(I have included this “tangential” subject to introduce you to both Saint-Gaudens, who will play a major role in the design of the 1893 Fair, and to the shift towards Classicism in the East.)

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden, New York, 1889-90. (Online)

Meanwhile, White still had to complete the top of the tower of Madison Square Garden.  Chicago’s Board of Trade was topped by Sperry’s “Corona” that incorporated a weathervane of a ship under full sail, symbolic of the importance of Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan.  White, on the other hand, chosen for his subject the Greek goddess Artemis, also known as the Roman goddess Diana. There was little symbolic connection for this choice, as New Yorkers did not worship the gods of ancient Greece and Rome.  She was the ancient goddess of the rural countryside, animals and hunters, the moon, and fertility.  One possible reason for his choice was the connection between the moon and the many evening activities planned for the complex. (I need to interject the possibility of the influence of White’s well-known sexual preference for seducing underage girls with his red velvet swing hung from the ceiling of his apartment.)  The choice of a Classical god was also a reflection of the change in fashion, especially in the East at this moment to a preference for all things Classical, a topic I will explore in the next volume dedicated to the Fair.

White commissioned his friend, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (see Vol. 7 for biography) to design an appropriate sculpture as a weathervane to top it off.  The two artists believed that the sculpture was so critical to complete the tower’s silhouette that Saint-Gaudens designed it for free and White paid for its fabrication.  Saint-Gaudens responded with a gilded 18’ tall statue of Diana made from copper sheets attached to a rotating iron frame (like a miniature Statue of Liberty).  The 1800# statue was fabricated by the W.H. Mullins Company in Salem, OH.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Diana, 1890. Upon completion by the W.H. Mullins Co. in Salem, OH. (Online)

White designed a base for the statue that was a 12’ long crescent moon of plate glass that was lit from within by sixty-six incandescent bulbs.  When these was placed atop of the tower in October 1891, the finished height of the 38’ square tower was 341.’  (Chicago’s Board of Trade with the corona topped off at 322.’) White staged an extravaganza the likes of which had never been seen before in New York on November 2, 1891, to open the tower to the public.  Following the requisite display of fireworks, a show that deployed 6,600 electric incandescent bulbs on the base building and another 1,400 bulbs that outlined the tower, introduced New Yorkers to the entertainment potential of the electric light.  Two powerful searchlights then completed the evening by shining into the night sky and eventually came to rest on Diana.  The precedent for a Broadway opening had been established.  Nonetheless, by this date New York had finally lost the Fair to Chicago, but White’s electric extravaganza had set a precedent for the upcoming Fair.


Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.

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


W.W. Boyington, Board of Trade with Sperry’s Corona, 1884-5. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago)

The World Building’s 309’ height is an unusual number, until we put it into context: up to the completion of the 303’ tower in Chicago’s Board of Trade in April 1885, the 281’ high steeple of New York’s Trinity Church had been the tallest “building” in the U.S. since its completion in 1846. (This ignores the planned height of 548’ for the tower of the corruption-plagued Philadelphia City Hall-not completed until 1894.  In case you are wondering, the piers in the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883 are only 272’ tall.) Now we must get into the definition of a “building,” for the Washington Monument was completed in December 1884 at a height of 555,’ making it the tallest “structure” in the world at that moment. (I have discussed the various European churches that had held this record prior to 1884 in v.4, sec.3.7.) I don’t think anyone argued that the monument was a “building” so two categories of “tallest” began to emerge: the tallest “structure” vs. the tallest “building.” Chicago’s advocates argued that Sperry’s “Corona” at the top of the Board of Trade had extended its height to 322.’ (Otherwise, the recently completed tower of the Auditorium had a height of 240,’ that is, unless you count the 35’ wooden observation tower added by the U.S. Signal Corps that increased its total height to 275.’) So then, should flagpoles and other ornamental extensions count in a building’s final height? (The debate over these definitions continues to evolve over time.)

Celebration of the Dedication of the Statue of Liberty, November 1, 1886. Post’s Produce Exchange Tower (225′) is at the right. (Online)

New York had quickly regained the title of “tallest” in its battle with Chicago with the completion of the Statue of Liberty in October 1886 to a height of 305,’ curiously Hunt had designed its pedestal to be just two feet taller than the 303’ Chicago tower. That is, unless one counted the statue as a “structure” and not a building. Of course, this begs the argument of whether the Chicago tower was part of a “building” or was just an added “structure.”  New York continued to build taller as the twin steeples of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were finished in 1888 to the height of 330,’ shutting down Chicago’s claim of 322’ with Sperry’s Corona once and for all.

James Renwick Jr., St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, 1850-88. The steeples were competed in 1888. (Stern, New York: 1880)

While today this contest/debate in 1889 may seem a bit pointless, we must remember that 1889 is THE YEAR that Congress would make the decision over which city would host the 1892 World’s Fair.  In 1889 bigger was definitely better and New York was “pulling out all the stops” to bag the Fair.  New York’s pièce de résistance planned to incorporate not only a larger performance venue than Chicago’s Auditorium, then scheduled to open in December 1889, but also a tower taller than anything in New York (and, of course, Chicago): the new Madison Square Garden.

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden, New York, 1889-90. (Online)

As St. Patrick’s steeples were nearing completion, an even taller tower was being planned by architect Stanford White (see Vol. Seven for a biography) of the firm McKim, Mead, & White.  In September 1887, White was a member of the syndicate, headed by William K. Vanderbilt (Alva’s husband) that had purchased the old Madison Square Garden on the northeast corner of Madison Square at the northeast corner of Madison and 26th Street.  The group was planning to erect “one of the largest places of amusement in the country.”  There can be little doubt that this was a direct response to Chicago’s construction of the largest music and convention venue in the country, the Auditorium.  New York had already been embarrassed ten years earlier when Cincinnati had completed its Music Hall and enticed Theodore Thomas with his German orchestra to move from New York to its new acoustical wonder.  Then in 1885 Chicago’s Board of Trade had risen 38’ higher than New York’s venerable Trinity Church steeple (281’).  Paris was then building the 300m Eiffel Tower.  It was, however, the Auditorium that was the last blow to New York’s civic ego that finally awakened the giant city from its self-imposed smugness.  New York’s civic pride would only stiffen during the 1889-90 competition over the 1892 World’s Fair. 

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden. Interior of Arena. (Online)

The syndicate’s plan was to best both of the Windy City’s “biggest” with one building.  The new Madison Square Garden’s arena that was to be sized to accommodate a minimum of 8000 seated people, with many more with standing room, was reported by the press to be larger than not only Chicago’s Auditorium (that was still under construction), but also Salt Lake City’s Mormon Temple, the Paris Opera House, and London’s Royal Albert Hall. (Andrew Carnegie was originally part of the syndicate, but would withdraw to fund the construction of Carnegie Hall, which was another New York response to the Auditorium and the mounting battle with Chicago over the Fair.  Its relatively inexperienced architect, William B. Tuthill, was instructed to consult Adler for his expertise in acoustics during its design.  It opened a year after the Auditorium on May 5, 1891.)  In addition to a 1500 seat concert hall and a 1200 seat theater for various sized performances, the planned project also included a summer and winter garden on the building’s roof.  

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden. The rooftop garden is to the left of the tower. (Online)

White also planned a tower for the complex that would be taller than not only the Board of Trade tower, but also the steeples of St. Patrick’s, if they actually would ever be completed to their planned height.  He had based his design of the tower on the Giralda Tower of the Seville Cathedral that had been derived from the design of the Koutoubia Minaret in Marrakesh, Morocco.  

Left: Giralda Tower, Seville, 1568; Right: Koutoubia Minaret, Marrakesh, Morocco, 1184. (Web)

While the syndicate had no doubts about the project’s auditorium, there was great skepticism over the profitability of the tower.  White was confronted in March 1888 by a New York Times reporter that gave him the opportunity to acknowledge that there had been “some objection to the proposed tower” and to fight for the tower in the arena of public opinion.  The Times jumped to White’s defense:

“While accounts of the wonderful tower of Eiffel were coming across the ocean from Paris, the modern Babylon, the city of New York was hugging herself with the belief that she was to have a tower too, but one in which quality not quantity was to be shown… (the tower would confirm that) we had for that purpose not only the architects capable of designing a beautiful tower, but citizens of wealth who had the courage and civic spirit to undertake its erection… The abandonment of the tower as a means of obtaining a bird’s eye view of the city… and as the one thing which dignified and made important the main building, is a fact somewhat crushing… If New York is proud of the new Madison Square Garden as a work of art, everything connected with it will succeed.”

The investors refused to be intimidated by such editorials and the project’s financing remained questionable for another sixteen months. Meanwhile, Pulitzer had jumped into the fray by announcing in the fall of 1888 the competition for the World Building, with Post winning with his 309’ design.

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden. View down 26th Street with Madison Square Park in right center. (Stern, New York 1880)

Construction on both the World Building and Madison Square Garden began in late summer of 1889, just as the battle with Chicago for the World’s Fair began to heat up. Madison Square Garden, with its tower of masonry bearing walls completed to the 304’ high observation deck, was the first to be opened with a huge gala event attended by 12,000 people on June 16, 1890.

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden. View to the northeast, c. 1895. (Stern, New York 1880)

Although the House of Representatives had voted to give Chicago the Fair on February 24, the matter was far from decided in June because the National Commission established to approve Chicago’s plans was withholding its final approval over where within Chicago the Fair should be erected because, as of yet, there was not agreement between the Commission and Chicago’s own Board of Directors for the Fair.  President Harrison, who had the final say by issuing the call to all nations to come, was waiting on the decision by the Commission. This was still some five months in the future, so the 12,000 New Yorkers that June night were still clinging to the hope that Chicago would some how blow its big chance.


Landau, Sarah B., and Carl Condit.  The Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.

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


Among the New York architects involved in the A.I.A. consolidation meetings in New York was George Post, who had already provided Root with a number of precedents for his earlier Chicago buildings.  If we review Post’s most recent multi-storied designs following his Mills Building and New York Produce Exchange, that both had flat roofs, one can see the impact of Hunt’s mansions and the Dakota in Post’s addition of the high-pitched roof, often punctuated by numerous dormers and corner turrets.  The earlier ones, the nine-story New York Cotton Exchange, (1883-5) and the ten-story Mortimer Building, (1884-5) in the style of Francois I, while the later ones, the 160’ high, 13-story New York Times Building, (1888-9) and the 172′ tall, 11-story Union Trust Building, (1889-90) revealed Post’s interest in the late Richardson.  Both these last two buildings not only sported Richardson-like gabled dormers that were flush with the building’s exterior, but also arcades that rose in a progression of openings with a 1:2:3 ratio.

But the design of none of these buildings could have been said “to have set one up” for his tallest building to-date, the Pulitzer or New York World building. Joseph B. Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World and the person who had been ultimately responsible for the successful campaign to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, had decided to generate free publicity for his paper by erecting what would be New York’s tallest building at the northeast corner of Park Row and Frankfort Street.  In the fall of 1888, he held a design competition that was supervised by Hunt (who had designed the Statue’s pedestal) that Post won with a 19-story design that would ultimately top off at 309,’ six feet taller than the tower of Chicago’s Board of Trade, reclaiming for New York the title of having the tallest building in the U.S. Pulitzer obviously wanted the record height (this was measured from the lowest point in its steeply sloped site and therefore, was contested by those in Chicago who were using the height of the building measured from the highest point of the site: really?).

The World (Pulitzer) Building can be understood as having been designed by Pulitzer and refined by Post. In addition to building the tallest building in the U.S., Pulitzer also wanted to top the building with a domed cupola.  Post designed a 14-story extruded body, upon which was placed a six-story, 52′ diameter cupola that was topped with a gilded dome that was inspired by Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s.  By this date, McKim, Mead & White’s academically correct classical-inspired design for the Boston Public Library was gaining converts.  Post’s design of the World Building could be considered a “free-style” classicism, in that in addition to the Renaissance dome, Post added a Roman triumphal-arched entry with a classical pediment located above it at the roofline. Critics roundly criticized the building’s design, principally for the lack of any formal integration between the cupola and the lower body.  The more notoriety his building engendered, the more satisfied Pulitzer was with his new building.

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

As New York didn’t suffer from the soil problems that plagued Chicago, Post had simply continued to use “boxed” construction, that is a masonry exterior bearing wall within which he placed an iron frame to support the floors. The exterior walls at the building’s base reached a massive 7’- 4” thick at times.  This fact raises an interesting question: how can Chicago claim that the 6’ thick walls of the 215’ tall Monadnock Block, then still under design, were the tallest bearing walls ever constructed when the World was more than 80’ taller, and its walls were over a foot thicker as well? Surely, the 309’ tall World Building with its 7’-4” thick walls deserve this reputation. (As I have mentioned earlier, it would be accurate to claim that the Monadnock is now the tallest “surviving” building erected with masonry bearing walls.

Post, New York World Building. Ground Flor plan. (Online)

The cornerstone was laid on October 10, 1889, when New York was very much in the running for the Fair.  The building opened on December 10, 1890, only five weeks after Chicago’s Masons on November 6, 1890, had placed the cornerstone of their new 302’ tall building designed Burnham & Root, that would be completed in time for the Fair.


Friedman, Donald. The Structure of Skyscrapers in America: 1871-1900. Springfield, IL: Association for Preservation Technology, 2020.

Landau, Sarah B. George B. Post, Architect.  New York: Monacelli Press, 1998.

Landau, Sarah B., and Carl Condit.  The Rise of the New York Skyscraper, 1865-1913. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.

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


Richard Morris Hunt, William K. and Alva Vanderbilt House, New York, NW corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd, 1879. (Online)

It is now time to go back and look at what happened in New York prior to January 1891.  I will specifically discuss the resurrection of the “Anciens” in the work of McKim, Mead, & White later in this chapter, but first, I must review what the two leading Eastern architects, Hunt, and his former pupil, Post had been designing at the same time that Root was designing the Rookery and the Monadnock.    Hunt, educated at the École des Beaux-arts (1843-54) during the Neo-Gréc rebellion of Henri Labrouste, had never veered far from his roots. The Francois I or French Renaissance style had been given its initial stamp of approval in 1879 by New York’s trend-setter, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt (also French-educated) with her (Mrs. William K.) $3 million house designed by Hunt that opened to New York High Society on March 26, 1883.  In the 1885 A.I.A. survey of American architects’ favorite buildings, Hunt’s Vanderbilt house was rated third (following Richardson’s Trinity Church and the U.S. Capitol). Alva Vanderbilt’s mansion had set the mark for stylishness in New York during the 1880s, and that would be Francois I.

Richard Morris Hunt, William Borden mansion, Chicago, 1884. (Stein, Hunt)

Hunt (who had designed Marshall Field’s house on Prairie Avenue ten years earlier) was commissioned a year later by William Borden (the son of John Borden, owner of the Borden Block designed by Adler, that begs the question why did he not hire Adler to design the house?) to design a similarly styled Francois I mansion at the northwest corner of Lake Shore Drive and Bellevue Place (the southern-most lot of Potter Palmer’s new residential neighborhood along Lake Shore Drive: Palmer lived six blocks to the north) that was completed in 1889.  By this date, however, Hunt, working with Frederick Law Olmsted, was already deep into the Francois I design of what was to be an even more extravagant estate than that of Alva and William K. Vanderbilt: the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C, for William’s youngest brother, George Washington Vanderbilt.

Left: Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore, Asheville, NC, 1889; Right: John Singer Sargent, George Washington Vanderbilt, 1890. (Online)


Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments, New York, Central Park West and 72nd, 1882. (Stern, New York-1880)

Such was also the case with the Dakota Apartment House built in 1882 by Edward Clark, the president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, as part of his speculative strategy to promote the upper West Side as an upper middle class residential neighborhood.  Clark’s vision for the new project was: “There are but few persons who are princely enough to wish to occupy an entire palace, but there are many who would like to occupy a portion of a great building, which would be more perfect in its arrangement than any palace in Europe.”  Clark was taking a double gamble with the Dakota.  First, there was no guarantee that this location would prove to be desirable in the eyes of his target market, and second, he was introducing New Yorkers to a different type of housing unit.  Instead of the fashionable row or townhouse, Clark thought that New Yorkers would take to the Parisian courtyard apartment house. 

Clark hired architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh to design New York’s first upscale, multistoried apartment house based on this model, for a block on the west side of Central Park West between 72nd and 73rd, that would have an unobstructed view of Central Park.  Hardenbergh, who had apprenticed under Detlef Leinau (v.3, sec. 5.3), had already designed an earlier project for Clark, the Van Corlear that had quickly gained the reputation as being the first New York apartment house that felt and functioned like a true Parisian courtyarded apartment house.  The Van Corlear, however, did not yet “look the part.”  Hardenbergh succeeded in making the Dakota “one of the most perfect apartment houses in the world,” as it was judged upon its completion in September 1884.  No expense was spared in its design and construction; it was as good as the quote above made it out to be. 

Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments. Birdseye view of court. (Online)

It is obviously the Dakota’s two-story Francois I châteauesque roof that I am interested in.  On the Central Park West elevation, he topped the corner pavilions with sharply profiled gables that were linked to the central pavilion’s gable by a transverse mansard roof.  He then activated the roof’s silhouette with the requisite pinnacles, dormers, and chimneys, lending an air of true French sophistication to its eight-story visage as it raised its head above the tree line of Central Park.  Its private dining room at the time was known to be “the handsomest dining room in Manhattan.”  If this wasn’t sufficient to pique Root’s interest during his business trips to New York during the consolidation process, the building’s clientele, known to be among Manhattan’s culturally elite, especially in the music world, would have, more than likely, offered Root the opportunity to visit the building on more than one occasion.

Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments. View from Central Park. (Stern, New York-1880)


Alpern, Andrew. The Dakota. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015.

Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.

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


In addition to the Chicago Hotel, Burnham & Root had two other mammoth projects to design in early 1890 whose owners wanted to cash in on the free publicity and exposure of their cause that the World’s Fair could generate.  In addition to having to completely redesign the W.C.T.U.’s Woman’s Temple so that it could be built on the site of Field’s stillborn office tower, Chicago’s Freemasons had also hired the firm to design a new headquarters/temple on the northeast corner of State and Randolph.  As both projects were being designed by Root at the same time, and that they were both not merely speculative office buildings, but headquarters for major social organizations, we can compare the design of these two skyscrapers to discern where Root’s design ideas had evolved to as he moved into the new decade.

The first thing that one is immediately struck by is the addition of a roof to Root’s new skyscrapers.  All skyscrapers designed by Root prior to 1890, with the sole exception of the tower in the Kansas City Board of Trade and the pinnacles atop the Rialto’s piers (unless we count his entry for the six-story Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce), no matter whether the building’s function was a hotel, a company headquarters, or a speculative office building, were flat-topped, urban palazzos. (And once again, I repeat my earlier assertion that Root, and not Richardson, had brought the box to Chicago.) The Chicago Tribune had noticed this sea-change immediately in praising the Woman’s Temple’s design as being close to “the ideal of office buildings.  It appeals to the eye in a manner wholly unlike any of the ‘dry-gods box’ giants which are becoming too common.”  How are we to account for this abrupt change in Root’s aesthetics as we find a roof added not only to these first two buildings of 1890, but also to his design for the San Francisco Examiner and an unidentified skyscraper being designed as the first two buildings were being finalized?



In November 1889, Burnham and Root had successfully completed their campaign to reform the old A.I.A.  While Root had represented the W.A.A. in these negotiations, the two partners had agreed that Burnham, following his defeat in the presidential election at the 1888 W.A.A convention, would play the Trojan Horse from within the A.I.A. and therefore, had distanced himself from the W.A.A., in order to appear to be more committed to A.I.A. issues.  On November 20-1, 1889, both the W.A.A. and the A.I.A. had met in a joint convention in Cincinnati to approve the final consolidation of the two regional professional organizations into a new, nation-wide Institute.  While it was finally argued successfully that legally the name of “The American Institute of Architects” had to be maintained in order to avoid all of the legal headaches in applying for a new state charter, there was no doubt that the West had won the war in that it was the W.A.A.’s constitution and professional philosophy that were the foundation for the new Institute.  While Richard Morris Hunt was respectfully recognized as the Dean of American architects by being elected the first President of the new Institute, Root’s (note it was not Burnham) central role in the overall merger was rewarded with his election as its Secretary, the second highest position in the new organization.  All official correspondence of the new A.I.A., therefore, would no longer go through New York, but through the top floor of the Rookery in Chicago.  Root’s election as Secretary was also tantamount to the certainty that following Hunt’s two-year term, Root would be nominated to fill the presidency at the 1891 convention.  (Root had, thus, been “knighted” as the Number Two Architect in the U.S.)


While both Root and Burnham had played major roles in the consolidation negotiations, spending many days in New York hammering out the final details with their opposites, New York was at least as busy as Chicago in trying to convince Congress to make it the host city for the 1892 World’s Fair.  In fact, Burnham and Root, who were personally involved with both of these tightly contested campaigns, that is, the reform of the A.I.A. and the contest to have their city awarded the Fair that were taking place simultaneously, (the decision naming Chicago was made on February 24, 1890, exactly three months after the formation of the new A.I.A. was approved in Cincinnati) would spend many days in New York during the last quarter of 1889 (providing them with a legitimate cover for spying on New York’s plans for the Fair).  It is now time to examine what new buildings they saw in New York and how they may have been influenced.

Chicago may have had a head start in “gussying itself up” to convince the country’s political leaders to name it as the host of the Fair simply because it had been playing catch-up in construction ever since the 1871 fire, (i.e., the Interstate Exposition Building, the Board of Trade-then the tallest building in the U.S.- and of course, the Auditorium), once the idea of an American World’s Fair gained traction, New York shrugged off its smugness, took an honest look at itself, and dove into the competition with as much “Old and New Money” as was needed to erect a number of new buildings to respond to the “Cowtown in the West.”

George B. Post. Left: Mills Building, New York, 1881; Right: Produce Exchange, New York, 1880. (Online)

The last important building in New York I have reviewed was George Post’s Produce Exchange of 1880-3.  As construction in Chicago had boomed with the economy in 1881-1885, a similar phenomenon had occurred in New York.  While Richardson had always given his buildings a picturesque roofline until 1885 with his first box, the Field Wholesale Store, the less expensive flat-roofed box topped with a straight-lined cornice had been in fashion for tall buildings, since the start of the depression of 1874.  This had continued into the first half of the 1880s, as best represented by Post’s Mills Building and Produce Exchange in New York, and Root’s Burlington and Rookery Buildings in Chicago.  As the national economy continued to improve, however, it was inevitable that as the economy improved, more ornate silhouettes would become more affordable and once again be demanded by clients.  In v.5, sec. 1.12, I stated that the American version of la querelle des Anciens et des Modernes in architecture had sprung to life around 1886, first with the death of Richardson on April 27, 1886, and second, with the corresponding design in 1887 of McKim, Mead, & White’s Boston Public Library. This is how I described this divergence between the East and the West in the mid-1880s:

“Precisely at this moment, however, Eastern American architects had also consciously diverged from the American omnipresent Romanesque Revival (Richardson had died on April 27, 1886, only a week before the Haymarket Square bombing). However, rather than looking to the problem for the solution, these architects chose to repurpose (positive)/ imitate (negative) the Classical architecture from the past. The best example of this sea change in Eastern architectural style was the new Boston Public Library designed in 1887 by McKim, Mead, & White, that poignantly sat facing the great Richardson’s Trinity Church. I will (need to) discuss the reasons for this change of style in depth prior to discussing the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition.  For now, it must suffice to state that as Chicago’s architects, led by Burnham and Root, had diverged from their East Coast contemporaries in terms of professional practice with the formation of the W.A.A. in November 1884, it should not surprise us that they would also take their own architectural path into the future.  These divergent paths will collide in January 1891…”

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


Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel, northeast corner of Dearborn and Jackson, 1889. The 1895 office/theater addition is at the rear. (Online)

In early 1890 Chicago was engaged in a no-holds–barred, winner-takes-all battle with New York City to host the 1892 World’s Fair to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World (see Vol. Seven).  If Chicago succeeded in winning the contest, the city would need a series of large hotels to provide rooms for the Fair’s visitors.  A group of investors who intimately understood the potential profit from such an investment were planning to build a hotel on the northeast corner of Dearborn and Jackson, that only a year earlier had been slated for the W.C.T.U.’s new headquarters (see v. 4, sec. 5.4).  The site was owned by Eugene S. Pike, who once the W.C.T.U. had moved its planned building to Marshall Field’s vacant lot on La Salle, had contemplated building a 16-story office building designed by Burnham & Root.  That is, until Chicago’s prospects for winning the Fair had markedly improved in late 1889. Pike had insider knowledge of the City’s Fair proposal because he was a member of the City’s Committee of 100 appointed by then Mayor DeWitt Creiger in July 1889 to promote Chicago’s Fair submission.  In addition, Burnham and Root had already been “unofficially” working with a number of the Committee “behind the scenes” to assist the effort before the city even formally announced that it was in the running.

In fact, Burnham organized this group of investors that in addition to Pike and Root, also included George Fuller and Norman Ream.  This was basically the same group, minus Peter Brooks, who had financed and constructed the Rookery.  These investors were savvy enough to know that in order to be open and ready for the start of the Fair, the plans for the new Chicago Hotel would have to be completed and be ready to go out to bid on the first day after the final decision had been made.  Therefore, Burnham saw to the incorporation of the company in November 1889, some three months before Chicago was formally named by Congress on February 24, 1890. It may have just been a coincidence that the hotel was incorporated only a few weeks before the Opening Night gala of the Auditorium’s theater on December 9, but I have to speculate that Burnham and Root wanted a modicum of revenge for having lost this commission directly through the intervention of Ferdinand Peck.  The Auditorium’s hotel was scheduled to open the following month in January. It was built with ten floors; the Chicago Hotel was to have 14 floors.  But what really had made the Auditorium Hotel an anachronism before it even opened was that American tastes in hotel rooms had changed between 1887 and 1889. The Auditorium Hotel was designed on the European model of shared/public bathrooms, typically one per every ten hotel rooms (just down the corridor).  If you look carefully at the floor plan of the Chicago Hotel, every hotel room has been designed with its own bathroom.  The Auditorium Hotel would never receive the prestige Peck had hoped for.  (Burnham completed his “Auditorium alternative” in 1895 with an addition that included a 2000-seat theater and a 16-floor office annex to the east of the hotel. Its name was correspondingly changed to the Great Northern Hotel and Theater.)

Burnham & Root. Left: Midland Hotel, Kansas City, 1886; Right: Typical Floor Plan.(Hoffmann, Root)
Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel. Typical floor plan. Note that the rooms show a separate bathroom, (Hoffmann, Root)

Ream was one of the owners who had erected the Midland Hotel in Kansas City in 1886, also designed by Burnham & Root. In fact, one can understand the Chicago Hotel as an extruded version of the Midland Hotel.  Each hotel had a U-shaped plan, with double-loaded corridors on the three street fronts that wrapped around an exterior lightcourt.  As a double-loaded corridor scheme, like the Midland Hotel, the Rookery, and the Rand-McNally Building, the skylight was brought down to the third floor.  Under this Root located the hotel’s service counters and offices. Although Root had included in the light court, his, by now, signature cantilevered semi-circular stairway (used in the Rialto, the Insurance Exchange, the Rookery, and the Midland Hotel) the surviving photos of the atrium do not show the stairway intersecting with the skylight.

Burnham & Root. Left: Midland Hotel (Hoffmann, Root); Right: The Rookery.
Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel. Above left: The skylight and exterior lightcourt, that once again, as Root had done with the Rookery (above right), was given an expression in which the horizontals, and not the verticals, were continuous. Here one can see the difference in the required daylight between a hotel room and an office. (Left: Hoffmann, Root); Below: The hotel’s atrium: note that it does not appear that the oriel window/stair in the lightcourt was brought down through the skylight as was done in the Rookery. (Left: Online; Right: Hoffmann, Root)

As the site was diagonally across the intersection of Dearborn and Jackson from the Monadnock, Root again had an opportunity to design an urban ensemble, similar to the portal to the Board of Trade he had designed with the Insurance Exchange and the Rookery at the intersection of La Salle and Adams.  Indicative of the fact that Burnham and Root were intimately connected with both sides of the urban battle between La Salle and Dearborn, the portal created by the new Chicago Hotel and Monadnock Block framed the tower of the Dearborn Station.

Intersection of La Salle and Adams, looking south. The Rookery (left) and the Insurance Exchange (right) as the portal to the Board of Trade district. (Merwood-Salisbury, Chicago 1890)
Burnham & Root, Intersection of Dearborn and Jackson: Left-the cylindrical bay windows of the Chicago Hotel; Right-the Monadnock Block. The tower of the Dearborn Street Station is at the end of the vista. Note that the new U.S. Courthouse has completely filled the old Post Office Square. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)
Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block (left) and the Chicago Hotel (right) Note how the new Courthouse (Cobb, 1906) completely filled the old Post Office Square, eliminating the only public space in the South Loop. (Online)

This site also included the Post Office Square, the only remaining “public open space” beyond lake shore of Lake Park. Therefore, the open space on the west side of Dearborn would offer long vistas of both buildings, meaning they would be easily seen together, as an ensemble should.  

Contemporary designs by Root at the southeast corner of the Post Office Square: Monadnock Block (#7) and the Chicago Hotel (#8). The Owings Building is #3, the Union League Club is #6. (Rand-McNally Views)

Burnham & Root had been designing the hotel roughly on a parallel timeframe with that of the Monadnock Block.  What the Brookses had prohibited Root to do in the Monadnock he could experiment with in the design of the planned hotel, if for no other reason than he was one of the project’s owners.  Root gave the hotel the same smooth masonry surface of the Monadnock so the two buildings would act as a group rather than two individual buildings.  

Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel. (urbanremainschicago.com)

Some historians have speculated that Root had used his first 16-story design of the Monadnock, the steel-framed version that Shepherd Brooks had rejected. I don’t think this was the case simply because this design was for an office building that required more window area than did a hotel.  I see the Chicago Hotel’s elevation as the next iteration in Root’s exploration of the “continuous curtain wall.”  In the Rand-McNally Building, Root had detailed its elevation as one continuous 10-story sheet of terra cotta.  While the Monadnock was structured with masonry piers and not a steel frame, Root had still detailed its exterior as a continuous surface of brick.  He treated the Chicago Hotel’s elevation as the third in this sequence of continuous brick surfaces.  The Rand-McNally was a single plane, sandwiched by its neighboring buildings. In the Monadnock, he avoided sharp corners to achieve continuity by carving the corner with the ever-increasing chamfer.  In the Chicago Hotel, as he had done four years earlier in the Pickwick Flats, he simply eliminated the sharp corner by placing a cylindrical bay window at the two corners. (Similar to how Starrett did in the Hyde Park Hotel.)

In the Chicago Hotel elevations Root, however, could not resist his propensity to achieve repose: a balance between the horizontal and the vertical.  He articulated the general massing into a single-story base with a 12-story middle. He then stopped this continuous, 12-story tall surface at the 14th floor with a heavy, projected stringcourse that allowed the 14th floor to be read as a cornice.  This consisted of a continuous line of repeated rectangular windows and small mullions that made the floor read as a void, and correspondingly allowed the parapet above the windows to appear to float, as it topped off the building.  The parapet reprised the Monadnock’s coved cornice, with the only difference being Root set up the cute with a series of machiolations. This detail tied the two buildings together as an ensemble at their rooflines. 

Left: Monadnock Block; Right: Chicago Hotel. (chuckmanchicagonosalgia.wordpress.com)

Unfortunately, Root still felt compelled to add a few, superfluous horizontal projections as a transition from the column-and-void base (à la Holabird & Roche) to the 12-story center.  (This detail was similar to his technique of creating a transition story by taking the material of the upper floor but using the language of the lower one.) This reveals his hesitancy, even at this late date in his career, to make his skyscrapers “vertical:” we owe the verticality in the Monadnock to Peter Brooks’ command to eliminate all projections, not to Root’s final epiphany that a skyscraper could be a “proud and soaring” building.

Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel. (urbanremainschicago.com)

Unlike the Monadnock, Root incorporated his old friend, the Romanesque semi-circular arch in the hotel’s elevations, but limited their use only to the twelfth floor, as a method of capping the building.  The three street elevations alternated between bay windows (with single windows) and 11-story tall arched bays with inset paired windows and recessed spandrels, a detail taken from the Rand-McNally Building.

Burnham & Root. Left: Arched windows in the Rand-McNally Building; Right: Arched windows in the Chicago Hotel.

As was the case in the Rand-McNally Building, the arches’ location seem to be arbitrary. In addition to the segmented arches in these bays, he also continued the arch into the bay windows in the eleventh floor with a series of individual semicircular arches.  One must wonder, however, why the arches in the bays were located in the twelfth floor rather than in the thirteenth, i.e., at their top?  My guess is that Root wanted to make a transition between the fourteenth-floor cornice of flat-headed windows and the twelfth floor’s arches.  He did this by detailing the thirteenth-floor with all flat-headed windows (from the floor above) but still kept the undulating surface of the floors below. While this “kinda works” above the arched paired windows, the semicircular arches in the curved bays needed to be relocated to the top floor (the 13th) of the bays: they just look out of-place where they ended up.  This is quite evident because Root did exactly this (terminate the bays with the arches) in all of the polygonal bay windows. Again, one is tempted to assign these “design errors” to one of Root’s assistants following Root’s death in January 1891. However, this goes against how every draftsman in Burnham & Root described his design process of thinking for a few days, and then drawing the entire, completed design in one day,

Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, Chicago Hotel. Typical floor plan. Note the two masonry party walls at the rear. (Hoffmann, Root)

While the building’s structure was completely iron-framed with a system of wind bracing that comprised of double diagonal tie rods that extended for two stories and passed through a column in the middle, it still relied on two masonry party walls at the rear, as required by the building code.  

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Cross section showing the configuration of the diagonal bracing that was similar to that used in the Chicago Hotel. (Engineering Record, January 21, 1893)

When we review the seven buildings erected in 1888-90 (Tacoma, Chamber of Commerce, Rand-McNally, Second Leiter, Manhattan, Monadnock, and the Chicago Hotel), only one of these, Jenney’s Manhattan Building appears to have been erected solely with a skeleton frame, but not because he wanted to be the first to do so.  The other six were either required by the building code to have masonry party walls or the designers chose to incorporate lateral masonry walls to assist in stiffening the building against wind loads. I would credit this fact to:

-first: there appears to have been no rush, contrary to what historians like to record, to claim to have been the first architect to design a building erected solely with the iron skeleton.  (Nowhere in any publication of the period does a writer claims that a building was the first to have been so constructed. It was, apparently, no big deal. Was this simply because Buffington’s patent was the first such building?) This, more than likely, was the result that iron framing was more expensive than a masonry wall, and no client in Chicago was interested in this extra cost;

-and second: Jenney was confronted in the design of the Manhattan with the fact that there were existing buildings on both interior sides of its lot, meaning that if he was to build the masonry party walls from the ground up, he would have to shore up the foundations of the adjoining buildings and reinforce their foundations.  This was obviously more expensive in time and money than his final solution: to cantilever the structure’s beams at each floor to the lotline upon which he could then erect the requisite masonry party wall.  

Root had faced a similar problem the year before in the Rand-McNally Building in which he had cantilevered one massive girder at the foundation to pick up and move the load of the party wall away from the existing footing of the neighboring Insurance Exchange. Fortunately for the budget of the building’s owner, the interior lot on the western edge of the site did not have a building, so Root could use a less expensive masonry bearing wall.  If there had been a significant existing building on this lot, Root would have had to cantilever this foundation as well, and then could have claimed to have been “the first” to design an all-skeleton framed skyscraper.  So my conclusion to this issue that has vexed historians for over a century is: Jenney in the Manhattan Building was the first Chicago architect to design a skyscraper using only the iron skeleton frame (but remember, New Yorker Bradford Gilbert had designed the first iron skeleton-framed building, the Tower Building, whose permit was approved only a month after the first publication of Buffington’s “Cloudscraper.”)

Bradford Gilbert, Tower Building, 1888. Note the five-story continuous piers in the arcade at the middle of the façade; Right: Diagram of diagonal bracing. (Landau/Condit, New York)


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)


Printing House Row along S. Dearborn, 1893. Manhattan-#3; Caxton-#6, Pontiac-#7. (Rand-McNally View #10)

In v.3, sec.6.5, I discussed how the decision of the Santa Fe Railroad to extend its tracks to Chicago had finally reignited speculative construction in the business district after the two-plus year hiatus caused by the Haymarket Affair (while some historians credit the expectation that Chicago would be named the city for the 1892 World’s Fair, this decision was made more than a year after the announcement of the Santa Fe, and had only “poured gas on the fire” already set).  The railroad owners had chosen to align its tracks with Dearborn Street, undoubtedly in conjunction with the long-term investment plans of the Brooks brothers, who already owned the Portland Block at the southeast corner of Dearborn and Washington.  The original plan was to erect the Chicago & Western Indiana Station (the umbrella company formed to build the station for the numerous companies planning to use it) at the foot of Dearborn, on the south side of Harrison. Before these plans were announced, the Brookses had purchased a number of lots along Dearborn for future buildings.  In addition to the lot for the Monadnock, they also secretly purchased the northwest corner of Dearborn and Harrison, immediately across the street from where these insiders were planning the erect the new station.  Unfortunately for their bottomline, investors in La Salle Street properties had not only used their clout with City Council members to force the station to eventually be erected two blocks farther south at Polk Street, but also to stop the southward extension of Dearborn for over two years that, for all practical purposes, had prevented any construction along this southern stretch of “Dearborn.”

During the great construction boom of 1884-5, the Brookses’ agent, Owen Aldis, who was working with Burnham & Root in the early design of the Monadnock, was also working with Holabird & Roche to design a six-story building for the Brookses for the corner of Dearborn and Harrison. In Chapter Three, I had summarized how the young firm of Holabird & Roche came to be commissioned by Wirt Walker to design the Tacoma Building.  Center to the early success of the firm was a personal connection with Byran Lathrop, Thomas Byran’s nephew and successor as the President of Graceland Cemetery, as well of many Byran’s other investments. Lathrop was the older brother-in-law of Owen Aldis, who at the time of Holabird and Roche forming their firm, had recently become the real estate agent for the Brooks, being responsible for commissioning Burnham & Root to design the Montauk Block. Lathrop, who maintained his Chicago office in the Montauk, had just arranged with his brother-in-law to offer Holabird & Roche the lease of the office across the hall from his, hence, the two aspiring architects had made the acquaintance of one of Chicago’s leading real estate agents. Aldis had given them a “test” commission of a small addition in 1884 before he then recommended them to the Brookses to design a six-story building for this corner of Dearborn and Harrison.  Aldis had already contracted George Fuller to be the contractor, which is how the two firms met, prior to being commissioned by Wirt Walker to design and build the Tacoma Building.  Anyway, their first Brookses’ project was a victim of the Haymarket slowdown of 1886-8, not be resurrected until 1889.

Holabird & Roche, Caxton Building, 508 S. Dearborn, 1889. Van Osdel’s Monon Building is to the immediate right. (Condit, Chicago)

The facts reveal that Lathrop, Aldis’ brother-in-law was, more than likely, apprised by Aldis of the potential bonanza available in undeveloped Dearborn real estate and “jumped on the bandwagon” by buying an 80’ interior lot on the west side of Dearborn, at 508 S. Dearborn, only a few lots north of the planned location for the Brookses’ building. Lathrop logically commissioned Holabird & Roche to design the building. This occurred after construction had reached the halfway point on the Tacoma and followed the publication of the first renderings of Root’s final design of the Monadnock, so one can understand the design of the Caxton Building as the next iteration of the use of the combined iron frame with lateral walls/masonry curtain wall/bay window construction following the Tacoma Building and the Monadnock Block.

Holabird & Roche, Caxton Building, (Chicagology.com)

The lot was located in what was becoming Chicago’s relocated “Printing House Row,” so not needing any “design incentives” to entice renters, Lathrop settled for a “bare bones” design. As was the case with the two precedents, the narrow site once again cried out for bay windows to increase the rental floor area. With masonry party walls required on both interior edges of the lot, Holabird & Roche simply placed a 12-story steel frame with five bays/four lines of columns within the two party walls. The exterior “curtain wall” was as “plain” was the Monadnock’s; gone were the repetitive horizontal sillcourses of the Tacoma,

The only difference being the Caxton’s cornice was more traditional than Root’s radical coved profile.  Holabird & Roche even reiterated Root’s design of the bay windows: these started at the third floor (whereas those in the Tacoma began at the second) and were stopped one floor lower that the top floor (again, as Root had done versus how they had allowed the Tacoma’s bays to extend into and disrupt the cornice). As what one may credit as having been a response to the negative comments about the Tacoma’s overabundance of glass, Holabird & Roche reduced the size of the windows in the two end bays, even though they, too, were skeleton-framed, thereby again echoing Root’s design. In fact, if one didn’t look at the first two floors, you were looking at a good copy of the Monadnock’s upper floors. 

Holabird & Roche, Caxton Building. Two lowest floors, showing the skeletal construction of the building’s front. Note how the windows in the end bay are much smaller than its “structural” bay. (Condit, Chicago)

It was in the two lowest floors that a difference from the Monadnock was plainly evident.  As they had done in the Tacoma Building, Holabird & Roche let the “thinness” of the steel frame open up these two floors: apparently it was not a “sin” to have too much glass along the siewalk in a building.  As was the case in with the Tacoma Building, the building would have offered a completely different effect during the evenings and the long winter months of early darkness: the upper floors of the building would have appeared to be floating above the building’s luminous base.  Le Corbusier and his “pilotis” of the 1920s had nothing on the early skyscrapers of Holabird & Roche.

Holabird & Roche, Pontiac Building, NW corner of Dearborn and Harrison, 1889. The Caxton Building is at the far right. (Bruegmann, Holabird & Roche)

Meanwhile, a few months later Shepherd Brooks decided to begin construction on the fourteen-story Pontiac Building only four lots south of the Caxton’s construction site, and three blocks south of where the Monadnock Block was under construction.  Coming so close on the heels of the start of the Monadnock, and having the same owner, real estate agent, and contractor, one could view it as it as the half-sister of the Monadnock: half-sister because it was designed by a different architect, Holabird & Roche.  Nonetheless, the Pontiac had many similarities with the Monadnock.  In fact, one could speculate on how much of Burnham & Root’s iron-framed version of the Monadnock was incorporated in the design of the Pontiac (after all, both Aldis and Fuller would have had a set of drawings for this design…).

One immediate difference between the Monadnock and the Pontiac is the different exterior profiles.  Even though both sites had the same 66’ width, while Burnham & Root had reduced the width of the upper floors by 30” which Root celebrated with the gentle curve in the elevation within the second story, Holabird & Roche simply extruded the entire width of the lot for the building’s height, as they had done with the Caxton Building.  

Had Aldis finally understood, or at least suspected that the extra cost of all those curved bricks was not offset by the reduction in amount of floor area and wall surface in the final design of the Monadnock? Therefore, in massing, the Pontiac was just the elongation by two floors of the Caxton. (Even the start and stopping of the bay windows echoed the Caxton, that was a copy of Root’s in the Monadnock.)

Holabird & Roche, Pontiac Building. Under construction: note there is no iron column in the corners. (Bruegmann, Holabird & Roche)

In construction, Shepherd Brooks still clung to his aversion to all steel-framed exteriors but appears to have compromised somewhat.  While the exterior steel framing of the Caxton was used in each of the three streetfronts, the building’s two corners on Harrison were solid load-bearing masonry piers. Although the building had a party wall on the north end, Holabird & Roche decided to place a lateral wall in the second interior columnline, as they had done in the Tacoma Building (and Burnham & Root had done in the Monadnock).

Holabird & Roche, Pontiac Building, Typical floor plan. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)

The apparent aversion to the ‘spindliness” of the wide-open elevations of the Tacoma (or had it been a reaction to the cold frost that had formed on the glass during the below zero Chicago winters?) had, as was done with the elevations of the Caxton, forced Holabird & Roche to reduce the amount of glass in the elevations of the Pontiac, giving it the more “solid” look of the Monadnock, even though these elevations were steel-framed. This was accomplished by making the bay windows smaller than the structural bay, filling in the space between the columns and the bay with a masonry partition (see plan).

Holabird & Roche. Left: Tacoma Building Elevation; Right: Pontiac Building Elevation. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)

As the elevations above show, Holabird & Roche once again decided to “open up” the elevations of the two stories closest to the sidewalk, revealing the steel frame supporting the floors above.Therefore, in all three buildings, Tacoma, Caxton, and Pontiac, the lower two floors would glow during the evenings and the dark, winter afternoons.

Holabird & Roche, Pontiac Building. Ground floor. (Bruegmann, Holabird & Roche)

One detail that they brought over from the Tacoma was its horizontal accentuation of each floor. This was accomplished not with a projecting sillcourse, but with a course of larger terra cotta blocks set flush with the wall that connected the heads of the windows in each story.  

Holabird & Roche, Pontiac Building. Detail of elevation, Note the continuous horizontal banding at the head of the windows. (Chicago.designslinger)

One innovation they incorporated was the two structural bay-bay window.  That is, rather than putting a bay window over only one bay, they stretched these bay windows over two structural bays, giving it a more fluid form than the one-bay windows also used on the exterior.  The building code had specified only that bay windows could project no more than 36″ over the sidewalk; it never defined how “large” a bay window could be. Some historians say that this was to create more floor space, but the two-bay windows did not project as far out as the one-bay windows, so I don’t think this was the reason for this detail.  Looking at the plan, they detailed a partition “panel” between the bay windows central mullion and the column.  My guess is that, because of this “right-angle,” the two-bay window allowed better furniture placement than did the angular one-bay window.  No matter, on the exterior the two-bay windows imparted a fluidity that recalled the surface undulations of the Monadnock.

To look into the future: Were Burnham & Root just too busy to take on another Brooks’ building (yes, in 1889 they were) or/and was Aldis giving Holabird & Roche the opportunity to show that they were capable of designing a successful large office building, in order to increase his covey of reliable architects.  I read the events that came after to confirm both speculations.  The facts are that following Root’s death, Aldis never commissioned D.H. Burnham & Co. to design another building for the Brookses.  Hoffman stated that Aldis had complained, after Root had died, that the Monadnock came in way over budget as his reason for switching architects.  With the Pontiac Aldis had the ability to compare similar buildings from a cost perspective erected by the same contractor, Fuller. However, as I will discuss in detail in Vol. Seven devoted to the 1893 Fair, I think the real issue was that Aldis truly enjoyed the opportunity to work with Root. He did not have the same enthusiasm for working with Burnham alone, following Root’s death.


Bruegmann, Robert. The Architects and the City: Holabird and Roche of Chicago, 1880-1918. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Leslie, Thomas. Chicago Skyscrapers: 1871-1934. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2012.

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


Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Reconstruction of the structural system in the first (Jackson) section. Drawing by Shaghayegh Missaghi and Ryan Gauquie. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)

(A quick note first: you have followed me this far, so believe me when I ask you to reread Section 4.10. I have rewritten it with some new insights that I think you will like.)

In summary, the Monadnock broke little new ground technologically with its traditional “boxed” structure of an exterior of masonry piers surrounding an interior skeleton frame of wrought iron Z-bar columns and steel beams.  Fuller had refined the cantilevered iron structure of the bay windows in the Tacoma Building, that had supported Root’s original detailing of the non-loadbearing brick in the Rookery’s light court. Steel girders spanned between the masonry piers at the point where the bay windows began to cantilever. A tapered steel bracket cantilevered to each corner in the bay windows, that supported a 7” spandrel beam. This bracket was riveted to the girder (that acted as a fulcrum) at which point a floor beam extended to the center line of girders, thereby creating sufficient leverage to offset the potential rotation of the cantilevered bracket.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Detail of how the bay windows are structured. (Leslie, “Monadnock Building”)

The only real challenges faced by Edward C. Shankland, Burnham & Root’s in-house engineer were the overloaded foundations and the extreme wind loads to be resisted by the 16-story building.  As I have stated, the building’s “foundation” actually started at the third floor: the 15” flare of the walls in the second story was larger than what was needed to support the load above. Although this was done explicitly to ameliorate the difference in floor depths between the office floors above and the ground floor, this also began to spread the load in the wall over a greater surface area, i.e., spreading the load or reducing the bearing stress in the masonry: the exact same function of one on the steps in a stepped footing. This had the effect of reducing the height of the footing below, even if it was only by one layer of steel beams in the footing’s grillage.  While Shankland had calculated that the building would settle eight inches, it settled almost 20.”  Nonetheless, the building’s settlement was nearly uniform, leaving the building intact.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Photograph of the south end of the first phase showing the party wall with the arched walkways for the corridor to continue into the next phase. Here one can see the increasing thickness of the long walls as they approach the ground. In order to keep the exterior surface vertical, the extra dimension needed for the increasing thickness was taken from the interior. The Great Northern Hotel is diagonally to the right. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)

Thomas Leslie has published a detailed analysis of the building’s structure in Issue IV, 2013 of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Journal from which, in addition to Hoffmann’s book on Root, I am summarizing the building’s structure: The wind problem was exacerbated by the site’s narrow, 66’ width, that resulted in a relatively “thin,” flexible building form in this direction. (Yes, think of it as a wide, vertical diving board.)  In addition to the lateral masonry walls, Shankland also added three other systems for wind bracing.  As each of the the lateral walls, that at times were 4’ 2” in thickness, had to be broken into two “halves” to allow the corridors to run through them, Shankland tied the two “halves” of a wall to act as one with steel trusses that were rigidly connected to the column that was connected to the adjacent edge of each wall, thereby increasing the structural depth of these walls from two 21’ deep walls to one 63’ deep walls (much, much stiffer!). 

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block, phase one. Typical floor plan. Note the extra lateral wall in the Jackson Street section (right), supplying the stiffness lost by the windows in the Jackson elevation. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)

The second system he added was a series of rigid portals comprised of eighteen-inch steel beams that spanned from the interior row of columns, to which they were riveted for their entire depth, to the exterior piers, where they were embedded into the walls for an extra four inches, in an attempt to create a rigid portal between the exterior piers, the column, and the girder for extra stiffness.  The third system consisted of horizontal diagonal bracing in the floors, triangulating each floor, (that is, tying the various piers and columns of the building into a rigid form) and by extension the building as well.  These were 4” by 5/16” thick steel tension straps that ran from the first line of columns to be embedded 4 inches into the masonry piers at which point they were then angled vertically 8” into the brick in order to further anchor the steel into the pier. These were included to resist the building’s tendency to twist or rotate from the foundation caused by the wind.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Structural plan of the eighth floor of the first (Jackson) section, showing the layout of the tie plates to resist the torsion caused by the wind. (Leslie, “Monadnock Building”)


The Monadnock Block is one of, if not the most, misunderstood and misinterpreted buildings in Chicago’s architectural history.

First: following its completion, numerous critics had cited its “plainness” as a negative, therefore many thought that its design had to have been a product of Burnham.  In fact, some didn’t even consider it as architecture because of its lack of traditional ornament.

Second: early European International Style historians proclaimed its “unornamented” exterior and Root’s “honest” expression of its “wall” structure as a herald for the unornamented, structural rationalism of the 1920s.  The next logical leap in this train of thought was to claim that Mies van der Rohe’s post-WWII Chicago buildings represented the reincarnation of the Chicago School of the 1880s, hence, it was dubbed “the Second Chicago School.” (As I have portrayed may times, if one is looking for a Second Chicago School, it was the “American modern” Art Deco skyscrapers of the late 1920s, a movement led by none other than Root’s son, John Wellborn Root, Jr., of the firm Holabird & Root.)

Holabird & Root (Designer: John Wellborn Root, Jr.), Chicago Board of Trade, 1925. (Online)

The facts are that the building’s structure is not a masonry wall, even though Root’s design made it “look” like a wall.  Shepherd Brooks had denied the extensive use of iron framing in the building’s exterior, but this didn’t require the use of a brick wall.  Architects had been designing buildings with masonry piers since the beginning of history, and the Monadnock Block was just one more example.  This should be obvious when one looks at the building’s elevation: there is more void (the bay windows) in the building’s vertical surface than there is masonry. 

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Elevation, showing the proportional amounts of wall vs. void. (Leslie, Chicago)

Root never intended to express the structure in his final design of the Monadnock (other than in the placement of the windows: flush vs. deep).  As I keep stating, there were more design concepts used by the Chicago School architects than only expressing the building’s structure. This is where the misunderstanding/misinterpretation of Root’s design begins.  Even some contemporary critics, who now have a better understanding of the actual structure, fault Root for making the building look like a monolithic wall, when it is not one.  They are still blinded by the “structural expression” mantra.  Root had mastered the “structural expression” of the iron frame in the elevations of the Rookery’s lightcourt, and had already moved on to other design challenges.  As was the case with the Rand-McNally Building, he was exploring the challenge of expressing the building’s skin/curtain wall as a continuous membrane or surface: he had already done so in the Rand-McNally’s 158’ long by 10-story high, unbroken surface of terra cotta, and would follow the Monadnock with a third iteration of the continuous skin in the Great Northern (Chicago) Hotel.

Burnham & Root, Chicago (Great Northern) Hotel, NE corner of Dearborn and Jackson, 1890. Root’s third building employing the continuous surface of the curtain wall. This time he turned the corner with cylindrical bay windows. (Hoffmann, Root)

In his design for the Monadnock, he had accepted the office building’s function for this particular site: a ground floor hugging the lotlines, while the office floors were pulled back from the lotlines to be as efficient as possible. This  established the building’s overall form.  He then detailed the exterior surface as one continuous surface, as he had done in the Rand-McNally Building.  The challenge for Root this time was that instead of the exterior being just a two-dimensional plane like the Rand-McNally, the Monadnock gave him the opportunity to extend the idea of the continuous surface over a three-dimensional form: he got to address the challenge in turning the corners of the building: i.e., avoiding a sharp edge to prevent the exterior from reading as two intersecting planes, so that one could perceive it only as a three-dimensional object. (Note that he used cylindrical bay windows to turn the corners in the Great Northern Hotel.) As he had done in his better designs, Root had chosen a leitmotif for the Monadmock: to lyrically recall (not copy) the form of the Egyptian pylon.  With the addition of his plan to incorporate a gradation of color within the building’s exterior, he had designed not “just a building,” but, in the spirit of the great Wagner, a gesamtkunstwerk, that is, “a total work of architecture.”


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

Leslie, Thomas. Chicago Skyscrapers: 1871-1934. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2012.

Leslie, Thomas. “The Monadnock Building, Technically Reconsidered.” Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Journal, 2013 Issue IV.

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


Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-6, Art Institute of Chicago. (Online)

“Out of this chaos of color the new art will arise as great as music itself.  Then will come the complete unification of the arts [gesamtkunstwerk] for which [Richard] Wagner labored.”

Thus Root wrote in June 1883 in his article, “Art of Pure Color.” Denied by Peter Brooks the option of incorporating carved ornament in the exterior of the Monadnock, Root, in addition to treating its massing as a giant piece of sculpture, had resurrected his 1883 polychromatic scheme for the exterior of the Rialto Building, as an attempt to give the building a claim at being a legitimate piece of architecture (art). Undoubtedly, the criticism of his earlier Brooks-controlled Montauk Block still reverberated in the back of his mind. Six years, however, had passed since he wrote the lines above, and while he had done little towards achieving his goal of using “modern” color in his buildings, the younger Sullivan had continued to push the boundaries of color in his theater interiors, until his ultimate creation, the interior of the Auditorium, was being readied for its grand opening, only five months away in December (v.4, sec. 6.3).

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. (Photo courtesy Jyoti Srivastava: chicago-architecture-jyoti.blogspot.com)

Sullivan chose a warm, but neutral ivory for the base color for the theater, using an oil paint, and then applied 23-carat gold leaf to create highlights around the room.  “A single idea or principle is taken as a basis of the color scheme [in each public room], that is to say, use is made of but one color in each instance, and that color is associated with gold.  The color selected varies with each room treated, but the plan of using one color with gold is in no case departed from.  Thus the main Auditorium is in old ivory and gold…in graded tones.” 

Sullivan chose his theme for the space characteristically not from history, but from nature; the cycles of nature and human life: growth and decadence.  There was, seemingly, no two points in the space that had the same color. The four main elliptical arches that spanned the great hall were given the primary focus by being “treated in a scientific manner.  They are dark at the base and light at the springing of the arch.  This gives atmosphere and lightness to the arch.” He tinted the color ever darker as one’s eyes moved farther away from the stage.  As the eye also moved across the room from the south (right side) of the hall, sunrise, to the north (left side), sunset, he also darkened the color as a metaphor of the sun’s daily path. 

William Pretyman, Banking Hall, Cleveland Society For Savings Bank, 1887. (Online)

It was somewhat easier for Sullivan to explore the potentials of color because Adler’s acumen for acoustics had garnered a number of theater projects, offering Sullivan large spaces that could be swathed with paint of all hues.  True, Root had finally found a kindred spirit in the use of color, William Pretyman, and the two had collaborated in the richly-colored ground floor spaces in Cleveland’s Society for Savings Bank, but the only large surfaces Root had to experiment with were the exteriors of his office buildings.  The 215’ x 200’ long canvas of the Monadnock offered just such an opportunity.  

In his 1887 paper, “Style,” Root seems to have actually prophesized his design two years before he put it on paper:

“The value of plain surfaces in every building is not to be overestimated.  Strive for them, and when the fates place at your disposal a good, generous sweep of masonry, accept it frankly and thank God.  If this goodly surface comes at the corners of your building, so much the better; for there can be no better guaranty that the house will “stay where it was put” than the presence of simple masonry at its angles.”

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

For Root, as with all “modern” artists during the mid-1800s, the only topic more important than “color” was “truth.”  In my earlier sections (3.7.14; 3.10.11; 3.10.12; 3.10.13; 3.10.14; 3.10.15; 3.10.21), I have traced both Root’s and Sullivan’s interest in color in art starting with Owen Jones’ 1834 study of the use of polychromy in the Alhambra, that he had serially published between 1836 and 1845 as the Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra. John Ruskin soon engaged this topic with his 1849 book The Seven Lamps of Architecture, in which he stated in “The Lamp of Beauty:” 

“And the first broad conclusion we shall deduce from observance of natural colour in such cases will be that it never follows form, but is arranged on an entirely separate system. What mysterious connection there may be between the shape of the spots on an animal’s skin and its anatomical system, I do not know, nor even if such a connection has in anywise been traced: but to the eye the systems are entirely separate, and in many cases that of colour is accidentally variable. The stripes of a zebra do not follow the lines of its body or limbs,—still less the spots of a leopard. In the plumage of birds, each feather bears a part of the pattern which is arbitrarily carried over the body, having indeed certain graceful harmonies with the form, diminishing or enlarging in directions which sometimes follow, but also not unfrequently oppose, the directions of its muscular lines. Whatever harmonies there may be, are distinctly like those of two separate musical parts, coinciding here and there only—never discordant, but essentially different. I hold this, then, for the first great principle of architectural colour. Let it be visibly independent of form.”

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, c. 1842, Tate Britain. (Online)

By this time Ruskin had already assumed the leadership mantle as the leading art critic of Great Britain with his 1843 first volume of Modern Painters, in which he came to the defense of J.M.W. Turner. Without reservation he claimed that Turner and other “modern” landscape painters were more “artistic” than the renowned early traditional landscape painters who merely had invented scenes in their studios. Turner observed nature and “truthfully” represented it without resorting to any “academic” conventions.  Ruskin became a champion of the British “moderns” in the ongoing (and as this is in Great Britain, I will use my English interpretation of the phrase from now on), the War of the “Academics” vs. the Moderns. 

Doge’s Palace, Venice, ca. 1340. (Author’s collection)

He had extended his advocacy of the “modern” into architecture in 1849 with The Seven Lamps of Architecture.  He clarified his position in the 1851 publication of his first volume of The Stones of Venice, in which in the first chapter he declared the Doge’s Palace in Venice as “the central building of the world.”

“SECTION XXIV. The work of the Lombard [Northern European] was to give hardihood and system to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom [Rome]; that of the Arab was to punish idolatry, and to proclaim the spirituality of worship.  The Lombard covered every church which he built with the sculptured representations of bodily exercises—hunting and war…

“The Arab banished all imagination of creature form from his temples, and proclaimed from their minarets, “There is no god but God.”  Opposite in their character and mission, alike in their magnificence of energy, they came from the North, and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream: they met and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire; and the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of the opposite eddies, charged with embayed fragments of the Roman wreck, is VENICE.

“The Ducal palace of Venice contains the three elements in exactly equal proportions—the Roman, Lombard, and Arab.  It is the central building of the world.”

Undoubtedly because of this passage, Root had always held a special place for Venice in his artistic heart, as we will see time and again. Most certainly, he had included the city in his 1886 European itinerary.  First, however, I want to show that Root was not a blind sycophant of Ruskin. In 1877, James Abbott McNeill Whistler exhibited his 1874 painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (Yes, the same Whistler that Jenney had run with in Paris during 1858-60. v.3; sec. 2.10.) in a show consciously curated as an alternative to the annual Royal Academy of Art exhibition (i.e., the War of the Academics vs. the Moderns).  Ruskin published a review of Whistler’s painting; “[I have] never expected to hear a coxcomb [a dandy] ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”  Whistler sued Ruskin for defamation and while the jury found in his favor, awarded him only one farthing while making each of them split the court costs.  This had bankrupted the painter.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1874, Detroit Institute of Arts. (Online)

Six years later, in his 1883 “Art of Pure Color,” when both parties were still very much alive, Root took Ruskin to task for attacking Whistler, “the real apostle of color:”

“Yet in [Ruskin’s] analysis of [color] he seems curiously blind to the right of color to be recognized as an independent art, and was so far astray in his perception of its proper and higher function that, in the whirligig of time, he found himself arrayed against Whistler, in a cause where Whistler was the real apostle of color…

“When the “London Bridge and Fireworks” was shown to this jury, someone asked which was the bridge, greatly to the artist’s discomfiture and the audience’s amusement.  Now there was no cause for discomfiture nor the qualification on his part.  Had the jury, the eminent defendant and the judge been actual spectators of the scene under similar circumstances, the identical question would have been to them quite puzzling.  The merit of the artist here considered is the fact that he was able to translate into pigments effects which were in their nature too vague to be drawn.

“The criticism applied to Whistler has been equally applied to all of the “Impressionists”… People, whose highest ideal of art was reached in a Dutch painting of a cabbage leaf, laughed with infinite glee at Corot, because he might paint a tree in full foliage, on which the closest scrutiny failed to find a leaf.  Yet the same critic would calmly tell that he was walking in a lane at dusk, and saw something which was either a man or a cow – the difference between himself and the artist (I had almost said cow) being that one could depict what he saw – the other could not.”

I repeated this section from Root’s paper not only to show Root’s intimate knowledge of contemporary artists and events in Europe, but also his commitment to those pursuing a similar approach to his in regards to color. There can be no doubt on what side of the War of the Academics vs. the Moderns Root stood.

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

Why did he want to use color on the Monadnock? First, he was truly committed to pursuing color as an art unto itself (v.3; sec. 10.11-4). Second, because of Chicago’s pollution, as he stated in his 1883 article, “The Art of Pure Color:”

“Think for a moment what our streets might become, if to the somber grays of stone or reds of brick were added the full unfading bloom [there’s that term of Owen Jones again: the same word used by critics to describe the effect that Jones had achieved with his use of primary colors in his designs that spanned from the 1851 Crystal Palace to London’s St. James’ Hall] of [non-absorbing] glass, marble, and tiles.  These combined by artists.. would fill our cities with the eternal joy of color… [Compare Root’s urban ideal vs. Burnham’s “White City” in 1893…] Look back but a few years and recall the period when red brick began to be used with some appreciation of its inherent beauty. What oases in our street architecture these glowing walls of brick presented, contrasted as they were with all the smoke-begrimed and smoke-absorbing stone fronts! [my emphasis]…in a few years there will be everywhere, as in a lovely symphony, the full verdure of woods, the warm blue of summer sky, the eternal joyousness of blooming flowers, crystallized into unfading colors, and greeting us in our daily avocations.”

Once again, Root is getting dangerously close to German Expressionism, this time to Paul Scheerbart’s theory of colored glass in his 1914 Glasarchitektur, written some thirty years later. In fact, one could compare Scheerbart’s mysticism with Root’s beliefs in the Swedenborgian church.  (For more on this, please see Merwood-Salisbury, p. 72.)

Root revealed his interest in Venice with his intimate knowledge of Murano glass:

“[The potential of colored blown glass] was recognized by artists in Venice… [Antonio] Salviati has revived [in 1859] some of the glories of old Venetian glass.”

Root was referring to the hand-blown colored glass manufactured in Murano, the manufacturing village of Venetian glass that employed striking colors and patterns.  Being translucent, the glass generates a myriad of effects depending upon how light impinges on it.  Murano glass production was first interrupted by Napoleon’s capture of Venice in 1797, and then further paused during the period of Venice’s transference to the Austrian empire, until Italian independence in 1866 saw the resurrection of Murano’s glass production.  I am quite certain that among the cities Root had visited during his 1886 European tour, Venice must have been on the schedule.  While Murano’s colored glass undoubtedly reinforced his views on “pure color,” I believe it was Venice’s other “craft” village, Burano, famous for its lace-making, that influenced his ideas for cities “filled with the eternal joy of color.”  The city has been famous for its brightly-painted buildings, so famous that an owner still must submit a request to repaint his/her building. 

Burano, Venice. (Online)

In 1889 how would Root have constructed such an exterior color scheme in the Monadnock? Glazed brick had a few years of further development in the U.S. before such an application would become feasible. (The white-glazed brick in the Rookery’s light court was imported from Britain.) Therefore, Root would have had George Fuller assemble whatever colored (indigenous clay) brick was available in the U.S. For example, Milwaukee was known for its cream-(yellow)colored brick while Philadelphia produced its famous red brick. (Hence, the limited palette of browns, reds, and yellows.)  Then Fuller’s masons would have the job to make the transitions from one color to another by gradually changing the percentage of the two colors of the brick in each course from 0% until the next color above was 100%.

George A. Fuller, Construction of the Monadnock Block, c.1891. (urbanremainschicago.com)

While Root’s 1886 itinerary is missing, we must assume that he also had visited Paris, if for no other reason to view the latest canvasses by the Impressionists, whose work he followed as kindred spirits in the use of color (see v.3, sec.10-14).  Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was first exhibited in Paris that May in the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition (again as an alternative to the annual Salon curated by the Académie des Beaux Arts). Seurat’s painting technique employed only points of pure color, pointillism. (Today the same idea is referred to as pixilation.)  Seurat’s monumental painting then reappeared later that summer in August’s Salon of the Société des Artistes Indédependants. The dates are important because Root was touring Europe during the summer of 1886.  It is intriguing to stand in front of the painting in the Art Institute of Chicago and imagine what Root would have been thinking as his studied the painting.  (If Root had not died in 1891, the painting would now be hanging in the Art Institute as designed by Root. Full circle!)  Seurat’s use of pointillism to achieve a “bloom of color” was simply a reinterpretation of the traditional mosaic of small pieces of color to achieve a figural representation. The only difference between Seurat’s points of color and Root’s use of colored bricks was scale: Root’s canvas was 215’ high and 200’ long.

What I find most surprising is that Peter Brooks let the design team work on this idea for almost a year before he squashed it in May 1890, choosing instead obsidian purple-brown, the same color of brick that had been used on the Rookery.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Original 1889 color palette. (Colors added by Signe Luebbers)
Schwartz & Gross, Central Park West at 66th St., New York, 1930. An example of Root’s proposal to vary the color of the brick in a tall building from dark at the base to light at the top to make it appear even taller. This is one of the reasons I consider Chicago’s Art Deco skyscrapers to be the true “Second Chicago School,” and not the European International Style. (Robinson/Bletter, Skyscraper Style)


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

Leslie, Thomas. Chicago Skyscrapers: 1871-1934. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2012.

Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna. Chicago 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.

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


Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block, 1889. Note that this version shows six bay windows as it was drawn before Shepherd Brooks decided not to build on the last 75’ of property. (Inland Architect, Nov. 1889)

Meanwhile, in the face of Shepherd Brooks’ resistance to steel framing, Burnham & Root had no option but to completely redesign the Monadnock a third time.  The exterior would have to be constructed with loadbearing masonry and the resulting settlement of the building would be the cost of the client’s refusal to accept, or even understand, the new technology of iron framing.  (The architects had calculated the building would settle 8”; in reality it settled over 20.”)  Root now faced the daunting task of designing a 215’ high pile of bricks, and to please the other brother, there could be no carved ornament on the surface of this massive pile. But if you think about it for a moment, if one ignores the requirement for no carved ornament, the Rookery as constructed with its pier/spandrel language met Brooks’ demand. After all, while Shepherd had rejected exterior iron framing, he had not specified that a loadbearing WALL be used instead, as so many historians have assumed the Monadnock’s structure to be. So the question is, when did Root change from expressing the building’s structure in its elevation, to expressing the building’s skin or enclosing envelope as he just done in the Rand-McNally Building? And I ask this question, because, as I have shown in the plan below, the final structure was not a bearing wall, but a series of masonry piers. Even though past historians have claimed that Root’s design was the perfect “rational” or “honest” solution for a masonry bearing wall structure, this was not his idea that he expressed in its final design. We will examine this issue in detail later on.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Ground Floor plan. I chose this drawing because it highlights the “pier” nature of the exterior structure: it is not a bearing wall. (Online)

At least the floor plan seemed agreed upon by all parties.  The bay windows were a given, following the success of the Tacoma Building, as Aldis had stated earlier, “numerous bays for extra floor space.”  With a site width of 66,’ lining both long street fronts with 22’ deep office space, the resulting corridor would have been over 20′ wide.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Upper: Plan 14th Floor; Lower: Plan 3rd Floor. Note the lateral masonry wall in the middle of the building is so designed that it continues into the corridor in order to be able to lock one side off from the other if ever needed. Note the addition of another wall in the middle of the right (Peter Brooks’) half. This was included to provide the stability lost in the Jackson Street wall because of the openings needed for the bay windows. Note that there is no equivalent wall in the left (Shepherd Brooks’) half, as the party wall at the far south of the plan does not have the same amount of openings in it. Note each “section” has its own bank of elevators and stairway. (Hoffmann, Root)

Instead of placing a narrow atrium through the center of this overly-wide corridor as Baumann had done in the Chamber of Commerce, Burnham & Root first placed the stairs and elevator shaft for each of the four portions of the building within this central area, thereby keeping the building’s entire perimeter open for rentable office space. (This was only possible once artificial, gas or electric, light could be supplied to the elevators.) Without the interior lightwell, however, the only daylight available for the corridors would be provided by a meager 8’ wide skylight over the open stairways and what could be leeched through the glass panes in the corridor walls.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Stairway in the corridor. Just beyond is the continuous masonry wall that provided lateral stability and also could close off this half of the building from the other side if ever needed. Note the small arched doorways at both ends of the wall. The corridors have glass to allow daylight to pass from the rooms into the corridor. (Online)

Then, calculating the minimum width needed to walk around either side of the stairway, they found they could eliminate 30″ of width in the floor plate, so they pulled the exterior walls in from the lotlines some 15″ on the two long sides. This resulted in an unheard of 68% floor space efficiency as noted by Aldis. He compared this with the 50 to 55% in the Rookery and 45% in Home Insurance Building. This floor plan also saved the construction costs of the extra, unusable corridor floor area as well as by reducing the surface area of the exterior wall. I can see Root and George Fuller using this to justify the extra cost of the specially-made curved brick. This is the reason for the building’s flared form in the second floor: wanting to keep the ground floor at the lotline to maximize floor area (note in the ground floor plan above that there is no “bearing wall” directly under each of the bay windows, just open display windows at the sidewalk), the exterior gently curves inward the 15″ to the shallower depth of the upper office floors. (The display windows also prove that the structure is not a loadbearing wall but a series of masonry piers.)

Root was faced with how to detail the 16-story masonry exterior, that was not unlike that of the Albi Cathedral.

Cathedral of St. Cecilia, Albi, FR, 1282-1480. (Author image)

In his 1887 paper, “Style,” Root seems to have actually prophesized his design two years before he put it on paper:

“The value of plain surfaces in every building is not to be overestimated.  Strive for them, and when the fates place at your disposal a good, generous sweep of masonry, accept it frankly and thank God.  If this goodly surface comes at the corners of your building, so much the better; for there can be no better guaranty that the house will “stay where it was put” than the presence of simple masonry at its angles.”

Sometime during the period after June 8 (when the Inter Ocean had published the description of the skeleton-framed version) and before July 9, 1889, when Aldis wrote to Brooks complaining about the new “bell-shaped cornice,” Root had completely reworked the exterior into the form of the final design.  Instead of employing the recessed spandrel of the pier/spandrel language of the framed design, Root decided to detail the spandrels flush with the piers, thereby creating a “good, generous sweep of masonry.” What were his intensions for this design?

Adler & Sullivan, Walker Warehouse, Chicago, SW corner of Adams and Market (Wacker), 1888. (urbanremainschicago.com)

Once again, he seems to have been looking over his shoulder to see what Sullivan’s latest projects could provide as a point of departure. Sullivan had recently completed his takes on the unornamented, smooth-faced pile of masonry with the Walker Warehouse and the Ryerson Tomb.  In the Walker Warehouse Sullivan had built a seven-story high box of smooth-faced stone.  He took the box as a given and proceeded to carve the windows into each face in a tripartite elevation of a two-story base, four-story arcade, and one-story cornice, that was capped with the conventional parapet.  What made this look “modern” was the complete lack of carved ornament on the building’s surface (other than the few pieces I noted in v.4, sec 5.8).  Sullivan, respecting the end thrusts of the arcades he emphasized the corner piers, in essence framing each elevation with a sharp corner. The building was conceived as a collection of planar surfaces that defined the masonry box. I could compare its architectonic concept with those of my elongated version of Labrouste’s Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève as being two “traditionally” conceived works of architecture. 

Herni Labrouste, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1838-51. Arcade digitally extruded for effect. (Author’s Collection)

Peter Brooks had demanded no ornament to be placed on the Monadnock. Root could have easily designed it as a sixteen-story high rectangular mass of bricks, carved the windows into it in some “artistic” pattern as had Sullivan, and then stuck the bay windows onto the mass, similar to the Tacoma Building and moved onto more interesting projects, leaving Burnham to build it.  In fact, this was precisely what many critics claimed had occurred in post-construction reviews. Root’s death in January 1891, when the building was just coming out of the ground, had complicated the issue of the authorship of the design. (“Did Root design any of the “plain” building that was so out-of-character with his prior buildings, or did Burnham design it?”) There were two courses of thought pursued by later critics: one line argued that because the building was so “plain” it had to have been designed by Burnham; the second narrative again favored Burnham as the designer because the building’s form had been generated from “only” the building’s economic return. This was a positive comment from those critics who favored an “honest” design approach. Because of its positive portrayal of the design, Burnham did not go out of his way to dissuade such reviews during the post-Root phase of his career. This was entirely disingenuous on the part of Burnham. (I will discuss Burnham’s “tossing Root under the bus” following his partner’s death in Volume Seven that reviews the 1893 World’s Fair.) Although Root’s death in January 1891 blurred the issue of who deserved the credit for the building’s design, all of the rendered images I have shown you were published while Root was still alive. Construction had begun in May 1890, some seven months before Root’s death. The very “artistic” design of the Monadnock that I will document could only have been conceived by Root’s imagination.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Elevation and Section, showing the amount of the original “block of brick” Root had carved from the “original block.”. (Left: Leslie, Chicago; Right: Hoffmann, Root)

Needing/wanting to transcend “mere building” into the making of architecture, however, Root had risen to this artistic challenge by changing the conceptual method he had typically employed in his past projects.  Instead of conventionally applying/integrating carved sculptural elements onto the body of his buildings in an additive method, he would carve out from the original 200’ x 66’ x 215’ high pile of brick a sculptural form, subtracting material from the original block, not unlike what a sculptor does to a block of stone.  

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Awakening Slave, 1519. (Online); Burnham & Root, The Rookery. Detail of column carved from the corner pier. (Author image)

In v.3, sec. 11.10, I had compared Root’s detailing of how he had “extracted” the form of the granite columns in the base of the Rookery from its sandstone corner piers to Michelangelo’s statement that all he did in making a piece of sculpture (I paraphrase) “was to release it from within the piece of stone he had chosen to carve.”  In the process of redesigning the Monadnock, Root had created a new type of architectural form; instead of a building with carved sculpture on it, the building now became a piece of sculpture.  Root had literally carved a 16-story piece of sculpture.

But before we analyze his final form, we need one more variable: Why “Egyptian”?  In Sec. 4.4, I echoed Hoffmann’s assertion that Root, in search of “meaning” for his design, had gravitated to Egyptian detailing in the 1884 designs to allude to the similarities between the Nile Delta and the Chicago River’s marshy conditions along the lakefront. Ancient Egyptian buildings were being found to have been very colorful, which may have also piqued his interest in the use of polychromy in his designs. I also want to speculate that Root might have been experimenting (that’s really what he was always doing, wasn’t it: improvisations) with Egyptian architecture because it was a “pre-arch” style, very appropriate as a point of departure to evolve a style for the iron skeleton frame. Later into the design process, Root began to translate, with the assistance of German-born Fritz Wagner, one of the city’s leading terra cotta fabricators, a section from German theorist Gottfried Semper’s 1860 study, Der Stil. Historian Joanna Merwood-Salisbury in her book, Chicago: 1890, posited that Semper’s discussion of Egyptian architecture could have easily reinforced Root’s innate curiosity in the potential of Egyptian forms to be a fresh point of departure for the development of an American architecture.  

Root’s original designs for the Monadnock had incorporated Egyptian motifs, and so it wasn’t really much of a stretch for him to restudy what the style might offer in this latest effort to use only brick walls.  As he had been working over the past four years in some of his designs with the idea of the continuous plane or surface as a mode of expression for the exterior of a skyscraper (I.e., the Rand-McNally Building) that expressed the enclosure or boundary surface of the interior’s volume, it would have been logical for him to apply this concept to the new design for Monadnock. After all, when we imagine a “215′ high pile of bricks” over the course of architectural history, the only culture that built with this technique that immediately comes to mind is, of course, Egypt.

One significant change Root made from the 1885 Egyptian designs was to shift building precedent types from the columnular Egyptian temples to the continuous, massive planes of masonry in the Egyptian pylon, the gateway walls that flanked the entrances to the temple precincts.  The pylon was typically capped with a coved cornice, not unlike the profile he had been experimenting with in the 1885 design. Taking the pylon as his precedent, Root would also try to impart a battered, or slopping profile to the Monadnock’s walls, echoing the decrease of the wall’s required thickness as one moved up through the building.  

The pylon, like the Brookses’ program, had two parts that were so arranged as to create a central opening, in line with the axis of the precinct. This was because in the month before construction was scheduled to begin, Shepherd had decided to build only the first 100’ of the rest of the site that he owned.  This forced Root to eliminate the last line of bay windows shown in the November rendering.  This left a 180’ long plan that was not only designed to function as two completely independent entities with the placement of one of the lateral load masonry walls exactly in the middle, but Shepherd also decided to give his half of the building its own name, the Kearsarge, again named after another mountain in New Hampshire.  As Shepherd Brooks was planning to build some, if not the entire southern half, of the Monadnock at a later date, Root might just have the opportunity to echo the split nature of the pylon quite functionally.  So Root seems to have simply taken an Egyptian pylon as his point of departure, and added the appropriate number of bay windows:

Adler & Sullivan, Martin L. Ryerson Tomb, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, 1887. (Online)

Here again, we find the added challenge of Sullivan coming into the equation: the Ryerson Tomb. With apologies to Root, there can be no mistaking the curving flare of the tomb’s base as the inspiration for Root’s final design.  In fact, if we look carefully at the tomb’s base, we find Root’s exact solution for the second story of the Monadnock: Sullivan brought the first course of stone out of the ground with a vertical face for a few inches, and then let the curve take-off.  Exactly the detail Root used at the second floor of the Monadnock.

While Burnham & Root didn’t want to use the entire 66′ width of the site in the office floors for the reasons I discussed above, it was important to use every inch that could be incorporated in the Ground Floor. Therefore, the 6’4” thick brick walls of the base of the building grew straight out from the lot’s edges, until the second floor, where the function (and space requirements) changed to office floors. (Note below that each of the four “sections” of the building had its own entry along Dearborn.) Thus, we have the base of the Monadnock designed, but from here Root took architecture into the modern period:

Burnham & Root, The Monadnock Block. The 6’4″ thickness of the wall at grade was not required to support the loads from above. This thickness is an increase of 15″ from the second floor wall, which is much larger than what was required to support the additional load of the second floor. I have shown that the 15″ was a dimension arrived at from minimizing the depth of the office floors. However, what this increase in thickness accomplished structurally is that it spreads the loads of building over a greater area: yes, it actually is also part of the building’s foundation!

1. He then flared the second floor, à la Sullivan, back 15” over a height of 10’ with an elliptical curve to the third floor.

2. At this point the exterior face retained an “economical” verticality until the sixteenth floor, at which point Root reprised the flare of the second floor with the coved cornice, echoing the conventional termination of an Egyptian pylon.  In order to compensate for its distance from the sidewalk, Root somewhat exaggerated the curve for it bows out 24” over a height of 6’8.”

(SAH Archipedia)

3. He then carved out each of the openings in the “wall” where the bay windows would be located, defining the structural piers, that extended from the ground to the cornice. In concept and reality, the Monadnock was not a bearing wall, but a series of masonry piers with openings between these.

4. These openings in the “wall” were then infilled with a lightweight, cantilevered steel framework that held the bay windows.  (As the building envelope had been pulled 15″ back from the lotline, this had correspondingly reduced the projection of the bay windows into the public air rights above the sidewalk.) Root then applied his “continuous surface” of brick over the bay’s structure that he simply continued from the surface of adjacent brick pier with a fluidity that contained no sharp corners.  The brick seems simply to organically grow as a skin over the volume of the building. (It took the Anderson Pressed Brick Co. in Indiana over 100 different molds to make the variety of shapes required.) To complete the reading of this continuous masonry surface, Root did not recess the spandrels in the rectangular windows in the piers but made them flush with the face of the piers. Therefore, the exterior does read as a “wall” even though it consists of a seires of piers and bay windows.

In the final design of the building’s elevation, Root has finally admitted that a skyscraper could be “vertical”: he has scrapped all dominant horizontal projections. This leaves the vertical lines of the 13-story unbroken bay windows to soar to the sky (over a year before Sullivan is credited with having been the first to do so in the seven-story unbroken piers in the Wainwright Building. And just to set the record straight: Root had also designed the 12-story unbroken piers in the Masonic Temple at least six months prior to Sullivan’s Wainwright Building). Unlike in his Argyle Apartments, he chose, as he had detailed in the Pickwick Flats, to stop the bay windows one story short of the roof, rather than extending them to the roofline. This imparted a crisper edge to the building’s overall massing. He then capped each bay with a coved cornice that reprised the top of the building.

Burnham & Root. Left: Argyle Apartments, northwest corner of Michigan and Jackson, 1886. Right: Pickwick Flats, southeast corner of Michigan and Twentieth, 1886. (Hoffmann, Root)

5. A true subtly that I had never observed, but give credit to Donald Hoffmann for discovering and noting in his biography of Root, is how Root ever so gently curved the upper corners in the windows under each bay, but not in the single windows in the piers, in both stories. I agree with Hoffmann’s interpretation that Root is recording the genesis of the curved bays from the voids below by restating the bays’ curved plan in the elevation of the windows below, The subtlety of this detail should be proof enough of Root’s authorship of the building’s design… (Its gentle curved profile predates Victor Horta’s Art Nouveau windows by only two years…) If you have different interpretation of Root’s use of curved corners in these windows, please send me thoughts.

Victor Horta, Maison Horta, Brussels, 1898. (Online)

6. He then communicated to the onlooker the inherent contrast between the two structural systems (the masonry piers vs. the framed bay windows) with the location of the glass.  In the bay windows, the glass is pushed as close to the surface of the exterior brick as possible, creating a sense of a taut, thin surface that is being blown out, away from the building by the air pressure inside.  The windows that are located in the bearing walls, on the other hand, have been crisply carved into the “wall” and the glass pulled as far back as possible, revealing the immense thickness of the brick wall for all to see. Said in a different way, Root had brought the plane of the spandrels flush with the surface of the piers, thereby creating the unbroken continuity of the brick surface. (This is most effective in the curved second floor window openings: see image above.)

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Longitudinal section showing how the thickness of the bearing walls decreses as the wall grows taller.

And lastly, the best of his details: still wanting to evoke the precedent of the pylons with their battered, sloping walls, while he could not literally afford to make the walls slope inward, (even though as the wall’s thickness had to increase as the wall approached the ground, it would have been easy to keep the same inside dimensions, but this would have cost space and money in sloped brick) he struck upon a truly ingenious visual illusion that is effective, and yet so subtle that many viewers aren’t even aware of its presence until someone points it out. 

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Corner chamfer with the increasing radius. (Author image)

He detailed the corners of the buildings with a progressively increasing chamfer, starting rather imperceptibly at the third floor, until it reached a three-foot radius at the cornice.  Physically, it actually reduces the dimension from the last window jamb to the building’s corner as one moves up to the top of the building.  When one is standing obliquely to the long elevations this resulting angle does create the illusion that the wall is sloping inward.  This illusion is reinforced on a sunny day when the shade around the chamfer reinforces the visual angle at the wall’s edge.

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Note how the reduction in the dimension from the last window jamb to the building’s corner creates an angle that creates the illusion that the walls are sloping inward. (Author image)

I do not label the Monadnock Block as a modern, Chicago School building because of its absence of ornament or because of its “structural expression.” I have already presented my argument that the structure of the Monadnock Block was not a bearing wall, but a series of masonry piers. At the start of this blog I stated that the aesthetic of the “Chicago School” was a design process aesthetic. Therefore, the Monadnock was a Chicago School building because of the manner in which Root conceptualized its design: by synthesizing its various determinants he arrived at a new form that he then enriched by sheathing it with a fluid, undulating skin of brick.  In this respect, Root was contemporary with the emerging Belgian Art Nouveau movement (as I earlier have noted Sullivan’s ornament was likewise) and twenty years ahead of the German Expressionists. He had achieved a true Vitruvian synthesis of commodity, firmness, and delight.

As I also stated in the beginning, there were at least four ways of conceptualizing a building that resulted in a Chicago School aesthetic. While expressing the building’s structure was one of these, Root with his design of the Monadnock had developed two other possible aesthetics: the building’s unbroken, continuous 13-story bay windows imparted a dominant vertical emphasis to its elevation, Chicago’s architects, in addition to expressing the building’s structural system, were now free to give a skyscraper a vertical accent to its elevations. In addition, Root’s continuous fluid surface of brick offered a third alternative aesthetic, emphasizing the skeletal-framed skyscraper’s thin, continuous enclosure of its curtain wall. The fourth type of elevational design was to express the repetitive nature of the office floor plans in the building by giving the elevation a horizontal accent, such as Holabird & Roche had done in the Tacoma Building.

As far as Root’s search for a modern ornament, I have already identified his contemporary experiment with that he placed in the base of the Reliance Building.

The only variable I have yet to address is Root’s contemporary interest in the use of polychromy in his buildings.  Root had carried his original 1883 color scheme that he had planned for the Rialto Building over to the Monadnock, The Economist reported this on August 17, 1889:

“A uniform material is everywhere employed, brick… no two parts of the building will have the same color value… There is no cornice to the building only a bell-shaped coping.  There is no base, the entire building swelling outward at the bottom, to insure the expression of perfect stability.”

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block. Original 1889 color palette. (Colors added by Signe Luebbers)


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

Leslie, Thomas. Chicago Skyscrapers: 1871-1934. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2012.

Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna. Chicago 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.

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