FEATURE image: Flanders House (1841), 24044 Main Street, Plainfield, Illinois. See a fuller description below.
Jason and Lucy Flanders House, 1841, Plainfield, Illinois.
Plainfield was settled at the end of the 1820’s when James Walker constructed a sawmill on the DuPage River. The mill attracted settlers to the region and created Will County’s first permanent community. Located about halfway on the Chicago-Ottawa stagecoach line, Plainfield developed commercially, including a booming lumber trade. Jason and Lucy Flanders married in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1833 (they were both 23 years old). Jason Flanders, born in Vermont, had worked in Boston, Massachusetts since 1830. Lucy Ann Clark Flanders was born in New Hampshire. The Flanders arrived into Will County in 1833 and after seven years of farming, moved to Plainfield in 1840. The Flanders had six children.
Built in 1841, Flanders House exhibits characteristics of both the Federal and Greek revival styles. This includes symmetrically arranged windows and a central entrance overlaid by a porch of the 1920’s. Also known as Mapleview Farm and Bragaw-Klomhaus House, The Flanders’ Place has had only a handful of owners in its 180-year history. There is no record of the house ever being used for any non-residential purpose though it may have served in a commercial capacity, perhaps serving travelers on the Dr. Temple Stage Line Chicago-Ottawa route.
The two-story, side gabled rectangular building is approximately 30 x 40 feet in dimension and with later additions. Jason Flanders built the house with hewn logs and sided it with walnut, its original siding hidden by later exterior finishes. The house was finished on the inside also with walnut. Walnut was abundant in the Plainfield area which may explain partly why the Flanders did not hesitate to whitewash the house exterior.
Jason Flanders was the town constable (Plainfield’s first) and at his death had amassed many hundreds of acres of land. The Flanders and their descendants retained control of the property until 1974. While it is recorded that Jason Flanders was a Methodist, his late-20th-century descendant sold the house to a Lutheran church for use as a parsonage. It was sold again in the early 1990s and restored to emulate its original appearance. Flanders House remains one the oldest extant houses in Plainfield, Illinois, today.
FEATURE image: Iron Block, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, following its extensive restoration in 2014. Photograph by author taken in September 2016.
The Iron Block at 205 East Wisconsin Avenue on the corner of busy Water and Wisconsin in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was erected in 1861. The architect was George H. Johnson (1830-1879) of New York City and is a landmark of special architectural significance.
The Iron Block building was financed and built by James B. Martin (1814-1878), a businessman and Baltimore native, who relocated to Milwaukee in the mid1840s. Martin established an early mill, for a short time a successful bank, traded on the grain and livestock futures markets, and bought and sold real estate. In 1849 Martin constructed “Martin’s Block” and, on the downtown real estate Martin purchased in 1860, built Iron Block.
The Iron Block building sat less than a half mile from Martin’s former downtown mansion at 742 N. Jackson where the proprietor of the Reliance Flouring Mills (1869-1878) and president of the Wisconsin State Bank in Milwaukee (1866-1868) is recorded to have once lived from 1852 to 1858.
Some of the Iron Block’s first commercial tenants were a bank, several stores, numerous offices, and a legal library. Cast-iron structures proved quintessentially functional for manufacturers, warehouses and office use.
ARCHITECTURAL IRON WORKS, NEW YORK CITY, WAS BUILDING DESIGNER AND MANUFACTURER
George H. Johnson was the chief designer for the foundry, metallurgy, and iron construction business of Daniel D. Badger (1806-1884) who had relocated from Boston to New York City in 1848. Badger established Architectural Iron Works, on Manhattan’s East 14th Street. With James Bogardus (1800-1874), Badger was a pioneer in the prefabrication and use of cast-iron building technology. In 1848 James Bogardus had built the world’s first prefabricated cast iron building in Manhattan. George H. Johnson had emigrated from England in 1852 and went on in the 1850s and 1860s to design iron-fronted buildings in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, and elsewhere, including Milwaukee’s Iron Block.
ENTIRE EXTERIOR MADE OF MASS-PRODUCED, PRE-FAB CAST IRON
The Iron Block’s entire façade is composed of cast iron and is a direct connection to the age of mass production and prefabrication, and high-end craftsmanship that characterized mid19th century industry from the railroad to the skyscraper. Erected during the first shots of the U.S. Civil War, the Iron Block is an integral part of the mechanized culture which the Industrial Revolution had thrust upon all aspects of modern society – from the workplace to the battlefield – to increasingly mark the age.
The Iron Block’s neo-Renaissance decoration is superbly delineated so to make for a cutting-edge Civil War-era grandiose building that is stylistically stunning and that has been renewed in and for the 21st century. The Northern Italian mode of the Renaissance Revival style first appeared in the United States around 1850 and is markedly displayed in the Iron Block’s sculptural ornament of lion heads and serpentine vines manifested in powerful contrasts of natural light and shadow.
When the Iron Block (originally Excelsior Building) was built in mid19th-century Milwaukee, it was the largest office building in the city. Today’s Iron Block is actually two buildings built next to one another about 40 years apart. Faced in brick, the southern annex was completed in 1899 and brought under one roof with the original 1861 building. Where the addition to the south meets the original 1861 building, there is an atrium with a skylight. A glass floor in the lobby which once allowed natural light into the basement is now gone.
IRON BLOCK LIKELY LAST SURVIVING CAST IRON BUILDING IN WISCONSIN
The Iron Block is Milwaukee’s only surviving cast-iron-fronted building and may be the last surviving example of this construction type in Wisconsin. In New York City—the origin of cast iron materials that came to Milwaukee—there remain about 250 such building types in Manhattan alone. More specific to the Iron Block, the Cary Building in Lower Manhattan (105–107 Chambers Street) designed by King & Kellum and completed in 1857 could have been an inspiration for the Milwaukee building’s own design and appearance.
The interior of the building is made of brick and timber with three-foot thick load-bearing walls. The façade is made of entirely prefabricated cast-iron modules that were bolted together to give the appearance of a sixteenth-century Venetian palazzo. Piers, columns, beams, and spandrels were all cast in a foundry. During various renovations, the original ground floor had been removed and the cornice diminished. The elevator installed in 1879 is still in use. The relatively lighter interior supporting columns allowed for spacious rooms and floorplans and for optimum daylight through expansive window openings. While possibly more fireproof than other materials, in a serious fire cast iron warped and even collapsed.
After the building’s timber and brick underlying structure was in place—the foundation is composed of inverted semi-circular arches of brick between courses of stone whose function worked to reinforce walls and distribute vertical load over a greater area—its prefab iron modules— numbered and ordered to their location on the building’s façade—were bolted into place following transport to the site by horse and wagon. Starting at the ground floor and going up its five floors, the assembly of the façade (painted creamy white) was erected quickly compared to the construction of the underlying structure.
Decoration included fluted Corinthian columns, pediments, dentils, balustrades, and series of bas-relief ovals alternating with narrow, pointed carvings. Spandrels and piers were made to look like stone blocks with lion heads glaring downwards. Since cast iron was easier to install and maintain than stone facing, owners and builders could create their own façade designs by selecting from catalogs of cast iron architectural elements.
SPECTACULAR RENOVATION COMPLETED IN 2014
In consultation with historical design experts, patterns and molds were created from historic photographs and pieces of the original building. Over 4,200 new pieces were cast in Wisconsin foundries. Some weighed ounces; others, such as columns at the original entrance on Water Street, weighed over 1,200 pounds. The entire iron façade was sandblasted down to raw steel and a paint system was used to chemically bond with the iron surfaces. A new cornice and pediments were molded from fiberglass-reinforced polyester to match originals. The 1899 south addition was stripped of its paint to reveal the Cream City brick. The renovated building was unveiled on June 17, 2013 and completely finished in 2014.
The Iron Block has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Dental Associates purchased the building as its Wisconsin headquarters in January 2012. Using private funds, the building underwent extensive and detailed reconstructive work that was completed in 2014. This multi-year restoration earned Dental Associates the 2014 “Cream of the Cream City” award from the City of Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Common Council and the Mayor. Although the Iron Block had local designation and National Register status, the building had begun to rust and its architectural details, replicated in substitute materials during a 1983 renovation, were deteriorated with its ornament falling off the building. The 2014 renovation accurately recreated the heritage building’s missing details.
SOURCES: Milwaukee Architecture: A Guide to Notable Buildings, Joseph Korom, Madison, WI: Prairie Oak Press, 1995.
The Heritage Guidebook (Landmarks and Historical Sites in Southeastern Wisconsin), Russell Zimmermann, Heritage Banks, Inland Heritage Corp., 1976.
Source book of American architecture: 500 notable buildings, G.E. Kidder Smith, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
FEATURE image: Oriental Theatre completed in 1926 and renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997. It became the Nederlander Theatre in 2019. Photograph taken by author in December 2017.
In Chicago’s Loop, the Oriental Theatre opened on May 8, 1926. In the first half of the 20th century, Randolph Street was one of the city’s most bustling entertainment districts.
Designed by the architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp–Cornelius Ward Rapp (1861-1926) and George Leslie Rapp (1878-1941)– the Oriental Theatre was one of their many ornate movie palaces that they built. As its name implied, it was imagined in a style inspired by a Western fantasia of India and South Asian themes and motifs.
Rapp & Rapp were alumni of the University of Illinois School of Architecture. The firm designed scores of theatres across the country in the first decades of the 20th century.
In Chicago Rapp & Rapp designed notably State Street’s Chicago Theatre (1921) and the Bismarck Hotel and Theatre (1926). In New York City they built the since demolished Paramount Theatre (1926) in Times Square and the still-standing smaller-scaled Paramount Theatre (1931) in Aurora, Illinois.
In the mid1990s, after the Oriental Theatre had been closed and shuttered for over a decade, it underwent a multi-million-dollar restoration and expansion by Daniel P. Coffey & Associates. It reopened as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1998. Following its expansion, the former Oriental Theatre seats over 2,000 patrons.
In the 1920s, the Oriental Theatre presented both movies and vaudeville acts. When talkies arrived, the Oriental Theatre became predominantly a movie house in the 1930s. Live stage, theatrical, and concert performances continued for mid20th century Chicago audiences during an era when Randolph Street was a mecca for crowds seeking out their favorite star performers. It also hosted smaller and vibrant live entertainment venues where one could seek out up-and-coming talents.
Duke Ellington and his orchestra made frequent appearances at the Oriental Theatre which welcomed patrons by way of an exotic ornate style. Some big names and legends in entertainment were seen at the Oriental Theatre including Judy Garland, George Jessel, Fanny Brice, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Jean Harlow, Billie Holiday, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Frank Sinatra, Sophie Tucker, Sarah Vaughan, Henny Youngman, and a cast of thousands.
The Oriental Theatre closed in 1981 and remained shuttered for the rest of the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s depriving many young urban professionals from enjoying entertainment in a venue that, with its reopening in 1998, has operated continuously for nearly 100 years.
Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997 and the Nederlander Theatre in 2019.
In 1997 the Oriental Theatre was renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and restored and expanded for its re-opening in 1998. In 2019 the theatre was renamed in honor of James M. Nederlander (1922-2016), Broadway theatre owner/producer and Broadway In Chicago founder.
Today’s James M. Nederlander Theatre hosts touring pre-Broadway and Broadway shows whose résumé included a long-running production of Billy Elliot: The Musical. From June 2005 through January 2009, the theater housed a full production of Wicked, making it the most popular stage production in Chicago history. In December 2017, when the feature photograph was taken, a traveling national tour of Wicked had started its Chicago run.
Sources: Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 54.
These early row houses were developed in Chicago’s Gold Coast/River North neighborhood in the early 1870s immediately following the Great Chicago Fire.
That conflagration began south of the city’s downtown area at 137 DeKoven Street (around 1100 South) and blew its destruction north through Downtown and upwards into today’s Gold Coast area. The fire petered out two days later to the north of Fullerton Avenue (2400 North) on October 10, 1871. The area of devastation was over a swath of four miles (see map below).
The fire’s aftermath sparked an intense period of rebuilding, especially in Downtown Chicago, less than one mile to the south of these row houses. This flurry of building activity, particularly of needed housing, may be partly why the architect is unknown for these three- and four-story Italianate buildings, all of which are well preserved.
The three-story row houses to the south have neo-Grec ornament which was in vogue by 1872. It included incised carved detail on window ledges and door frames.
The four-story row houses to the north (partially pictured) have more lavish Second Empire exterior decoration.
Like the Italianate style, the Neo-Grec–style row houses have a smooth brownstone front with a pronounced deep cornice, heavy entryway and window details. The contrast was in their ornamentation: Neo-Grec’s simple, precise lines and geometric Greek influence varied from Italianate ornamentation of curved and organic lines and forms.
Italianate curved window and door frames are replaced by Neo-Grec’s right-angles. Lintels are replaced by rectangular blocks. Entryway steps had baluster cast-iron railings that ended in squared-off linear and geometric incised ornament.
CHICAGO POPULATION GROWTH 1860-1980
Chicago was growing exponentially by 1870. In 1860 the city had a little over 112,000 residents and ranked 9th on the list of largest U.S. cities. By the time of the Great Fire in 1871, Chicago had grown to nearly 300,000 and ranked 5th on the largest U.S. cities list. Equally significant is that the city’s size also doubled in those same ten years from 17,492 square miles in 1860 to 35,172 square miles in 1870. Busy with rebuilding, the city did not expand again in square miles until the 1880’s, though its population continued to soar. When these Italianate row houses were built, Chicago was growing towards becoming the 4th largest U.S. city with a population of over 500,000. In the early 1870’s with rebuilding and augmenting population density the demand for housing was high. Chicago’s population would continue to grow with each decade until 1980.
OCCUPANTS TODAY INCLUDE A CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY AND THE ALLIANCE FRANÇAISE DE CHICAGO FOUNDED IN 1897
Today, at 806 N. Dearborn is Alan Koppel Gallery which has, for over two decades, introduced contemporary international artists to Chicago audiences.
At 810 N. Dearborn is the main entrance to the Alliance Française de Chicago. Founded in Paris in 1883. the Alliance Française de Chicago is part of an international network of over 1,100 Alliances around the world which promotes French language and francophone culture. Chicago’s Alliance Française was founded in 1897. Offering French language classes and a full range of cultural events, the Alliance Française de Chicago is the second oldest Alliance in the U.S. and the second largest in the U.S. after the French Institute Alliance Française in New York City. The Alliance Française de Chicago is headquartered in two renovated architecturally historic buildings, including the 1870’s row house on Dearborn Street and, connected by an interior garden, a building on Chicago Avenue.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 134.
Frank A. Randall, History of the Development of Building Construction in Chicago, Second Edition, Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999, p. 5.
Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson, Chicago Architecture and Design, Abrams, New York, 2018, p. 42.
The Cobden is a Richardsonian-Romanesque flats-above-storefront building that has anchored the northwest corner of busy Clark Street and residential Belden Avenue since 1892. It was designed by architect Charles Sumner Frost (1856 –1931) of the firm of Henry Ives Cobb (1859-1931) and Frost.
Born in Maine and trained as an architect in Boston, Frost moved to Chicago in 1882. When The Cobden was built, Frost was 36 years old and at the beginning of a new stage in his early mid-career. Cobb and Frost designed and began construction of the Potter Palmer mansion (1882-1885) at 1350 N. Lake Shore Drive (demolished in 1951). The Cobden, two miles to the north in Lincoln Park by Lake Michigan, was built in a burgeoning residential area at 418-424 Belden Avenue.
The Cobden is greatly influenced by the Richardsonian-Romanesque style which was prevalent among young architects in the 1880’s and 1890’s before the onset of the Beaux-Arts revival. Adapted to a residential-commercial street in a middle class neighborhood outside Downtown Chicago, The Cobden shows the characteristics associated with the Richardsonian Romanesque style. These include clear, strong picturesque massing, round-headed arches, clusters of short squat columns, recessed entrances, richly varied rustication, blank stretches of walling contrasting with bands of windows, and cylindrical towers with conical caps embedded in the walling.
The Cobden, in its bays and a prominent central gable that breaks above the roofline, presented an attractive architectural variety on Belden Avenue.
In 1897 Charles S. Frost married Mary Hughitt, the daughter of New York railroad tycoon Marvin Hughitt (1837-1928), the president of the Chicago and North Western Railroad. When the partnership of Cobb and Frost ended in 1898, Frost partnered with Mary’s sister’s husband, Alfred Hoyt Granger (1867-1939). Granger came to Chicago also from Boston (he was born in Ohio) and designed The Art Institute Building on Michigan Avenue in 1893. Frost and Granger were known for their designs of train stations and terminals such as the LaSalle Street Station in 1903. In the first decade of the 20th century, Frost and Granger designed over 100 buildings for the Chicago and North Western Railroad, including the massive Renaissance-Revival style Chicago and North Western Terminal which opened in 1912 (and demolished in 1984 to make way for the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Downtown Chicago).
When the Frost and Granger partnership ended by 1912, Frost began to work independently and designed in 1916 the Navy Pier Auditorium. Following his father-in-law’s death in 1928, Frost retired from his architectural practice at the end of the same year. After designing hundreds of public, commercial, and residential buildings, mainly in Chicago, Charles S. Frost died in 1931 at 75 years old.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 196.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume XVII, 1920, pp. 336–337.
Jean-Paul Viguier (b.1946) is a leading modern Paris-based French architect. In 2003 his Sofitel Chicago Water Tower (renamed the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile) was chosen by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as the “best new building in Chicago in the last ten years.” The hotel opened in May 2002 with 415 rooms. Its dramatic architecture made an immediate impression not only on the city’s denizens and visitors but much of the world.
The prism-shaped, 350,000-square-foot structure was chosen by nearly 350 established Chicago-based architects as one of the city’s most outstanding achievements in architecture. The glass triangular tower ascends and thrusts over the intersection of Chestnut and Wabash Streets. Narrowing as it rises, the shape could evoke a ship’s prow—or a geometer’s trapezoid. Its expansive façades allow generous exposures of natural light as it faces east to capture sunrise over the incredible natural backdrop of Lake Michigan and southwest towards the timeless Midwestern prairie. Adding to the building’s drama and welcome grace is its exterior of horizontal cladding of visible and opaque glass in synergy with the verticality of the building’s wedge and curve. Inside, the lobby continues this building’s dramatic modernity presenting a steely structural space that is airy, sleek, and soaring.
Mr. Viguier was selected to design Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile during a design competition in 1998 judged by Accor hotels leadership and others. Mr. Viguier is a member of the International Academy of Architecture (IAA) and was president of AFEX (French Architects Overseas) from 1999 to 2002.
Mr. Viguier’s other internationally recognized projects include the France Televisions headquarters in Paris as well as the Cœur Défense in 2001 and the Tour Majunja in 2014 both in La Défense, France. The French architect built a two story expansion at the McNay Museum of Modern Art in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Viguier is also architect for the Maroc Telecom Tower in Rabat, Morocco in 2013, and, in 2015, the SFR Campus in Saint-Denis, France. Another highly regarded project is, in 2013, the Cancer University Institute in Toulouse, France.
The Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile is also listed at no. 82 in a public poll of 150 buildings of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” The poll was conducted by The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Harris Interactive and in conjunction with the AIA’s 150th anniversary in 2007.
In 2005, Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile received the MIPIM Award at their international meeting of property market sector leaders gathering in Cannes, France. Created in 1991, the MIPIM Awards is an internationally-renowned real estate competition at MIPIM, the world’s property market. It honors the most outstanding and accomplished projects, completed or yet to be built, around the world, the very best of the real estate industry.
Helmut Jahn was famous in Chicago and around the world for his prolific postmodern architecture particularly his work in steel and glass.
Born in Germany near Nuremberg, in 1940, Jahn graduated from Technische Hochschule in Munich and moved to Chicago in 1966. Jahn arrived in Chicago just as “downtown development” during the administration of Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) was finding its greatest momentum. Jahn began to study under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and, in 1967, joined Charles (C.F.) Murphy Associates which later became Murphy/Jahn. The younger man would carry on the powerful influence and energy of these Chicago personalities for building big, creatively, and prolifically for the next fifty years into the first quarter of the 21st century. Jahn would add his own significant contribution and footprint in Chicago and around the nation and world in those same long years of his activity.
One of Jahn’s early projects in his first years in Chicago was McCormick Place. The original concrete and steel permanent exposition hall on the lakefront that opened in 1960 was destroyed in a fire in January 1967, just as Jahn was starting to work as a professional architect. Named for Col. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper owner and publisher had boosted the idea of a permanent exposition hall on Chicago’s lakefront for years prior to his death in 1955.
Jahn had come to Chicago at an exciting time to be building there — during Jahn’s first years in Chicago the John Hancock Building was completed in 1969 and the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world for the next 24 years, was completed in 1974. In 1971, C.F. Murphy completed the new and massive McCormick Place, a powerful steel and glass structure with enormous cantilever eaves, on the same lakefront site as the old exposition hall. Out of that single successful building project, Helmut Jahn and the rest of the world saw the significant development in Chicago that would blossom around this important and functional modern architecture over ensuing decades — including the North building constructed across Lake Shore Drive in 1986; the South building built in 1996; a hotel built in 1998; the massive West building built in 2007; and, in 2017, the Wintrust Arena.
In the mid 1980’s one of Jahn’s most significant creations was the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. Aesthetically grandiose and controversial, the “State of Illinois Building” was put up for sale in 2021 by the administration of Governor J.B. Pritzker, citing its historically high operating and maintenance costs.
There were mixed reviews for Helmut Jahn’s massive semi-circular Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph completed in 1985. The criticism begins at its entrance where Jahn saw placed “Outsider” French artist Jean Dubuffet’s fiberglass Monument with Standing Beast. During the building’s planning and construction some of the architect’s dazzling concepts met with resistance from contractors. For example, the contractors prevailed over Jahn’s idea for a completely locked-down outer skin using silicone glazing. In the final construction the appearance of red, white, and blue locked-down skin belies the several places throughout the design where windows are made to be opened. Inside, though its soaring 17-story atrium is airy and impressive exposing floors that hold various state bureaucracy—and signaling the idea of state government’s day-to-day practice towards transparency —the practicalities of the new building’s heating and cooling design proved seriously problematic during Chicago’s summer heat and winter cold though that major issue appeared to be eventually resolved. In 2021 Jahn’s mega-structure has been put up for sale by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker from Chicago citing that the building costs hundreds of millions of dollars to operate and maintain.The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
In Chicago Jahn designed the exposed steel frame United Airlines Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport between 1985 and 1988. Air travelers for decades have enjoyably traversed its entertaining walkway connecting concourses that include moving sidewalks, colorful lighting and futuristic sounds.
To the left is UBS Tower (1 N. Wacker) built in 2001 and to the right is Hyatt Center ( 71 S. Wacker) built in 2005. At 42 years old, Jahn spoke of his building at 1 S. Wacker as a synthesis of two major Chicago architectural styles—that of Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and, Jahn’s mentor and fellow German, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). The building is a concrete stepped-back 50-story building with a curtain wall of dark glass defining the vertical bands of windows. Its vision remains fresh and stunning as it sits majestically between two postmodern buildings built in Chicago a generation later. The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
Jahn designed the 23-story addition to the Chicago Board of Trade in 1980 and Accenture Tower at 500 W. Madison in the West Loop which opened in 1987. Across the nation and world Helmut Jahn’s fresh, grand, and innovative designs have made their way into the annals of postmodern architecture. Any complete list of Helmut Jahn’s active and completed projects extends necessarily into the many scores. A list of notable buildings could include the 1999 K St. NW, a 12-story structure, in Washington D.C. completed in 2009; the twin 37-story Veers Towers in Las Vegas, Nevada opened in 2010; and, in his native Germany, the 63-story Messeturm in Frankfurt opened in 1990 and the Sony Center, a complex of eight buildings, in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin completed in 2000. The hard-driving list goes on…and on.
Originally called the State Street Village Dormitories, Jahn’s postmodern structure that anchors the campus to the east, consists of three five-story buildings. Jahn’s design was the first major architectural addition to the IIT campus since the early 1960’s. U.S. News & World Report called it one of the “coolest dorms in the nation.” Stretching one city block along busy State Street from 33rd to 34th Streets, Rowe Village is next to the El tracks whose Green Line zips back and forth to Chicago’s Loop. Each dorm building consists of two wings that flank an interior courtyard. The building is finished at the rear on 34th street by an insulated five-story glass wall. Entry is through the courtyard which leads into a corridor that connects the two wings.It is built of reinforced concrete with the front elevations and roof dressed in custom corrugated stainless steel panels and tinted glass framed in aluminum. The building’s sleek curvature, three compartments and chained block-long length, reflects and evokes the image of a streamlined train making for a building as Art Moderne object in the Miesian tradition.From its rooftop the Rowe Village looks north for views of Chicago’s downtown skyline while the dorm offers suite-style living in a modern setting surrounded by the mind, serious and playful, of Helmut Jahn. The photograph was taken by the authoron August 21, 2015.
At the time of his death at 81 years old on May 8, 2021 in a bike road accident in the far western suburbs of Chicago, Helmut Jahn was working on a 74-story residential building in Chicago at 1000 S. Michigan. It was scheduled to be opened in 2022 but its construction was already delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed construction. Helmut Jahn taught at IIT, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Harvard University, and Yale University. In 2012 Murphy/Jahn became JAHN and, according to a recent report from Dun & Bradstreet, the firm had a total of 55 employees and generated a little over $6 million in annual sales.
In what was one of Helmut Jahn’s first great urban achievements, the 40-story office tower on an important corner in downtown Chicago was built on speculation and soon took the name of its major tenant (Xerox). The sleek and simple curtain wall of enameled off-white fluoropolymer aluminum panels and reflective glass slide over a reinforced concrete structure and around its soft postmodern corners in contrast to the modernist box.
The tower is fitted to its site where the building’s corner is exaggerated at street level with varying glaze percentages, and the white-black-silver palette of the lobby follows a diagonal pattern (also on the roof) in contrast to the exterior curvilinear design.
Silver double-glazed reflective glass pays homage to 1950’s and 1960’s Chicago modernism and the Xerox building’s closest neighbors: the kitty-corner Inland Steel Building (1954-1958, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) and, directly across to the north, the First National (today, Chase) Bank building (1964-1969, C.F. Murphy Associates with Perkins and Will) .
Some have observed that Jahn’s curving tower may have been inspired by Louis Sullivan’s 1899 Schlesinger and Mayer department store building on State Street (what became in 1904 Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building and today is The Sullivan Center). The 1980 project’s original conception was for two curvilinear towers though obviously only one was constructed obfuscating and negating the original design’s uniquely bold impacts.
The glass and aluminum are arranged to alternate in horizontal bands which have modernist predecessors in Chicago and Europe. Hidden from the street view are more diagonals that cut a pattern across the roof. The building is a major transition for Jahn who, steeped in mid-20th century Modernism, harkened back to earlier 1920s modernist sources for the 55 W. Monroe (Xerox) building.
SOURCES for 55 W. Monroe: Building Chicago: The Architectural Masterworks, John Zukowsky, New York: Rizzoli with Chicago History Museum, 2016, p. 237.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 67.
The Sky’s The Limit: A Century of Chicago Skyscrapers, Jane H. Clarke, Pauline A. Saliga, John Zukowsky, New York: Rizzoli, 1990, p. 233.
Chicago Architecture and Design, 3rd Edition, Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson. New York: Abrams, 2018, pp. 210-211.
Helmut Jahn, Nory Miller, New York: Rizzoli, 1986, pp. 76-81.
A Mentor building has stood on this northeast corner of State and Monroe since 1873 when there had been a 7-story building erected here.1
Howard Van Doren Shaw’s only skyscraper presents an unusual mixture of styles.
There are windows grouped in horizontal bands between a four-level base of large showroom windows. The top is classically inspired with details that are strong and idiosyncratic. The building retains the character of its classical sources though they are used as large-scale motifs.2
Shaw’s 1906 building is 17 stories high with two basements on rock caissons.3
The photograph was taken on July 5, 2015.
1 Frank A. Randall, History of Development of Building Construction in Chicago, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by John D. Randall, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999, p, 196.
2 Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 59.
3 Randall, p.265.
Seven years after Howard Van Doren Shaw’s sole skyscraper, Chicago Downtown’s Mentor Building (above), was built in 1906, the architect raised this highly sophisticated “great house” design in Evanston, Illinois.
The light-colored brick house is Colonial Revival with modifications. The façade’s symmetry is prominently displayed in its 5 equal openings for its two main floors and topped by a shortened pitched roof with three flat-roofed dormers. A chimney protrudes at the roof line to the north.
For the main mass there are aligned windows with a middle opening for both the first and second floor symmetrically displaying diverse residential functionality: a broad-arched porchway and genteel fanlight above a double door entry on the first floor and, at the second level. a wrought iron balcony providing a small, mainly decorative step landing.
The great house is situated on the northeast corner lot of a leafy yet trafficked suburban residential intersection, with the main building’s symmetry broken to the south by the then-popular sun porch extension. It is a low, two-story flat-roofed projection with an enclosed porch on the first floor and an open porch originally on the upper level.
A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs On Wheels & On Foot, Ira J. Bach, Chicago, Athens, Ohio, London: Ohio University Press (Swallow Press), 1981, p. 518.
Known as the “Chicago Light,” the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is an active automated lighthouse dating from 1893.
About one-half mile beyond Navy Pier, the lighthouse stands at the north of the main entrance of the Chicago Harbor in Lake Michigan. The lighthouse has had a significant role in the development of Chicago and the American Midwest and remains an active aid to nautical navigation today.
For more than a century, the U.S. Coast Guard has staffed this lighthouse at the breakwater outside the Chicago Harbor Lock. The lock separates Lake Michigan from the mouth of the Chicago River.
The lock was built in the mid-1930’s and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lock is one of the entrances into the Illinois Waterway system at the Great Lakes. The waterway system is a commercial and recreational shipping connection to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
The “Chicago Light” is at that waterway system’s headwaters as it stands in the outer harbor constructed in 1880. The Chicago Light’s conical tower dates from 1893. Twenty-five years later, in 1918, the tower was reconstructed and the base building which contains a fog-signal room and boathouse was added. The architects are not identified.
Through its breakwaters, the main entrance into Chicago Harbor is 580 feet wide. The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was designated a Chicago Landmark on April 9, 2003. It is the only surviving lighthouse in Chicago and one of two remaining examples in the state of Illinois.
About one mile ahead from this photograph’s location is the Chicago Harbor Lock. Built in the 1930’s, it provides the entrance/exit to the Illinois Waterway system at the Great Lakes. The waterway system is a commercial and recreational shipping connection from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
FEATURE image: 15 S. Sleight Street, 1883, Naperville, Illinois. See its description below.
Frame house, tower, clapboard and shingle patterns. The tower is cut on a bias (on an angle), approaching 45 degrees. This has the tower with less surface area than if cutting it square. The cut also can serve an aesthetic or other construction function such as cost or footprint. The porch has turned posts that gives the late-19th-century house added curb appeal and makes it stand out. A variety of carpentry work further gives interest to the structure and displays the house’s solid craftsmanship.
Similar to 21 S. Sleight Street (photograph above) which is next door, the frame house at 15 S. Sleight Street is the slightly older of the pair. There is clapboard on the first floor and shingle patterns on the second floor. The house has a hip roof and front-facing gable with eave returns. At the top of the gable there is a full sunburst motif and to either side below it two half sunburst motifs. The porch has square posts with lathed inlets. Like its neighbor, the house originally had a tower that was removed.
SOURCE SLEIGHT STREET HOUSES: A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs on Wheels and on Foot, Ira J. Bach, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1981, p. 404.