Speaking of holes in the ground, let’s return to the gaping pit at the southwest corner of La Salle and Monroe, waiting for construction to begin on Field’s 13-story skyscraper designed by S.S. Beman.  In Section 8.19 we saw how Field’s former partner, Levi Leiter had outfoxed Field’s plan for the skyscraper by not allowing Field’s crew to excavate under Leiter’s existing building at the western edge of Field’s lot during the fall of 1884.  In March 1885, a frustrated Field ordered Beman to complete the details of the building and construction on the site was renewed.  Field approved breaking into Leiter’s basement in order to shore up the existing wall and to place the new foundation.  Leiter countered by obtaining a permanent injunction in May 1885 against Field from doing any more construction on Leiter’s side of the wall.  

Field would eventually be vindicated by the Illinois Supreme Court but this wouldn’t occur until May 1886. Therefore, Field had a major public relations nightmare on his hands as well as the money he would have otherwise spent on the tower. Even though the lease on his existing wholesale store was not scheduled to expire until 1889, he decided to move up the date of construction for its replacement.  In search of positive headlines to offset his defeat by Leiter, he initiated talks in April 1885 with America’s recognized leading architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, to design the new building.  As soon as the papers got hold of the story, the ill-fated skyscraper was all but forgotten, except of course, for that huge hole at the corner of La Salle and Monroe… Field left the hole at La Salle and Monroe remain dormant for 1885, 1886, 1887, and 1888… 

H.H. Richardson, F.L. Ames Wholesale Store, Boston, 1882. (Van Rensselaer, H.H. Richardson)

The last Richardson building that we reviewed was, coincidently, a wholesale store in Boston that he had designed for F. L. Ames in 1882.  It was the last major commission on which he did any design work prior to his trip to Europe in the summer of 1882.  The facade was typical of his earlier work with one notable difference: he had abandoned the “structural” polychromy he had achieved in his prior work with the use of two stones of different colors – a light body with a darker accent stone – in favor of a more unified, monochromatic stone surface.  As construction did not start until after his return, this change from his past projects may have been inspired during his European travels.  Whether it was or not, there can be no mistaking the fact that Richardson’s designs executed after the summer of 1882 can be viewed as an attempt on his part to bring a more unified image to his work.  It might be said that he was attempting to impart a sense of chaste discipline to his beloved picturesque Romanesque, or as Owen Jones had recommended, “repose,” not unlike that which he saw in Renaissance buildings while visiting Italy, particularly Florence.

Giuliano da Sangallo the Younger, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 1489. (Online)


H.H. Richardson, Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh, 1883. (Van Rensselaer, H.H. Richardson)

In late 1883, Richardson produced a design for the competition for the new Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail in Pittsburgh that had been chosen as the winner on January 31, 1884.  I consider this to be his magnum opus.  All of his ideas have been combined into a highly articulated mass that resulted from a synthesis of his Beaux-Arts neoclassical training with his search for an American architectural vocabulary.  The axial plan and pyramidal massing are pure Beaux-arts, while his time spent with the Labrouste brothers was revealed with his use of architecture parlanté, that is, the building’s massing expressed the building’s function and interior organization. 

Richardson, Allegheny County Courthouse. (Author’s collection)

The motifs of his style are all here: the highly-picturesque roofline of a steeply-pitched hip roof punctuated with gabled dormers that extended the wall surface beyond the cornice, giving his roofline the spikey-ness that I refer to as his “crown,” the horizontal layering of the elevation achieved with continuous sill courses into the conventional Beaux-Arts tripartite elevation composition of base-shaft-capital; and the all-stone exterior with its corresponding arched openings, including his trademark cyclopean “Syrian” arched entrance. He repeated the monochromatic color scheme of the Ames Store, showing that he had indeed abandoned Victorian “structural” polychrome. 

One can argue that he was inspired by Philadelphia, Pittsburgh’s cross-state rival’s City Hall in both the building’s hollow courtyard plan (although because of different-sized functions, office space vs. courtroom, the Philadelphia plan is double-loaded while Pittsburgh’s is single-loaded) and incorporation of an urban landmark tower (however, at 250’ tall it was less than half the height of the Philadelphia tower).  Richardson used the tower to impart a vertical counterpoint to the otherwise completely horizontal composition (this would be the tallest structure he designed).

Richardson, Allegheny County Courthouse. Detail of tower. (Author’s collection/Van Rensselaer, Richardson)

As I noted earlier in Sec. 8.4 Richardson’s design of the tower held many lessons for architects faced with the design of a skyscraper.  Foremost among these was his unapologetic vertical thrust into the sky, like a Gothic steeple, that was not interrupted by any of the horizontal banding he used in the building below.  He carried this vertical thrust from the ground up for all 250’; no horizontal line of the building’s body was allowed to interrupt it.  Second, he imparted a sense of false perspective by using the, by now well-known device of layered arcades in a sequential progression of increasing arches in a decreasing height.  In the tower he began with one arch, the huge entry arch at grade.  At the cornice he then split this into two blind arches, that gave way to an intermediate range of three arches that culminated with an arcade of four arches.  He also designed the height of each arcaded layer in a geometric progression of 8-4-1 that increased the sense of false perspective. The last motif he employed that would be picked up by architects (I have already showed Root to have been influenced in Sec. 8.4) is the attachment of a cylindrical turret at each corner, I noted earlier that his precedent for this detail is thought by Richardson scholars to have been the Spanish Romanesque Old Cathedral in Salamanca, Spain.

Old Cathedral, Salamanca, SP. (Online)

This detail accomplished two design ideas. First, by rounding the corner, it emphasized the building’s three-dimensional mass, rather than how a sharp corner would have accentuated the surface plane of the wall, that would have imparted a two-dimensional planar quality to the tower. Second, this detail allowed the surface material to completely envelope the interior volume and be read as such: a concept that could easily be transferred to a non-loadbearing “curtain wall” of brick that enveloped an iron skeleton frame.

Abbey of Saint-Étienne, Caen, FR, 1063. (Online)
Richardson, Allegheny County Courthouse. Courtyard. (Online)
Pont du Gard, Nîmes, FR, 40-60 AD. Close-up of the upper two levels. (Online)

Richardson carried this verticality into the two shorter, subordinate mechanical towers at the rear of the courtyard that once more were given dominance over the horizontal layering of the remaining elevation.  (Their sheer verticality immediately reminds me of the twin towers in the Norman church of Saint-Étienne in Caen.) Here we once again have a compositional counterpoint not only between the horizontal and vertical, but also between the central tower at the front offset by the pair of shorter towers at the rear, whose void is the exact width of the main tower!!  Subtle, and pure genius… While the central tower was extended as high as possible in hopes of supplying less polluted, i.e., “fresh” Pittsburgh air, the building’s mechanical system would then expel the exhaust air through the shorter towers. 

Richardson, Allegheny County Courthouse. Front elevation (Online)

It is the courtyard’s design where I find Richardson experimenting, indicating a continuation of the evolution in his aesthetic thinking, that began with his monochromatic exteriors.  While one can easily argue that his inspiration for the elevation of the lower four floors was Pont du Gard, I am drawn to the simplicity of the uppermost two stories, whose elevation is an unarticulated surface of stone within which are carved the windows, be they arched or flatheaded.  Because there are no “piers” in this range as there are in the lower elevation, this surface has a different visual scale than either that below or on the exterior. It does not consist of layers but is just a surface.  


Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. The Architecture of H.H. Richardson and His Times. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1961.

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

O’Gorman, James F. H. H. Richardson – Architectural Forms for an American Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Van Rensselaer, Mariana Griswold. Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works. Toronto: Dover, 1969.

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


Burnam & Root, Rialto Building, Chicago, immediately behind the Board of Trade to the far right, 1884. (Chicagology)

The first two weeks in May 1885 had been, indeed, a heady time for Burnham & Root.  On May 1, the opening of the Board of Trade, not only did Burnham & Root’s Insurance Exchange quietly open, but Armour, Kent, and Bensley proudly used the occasion of the Board of Trade’s opening to announce that finally, after more than two years of false starts, construction of the Rialto Building, located immediately to the rear of the Board of Trade and proclaimed to be the world’s largest office building, was about to commence.

Burnham & Root, Phoenix Building, Chicago, immediately to the east of the Board of Trae, 1884. (Chicagology)

Immediately to the east of the Board of Trade, their ten-story Phoenix Building was preparing to start construction. And to finish listing the office’s workload, Root was still working on the final design for the thirteen-story Monadnock to be erected just one block further east of the Phoenix, at the southwest corner of Jackson and Dearborn.  The staff at Burnham & Root seemingly had their work cut out for them. And then twelve days later it was announced that E. C. Waller’s bid for the old “Rookery” site had been chosen.  Root would, within days, be designing an office building for this site that was planned to be even larger than the Rialto.

Unfortunately, precisely at this moment, the owners of the stone quarries at Lemont and Joliet chose to refuse what apparently was a just demand on the part of their workers for an increase in their daily wage.  On May 3, only two days after the announcement for which Burnham and Root had been waiting somewhat impatiently for the past two years, that construction was finally to begin on the Rialto, the quarry workers struck, denying Chicago builders the material traditionally needed first for any large construction project: the cut stone for a building’s pyramidal foundations. The timing of this event, coinciding with his office’s upcoming construction projects, cannot be easily ignored in understanding Root’s development, precisely at this moment, of a new type of foundation that required no stone at all, thus allowing construction of the Rialto to proceed on schedule.

A stepped or pyramidal stone footing. (Left: Author collection; Right: Baumann, Foundations)

As discussed earlier, the size of a stone pyramid required to transfer the weight of a ten-story office building to Chicago’s relatively weak soil could easily exceed ten feet in height.  The combined bulk of all the pyramids in the basement of a ten-story building took up the majority of the usable space in this level, preventing any significant use of this potentially valuable floor area, just at the moment when such space was becoming more of a necessity for the growing amount of machinery being incorporated in tall buildings (elevator, electric generators, boilers and ventilating fans, etc.)  With the advent of electric lighting in the mid-1880s, commercial buildings were now being equipped with their own power generators, a location for which had to be found.  The basement seemed to be the appropriate space, if only the Egyptian-like monuments located there could be reduced in size, or better yet completely eliminated.

Whether it was the lack of cut stone due to the strike, or a desire on Root’s part to open up the basement for the location of mechanical equipment, or a combination of these two issues, necessity proved to be the mother of invention: Root invented the modern iron-reinforced concrete pad footing.  Three years earlier, he had used a layer of iron railroad rails in a number of foundations in the Montauk Block to reduce their overall height by one course of stone, so that the foundations would still fit within the basement without either punching their way into the ground floor or forcing Root to locate their bases deeper below grade than was thought to be safe in Chicago. This was simply a “one-off” solution to this specific problem because Root did not use iron in his foundations for the next three-plus years,

John Wellborn Root. Railroad rails used to replace layers of stone in a foundation, 1885. (Hoffmann, Root)

Now, almost four years later, the idea of using iron rails in a foundation, albeit at a much larger scale, had returned to him. Instead of using a ten-foot high stone pyramid allowing gravity to gradually distribute the load at 45° in compression to a sufficient area of ground, Root used the inherent tensile strength of the iron sections to directly transfer the same load in two-directional bending, completely eliminating the need for the 45° angled stone pyramids.  Apparently, Root had experimented with concrete sufficiently by this time to be confident that this relatively new material would stand the test of time in such a critical location, for he eliminated all cut stone, opting instead to place a leveling base of concrete on the ground.  On top of this, Root laid a line of iron rails or T sections, each one immediately next to its neighbor.  These were embedded in a layer of concrete in order to hold them in place, and apparently in an attempt to prevent them from rusting (which, although slowing the onset of oxidation, does not necessarily prevent it). Upon this was laid another layer of rails, running perpendicular to the lower line of rails.  After also embedding these in a layer of concrete, a third layer of rails were laid in the same direction as the original layer, and so on, usually stopping after four layers of rails had been laid, creating a two-dimensional grillwork or criss-crossed stack of rails similar to how rails are still stored in railroad yards.

Rails stacked in alternating layers at Alexandria, VA. for the U.S. Military Railroads, some 20 years prior to Root’s use of the technique in the foundations of the Rookery. (Storer, American Railroads)

The resulting thinness of this multi-layered assembly of iron grillwork encased within the concrete pad permitted it to be located directly below the basement floor slab, but still safely within the thirteen feet deep soil strata that had sufficient bearing capacity.  Upon this concrete and iron pad could then be placed either a brick pier or an iron column section that was no larger in section than the part of the above-grade superstructure it would eventually have to support.  This reduced the size of the structural elements in the basement significantly, resulting in a greater amount of usable space available for mechanical equipment.  The elimination of the cut stone pyramid also made such a substantial reduction in the weight of each space-consuming footing that also had to be supported by the ground, that meant that either the overall area of the footing could be correspondingly reduced, or that the building could be made even taller (i.e., heavier) without exceeding the capacity of the supporting soil.  Either way, so successful was the new footing that in a short time, cut stone would be entirely eliminated in the construction of building foundations.  


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)


In the previous two chapters I have presented 1884 as a banner as well as a pivotal year in Chicago’s architecture.  The major threads that I identified were: 

Adler & Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall, Chicago Expo Building, 1885. (Chicagology)

1. The political /social context of 1885 included the election of the first Democratic President, Grover Cleveland, in twenty-four years. In Chicago, class warfare had seen the city’s business elites battling a nascent labor/socialist movement over the eight-hour workday,  In October 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had set the deadline for this to be implemented throughout the country on May 1, 1886. This timebomb was still ticking… The site for much of this class warfare had been the Exposition Building, in which the Socialists had established a tradition of celebrating the anniversary of the rise of the Paris Commune on March 19, 1871, with a mass rally each year.  Ferdinand Peck had finally outwitted the Socialists by using the Exposition Building for the Chicago Grand Opera Festival in April 1885, as part of the overall celebration of the Grand Opening of the new Board of Trade scheduled for May 1, 1885.

2. Architects in Chicago and the Midwest had formed the Western Association of Architects in November 1884 in response to the “benign neglect” of the “Eastern” American Institute of Architects.  I use this event as the birth of the “Chicago School” of architecture, as it was the first manifestation of the divergence between the Westerners and the Easterners in how the profession was understood and practiced.  About this same time Wight, Jenney. Root, and Sullivan were speaking of the possibility of evolving a distinctly “American” architecture.  

McKim, Mead & White, Henry G. Villard Houses, New York, 1884. (Wilson, McKim)

Just as these Western architects were finding their voices. the New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White was erecting the Henry Villard Houses in New York. Historian Richard Guy Wilson credits this building as “the first major appearance of Italian Renaissance precedent in the firm’s design.”  Let me point out that George Post has been consistently using Classical details in his buildings since the 1872 Western Union Building. The difference between what he had done and the Villard Houses was that while he was employing “generic,” for the lack of a better term, details from the classical vocabulary, the designer of the Villard Houses, Joseph M. Wells, one of the firm’s associates, had accurately reworked the detailing from a specific building from the past: the exterior of the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome.  This practice was diametrically opposed to the design theory Chicago’s architects were then evolving, following the ideas of mid-century European architectural theorists who promoted the learning from, but not the copying of historic precedents. In the The Grammar of Ornament, first published in 1856, Owen Jones had exhorted his readers not to “slavishly copy” the works from the past, but to develop new styles of art for the contemporary world:

“How is any new style of art or new style of ornament to be formed, or even attempted to be formed?…   It is for their use that we have gathered together this collection of the works of the past; not that they should be slavishly copied, but that artists should, by an attentive examination of the principles which pervade all the works of the past, and which have excited universal admiration, be led to the creation of new forms equally beautiful… “

Root had thoroughly digested Jones’ theory and applied it rigorously :

“The object of all this study of architectural styles must be to acquire from former times the spirit in which our predecessors worked; not to copy what they did.”

This issue will continue to drive the two regions further apart in their architectural theory until Root and Burnham, having the courage of their convictions, arranged to plan to have both aesthetics constructed side-by-side for the American public to view and comment upon during the 1893 World’s Fair. Such was their plan until Root tragically died on the eve of the first meeting of the Fair’s architects. (I will examine this divergence in detail in the chapter on the planning for the 1893 World’s Fair.)

The Board of Trade sporting the Sperry Corona. Taken from the Home Insurance Building on left; on the right: Insurance Exchange, Maller’s Building, Gaff Building, and Counselman Building. The Rookery will fill the void across La Salle from the Insurance Exchange, left by the demolition of the old “Rookery.” (Wade and Meyer, Chicago)

3. The new Board of Trade building had topped off at 303’ (its corona extended it to 322’). This made Chicago the home of America’s tallest building, finally surpassing the long-time record holder of New York’s Trinity Church spire (281’).  (This ignores the Washington Monument (555’) that was finally topped off in December 1884 because it was a monument, not a building). John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, with its 272’ tall pylons had opened in May 1883, finally surpassing the span of his Cincinnati Bridge.  

Statue of Liberty. Construction of pedestal in 1885, designed by Richard Morris Hunt. (Online)

Meanwhile, the French were shipping the 151’ tall Statue of Liberty in crates to New York that arrived on June 17, 1885. Embarrassingly, once they had survived their transatlantic crossing, the statue’s pieces would stay in their crates for the next ten months as its pedestal was still under construction. Nobody in the U.S. wanted to give the money needed to build the pedestal, so a fundraising campaign was eventually mounted by Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World. The pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt, when completed with statue, would increase the statue’s final height to 305,’ coincidentally (?) just two feet taller than the Board of Trade’s tower, leaving the two cities to argue over whether it was taller than the Board of Trade.  (It would also be Pulitzer who would finally end the argument by building his New York World Building, designed by none other than the skyscraper’s grandfather, George B. Post, with a height of 309’ (its spire topped off at 350’) that was completed in December 1890. And just to repeat a fact, the World Building was constructed with bearing walls that at some locations were 88″ thick, that means the Monadnock Block was not the tallest skyscraper built with bearing walls. However, it can stated that it is the tallest surviving bearing wall building.)

George B. Post, New York World Building, New York, 1889-90. (Online)

4. there was a covey of skyscrapers under construction in the immediate area surrounding the Board of Trade, especially marching up La Salle Street, to be finished by the traditional date of lease signing: May 1 (1885): in addition to the existing Royal Insurance Building (Boyington), the Counselman and Calumet Buildings (Burnham & Root), the new towers included the twelve-story Maller Building (Flanders), the Insurance Exchange (Burnham & Root), and the Home Insurance Building (Jenney).  Meanwhile, Marshall Field was still in court fighting Levi Leiter’s injunction against any further construction of his planned 13-story building designed by S.S. Beman.  Farther north the Chicago Opera House Block was completed across the street from the new County/City Building, to where the City had moved its offices from the post-fire “Rookery,” leaving the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams ripe for investment.

I will now synthesize these threads through the lens of May 1, 1885…


Wilson, Richard Guy. McKim, Mead & White: Architects. New York: Rizzoli, 1983.

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


Adler & Sullivan, McVicker’s Theater (remodeling), Chicago, 1885. (Gregersen, Adler)

While the interior of McVicker’s was based on one “consistent scheme,” the exterior of the renovated theater still exhibited Adler & Sullivan’s propensity to over activate their elevations, as they had done with their small business buildings that we have already reviewed (Sec. 7.12.) that were contemporary with the McVicker’s design, although it wasn’t constructed until 1885.  Just imagine being Dankmar Adler in May 1883, having just agreed to Sullivan’s becoming an equal partner… especially after Sullivan’s theater interior designs were generating rave reviews in the local press.  It would have been very hard to say “not yet” to the precocious designer’s desire to move into designing the exteriors of the firm’s new commissions. After looking at Sullivan’s early exterior designs, especially the Ryerson building, you may wonder “was the architect who designed this agglomeration of seemingly unrelated details the same genius who produced the glorious detailing in the Grand Opera House and Hooley’s Theater?”  I can only offer my insight gained after having had over 2000 architecture or interior design students in my design studios during my forty-plus years at the University of Cincinnati, that not only does every student comes to the drafting, scratch that, the studio table with a different set of skills, but also the design of a building’s interior is quite different from the design of a building’s exterior.  By no means am I trying to infer one is harder than the other; I am simply stating that these two design problems have their own problems to solve, and while related, are no means solved with a set of interchangeable skills.  The young Sullivan was a perfect example.  While he was a wiz at ornament and interior design, his young talents in designing the exterior of a building left much to learn.

Dankmar Adler, Central Music Hall, Chicago, 1879. The auditorium’s entrance is centered on the State Street façade, while immediately to the rear (left) of the business block is the auditorium with its three three-story tall stained glass windows. (Online)

I want to review Adler’s earlier designs for these loft buildings (skyscrapers would have to wait until 1890) simply to establish the firm’s development in designing the elevation of a business building.  Following Adler’s design for the Central Music Hall in 1879, Adler had been hired by John Borden and his son William (using the returns of their investment in silver mining in Colorado during the late 1870s) to design a six-story office building.  Adler, as had Jenney in the First Leiter Building, chose to emulate the “structural” elevation of expressed piers and spandrels (but not its triple window) so successfully employed two years earlier in Cincinnati by James McLaughlin in the Shillito’s department store. 

Although Adler had articulated the building’s elevations into horizontal layers with a rhythm of 2-2-3 employing conventional continuous sill courses, compared to the classical base-middle-top scheme of the Shillito’s store, Adler’s design was awkwardly top-heavy, lacking any sense of repose. Adler had hired Sullivan during its design and it is thought that Sullivan may have been responsible for adding the semicircular terra cotta lunettes in the building’s cornice.  This building set the pattern for the firm’s early business buildings: first, the exterior exhibited the period’s fashionable Victorian “structural” polychromy with the use of dark brick with lighter-colored stone accents; second, the building’s elevation expressed the pier-and-spandrel construction of the exterior wall; and third, each tier of windows between the piers was capped by an arch, alluding to a Romanesque Revival arcade.  

Adler (with Sullivan). Left: Borden Block, Randolph elevation. (UrbanRemains.com); Right: E. Rothschild & Brother Store, Chicago, 210 W. Monroe, 1880-1. (Urbanremainschicago.com)

In the next iteration of this scheme, the Rothschild Store, as it was simply a storefront, Adler could rely on the building’s masonry bearing party walls to stabilize the structure, and could open up the front elevation for as much glass as Sullivan could squeeze in. Therefore, they borrowed Jenney’s triple window (who had borrowed it from the Shillito’s Store) from the adjacent First Leiter Building that increased the number of windows between the piers from two to three. 

Left: Adler (with Sullivan), Rothschild Building (note at far right is the end wall of the First Leiter Buidling; Right: Jenney, First Leiter Building. (Left: Urbanremainschicago.com; Right: Art Institute of Chicago)

One other difference from the Borden Block is that they gave the Rothschild’s elevation an uncharacteristic, but distinctively vertical accent by eliminating the traditional layering of the elevation with continuous sill courses, more than likely due to the narrow proportions of the rectangular elevation.  One could easily make the argument that here Sullivan was experimenting with the Gothic Revival, except those upper windows are not pointed. (Many Sullivan historians like to point to this building as an early example of what would eventually become a Sullivan trademark, the vertically-accented elevation for a skyscraper.  If this was Sullivan’s true intention, in other words, he already at this point in his career was thinking that “tall” buildings should look “tall,” he had many opportunities after this project to continue his experiment in later designs but didn’t do so for a number of years to come. I think this interpretation of the Rothschild design is simply wishful post-writing of a history that never occurred. Quite frankly, the young Sullivan was still learning how to design a six-story elevation, let alone even dream of how to “correctly” design a new building typology that in 1881 Chicago had only one example, Burnham & Root’s Montauk Block.) 

Left: Rothschild Store, Detail of pier/spandrel intersection. The First Leiter Building is at the far right of the photo; Right: Jenney, First Leiter Building. (Online)

Here again Adler & Sullivan may have been influenced by Jenney’s First Leiter elevation for he had projected the pier’s capitals beyond the plane of the sillcourses, thereby preventing the sillcourses from being read as a continuous horizontal. Instead of changing the material at this intersection, as Jenney did, they used the same material throughout the length of the pier, obviously reinforcing its unbroken verticality. One departure from Jenney’s elevation was that the mullions were not stopped at each spandrel but were detailed to pass in front of the spandrel, allowing them to extend unbroken past the cornice, thereby reinforcing the elevation’s verticality. Sullivan’s natural tendency and skill in designing ornament seems to increase in intensity as he worked his way up the building (as do the heads of the windows from flat, to segmental arch to complete semicircular arches), to his final flourish in the cornice, a centrally located pediment over each bay.  The filigreed detailing on the cornice echoed the detailing he had employed on the contemporary Hooley Theater boxes.

Adler (with Sullivan), Rothschild Store. Cornice. (Urbanremains.com)

The inherent problem, throughout the history of architecture with an even number of structural bays such as the Rothschild’s two bays, is the inability to enter the building on axis, in the center.  Because with an even number of bays there is always a column at the center axis, this was a huge problem for traditional buildings, be they Classical or Gothic as both were symmetrically planned. If this column line is extended into the building itself, it results in a line of columns right through the middle of the central space, dividing the space into two halves. This also becomes a design issue on the exterior elevation because, once again, the central column line divides the elevation into two pieces, denying any ability for it to be read as a whole: you are either looking at the left half or the right half of the elevation.  The Parthenon has an odd number of bays and the majority of Roman triumphal arches have either one bay (Titus) or three (Constantine).

Adler (with Sullivan), Jewelers’ Building, Chicago, 15 S. Wabash Street, 1881. (Online)

For the five-story Jewelers’ Building, they changed the structure from two bays to a central bay with “side aisles.” This was accomplished by splitting the central column into two pieces and spreading them apart to create the central bay.  This had the effect of locating a column closer to each party wall, for which they simplified the elevation by combining the end column and this new column into a corner pavilion with flush spandrels and a cornice to create the equivalent of a structural bay/pavilion that they first employed in the Jewelers’ Building, again a simple storefront.  Bay/pavilions with a single window were placed at each corner and once again triple-paned windows infilled the rest of the elevation.  A shallow segmental arch spanned the opening between the two pavilions, whose surface was detailed in the same plane of the pavilions, thereby unifying the two bays at the cornice into one frontal plane, albeit the building’s structural polychromy somewhat negated this effect.  (One could project the image of a triumphal arch in this design.) This was the building where seemingly Sullivan was able to restrain his propensity to let his pencil run wild (budget constraints?), and his ornament was finally subordinated to the overall massing of the building.

Corner pavilions with a central void has been a pretty conventional massing scheme throughout architectural history. Some Sullivan scholars have tried to trace the lineage of Adler & Sullivan’s use of the bay/pavilion concept back to a variety of French designs. For instance, Narciso Menocal provided a number of precedents that had been published in the French periodical Revue Générale de l’architecture that Sullivan was known to have had in his library. 

I think Sullivan’s precedents were not so exotic, but simply found among American buildings.  I have already shown the American lineage of this idea in Sec. 5.3. that I traced back to Detlef Lienau’s Noel & Saurel Building in New York of 1864. Hunt then incorporated this idea in his 1874 design for a cast iron front at 478 Broadway. 

Another Hunt building designed in 1874 that one may argue had influenced Sullivan, but not in the use of bay/pavilions for there were none, was the Roosevelt Building with its cast iron filigreed shallow arch, whose profile Sullivan first used in the Jewelers’ Building.  He followed this up by directly quoting Hunt’s detail of the lacy iron arch in his next design the following year for the Revell Furniture Building, where he placed these at the ground floor in each void between the bay/pavilions.

In the six-story loft building for the Revell Furniture Company at the northeast corner of Adams and Wabash, Menocal noted that Sullivan had repeated the alternating rhythm of the Jewelers’ bay/triple window across both faces of the building, as if Sullivan had simply rubber-stamped the Jewelers’ façade onto the Revell’s two street elevations.  If one considers the Jewelers’ Building to exhibit restraint upon Sullivan’s part, the opposite applies to this building, as well as its three following siblings.  

Adler (with Sullivan), Revell Building, Chicago, NE corner of Adams and Wabash, 1881. One of the earlier uses of the “Chicago window,” i.e., a larger central pane of fixed glass flanked by smaller operable doublehung windows. Note the lacy, ornamental cast iron arches used in the ground floor between each of the pavilions. (Morrison, Louis Sullivan)

Adler & Sullivan had still used their three motifs: the exterior exhibited the period’s fashionable Victorian “structural” polychromy, second, the building’s elevation expressed the pier-and-spandrel construction of the exterior wall; and third, each tier of windows albeit now only within each pavilion was capped by an arched lunette.  In the Revell Building they had spaced the bays far enough apart again to insert three windows, now detailed as one of the city’s first example of the “Chicago” window, that is, a fixed center pane with operable sidelites.  The cornice of the pavilions consisted of the terminating semi-circle topped with a pediment brought back from the Rothschild design but with the addition of an acroterion. Meanwhile, apparently not satisfied with the existing visual cacophony of their prior designs’ “structural” polychromy, Sullivan “turned up the volume” in his color palette by using stripes of alternating of brick and stone in both  the second floor and the sixth floor as transitions from the all-stone ground floor and attic to the brick/stone language of the middle three floors. Finally, as if he still felt the need for an arch in the triple window range between piers, he relocated the arch typically used in their cornices down to the ground floor with a reprise of Hunt’s filigreed cast iron arch.

The firm then experienced a two-year drought in business buildings from 1882-84 while their bread and butter, residential and industrial buildings (see Morrison for a list) kept it busy.  During this period, Sullivan’s close friend, the itinerant John Edelmann, whom he had first befriended in Jenney’s office in 1874 and who was responsible for bringing Sullivan back from Paris in 1875 with the commission to design the murals in Moody’s church, had once again returned to Chicago. Menocal credited the change in Sullivan’s design aesthetic manifested in the following trio of buildings employing Egyptian and Pre-Columbian (a naive attempt at an “American” architecture?) detailing, to the almost Svengali-influence that Edelmann had on Sullivan.  Sullivan was involved in the design of these next three buildings during 1884, although their construction was spread over the end of 1884 and the spring of 1885.

Adler & Sullivan, Ryerson Building, Chicago, 16. E. Randolph, 1884. (Cannon, Sullivan)

In my opinion, the worst of the three designs was the elevation for the six-story loft building they designed for Martin Ryerson in 1884 for the northside of Randolph Street, directly opposite the Central Music Hall.  The lot was wide enough to break the elevation into three (odd number) identical bays, permitting its entrance to located on axis.   Again, the triple window was incorporated in the design of the 70′ wide storefront.  

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building, Chicago, 1883. Detail of recessed bay windows in the ground floor.

The middle three floors were detailed as slightly recessed bay windows, similar to Root’s use of this detail in the ground floor of the Rialto Building.  In an attempt to use visual foreshortening to make the building look taller (I can think of no other reason) the two upper stories were divided into four openings.  This, in and of itself was not the problem. The type and spread of ornament, however, was the issue.

In total, the Ryerson elevation had no compositional unity; it simply was a garish, unresolved exhibition of unrelated details. The base consisted of four stone columns described best by Twombly as “grotesque totems.” While the base of these exhibit a Furness-like Néo-Grec form, the remaining height of these consisted of one unrelated shape piled on top of the next, culminating in winglike brackets occupying the corner of the spandrel/column intersection.  The brackets return in an enlarged version for an unfortunate encore in the fifth floor, where they block daylight more than they add to the visual unity of the façade.  The ground floor totems also made a curtain call in the top floor, while in the floor below, the mullions between the four-windowed bays were appropriately rectangular. In total, the Ryerson elevation had no compositional unity; it simply was a garish, unresolved exhibition of unrelated details.

The design of the second of the trio, the six-story loft building for Anton Troescher brought a return of “repose” at least in the lower five floors.  Its site, 15 S. Market (Wacker) located on the east side of S. Water between Madison and Monroe Streets, was wide enough to allow four (even) structural bays.  The elevation was well-ordered into a brownstone arcaded base of shallow elliptical arches suporting a four-story body of continuous brick piers and triple windows.  

Adler & Sullivan, Troescher Building, Chicago, 15 S. Market (Wacker), 1884-5. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

Sullivan scholars like to point out the four-story continuous brick piers as an early example what they claim was Sullivan’s claim to fame in skyscraper design: the vertical accent of a continuous pier.  In fact, we have already seen in Sec. 7.15 that in the previous year, George Edbrooke had designed five-story continuous piers in the American Express Building, and seven-storied unbroken piers in the Hiram Sibley Warehouse.

George H. Edbrooke. Left: American Express Building, 1883. (Chicagology); Right: Hiram Sibley Warehouse, 1883. (Historic American Buildings Survey)

Like he had done in the Rothschild Building, Sullivan increased the quantity in each of the top two floors. In the fifth floor, not only did the infamous “totem” backets in the Ryerson make a reappearance, but they were also mirrored-imaged in the spandrel above.

In the sixth floor, the windows in the end bays were reduced to paired-windows.  The Ryerson’s “totem” mullions also made a reprise appearance in this floor, completely out-of-character with the rest of the building’s vertical supports.  The end bays were surmounted with semicircular roundels similar to those in the parapets of the Borden Block and the Revell Building, with their voussoirs making a nice recapitulation of those in the ground floor arcade.  Each of the center two bays was topped by an ornamental tympanum that Sullivan allowed to break the roofline to assert their form against the sky.  The even number of bays presented the standard conundrum: two arches in the center do not establish an axis, they are redundant.  I give Sullivan some credit for treating the building as two stores joined together; he even located the entrance for each store at the end wall, creating a mirror image. Well done!  

Unfortunately, he did not mirror-image the pattern of the terra cotta tympanum in the two central arches. Subtle, maybe so, but this would have been consistent. Or maybe a less expensive solution would have been to have detailed a symmetrical pattern for the central ornamental roundels.  But why in heaven’s name would one make these panels asymmetrical is beyond me?  So while the base of the building was a mirror-image, respecting the central axis, the top ignores the central axis by simply being repetitive. Inconsistent.

Left: Wheelock & Thomas, Post-fire McVicker’s Theater, (Chicagology); Right: Adler & Sullivan, remodeled McVicker’s Theater, 1884-5. (Twombly/Menocal, Poetry)

The remodeling of McVicker’s Theater was the third design of this 1884/5 trio. While Adler & Sullivan retained the theater’s office front’s original lower four floors, the added top two floors exhibited the same restlessness and lack of unity (or to quote Owen Jones, “repose”) evidenced in the contemporary Ryerson Building.  The fifth floor extended the existing body while a bay window, echoing the form of the two corner bays, was added to the building’s center.  The top floor ran the entire length of the façade, appearing to be supported merely by the same lacey, underscaled ornamental iron arches they had used in ground floor of the Revell Building. They capped each tier of windows with their typical semicircular arches/arcade, reprising the arcade in the surviving entrance portico. Fortunately, Adler’s knowledge of theater acoustics and Sullivan’s developing confidence with the design of interior ornament greatly overshadowed the inherent weaknesses in the design of the exterior because as theater is a complete artifice in and of itself, the exterior of a theater always plays only a supporting role.  The Tribune recorded its satisfaction with the firm’s design, “work upon the Grand Opera-House, Central Music Hall, in the reconstructions of Hooley’s and the Columbia (Haverly’s Theater changed its name in 1885), lastly the perfect remodeling of McVicker’s, has placed this firm far beyond all competitors.”  Next in line for their remodeling touch would be the Chicago Opera House Block theater.

Louis Sullivan, Earliest surviving drawing for his exterior for The Auditorium. Drawn by Paul Lautrup, Sept. 26, 1886. (Siry, Auditorium)

Theodore Tallmadge recorded in his 1941 book Architecture in Old Chicago the apocryphal story that Paul Mueller, Adler & Sullivan’s engineer during the design of the Auditorium, had told him “that the working plans [for the Auditorium] were well nigh finished for a highly ornamental façade replete with bays and oriel windows. However, a remark by John Root was repeated to Sullivan, to the effect that ‘Louis couldn’t build an honest wall without covering it with ornament.’ ”  After having reviewed Sullivan’s last three buildings, whether Root’s comment was apocryphal or factual, these prior buildings were evidence to that fact….  Root’s comment was apparently generated by Sullivan’s first design of the elevations for the Auditorium, done in September 1886, some sixteen months after the reopening of McVicker’s.  While Sullivan had apparently yet to change his exterior design ideas by late 1886, events had certainly changed Chicago and its architecture by then…


Cannon, Patrick F. Louis Sullivan: Creating a New American Architecture. Petaluma, CA: Pomogranate, 2011.

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)


Adler & Sullivan, McVicker’s Theater (remodeling), Chicago, 1885. (Gregersen, Adler)

On the morning of June 14, 1885, some six weeks after the new Board of Trade’s Grand Opening, everyone in Chicago was talking about Sullivan.  Sullivan’s name was in every local newspaper and on the lips of every man who “was a man.”  In fact, Sullivan had been the talk of the town for the entire first half of June, as Chicago prepared to witness the great contest between the “Boston Strong Boy,” America’s champion heavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan, and Jack “Irish Lad” Burke scheduled for the night of June 13, 1885, at Chicago’s Driving Park.  Over 12,000 spectators turned out that night to watch Sullivan overwhelm the middleweight in only five rounds.  Two weeks later on July 1, just under 2,000 people attended the grand reopening performance in McVicker’s newly remodeled theater whose interior design by Louis H. Sullivan received rave reviews.   The reviews notwithstanding, or, for that matter, his own recollections some forty years later in his Autobiography of an Idea, twenty-nine year-old Louis Sullivan was not yet a “household name” by the middle of 1885, as he had not yet developed into a first-rate architect.  To give him credit where it is deserved, we can say that his ability to design interior ornament was quickly maturing with every new commission during this period of his early career.

Adler & Sullivan, McVicker’s Theater (remodeling). Drawing by Sullivan for the design of Private Boxes, dated Jan. 9, 1883 (this was part of their 1883 design, not the final late 1884 design.) (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

We have seen that in early 1883, following the Chicago debut of Adelina Patti, McVicker had first approached D. Adler & Co., Chicago’s premiere theater designers at the time (Sullivan would not advance to full partnership until later in May of that year), with a proposal to remodel his famous theater anticipating that the Patti concerts would continue the following year, but then had postponed the remodeling until the fall of 1884.  Although Adler had vastly improved the sightlines, acoustics, ventilation in the remodeled structure, as well as having added 12 boxes, two tiers of three boxes to each side of the new proscenium, it had been Sullivan’s design of the interior that was the focus of the media’s attention: “Nothing like it, or anything approaching it, has ever before been seen in this country.”  Although no pictures of the interior are known to exist, contemporary reports stated that the “style” of Sullivan’s ornament were “after the Moresque pattern, and everything conforms, with slightly varying degrees in different parts of the house, to this general idea.” 

Adler & Sullivan, McVicker’s Theater (remodeling), Chicago, 1885. Entrance. (Gregersen, Adler)

A drawing of the new vestibule of the theater shows the influence of Owen Jones in the patterns that Sullivan had designed in which he had employed Jones’ recommendations of geometry and organic shapes.  As he had been working on both McVicker’s and the 1885 Opera Festival installation during late 1884 and the winter of 1885, Sullivan’s curves on the sidewalls and the ceiling echo those he had employed in the Exposition Center, and once again beg the question of the lack of mention by historians of Sullivan’s early development of Art Nouveau motifs.

One also wonders why historians have puzzled over Sullivan’s employment of Moorish details as the point of departure for much of his ornament, because his inspiration and his design process for his ornament came straight out of Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament, that not only contained a vast collection of Islamic patterns, but also was influenced by Jones’ earlier 1842 published study of the Alhambra, in which he had documented the tradition of polychromatic ornament in Islamic buildings.  

As Sullivan later summarized his design, “The architectural treatment of the interior of McVicker’s Theater is based upon a single consistent scheme or plan which is differentiated into form, color and illumination.”  Owen Jones could not have said it better. 

And it was Sullivan’s illumination that got people’s attention!  (The Biblical quote in the title of this section came from Siry’s quoting Real Estate and Building Journal of July 18, 1885.) Although Thomas Edison had been granted his first patent for an incandescent electric light bulb in 1880, the technology was slow to catch on as it had taken time for building owners to accept the new technology and for designers to appreciate its aesthetic potential.  Adler & Sullivan made the bold decision not only to incorporate this new technology for the first time in a theater, but Sullivan was also one of the first to take advantage of the bulb’s ornamental potential with his design of McVicker’s.  This he did not only from a detail perspective, but also at a conceptual level.  What was most revealing about Sullivan’s artistic talent in this early employment of the incandescent bulb was that he did not just place the 1,235 bulbs on the surfaces of the walls and sounding board but had the aesthetic imagination to actually incorporate the bulbs within his overall ornamental concept and details.  The bulbs were placed within perforated plaster rosettes and bosses that Sullivan had designed with his own personal style of geometricized ornament that hid the exposed bulb from sight (and glare) but still allowed its indirect glow to highlight the surrounding surface’s color and texture.

“Handsomely moulded bosses and rosettes are profusely distributed over the walls, and are found in consecutive circles on the ceiling, and these being perforated are made the medium of admitting the softened light which permeates the house without the source of the combustion (of gas jests) being seen, not a bulb, not a jet, not a wick of any kind is visible, and yet so lavishly are the lights provided that the sounding board alone has 105 lamps concealed by its elaborate ornamentation.

It could be said that Sullivan’s design was one of the earliest examples of the concept of indirect lighting.  How I want you to envision how first-time viewers experienced this space is to project yourself back to that time, never having seen an electric light or the quality of light that it produces.  It would be the equivalent of a “high-tech” interior of today. You were be experiencing “the future!”

The architects also realized that the traditional immense chandelier hanging from the ceiling would no longer be needed.  As The Tribune’s reporter who covered the new construction noted: “one can say good-by to the cumbrous ornament without a pang, for people… in the house never looked up at it without thinking of the sword of Damocles.”

Inherently appreciating the new warmth of color rendition that resulted from the light produced by the incandescent bulb, Sullivan, in collaboration with Chicago’s leading decorative designers George L. Healy and Louis J. Millet (see next section), had conceived of an interior environment of graded colors.  The Tribune reporter interpreted the interior colors as:

“…the keynote of the entrance will be dark mahogany leading into peacock blue.  Then all the lower part of the theater proper, as it now appears, is done in reddish yellow, gradually growing lighter and lighter as the eye wanders upward until the in carved work of the ceiling and proscenium arch it is lost in a creamy whiteness. The effect can hardly be judged until the whole is illuminated by electric lights…”

Meanwhile, an Inter-Ocean reporter described its opening night: 

“…it presents rich reds and metal effects; as you pass to the foyer it changes to blue and gold, and presently from the blue and gold there bursts on the eye a pale red brown, which floats up in mellowing metamorphosis – like the sun from the filmy veil of dawn – to cream color in the ceiling.  In this beautiful transformation act in pigments not fewer than twenty-seven different shades blend into each other and so imperceptibly that the boundary lines are indefinable.  The effect produced by this method of lighting cannot be described.  The whole interior of the theater seems bathed in a luminosity which, while intensely penetrative, is so softened and refined that no glare can possibly hurt the vision or interfere with the fullest appreciation of the most delicate tints and the most subtle gradations.”

Once again, I am reminded of reviews of Owen Jones’ buildings, especially the “bloom” of daylight he was famous for recreating in St. James’s Hall. Sullivan, Healy, and Millet had accomplished in McVicker’s interior what Root had been trying to experiment with on the exterior of a building (since 1883 with the Rialto), a gradation of color from the base of a building to its cornice.  Root was attempting use “applied” polychromy to transcend Victorian “structural” polychromy, that is achieving color in a building’s façade using “truthful” real materials, quoting Ruskin’s idea that color in nature is independent of form.  (Root’s canvas during this period was the building’s exterior because his commissions were for large buildings that contained no space large enough for such gradations, while Sullivan, who had no tall buildings through this period, had many tall spaces in the interior of the vast theaters he was given to design.)  Root had published this concept only three months (Inland Architect, April 1885) before McVicker’s opened to the public in his article, “Architectural Ornamentation:”

“In large buildings the use of several colors should be less violent, so that while the general tone may be deep and full as we can make it, the variations of color are subtle and are obtained through gradations instead of contrasts… Probably no higher art exists than this: to produce in a great building that wonderful bloom obtained by mosaics of pure color.”

In his earlier 1883 article, “The Art of Pure Color,” Root cited the paintings by “proto-Impressionists” Turner and Whistler for their “emotional” use of color, 

“… in painting, form appeals directly to the mind, color to the emotions, just as in an oratorio or opera the mind is directly interested in the words, while the emotions are more moved by the music… [Whistler] was able to translate into pigments effects which were in their nature too vague to be drawn… When Turner first flung upon canvas the full chaotic strength of his wonderful palette, all the art world thought the graceful water-colorist had gone mad… Even after Turner had worked his miracles on them, they were not yet whole, seeing “men only as trees walking,” but they had been led toward sight, and could at least see enough to know that all sky was not blue, nor all grass green.”

Surely, Root would have understood the gradations of “pure color” employed by Sullivan, Healy, and Millet as the logical evolution of the efforts of these avant-garde painters…

Speaking of papers, Sullivan made his debut as an architectural theorist six months later in October 1885 at the second W.A.A. Convention in St. Louis, where he presented his first written piece, “Characteristics and Tendencies of American Architecture.” Verbally articulating his artistic intensions toward evolving an American modern style of architecture that were self-evident in his prior theater designs, he centered his thesis, as he would continue throughout his career, on the inspiration gained from a thoughtful study of and the resulting use of metaphor for nature:

“Many who have commented upon the practice of architecture in this country have regarded the absence of a style, distinctively American, as both strange and deplorable… These theories have been for the greater part suggested by the feelings awakened in contemplating the matured beauty of Old World Art, and imply a grafting or transplanting process… their advocates have ignored the complex fact, that, like a new species of any class, a national style must be a growth, that slow and gradual assimilation of nutriment and a struggle against obstacles are necessary adjuncts to the purblind process of growth… We surely have in us the germ of artistic greatness…but architects as a professional class have held it more expedient to maintain the traditions of their culture than to promulgate vitalizing thought.  Here then we are weak…

“If the conclusions set forth in this paper be accepted as correct, it becomes evident, however, that the formative beginnings of this national style, now in progress, are of the utmost immediate interest to us…”


Healy and Millet’s Studio, Chicago, 223-5 S. Wabash, c. 1885. (Darling, Chicago Ceramics)

George Louis Healy (1856-?) was the son of Chicago’s famous portraitist, George Peter Alexander Healy (the two are often confused with each other) who was brought to Chicago by William Ogden in 1855 (see Vol. One, Chap. 8). (I have to insert this here: the long shadow of William Ogden as Chicago’s father grows ever larger…) While George L. was born in Chicago, his father had moved to Paris in 1869, where the son attended the École des Beaux-Arts in the second half of the 1870s.  Here he befriended Louis J. Millet (1856-1923), born in New York and nephew of Parisian sculptor Aimé Millet, whose monumental statue of Vercingétorix we have already reviewed in Vol. 2, Sec. 5.6. As Viollet-le-Duc had consulted with his uncle on the statue, it is quite conceivable that the nephew Millet had been introduced by his uncle to the great French architect. It is generally thought that the two art students had befriended Louis Sullivan during his one semester stay at the École during the fall of 1874. 

The two art students had been able to experience firsthand the emergence of Impressionism as they were in Paris during the first exhibition in April 1874 of the Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers (that adopted the name ‘Impressionism’ in 1877). In fact, they were able to view the second (1876) and the third (1877) exhibitions as well. As such, as far as I have been able to determine, they were the only designers in Chicago during the first half of the 1880s that had personally seen the products of Impressionist painters and, therefore, were able to bring to Chicago and apply the ideas of color and light of these paintings in their own work in Chicago. I include two paintings from each of the three exhibitions to give you a sample of what they had seen in Paris.

FIRST EXHIBITION: April 15-May 15, 1874:


Left: Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, 1875-6; Berthe Morisot, Hanging the Laundry Out to Dry, 1875. (Online)


This also may mean that Healy could easily have been the first Chicagoan to set eyes on what would eventually become one of the Art Institute’s beloved masterpieces. The two art students had quickly became friends, and it would seem that Healy had convinced Millet to return to his home town and form a partnership in 1880. Millet would begin teaching design classes at the Art Institute in January 1886, where he taught an evening class where he stressed that decorative design was “the conventionalization of natural forms” and how to derive “designs from nature and historical ornament.”  He founded its Department of Decorative Design and was its leader through 1918.  The partners dissolved the firm in 1899, with Millet continuing to design many of the Midwest’s important buildings (many with Sullivan) into the early 1920s. 


Darling, Sharon S. Chicago Ceramics and Glass. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1979. 

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. Louis Sullivan: The Public Papers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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

Weingarden, Lauren S., “The Colors of Nature: Louis Sullivan’s Architectural Polychromy and Nineteenth Century Color Theory,” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Winter, 1985), pp. 243-260.

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


In the spring of 1885, as construction on the new Board of Trade was drawing to a close and the night of the great banquet grew ever closer, union iron molders at the McCormick reaper plant went out on strike, protesting a cut in their wages.  McCormick hired non-union strikebreakers and armed Pinkerton agents to protect them.  The give and take between the “pinks’ and the strikers escalated to the point that on the morning of April 28, the day of the banquet, the strikers attacked a trolley of strikebreakers on their way to the factory, and then assaulted a group of Pinkertons, burned their wagon, and seized a case of rifles.  Coincidentally, the IWPA had scheduled a mass protest of the new Board of Trade for that same evening, not knowing in advance that the McCormick strike was going to erupt into a full-fledged riot on the same day. Albert Parsons addressed the gathered IWPA crowd in Market Square, stirring up their emotions for the march by calling the Board of Trade a “Board of Thieves” and a “robber’s roost.”  The police report of the incident quoted Parson’s as having said the new building should be blown up.  The band struck up “La Marseillaise,” the anthem of the IWPA, the marchers linked arms, and followed the lead red flags east on Lake Street and then south down La Salle Street.  Fortunately for all of the parties involved, cooler heads than those at the McCormick plant prevailed.  The march was stopped and turned away before it reached Jackson Street by a force of 200 policemen who had ringed the building that was led by Capt. William Ward, who persuaded the leaders of the protesters to end the march.  Parsons redirected the parade to Spies’ sympathetic Arbeiter-Zeitung building, where the event ended with a number of speeches decrying the unemployment among the city’s workers.  Not all such protests in the future would be so peacefully resolved…

Program for the Opening Night Festivities, Chicago Board of Trade, April 28/29, 1885. (Chicagology)

Thus, the new Board of Trade building was dedicated on the evening of April 28, 1885, two days before the traditional May 1 start of the new lease year.  Victoriously, the chairman of the Building Committee John Bensley, handed the keys of the new building to E. Nelson Blake, the president of the Board.  After four and a half years of internal haggling and impatient waiting, Chicago had its new Board of Trade:

“Western architecture has been brought before the people of the old as well as the new world during the past month through the completion of the new Chicago Board of Trade… it is an example of enduring strength and solid masonry such as the West has never before beheld.  The success of its architect is nowhere more remarkable than in the fact that there is no solid rock to build upon, but that each foot of Chicago soil in the locality of this building covers a veritable quagmire, and he who builds wisely must weigh each column and pier, knowing that an unequal balance will wreck his structure, especially if built as massively as this.

The evening ended with the victorious aroma of after-dinner cigars wafting throughout Boyington’s new Exchange Hall…  However, the tower would not be complete until December 31, 1885, when  the 20 electric arc lamps of Elmer Sperry’s 40,000 candlepower corona, that extended the tower’s final height to 322’ were finally turned on to mark the New Year (Sec. 7.4.).

Meanwhile, the IWPA’s timebomb of the deadline of May 1, 1886, for the eight-hour workday continued to tick…

Elmer A. Sperry, Board of Trade, 1885. Sperry’s Corona at Night. (Chicago Graphic News)


Green, James. Death in the Haymarket. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

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


(This is my 150th post: 400 pages of text and 1000 images. Thank you all for following!)

Adler & Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall, Chicago Expo Building, 1885. (Gregersen, Adler)

The dawn of the New Year, 1885, however, found anticipation mounting among Chicago’s businessmen for the celebration of the opening of the new Board of Trade, scheduled for May 1.  A huge, gala banquet was being planned for the evening of Monday, April 28, for which dignitaries from across the nation were being invited.  In conjunction with the planned completion of the nation’s tallest building, the 303’ tall tower of the Board of Trade as well as all of the new skyscrapers being built in the immediate area around the Board of Trade, one could think of the banquet as Chicago’s national “coming out party.”  Ferdinand Peck, socialist Albert Parson’s opposite number, used the upcoming banquet to concoct a most ingenious response to the growing presence of the socialists in the city’s streets.  Following the January 1884 Chicago debut of the Metropolitan Opera in Haverly’s Theater, where Abbey had charged an arm and a leg for tickets that essentially precluded all but the wealthiest of Chicago’s citizens, that had the effect of throwing gasoline onto the Socialist cause, Peck had once again stepped up in April 1884 to counter the Socialist threat.  He proposed and set to organizing Chicago’s first Grand Opera Festival for April 6-18, 1885, similar to those that Cincinnati had been successfully staging for the past three years.  

Peck’s timing for the Festival not only positioned it as a prelude to the celebration of the completion of the new Board of Trade, but more diabolically, would prevent the Socialists from using the Exposition Building for their annual “monster” commemoration of the Paris Commune in March, because construction of the Festival’s temporary auditorium would necessarily already be under way.  The opera festival, therefore, was planned as an all-out frontal attack against Chicago’s Communists by Chicago’s leading capitalists who made up the festival’s Board of Directors (Peck, N.K. Fairbank, George Pullman, Potter Palmer, Marshall Field’s brother Henry, Joseph Medill of the Tribune, and William Penn Nixon of the Inter Ocean.)  Nine of the eleven festival directors were also members of recently rechartered Union League Club that was now dedicated to defending their country from the evils of Socialism, for which Jenney had been commissioned to design its new local building.  On March 18, 1885, only three weeks before Opening Night, Chicago’s socialists and anarchists commemorated the 14th anniversary of the Paris Commune not with a single, united demonstration of 30-40,000 people in the Exposition Building, as had often occurred the previously, but with a much less threatening dispersed series of speeches and plays held in their own theaters on the North and West Sides, “bent on celebrating in a befitting manner that great event of March 18, 1871.”  Following the festival, Peck would then succeed in sealing off the Exposition Building from any further Socialist gatherings by simply agreeing to pay the city the $1000 annual rent that Council had demanded back in 1879.

That Peck’s model for the Opera festival was Cincinnati’s was evident in his choice of the festival’s impresario, James H. Mapleson, who had managed the previous Cincinnati festivals.  Peck had traveled to New York in May 1884 to contract Mapleson to manage the Chicago Festival.  His timing couldn’t have been better, as Mapleson was not only caught in the middle of the battle being waged between his Academy of Music’s troupe and Abbey’s new Metropolitan Opera, but his receipts from his recent Chicago run had also been reduced by Abbey’s preemptive appearance in January the week before Mapleson’s engagement was scheduled.  There was also a subtle political tone to Peck’s choice of Mapleson.  Mapleson’s Covent Garden company still concentrated on the great Italian operas, while Abbey had hired one of Richard Wagner’s associates to bring the new German operas to America.  German was the language of the majority of Chicago’s Socialists.  Besides, Peck knew that Mapleson still held the contract of the world’s star performer, Adelina Patti.

Adler & Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall, Chicago Expo Building, 1885. (Chicagology)

Once Mapleson had agreed to manage the festival, Peck again hired Adler & Sullivan to design the temporary hall to be built inside the Exposition Building.  But as Peck was now determined to make this festival a complete success, he hoped to avoid the pitfalls that had diminished the overall success of the earlier Music Festivals of 1882 and 1884.  The festival’s promotional brochure stated its goal was: “to provide Grand Italian Opera for the people at popular prices, within the reach of all, and, at the same time, to raise the performances to a higher level of excellence.”  Peck assigned Adler an unheard of budget of $60,000 for the temporary installation in the North End of the Expo Building that allowed Adler to design a completely enclosed auditorium and stage within its vast interior that would seat 6200 and had a standing capacity of 8,000.  The highlight of the large auditorium was the huge 120’ by 80’ fan-shaped sounding board that Adler placed over the stage that projected out over the audience.   

Sullivan ornamented the triangular segments of the board with his proto-Art Nouveau curves and repetitive geometries that were “richly ornamented by color decoration and plastic forms.”  Sullivan’s curvilinear ornament of this period has often been characterized as “proto-Art Nouveau,” but why this work, designed some seven years before the generally-agreed upon start of Art Nouveau architecture in 1892 by Victor Horta with his Tassel House in Brussels, isn’t qualified to be Art Nouveau leaves me scratching my head. I have juxtaposed a chair by British architect Arthur Mackmurdo in 1883 next to Sullivan’s design that same year for the glass panel in the entry door for his office to allow you to compare similarities. I also included a couple of column capitals designed by S.S. Beman, also that same year, to bolster my thesis of Chicago’s architects were developing a new style of ornament. You can decide for yourself if Sullivan’s work is “proto-” or Art Nouveau… Either way, there can be no argument whether or not it is modern.

Louis Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall. Ceiling stencil of Art Nouveau design. Sullivan designed this Art Nouveau design seven years before the usually agreed-upon start date of the European Art Nouveau in 1892. (Gregersen, Adler)

To also reinforce the projection of the sound, Adler splayed a series of ten two-tiered box seats from the edge of the stage, that were also meant to showcase Chicago’s elite to those of the middle class who would be seated in the house.  At least for these two weeks, Chicago could try to be “one big happy family” as they were all together in the same room.  The festival was a complete success, and after the final note on the closing night, April 18, Peck was brought to the stage by a thundering standing ovation for a final word of appreciation.  He ended by saying that the festival ”had shown what Chicago would and could do, and he hoped that people would look upon this as a stepping stone to a great permanent hall where similar enterprises would have a home.  The continuation of this annual festival, with magnificent music, at prices within reach of all, would have a tendency to diminish crime and Socialism in our city by educating the masses to higher things.”  The supporters of the Socialists on Council would have the last word, however, for once the Festival was over, city building inspectors declared Adler & Sullivan’s installation a fire hazard and demanded that it be immediately demolished.


Gregersen, Charles E.  Dankmar Adler: His Theaters and Auditoriums. Athens, Ohio University, 1990.

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.

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

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


Jacob Wrey Mould, All Soul’s Church, New York, 1855. (Online)

In addition to the direct importation of Jones’ book to the U.S., his ideas were personally brought to the U.S. by Jacob Wrey Mould, the British architect who had immigrated to New York in 1852. (Vol. Two, Sec. 2.24.)   Prior to his move, Mould had worked for Jones for a number of years, spanning the period between his assisting Jones in taking measurements of the Alhambra, to the design of exhibits in the Crystal Palace and in the initial preparation of the plates for The Grammar of Ornament.  In 1855, Mould had given New York’s architects an example of Jones’ ideas in his design of All Souls Church in 1855.  I have already discussed how Root and Sullivan were introduced to Jones’ ideas: Root, who might have seen firsthand Jones’ buildings during his time in England (unsubstantiated because we don’t know where he traveled then), most definitely would have seen Mould’s All Souls Church in New York during his time in New York (1866-1871).  One also must point out the potential of Root’s mentor, Peter B. Wight, who had identified Mould’s church as having ignited his own interest in architecture (Vol. Two, Sec. 2.7.) having encouraged Root to study Jones’ work.  Sullivan, meanwhile, most likely was introduced to Jones via his Philadelphia mentor, Frank Furness (Vol. Two, Sec. 7.5-8.).  Root and Sullivan absorbed Jones’ lessons and would take his search to the next level.  Root would pursue Jones’ use of color, while Sullivan would also exploit color, he would exceed Jones’ ability to produce new ornamental systems, but I don’t think neither were able to combine these two variables into a formal and spatial synthesis as successfully as had Jones, which just might be the best testament to his own unique abilities.  


Following Mapleson’s triumphant Chicago debut with Adelina Patti in McVicker’s Theater in January 1883, McVicker had asked Adler & Sullivan to redesign his theater in anticipation of her return in 1884.  Undoubtedly, he was influenced by their earlier successful reworking of both the Grand Opera House and Hooley’s Theater, and especially with the notoriety gained by the reviews by Chicago’s local press on Sullivan’s unusual ornament and contrasting color schemes.  But the redesign of McVicker’s got off to a slow start, and then the battle raging in New York between Mapleson’s Academy of Music’s Opera company and the new Metropolitan Opera Company managed by Abbey spilled over into Chicago.

Following its premiere season in New York and nearby Philadelphia, Abbey brought the new Met company to Chicago for its debut in the larger Haverly’s Theater (where Mapleson had introduced Italian opera to Chicago in 1879) on January 21, 1884, only a week before Mapleson was scheduled to return with the Covent Garden troupe at McVicker’s Theater.  While Mapleson’s operas had the reputation of being expensive, Abbey took advantage of having scheduled his newly-formed, and somewhat unknown Metropolitan company’s debut to be staged BEFORE Mapleson’s series by charging even higher prices, thus once again ensuring that only Chicago’s upper crust would be in the audience.  While this may have lined Abbey’s pockets, it was completely antithetical to the social education/sophistication agenda that Chicago’s elites had planned for the city’s middle-class.


Louis H. Sullivan, Adler & Sullivan’s Office Door (sandblasted) Glass, 1883. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

The exclusion of so many of Chicago’s middle-class residents from Abbey’s opera series undoubtedly encouraged Nathaniel Fairbank to repeat the 1882 Music Festival, for which he once again had to settle for the Exposition Building for the dates April 6 -18, 1884, as no appropriate venue had yet been erected in Chicago. (Once again, the advanced construction time for the festival would have prevented the city’s Socialists from marking the thirteenth anniversary of the Paris Commune with another monster rally.)  He instructed and so funded Adler & Sullivan (the firm had changed its name in May 1883 indicating the rise of Sullivan to full partner) to design not only a bigger but also a better solution than had been used back in 1882.  This was made possible by the fact that for some reason, Chicago had bagged both the Republican and the Democratic 1884 presidential conventions that were scheduled correspondingly for the first week of June and July.  This was the first time in the history of the republic that one city was to be the site for both conventions.  Cincinnati may have had the biggest convention facilities, but you still had to have the “clout” within a political party to pull off a convention, and Chicago had pulled off a minor miracle that year.  It didn’t hurt Chicago’s chances, however, that it was now Cincinnati’s turn to experience the wrath of class conflict on its streets, for an unjust jury trial had set off street riots that culminated on Saturday, March 29, 1884, in the complete destruction of the U.S. Courthouse in which the controversial trial had taken place, reminiscent of the burning of Pittsburgh’s Union Depot in 1877.  Once again, comparisons to the Communards’ destruction of Paris’ Hôtel de Ville filled the frontpages of the nation’s newspapers.

The Militia push back Rioters from the burning Cincinnati Courthouse, March 29, 1884. (Online)

Adler & Sullivan were given the north end of the Expo Building this time, for which Adler reduced the volume of the hall by designing the interior performance space within the hall as a room 150 wide and 400 feet long.  He designed a stage with an amphitheater behind it for the chorus, that was covered with an immense 120 x 150 feet sounding board.  At the rear of the hall he placed a second sounding board to reflect the sound back to the audience, that actually resulted in these seats having the best acoustics.  He was told to increase its seating capacity to 9,130, over that of the 6,500 seats of the 1882 Festival in order to allow more of the middle-class to attend.  This altruistic goal once again defeated the quality of the performances simply because the space was still too big, as its acoustics caused the “loss of those delicate shadings that make music so deeply representative of the various emotions that belong to the tone art.  If a listener had followed the training of the chorus in their rehersals in the small halls, and observed the shading that Mr. Tomlins was so careful in having done, and then marked the performance of those pieces at the concerts, he could not but have noticed that much of the intended effect was lost.”

Above: 1884 Republican National Convention, Exposition Center, June 1884; Below: Layout of Exposition Center for 1884 Democratic Convention, July 1884. (Online)

Such was the state of grand opera in Chicago in the spring of 1884, when Charles Henrotin and William Kerfoot were granted a building permit for the ten-story Chicago Opera House Block and its 2300 seat auditorium that opened in August 1885.  They also may have been encouraged by a report from City Council’s Committee on Public Buildings that had been released the previous December that had labeled Haverly’s Theater, then the city’s largest music venue, as a major firetrap (suspiciously only weeks before the scheduled premiere appearance of Abbey’s new Metropolitan Opera Company). Following the close of Abbey’s series, the theater’s owners commissioned Adler & Sullivan to also rework their theater in response to the damning report by the city’s Building Department.   

Cobb and Frost, Chicago Opera House, 1884. (Siry, Auditorium)

Therefore, while 1884 had been a banner year for many of Chicago’s architects with the design of the nine new skyscrapers then under construction, Adler & Sullivan had not been involved with the design of a skyscraper (their first commission to design a skyscraper was still over six years in the future, the tower of the 1887 Auditorium notwithstanding), but they had achieved a reputation in Chicago as being THE leading designer of theaters, especially with regards to Adler’s acoustics and Sullivan’s interior ornamentation.  In the spring of 1884, the redesign of McVicker’s Theater had been pushed to the back burner again in order to complete the design of the Exposition Center in time for its opening on April 6.


Following the end of the 1884 Music Festival, the Exposition Center was refitted for the Republican convention held on June 3-6, 1884, from which emerged James G. Blaine, the former Senator from Maine, as their candidate. The following month the Democrats convened July 8-11 to nominate the reform-minded Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, who won the election on November 4 by the narrowest of margins, having won New York’s electoral votes by only 1,047 votes.  Cleveland was the first Democrat to be elected President since 1856.

As the country’s economy had slipped back into recession during 1883 (that had bottomed out with a financial panic on May 14, 1884, when the Marine National and the brokerage firm Grant and Ward in New York went bankrupt), the country’s labor unions found a renewed meaning as they headed down their path in the search for better working conditions.  The class conflict between Chicago’s capitalists and the city’s Socialist-inspired labor leaders had grown increasingly more heated.   The IWPA had managed to slip in between the two conventions a protest march on June 29 comprised of some 3000 protestors, bands, floats, and signs, such as “Workers of the World Unite.”  Following the Democrats’ convention, however, the most important event, though little appreciated at the time, was that the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had also held its national convention in Chicago in October where it had set the date of May 1, 1886, as the deadline for the eight-hour workday to be the standard across the country.  The fuse on the timebomb of class warfare had been lit…  Six weeks later, and perhaps somewhat emboldened by Cleveland’s election only three weeks earlier, Chicago’s IWPA sponsored the “Poor People’s March” on Thanksgiving Day 1884.  A crowd estimated to have been 3000 gathered at Market Square where they were whipped into an appropriate mood by Albert Parsons:

“We assemble as representatives of the disinherited, to speak in the name of 40,000 unemployed working men in Chicago… Woe to him who buildeth a town by blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity.

They then set off down Market Street, led by the black flag of hunger (and anarchism) and the red flag of International Socialism.  They turned east onto Monroe in order to pass by the Palmer House, where the band played the ‘Marseillaise’ as the parade turned north onto State.  They purposely walked past the homes of the rich and famous, stopping in front of the homes of the wealthier industrialists long enough for verbal epitaphs to be hurled at those celebrating the annual feast behind their bolted doors.  At the Union Club, they “groaned, hissed and hooted at the old and young sprigs of aristocracy who filled the windows and were beholding their future executioners.”


Green, James. Death in the Haymarket. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

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.

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


Owen Jones, The Crystal Palace Bazaar, London, 1857. (Online)

Thanks to the monograph on Owen Jones written by historian Carol A. Hrvol Flores, Jones’ pioneering efforts in arguing for a modern architecture have finally come to light.  As Jones was putting the finishing touches on The Grammar, he was commissioned to design what would become London’s premiere performance venue for the next 50 years, St. James’s Hall, located near Piccadilly Circus, probably the most important private building in London at the time, a testament to the prestige that Jones had earned as a designer following the successes of the two different color schemes for the Crystal Palace. 

In St. James’s main hall that could seat approx. 2500 between the floor and its galleries, Cole employed his understanding of color to create an interior “daylighted atmosphere” at night.  The first thing that immediately grabs your attention should be the diagonal lattice (or also known as a skewed grid) he used in the ceiling.  One can see the influence of his study of Arabic geometry as well as his use of the three geometric systems (grid, diagonal, and curve) that he had stated was the basis for all ornamental patterns.

Owen Jones, St. James’s Hall, Longitudinal Section. (Flores, Jones)

He achieved his “daylighted” feeling by painting the ceiling diamonds with a blue background while using white to outline the pattern within each diamond.  He complemented this using his, by now, iconic color palette of primary colors and gilding to highlight the trim and ornament. The best surviving example of his designs that employed this type of ceiling is the “new” ceiling he designed for the restoration of the 14th century choir in Carlisle Cathedral in 1856 (see below).

 The effect was completed in the auditorium by his choice not to use the conventional large chandeliers hung from the ceiling to light the space, but instead he suspended a number of star-shaped gasoliers whose light set-off the entire daylight effect in the ceiling. 

In this close-up of his ornamental pattern you can compare it with his system of using three geometries to design a modern ornamental pattern that he included in The Grammar.  Note in the longitudinal section how he had also cleverly worked in the pointed arch of the stylish Gothic revival while only employing the semicircular arch.  Jones’ use of geometry in combination with his use of color and non-historical ornament spoke to his search for a new style of architecture.  The hall opened on March 25, 1858, appropriately with Prince Albert in attendance. Jones’ younger colleague at the Kensington School, Christopher Dresser, may have best summed up the public’s response to Jones’ theater house: “When in St. James’s Hall we appear transported to some fairer world – art is here.”

Owen Jones, Osler Crystal’s Showroom, London, 1858. (Flores, Jones)

Jones also did a number of interiors in London in which he followed his rules for a modern architecture. The task that he undertook in these projects and his ability to achieve it may have best been identified in 1862 in a review by The Building News of what many felt was his best project, a ceiling design for London’s Hancock’s of Bruton Street (Britain’s leading diamond and jewelry designers-they still make the Victoria Cross medal):

“It matters little what the style is because it is so thoroughly harmonious… there is not a feeble or false line in the whole work… the whole work Is linked most skillfully together, and it is only after attentive examination that one is enabled to detect the secret of its success, or to realize its full value as a work of art.”

Owen Jones, Osler Crystal’s Showroom. With mirrors on each side wall as well as the rear, Jones made one feel as if s/he were actually walking inside a diamond. (Quite literally, “To Infinity, and Beyond…”) (Flores, Jones)

My favorite building of his was a showroom in London for the Osler Crystal company.  Jones took the multiple reflections of the glass pieces as his inspiration and created a spatial infinity in the narrow, 24’ wide space by lining the sidewalls with 14 pairs of full-length mirrors, in addition to placing a full-length mirror at the back of the 106’ long space.  He extended the spacing of the mirrors into the barrel-vaulted skylight, and then further articulated each bay with a 4×4 grid of rectangular prisms of primary colors. Jones was responsible for a great number of buildings and interiors, and if interested I would direct you to Flores’ excellent monograph.

Owen Jones, Osler Crystal’s Showroom. Detail of stained-glass ceiling. (Flores, Jones)


Flores, Carol A. Hrvol. Owen Jones. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

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


Owen Jones, Plans, Sections, Elevations, and Details of the Alhambra, Title page, 1841. (Flores, Jones)

Because it is central in understanding the Chicago School to appreciate the influence of Owen Jones’ ideas and designs during the 1850s that, even though I have presented these in Volume One, since this is was done on my Instagram site, I would like to review his legacy, if for no other reason, than to compensate for the lack of coverage by earlier historians of his iconoclastic career.  Although the impact of his book is often discussed in terms of Root’s and Sullivan’s use of ornament, his forward-looking, ahistoric-styled buildings are seldom, if ever mentioned.  This I will rectify in the following sections.

Twenty-six year-old Welsh architect Owen Jones had burst onto the British architectural stage on December 1, 1835, when he presented a paper, “On the Influence of Religion upon Art” at the Institute of British Architects.  The young architect had just returned from a six-month study of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain, where he had documented and analyzed Islamic techniques of architectural ornament and polychromy.  Having completed his studies at the Royal Academy Schools and an architectural internship with a London architect, Jones had departed in 1832 on his continental Grand Tour.  After touring Italy, he had moved on to Greece where he made the acquaintance of Jules Goury, a French architect who was working under German architect Gottfried Semper at this time in researching the use of polychromy in ancient Greek architecture.  Semper had by this time already departed to return to Germany to publish his findings, Preliminary Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity in 1834.  Meanwhile, the two young architects set off first to study Islamic architecture in Egypt and Constantinople, before returning to the continent via Spain, to study the Alhambra.  Inspired by the Islamic approach to design that was totally different from the traditions of Classical antiquity yet had produced buildings that in terms of their beauty were at least the equal to those of ancient Greece and Rome, in his talk Jones had taken the British architectural profession to task for not having kept up with the nation’s engineers, in terms of developing a progressive architectural aesthetic that reflected the country’s new industrial construction materials and techniques. (Note: the year was 1835, before Britain had ever heard of Pugin or Ruskin.) 

Owen Jones, Plans, Sections, Elevations, and Details of the Alhambra, “Divan, Court of the Fish-pond,” 1841. (Flores, Jones)

Following his lecture, Jones had embarked upon a six-year effort to publish his findings in serial form between 1836 and 1842 that he titled Plans, Elevations, Sections, and Details of the Alhambra. More than likely he had been inspired by Semper’s 1834 publication, Preliminary Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity. Having spent six months studying and analyzing the palace’s ornament and use of color, Jones wanted to accurately portray the building’s colors. However, he was dissatisfied with the lack of contemporary British printers’ ability to reproduce color in their publications, and so was forced to personally develop a new process of printing colored drawings, chromolithography, in order to be able to reproduce the building’s colors. 

Owen Jones, Plans, Sections, Elevations, and Details of the Alhambraa, “Detail of Mosaic in the Divan, Court of the Fish-pond,” 1841. (Flores, Jones)

This involved a process where he employed seven stones, one for each color.  Their flat surface had been smoothed onto which he then acid etched the pattern for each of the color, rolled the color ink on it, and then placed the paper on it, so each piece of paper took seven different rocks in order to get these colors.  Through such efforts, he established a reputation as an expert in color in Britain.  He also had distilled Islamic ornamental patterns into three rules that these typically conformed to: rectilinear order, diagonal order, and a curvilinear order. 

Owen Jones, The Grammar of Ornament, 1856. “Proposition Ten.” Jones recommended achieving harmony in a new ornamental system by “the propering balancing , and contrast of, the straight, the angular, and the curved.” (Flores, Jones)

Through these efforts Jones came to the attention of Henry Cole, a self-made designer who had risen through the ranks of Britain’s public service such that his abilities had caught the attention of Prince Albert, who employed Cole to manage his campaign of improving Britain’s industrial production that had culminated with the 1851 World’s Fair and its Crystal Palace, for which Cole had named Jones the “Superintendent of the Works” for the fair who was in charge of the color scheme for the interior of the Crystal Palace (as described in the previous section). 


The re-erected Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill, S. London, 1852-4. The building was extensively enlarged, including raising the vault over the Central nave, and the addition of a barrel vault and cross transcepts to the Grand gallery. The tower at each end was added as a water tower to generate sufficient pressure to power Paxton’s fountains in the new gardens he designed. (Online)

Following the closing of the 1851 Fair, Parliament had required the Crystal Palace to be completely dismantled and its site in Hyde Park restored to its original pristine setting.  A group of private investors, working in concert with Albert and Cole, had purchased the building with the objective to re-erect its pieces at Sydenham Hill, some eight miles to the southeast.  Completed in 1854, the redesigned building hosted a myriad of functions, including a series of courtyards designed on historic architectural styles that would be part of Cole’s campaign to educate the public’s aesthetic tastes.  

Owen Jones, The Alhambra Court, Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 1854. Photo by Philip Delamotte. (Online)

Jones responded to the the building’s change in function from an exhibition hall to more of a green house, that required the elimination of the calico awning with the corresponding change in light from diffused to direct daylight, by changing the color of the columns to red with yellow and blue highlights as he no longer had to “paint” depth/shadow on the columns. Meanwhile, he kept the original palette for the rest of the horizontal structure above.

Owen Jones, Two different color palettes for the interior of the Crystal Palace, London. Left: 1854; Right: 1851. (Flores, Jones)

Meanwhile, the Fair was such a monetary success that its profit was used to start the South Kensington “project,” a series of schools and museums to foster British art and science.  Prince Albert saw to it that Cole was put in overall charge of the campus, including the South Kensington School of Design and Museum. Cole proposed that the Schools be programmed to train designers for Britain’s industries that up until then had been producing rather uninspired products that sometimes verged on pure ugliness.  He tasked his colleague Jones to write a textbook for its design students, thus The Grammar of Ornament had been conceived.

Jones first published The Grammar of Ornament in 1856. In it he argued for a style of architecture that reflected contemporary Great Britain, and against architecture that copied the forms of the past, be they Classical or Medieval, thereby directly challenging Pugin’s and Ruskin’s call to resurrect Gothic architecture as the solution to the problem of finding an appropriate style of architecture for nineteenth century Great Britain, for which he had laid out 37 propositions of good design that would influence a number of American architects of this period.  I have already discussed these in great detail in Sec. 4.10.  

In addition to comprising a complete encyclopedia of the world’s ornamental systems, Jones also restated, first published in his 1836-42 publication on the Alhambra, his system of how to design a modern (non-historical) ornamental pattern by employing the use of three geometric systems. The following year, 1857, he was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ gold medal.


Flores, Carol A. Hrvol. Owen Jones. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

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