Adler & Sullivan, Auditorium Building. Construction photo. Looking from the NW corner of the lot on Wabash towards the lake. (Inland Architect, March 1888)

Adler wasted no time with work clearing the site beginning on January 28, 1887. The next day, the Board approved a series of changes that Adler & Sullivan had made “in the main” (the second design) and directed the architects to “complete the drawings of the exterior of the building in substantial accordance with the recommendation of Prof. Ware.”  Peck reported back to the papers that the design was changing “in the direction of severe treatment.”  I want to emphasize the importance of the Board’s directive to their architects to follow Ware’s recommendations.  For all practical purposes, much of the final overall design of the Auditorium’s exterior would be the product of William Ware and not Louis Sullivan.

Adler & Sullivan (with William Ware?), Design for the Auditorium, April 1887. Note that the exterior material above the granite base is still brick and terra cotta. Watercolor by Paul C. Lautrup. (Siry, The Auditorium)

To prove this point: Peck and Sullivan then traveled to New York to consult with Ware on February 12 to finalize the design, after which it was then fully detailed in a set of drawings and another watercolor by Lautrup that were finished in April 1887, that for all practical purposes represented the penultimate design.  One must assume that the majority of the changes in this version were the result of Ware, as the Board had given him what amounted to de facto control over the design of the building’s exterior.  In addition to his recommendation of January 17 to remove the pyramidal roof, the entire surface of the building appears to have been greatly simplified and unified.  Adler assigned responsibility for this to the budget realities facing the building team, but one can also credit Ware’s more sophisticated design experience for the starkness of the exterior. Ware had simply removed all of Sullivan’s characteristic ornamental proclivities (bay windows and gratuitous arches) from the body of the building in order to reveal the repetitive bay nature of the building’s structure, an appropriate expression for such a monumental building.  The naked body of the building’s structure needed little else, other than just the right amount of rhythm.

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Left: Second Design, Dec. 1886; Right: Third Design, April 1887.

The overall appearance of this version of the exterior is much more resolved than either of Sullivan’s earlier attempts.  In no uncertain terms this was due to the complete elimination of the bay windows, the elimination of continuous sillcourses at the eighth and ninth floors, à la the Field Store (thereby achieving Ware’s recommended 3-4-3 layering scheme), and the redesign of the arcade replacing Root’s detailing from the Insurance Exchange with the employment of George Post’s detailing of telescoping, concentric arches from the Produce Exchange (which concept, we will soon see, was also used by Adler in the theater’s cross-sectional profile).  

George B. Post, Produce Exchange, New York, 1880. (Online)

The telescoping arches focused one’s sight upon the arcade as the dominant element of the elevation (there was no focus on Sullivan’s two attempts) by pushing the windows farther back, allowing the depth of the wall to be read, as well as reducing the visual thickness of the piers without impacting their structural section. Quite frankly, it is hard not to assume that Ware had accompanied the pair of Chicagoans during their visit on a personal tour of the Produce Exchange to get a firsthand look of what he was recommending for the similarly-scaled Auditorium.

Adler & Sullivan (with William Ware?), The Auditorium. Design for the Auditorium, April 1887. Detail showing the “transitional” Third Floor carrying the rock-faced texture of the lower two floors into the third floor rendered in the darker color of the pressed brick upper floors using either a matching-colored terra cotta or stone.

This latest design kept the two-story granite base but revised the third story transitional layer by extending the rock-face texture of the granite base into this story while being rendered with a darker stone or terra cotta to match the brick in the upper seven floors.  Ware then revised the top seven floors into a layered progression of openings that was a masterful blend of the best of Post’s and that of Richardson’s designs.  He used Post’s rhythm of 4:2:1 in the number of floors in each layer, while he incorporated a 1:2:3 ratio in the number of openings in each bay (even though both of his precedents had used a 1:2:4 ratio).  Meanwhile, Ware rejected Post’s strict horizontal rhythms and kept Sullivan’s original use of Richardson’s technique of extending the rhythm of the main structural piers into the upper layers to give the building a counterbalancing vertical accent to the block’s dominant horizontal proportions.  

Left: George Post, New York Produce Exchange. Note that Post had used a three-arched entry; Right: Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Third Design, April 1887.

A very subtle difference from both Post’s and Richardson’s designs was in the detailing of the upper arcade that instead of grouping floors eight and nine into a two-story arcade by recessing the spandrel at the ninth floor, Ware cut the windows of each story into the smooth wall surface, thereby merging floors eight through ten into the “top”layer of his 3:4:3 layering that also allowed the arcade in the middle layer to be the dominant focus of the elevation. Ware used of a continuous sillcourse at the eighth floor (that Ware had stopped short of the corner pier à la the Field Store) that reinforced the boundary of this layer that was then broken at the ninth floor to allow the main structural piers to extend continuously for both floors.  If for no other reason than this move in and of itself, I must credit Ware and not Sullivan for the design of this elevation, as this detail is simply too subtle to expect the inexperienced thirty-year old Sullivan to appreciate, let alone employ it.  

Left: Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Second Design, December 1886; Middle: Third Design, April 1887; Right: George Post, New York Produce Exchange. Note how Ware had revised the tower detailing so that it read as a continuous vertical element, similar to how Post’s tower read. In Sullivan’s second design on the left, the cornice continues past the tower, visually separating the upper part of the tower from what should be its lower body.

The influence of the Produce Exchange can also be seen in the redesign of the Auditorium’s tower, that in true “Windy City” fashion, was projected to a height of 236,’ some twelve feet taller than its Gotham precedent.  While the incongruous pyramidal roof was eliminated from the tower, the tower itself was correspondingly elongated with the addition of another floor to a total of 16 stories to compensate for the loss of the height of the pyramid so that it still had a vertical proportion complementary to the horizontal body of the building. Once again, Ware’s greater sophistication is evident in how he articulated the tower versus Sullivan’s earlier design.  In Ware’s design, the tower was given a vertical dominance over the horizontal body by simply projecting its mass subtly in front of that of the body’s, thereby also allowing it to be visually linked with the Theater’s entrance. There is no question that the larger vertical weight of the tower is the dominant force in this scheme in that Ware had stopped the uppermost piece of the body’s cornice trim from continuing through the tower. The tower’s continuity was reinforced by detailing its four piers as seven-story unbroken vertical surfaces, in front of and stopping the sillcourses at floors eight and ten. In Sullivan’s second design, the cornice continues past the tower, visually separating the upper part of the tower from what should be its lower body.  This confusion is further blurred by Sullivan’s carrying the sillcourses at eight and nine past what should have been the tower’s unbroken piers.


Historic American Buildings Survey-The Auditorium: https://loc.gov/pictures/item/il0091/

Morrison, Hugh, Louis Sullivan: Prophet of Modern Architecture. 1935. Reprint, New York: W.W. Norton, 1962.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Twombly, Robert and Narciso Menocal. Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture. New York: Norton, 2000.

Van Zanten, David.  Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. New York: Norton, 2000.

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


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