Architecture / Style / Chicago


1880-1915 (Roth)


Chicago is the site associated with the development of the tall commercial building. Although Chicago commercial architecture built on advances made elsewhere, most notably in Philadelphia and New York City, it was in that midwestern city in the last quarter of the 19th century that new technology and materials were exploited by innovative architects and engineers to produce the skeleton-framed skyscraper that would transform cities around the world. (Poppeliers, 72)

The commercial architecture of the Chicago School was the result of important advances in construction technology. Building height had been limited by the massiveness of the masonry walls needed for support, even after invention of the passenger elevator made upper stories easily accessible. Numerous architects experimented with the use of cast- and wrought-iron members to carry the weight of interior floors, but it was not until construction of the Home Life Building (1883-85, William Le Baron Jenney), that the complete iron and steel skeleton was first used. Combined with improvements in fireproofing, wind bracing and foundation technology, the skeleton frame made tall buildings possible. (Poppeliers, 72).

Leading Examples

The Republic Building (1903-05, 1909, Holabird and Roche), Chicago, Illinois.With its banks of Chicago windows and extremely delicate-seeming structure, is the work of a firm that produced some of the most starkly functional buildings of the Chicago School. (Poppeliers, 73)

The Ayer Building (1900, Holabird and Riche), Chicago, Illinois. Clearly reflects its steel frame in the grid pattern of the facade, the walls are composed almost entirely ofwindows. No superfluous ornament mars the clean lines of the horizontal terra-cotta spandrels. (Poppeliers, 73)

The Reliance Building (1890, 1894, Burnham and Root), Chicago, Illinois. Took advantage of the steel skeletal frame to display large areas of glass, with extraordinary detailing on the terra cotta spandrels. The projecting oriel windows give the building a soaring quality. (Poppeliers, 74)

Prudential (Guaranty) Building (1894-95, Adler and Sullivan), Buffalo, New York. Illustrates the early formula for high-rise construction, which divided a building into three parts: a base, a shaft housing identical floors of offices and an elaborate cornice crowning the composition. The elaborate detailing is typically Sullivanesque. (Poppeliers, 75)

Sources Cited