11.21. “GIVE THE CLIENT WHAT HE WANTS”

H. H. Richardson, Studies for the Filed Wholesale Store, 1885. Left: Brick; Right: Stone. (O’Gorman, Selected Drawings)

The second design determinate Richardson faced was the client. (For the title of this section I have paraphrased Field’s famous slogan “Give the Lady what she wants.”)  While Richardson had dreams of transcending Root’s Burlington Building with a design of a commercial palace, he would quickly come face-to-face with the reality that all Marshall Field wanted was a warehouse with a stone front. (And what he wanted he usually got, with the exception of his stillborn skyscraper. Yet even after Field had died in 1905, he apparently still got his skyscraper on La Salle, for in his estate he specified that a skyscraper be erected on the site that he had purchased over the years that included where the Home Insurance Building stood. In 1931 his grandson Marshall Field III began construction on the Field Building, its planned height of 535’ was second only to the new Board of Trade one block south, until the Lindbergh Beacon was added to the Palmolive Building. The Board of Trade was designed by Root’s son; the Field Building was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the successor to D.H. Burnham.)  

Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, Field Building, Chicago, NE corner of La Salle and Adams, 1931. (Online)

Marshall Field wanted two things with the design of the wholesale store: first, some sorely needed positive publicity to offset Leiter’s legal victory, and second, a well-designed billboard in stone for his wholesale store.  Richardson would soon find out that he had no budget to even try to compete with Root’s ornamented symphony of space across the street.  Field wanted a building for his wholesale division that catered primarily to out-of-town merchants and salesmen on tight schedules who came to Chicago on overnight trains from all over the Midwest, to order new merchandise from Field, that would then be shipped back for sale at their own stores.  This transaction was to be the model of dry efficiency, both in time and money.  The overhead that the new building would impose on Field’s wholesale prices had to be kept to a minimum, in order for Field to remain competitive. 

Richardson, Field Wholesale Store, First Floor: Drapery and Upholstery Department. (Ochsner, Richardson)

This was not to be a department store like Field’s department store on State Street or Shillito’s in Cincinnati, that was based more on impulse buying and, therefore, in order to entice female prospective buyers inside, had to be as impressive on the interior as the exterior.  Salesmen coming to Field’s Wholesale Store knew what they needed to order before they even boarded the train for their destination:  good quality merchandise with as low a price as possible.  To keep that price down, Field’s Wholesale Store needed none of the spatial and ornamental delights of Shillito’s Department Store or Root’s Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Building.  Nonetheless, the ego and reputation of the Chicago merchant still demanded an impressive exterior image that would compare with, if not exceed his competitors’ buildings, especially following the public relations debacle of his stagnant hole on La Salle Street only one block away.  Therefore, Field had hired America’s most renowned architect at the time to design merely a facade for a no-thrills warehouse.  And even then, given the meager resources Field was willing to furnish, Richardson would be forced, during the duration of the design of the project, to abandon all attempts to incorporate any carved ornament (except in the cornice) in favor of a very stark (less expensive), plain wall surface. 

This situation was curiously similar to what Root had faced in the design of the Montauk Block, some four years earlier.  Then, Peter Brooks, the client from Boston, had told his Chicago architects that he preferred, “to have a plain structure of face brick, with a flat roof.”  Now the positions were somewhat reversed: it was the Chicago client who would force the architect from Boston to shed all horizontal projections and rely on the simple massing of the building and its windows for its effect, barring one major indulgence.  Field still wanted a stone building, the same demand he had placed on Beman in the design of his skyscraper.  With a monumental stone facade in mind, whom better in America of the summer of 1885 could Field have pursued, one would have thought, than Richardson.  But once again, we find Richardson, upon his exposure to Chicago’s red brick boxes, wanting to deviate from his own oeuvre to design the Field Store in brick!

Richardson, Marshall Field Wholesale Store. Preliminary elevational study employing brick. (O’Gorman, Selected Drawings)
Between these two studies by Richardson, left in brick, right in stone, I have placed the R.H. White Store by Peabody & Stearns in-between them. The earlier left study incorporated the White’s lower floors, while the final stone design used the White’s top floor’s detailing except for increasing the number of windows in each bay from 3 to 4.

While the client eventually got what he was willing to pay for, a monumental stone facade, Richardson continued to work on a parallel alternative in brick, quite obviously hoping to change Field’s mind before actual construction began.  The design began as a six-story building, thereby allowing Richardson to attempt to reach a rapport with the six-story Burlington Building across the street.  It is readily apparent, even in the early sketches, that Richardson was committed to addressing at least one aspect of Root’s elevation: the static quality of stacking identical arcades one on top of another. (Remember that Root was attempting the same remedy in his original design for the ten-story Rookery.)

Richardson started the Field design where he had left off with the Ames Store, using the layered arcade motif with a decreasing geometric progression in the spacing of the windows of 1:2:4.  Here we confront another architectural history legend.  The story varies from writers claiming that Richardson’s progressive arcades unleashed a number of copycat designs in Chicago as the perfect solution to the skyscraper’s elevation (Sullivan did appropriate it for the Auditorium but it is not a skyscraper) to those who claim the Field Store was the first use of layered arcades in a diminishing progression even though historians have traced this motif back in American buildings (see Sec. 5.1) to Detlef Lienau’s 1864 design of the Noel and Saurel Building in New York (even in Richardson’s own work we find him using this motif as early as 1867 in his entry for the Equitable Building competition).

The fact is that Chicago’s architects were forced early into the development of the skyscraper to abandon the use of smaller windows in the upper portions of skyscrapers because not only did the smaller window reduce the quality of daylighting (lower rent), but it also raised the cost of the building’ construction because it forced the contractor into specifying and managing more pieces that also had different dimensions (although the cost of larger sheets of glass would somewhat offset this).  I took a quick look back at Chicago’s skyscrapers erected during 1881-85 and found only one, the Studebaker, that employed this detail (and there was a reason for this: the larger windows were used in the show floors, the smaller windows for the factory in the upper floors).  We can start with Jenney’s First Leiter and end with Root’s Rookery, they all have the same size windows within their respective facades, with the sole exception of the top floor that was typically detailed with smaller windows to act as a cornice (in many instances this was floor acted as an attic for equipment).  But one must also remember that the Field Store was not a speculative office building, therefore, the loss of light caused by the smaller arched windows would not cause a financial loss for the owner.  My point is that far from being a revolutionary, trend-setting design as some make Richardson’s Field elevation to be, the layered, progression of arcades was an anachronism in 1885. One of a number, I might add, that will be found in the Field Wholesale Store.

FURTHER READING:

O’Gorman, James F. Selected Drawings – H.H. Richardson and His Office. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1974.      

O’Gorman, James F. “The Marshall Field Whole Sale Store: Materials Towards a Monograph,” JSAH, Oct. 1978, pp. 175-194.

Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl. H.H. Richardson:  Complete Architectural Works. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982.

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

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