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CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE

Style of Architecture

The Skyscraper
The first Chicago skyscrapers were erected in the 1880s. Instead of cast-iron they used a revolutionary steel-frame construction that made verticality possible. Additional features such as plate glass and terra cotta facades were quickly incorporated into the engineering of these towering edifices and each new building seemed to surpass the next in height. It is said the 10-story tall Montauk Building, constructed in 1882, was the first to be dubbed a “skyscraper.” Over time, steel and brick have given way to concrete and tempered glass. Chicago has kept an edge on the world’s skyscraper race – the Sears Tower was the tallest structure on the planet for decades – and now plans for the Chicago Spire will bring the title for tallest residential building back to the Windy City.

Gothic Revival
As visually striking as architecturally inspiring, Chicago’s gothic churches and buildings are among the most memorable in the city. Some of the more prominent examples of this ornate style are the Tribune Tower, built in 1924, and many of the structures on the University of Chicago’s campus, including Rockefeller Chapel. These buildings all have the distinctive dramatic arches, decorative stonework and load-bearing flying buttresses that are typical of Europe’s medieval designs. The architectural approach was revived in the mid-1700s in England and eventually spread across the Atlantic to America.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Chicago is teeming with Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and influence. The city and suburbs are home to dozens of his houses and buildings, not to mention a number of structures designed by Wright’s students, who were part of the Prairie School of Architecture. Wright’s home and studio, which housed both his family and his drafting tables, is located in Oak Park (visitors can tour the living/work space now). It was in that very studio that Wright drew up the blueprints for Robie House, one of his most notable residential commissions. After a century of wear, the brick façade and pioneering horizontal architecture is still an awe-inspiring attraction that draws thousands to the site annually. Downtown Chicago also features Wright’s mark and guided tours of his work are available year round.

Columbian Exposition
More than 25 million people came to Chicago to witness the final World’s Fair of the nineteenth century. The event intended not only to reflect on the 400 years since the “discovery” of America, but also the future direction of American society. The fair featured a wondrous exhibit of architectural, industrial and cultural variety. From scenic Jackson Park – complete with its famous “Statue of the Republic” golden sculpture – to the powerful Palace of the Fine Arts (currently Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry), the “White City” demonstrated a magnificent display of architectural grandeur that remains a remarkable sight to this day.

Resource: Harold Washington Library Center