Battle of Shiloh - April 6th 1862 painting with everything burnt to the ground. Soldiers are scattered throughout the piece and trees are sizzling due to the damage.
Battle of Shiloh – April 6th 1862- Lith. Buffalo & Chicago.

Image source: by exit78

The Winds of Change

After the 1871 Chicago Fire, new buildings had steel structures designed to be fire-proof. The early structures from the First Chicago School featured traditional load-bearing walls with bricks and stones, yet 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.

Leiter II Building photo: A large rectangular building with 7 rows of windows, one of the first buildings with a metal skeleton frame.
Leiter II Building- Chicago (1891)-by William Le Baron Jenney

Image source: by Teemu008

Chicago School Characteristics

The architecture of this movement is rational, functional, and 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 favor of European-style structures like his Trinity Church in Boston.

Marquette Building, one of the best examples of the Chicago school of architecture.
Marquette Building- Chicago (1895)

Image source: by Teemu008

Lobby of the Marquette Building, Chicago. A column stands in the center of the dome room with two floors. There are murals on the balcony of the second floor and a man stands at the center of the photo  in the lobby.
Lobby of the Marquette Building, Chicago

Image source: by John Picken

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, who is associated with Dankmar Adler. Here are important works from these designers:

  • Architects Burnham and Root built the Monadnock Building between 1889. Unfortunately, Root died at the age of 41, during the construction of the edifice. At the same time, John Root and Daniel Burnham had the responsibility for the construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition, which opened the following year. Most of the buildings that preceded used their outside walls for support, but this one needed strong and heavy supporting walls. The Monadnock played on a floating foundation system projected to revolutionize the method for building on the “Windy City’s” spongy soil.
Photo of the Monadnock Building, in Chicago, Illinois.
Monadnock Building, Chicago

Image source: by Ken Lund

  • The Auditorium is one of Chicago School’s masterpieces. It combined Dankmar Adler‘s engineering creativity with Louis Sullivan‘s architectural virtuosity, and innovations in foundation technology allowed the construction of spongy land. Further, the latest techniques gave the building uninterrupted spans.
Auditorium Building in Chicago. A large stone building with three arches along the bottom in the foreground.
Auditorium, Adler & Sullivan, 1889, Chicago

Image source: by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar

Auditorium Theatre interior from the balcony, Adler & Sullivan (1889). Photo in black and white. A grand ceiling with a large stage and various people in the audience.
Auditorium Theatre interior from the balcony, Adler & Sullivan (1889) Chicago

Image source:,_interior_from_balcony.jpg

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