7.13. AN ARCHITECTURAL JANUS

W.W. Boyington, Royal Insurance Building, Chicago, 1883. Left: Jackson elevation; Right: Quincy elevation. (Left: Gilbert, Chicago; Right: Inland Architect, Sept. 1884)

We can now return to Boyington’s first attempt with the pier-and-spandrel elevation in the Royal Insurance Building. I think because he had the two long side bearing walls on the east and west for lateral support he felt confident that he could experiment with this relative new technique on such a tall building. Curiously, Boyington’s designs of the two elevations for the Royal Insurance Building were somewhat unrelated, that if one didn’t know better, would have led an observer to think that either they were different buildings, or at least designed by different architects.  Most likely, this was a response to context and budget, for the more visible Jackson Street elevation was constructed of expensive red granite that played to the Board of Trade, while the Quincy Street facade was sheathed in a less expensive combination of sandstone and red brick.  Materials notwithstanding, even the composition of the two elevations were also different, leading one to speculate whether Boyington considered the design of two exterior facades as an opportunity to experiment with the design of this new type of building.

Left: Pullman Building; Right: Royal Insurance Building. (Author’s collection)

As Boyington had an extra half-story to play with than did Beman, the body of the Royal Insurance Building rose even higher than that of the Pullman Building.  This allowed Boyington to match the 165′ height of the Pullman’s corner turret by placing a gable, within which was carved the company’s coat-of-arms, above the roofline over the central entrance bay in the Jackson elevation.

Boyington, Royal Insurance Building. Jackson Street Elevation. I have digitally removed a later addition from this postcard. (Online)

In contrast to the horizontal layering employed by Beman, Boyington achieved a remarkable vertical statement in the upper body of the Jackson elevation where the piers extended unbroken for five floors.  Boyington detailed these piers as colossal pilasters that stood on one-story pedestals that were grouped as their own transitional layer between the piers above and the building’s rusticated two-story arcaded base.  These piers supported the building’s top floor that was detailed as a cornice.  This five-story range of piers owed its overall language to Burnham & Root’s Calumet Building in its flatness and five-bay, six-pier rhythm, as well as in the way that the center bay’s piers not only increased in thickness to articulate the entrance, but also because it had smaller windows than the flanking bays.  Most interesting of all, the larger windows in the outer bays were detailed as “Chicago windows,” like those in Adler’s Revell Building, and mark the first use of this device in a tall office building.

Left: Royal Insurance Building; Right: Calumet Building. Both elevations employ five vertical piers, with the middle two widened to emphasize the entrance. (Author’s collection)

Curiously, in contrast to the radical departures explored in the Jackson facade, the Quincy Street elevation was more traditional.  The Chicago window was replaced by the standard paired, double-hung window.  He moved the arcade that was in the base of the Jackson façade to the top of the Quincy elevation, attempting to create a nine-story tall arcade running across the façade.  The arches, however, were simply carved relief panels (not unlike Adler’s Borden Block), avoiding the cost of curved glass and the corresponding reduction of daylight caused by arches.  However, the implied nine-story arcade across the face of the building was hard to read because the continuous cornice lines at the third, fifth and eighth floors severely compromised the ability to read the potential height of the uniformly-dimensioned, unbroken piers.  In fact, Boyington showed his allegiance to tradition in the detailing of the piers that was not uniform, as he used fluting in the two central piers to demark the central, entrance bay as well as in the corner piers to frame the elevation.  Meanwhile, he downplayed the intermediate piers to either side of the entrance by not fluting these and carrying the spandrels through them at each floor.

Boyington, Royal Insurance Building. Quincy Street elevation. (Left: Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City; Right: Inland Architect, Sept. 1884)

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

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