McLaughlin was also well-traveled, having made frequent trips to New York to keep in contact with a former partner, and a trip to Great Britain in 1873 in order to study the latest zoological garden designs as he had been commissioned by the newly-chartered Cincinnati Zoo that year to begin the design of their campus. He was also an active member of the A.I.A. that allowed him to keep current with his peers (including Adolf Cluss, see above) and the profession’s latest developments by traveling to its annual conventions.
He was well-versed in cast iron construction, as evidenced by his earlier design of the Cincinnati Public Library. McLaughlin was commissioned in 1868 to design a new home for the Library. The Library had purchased a bankrupt Opera House under construction one block north of Fountain Square on Vine Street. He was told to keep the completed shell and to shoehorn into it reading and book storage spaces.
He paralleled Labrouste’s latest design employing iron for the Bibliothèque Nationale that had just been completed earlier that year. He lined the edges of the site with five stories of open-latticed ironwork bookshelves and walkways.
The central reading space was lit from above with a stained-glass skylight. The building had opened to great acclaim in 1874.
The interior of the new Shillito’s Store continued McLaughlin’s search for light and space that he had pursued in the Library. The size of the site’s footprint required daylight to be provided from the center, for it was too far away from the perimeter windows to supply sufficient daylight.
The impressive vastness of each floor’s 35,000 square feet was reinforced by the 120 feet tall central atrium that extended through every floor and was capped by a 58 feet diameter iron and glass domed octagonal skylight. (Bon Marché had completed its first phase that contained a similar space only the year before, but its atrium was only half as high at four stories.)
In 1998, the building was restored, in which the process revealed the color palette used in the stencils that surrounded the domed skylight: green and rose panels with gold images surrounded with floral patterns, that were separated by blue- and gold-striped bands.
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