7.7. THE DESIGN OF A BUILDING ON A CORNER LOT: THE COUNSELMAN BUILDING

Burnham & Root, Counselman Building, Chicago, NW corner of La Salle and Jackson, 1883. (Hoffman, Root)

Another member of the Board of Trade clique was Charles C. Counselman, one of the Board’s major traders who also owned the Terminal Grain Elevators used by the Rock Island, hence, his connection to the move of the Board closer to the station.  Counselman had waited to start construction on the small corner site he had acquired at the northwest corner of La Salle and Jackson, adjacent to the site for the Royal Insurance and opposite the main entrance of the Board of Trade, until the construction of the Board of Trade had proceeded sufficiently to assure its completion.  

Map of Loop, 1882. (Author’s collection)

In the Spring of 1883 he commissioned Burnham & Root to design a ten-story building, similar to the Montauk and the Calumet Building, two buildings in the same genre of small, and therefore cost-effective, ten-story spikes of masonry, but with only a 56′ frontage on La Salle and 60′ along Jackson, the Counselman Building’s footprint was even smaller than either of its older siblings. The fact that the Counselman’s elevations resembled neither of these but instead those of the Burlington’s reveals Root’s interest in differentiating the architectonic concept of a “wall building” versus that for a “corner building,” as he continued to experiment in his search for an appropriate solution to this new typology. 

Burnham & Root. Two “wall building” elevations employing two-story paired windows under an arch: left: Grannis; Right: Calumet. (Author’s collection)

In the Counselman Building, he used neither the single-window, every-floor-articulated language of the Montauk (that, in truth, he never returned to), nor the double-window grouped under a shallow arch language used in his “wall Buildings,” the Grannis and the Calumet Buildings.  He opted, instead, to further develop the two-story, arched single-window language of the Burlington Building. 

Burnham & Root. Comparison of Counselman and Burlington elevations. Note the use of the same two-story, single window motif on the right side of the corner vs. the inversion of multiple windows used on the left side. (Author’s collection)

For the first time, he also eliminated any continuous statement of the intermediate floor in each of the two-floor layers, allowing the brick piers to read at the larger, two-story scale as single entities.  The two-story layers in the elevation were separated by intervening single-story bands of square-headed windows and carved panels of gridwork.  Root reversed the rhythm of the Calumet and layered the Counselman in a 1:1:2:1:2:1:2 sequence that appeared to flow easier to the top of the building than did the Calumet. He broke the pure repetition in the top layer by using complete semicircular windows instead of the segmental arches used in the lower two layers.  Vertically, Root played the same game of inversions between the two facades as he had also done in the Burlington design.  The Jackson elevation consisted of a rhythm of paired-single-paired windows, while this was inverted on the La Salle elevation to single-paired-single window.  Root sheathed the body of the building once again in red pressed brick and terra cotta, and placed it on a base of red granite, the same material that Boyington was using in the Royal Insurance Building.  The only truly awkward feature of the design was the entrance, that like the Montauk’s, was forced into an asymmetrical location because of the location of the elevators due to the tightness of the plan.  The problem of the design of the entrance was only furthered by its lack of integration within the height of the one-story base.

Burnham & Root, Counselman Building. (Inland Architect, April 1884)

Nonetheless, of Root’s three related, ten-story office buildings, it was generally agreed that the Counselman was the best.  Inland Architect reported, “The extreme simplicity of the exterior design is in accordance with the disposition of our best architects to dispense with all superfluous projections, whether for ornament or otherwise, and seek effect in strength and massiveness and utility in giving all possible advantage to the lighting of the interior.  This, in the Counselman Building, is carried out in a high degree.”  Indeed, by the middle of 1883 Burnham & Root were coming to grips with the aesthetics of the “simplicity” of the red brick box.  

FURTHER READING:

Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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