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Guest Blogger: MATT CRAWFORD

2011 February 9
by Caroline Nye Stevens

BLUEPRINT welcomes local architectural historian Matt Crawford as a guest blogger this week. He chose to write about a lesser-known building in Chicago, though one that tells an interesting story all the same  — St. Joseph’s Hospital. My hope is that it will inspire each of you to give it a closer look the next time you drive down Lakshore Drive . . . I know I will.

St. Joseph’s Hospital, Belli & Belli

Located just north of Diversey, St. Joseph’s Hospital overlooks Lake Shore Drive.  St. Joseph’s was the warm refuge from the storm for hundreds of drivers who escaped their snowbound cars on the Drive last Tuesday night. This bit of news inspired me to write about one of my favorite buildings.

More Morris Lapidus than Mies, the design of St. Joseph’s is characteristic of Belli & Belli’s idiosyncratic, expressive and colorful take on mid-century modernism.  The form of the building consists of three slab-like wings clad in smooth limestone punched with a grid of window openings that provides patients with therapeutic views of Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan.  Perhaps it was the color of the lake on a clear day that inspired the extraordinary treatment of the wing ends which are clad in an eye-catching harlequin pattern of black and turquoise blue enamel panels.  The same pattern of blue panels also extends across the top of the building like shark’s teeth.

Unlike high-style modernists of their time, Belli & Belli did not limit their pallet of materials.  In addition to limestone and enamel panels, the design palette also includes a tinted-glass cylindrical curtain-wall that extends the full height of the front facade, and contains elevator lobbies and lounges on each floor.  Concrete balconies appear to slide out from this cylinder like drawers.  The main entrance to the hospital is located in a three-story pavilion with glazed curtain walls topped with a flamboyant scallop-shaped concrete canopy.

St. Joseph's, M. Crawford

Daniel Ryan Chapel

Daniel Ryan Chapel, M. Crawford

The AIA Guide to Chicago and the Chicago Sojourn blog have written about the boldly abstract and expressionist Daniel Ryan Chapel on the eleventh floor. It’s worth a visit. Yet even from the exterior, the dalle de vere stained glass walls of the chapels (crafted by the Tolleri Studio in Florence) give a hint of this jewel box space.

Architect Edo J. Belli founded the firm of Belli & Belli in 1945.  After graduating from the architecture program at Lane Tech High School in the middle of the Great Depression in 1936, he began an architectural apprenticeship with Henry K. Holsman. The compensation included a paycheck of $4.95 a week, free lunches, and tuition reimbursement for night classes at the Armour Institute in Chicago where Belli earned his Bachelor of Architecture in 1939.  After serving in the Navy during WWII, Belli founded his firm with his brother Anthony.  Belli & Belli was a small, family-run but prolific firm which received a great many commissions for Catholic schools, churches and hospitals in the mid-twentieth century in Chicago and abroad.

The hospital was commissioned by the Daughters of Charity, a Catholic order of women who had outgrown their 1871 hospital building on Burling Ave. south of Webster (demolished, now the site of Oz Park). The land was purchased in 1952, and in 1958 Belli & Belli began working on the design, however a NIMBY lawsuit filed by nearby residents delayed ground-breaking until 1961.  When the hospital finally opened in the spring of 1964, the Chicago Tribune described the 12-story 500-bed hospital as a “soaring symbol of health in modern Chicago.”

(All photographs for this article were taken by Matt Crawford).

SKYLINES — Across the River from the Ping Tom Memorial Park

2011 February 7
by Caroline Nye Stevens

Ping Tom Park Trees, ChicagoChicago River, Chinatown

Chinatown Bridgesnowy scene in chicago

Chicago River bridgeChicago River, Chinatown

(Photography by CNS, February 2011)

Three Easy Ways to Follow BLUEPRINT!

2011 February 4
Comments Off on Three Easy Ways to Follow BLUEPRINT!
by Caroline Nye Stevens

Highland Park, IL 2011, Daniel Kullman

Still hibernating after Chicago’s history-making blizzard? It’s the perfect time to catch up with what’s going on at BLUEPRINT: Chicago . . . . .

. . . . every week BLUEPRINT shares the story of a different Chicago building . . . BLUEPRINT also features an expanding dictionary of architectural vocabulary, maintains a calendar of architectural events happening in the city, and keeps you informed on Chicago’s architecture news.

There are three easy ways to keep up-to-date with everything BLUEPRINT has to offer. Consider “liking” BLUEPRINT on facebook, following BLUEPRINT on twitter, or subscribing to BLUEPRINT’s posts via email (see the subscribe form in the sidebar to the right) — or best yet, all of the above!

And to see more of Daniel Kullman’s photography visit  the website for his video production company, Bitter Jester Creative.

Inland Steel Building

2011 February 1
by Caroline Nye Stevens

Inland Steel Building, Chicago

Inland Steel Building, CNS 2010

30 West Monroe

Imagine this: it’s the year 1956 in downtown Chicago. Massive old masonry buildings define the landscape. The Prudential Building, completed in the previous year, was the first skyscraper built downtown since the Field Building (1934) twenty years earlier. Though even the Prudential appears somewhat dated, as it still bears the influence of the art deco style prominent before the construction hiatus caused by the Depression and WWII. However at the north east corner of Monroe and Dearborn streets something new is happening – the rise of the Inland Steel Building. Inland’s glistening stainless steel and expansive sheets of tinted glass will usher in a new period of modernity for Chicago. Flash forward to the year 2011, and the Inland Steel Building (completed in 1958) still stands out for its elegant modernity, as it surely will for years to come.

The Inland Steel Company was founded in Chicago in the fall of 1893. And as Joseph Block, a former company president, once said, “We’re a Chicago company and we’re going to stay here.” Inland Steel started as a small gamble in the height of a major economic depression, but by the 1950’s they had increased steel production to more than 6,500,000 tons, making the company the 8th largest steel manufacturer in the country. Soon Chicago would repace Pittsburgh as the center of American steel production. And when the company began to outgrow their offices, it made a lot of sense that they decided to build a new modern headquarters made out of steel as a sign of their continued growth. “We wanted a building we’d be proud of, one that spelled steel,” said Leigh Block, a former Vice President of the Inland Steel Company and descendent of one of the company’s founders. Inland Steel and its subsidiary companies manufactured all of the steel forming the structure and cladding of the building.

Inland Steel chose the offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design their company headquarters. Early on SOM declared that they would only design “contemporary” styled buildings. The firm was true to its word and went on to design such buildings as the Willis Tower, Hancock and Trump towers in Chicago as well as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – by far the tallest building in the world.

Inland Steel BuildingSOM designed Inland Steel in the International Style – a style introduced by Mies van der Rohe. The building broke away from its more classically designed neighbors by emphasizing its volume rather than its mass, regularity or rhythm rather than symmetry, and was marked by strikingly minimal ornamentation. Instead of ornamentation, the tower is distinguished through seven pairs of nickel-chrome stainless steel clad columns (carrying the weight of the structure) that are pushed outside of the building’s curtain wall.

The tower was further innovative for a number of reasons. It made headlines for having the widest clear span ever used in a multi-story building, meaning that every floor boasts open and unobstructed or universal space (another Miesian concept). This was made possible by running 60ft supportive girders beneath each floor between the pairs of columns spanning the length of the tower’s exterior. The heating/cooling distribution system and telephone lines were also run beneath the floors to further clear the interior of obstructions. The floor is made up of a grid of modules that can be lifted to access these systems. Inland’s universal space was also made possible by moving all of the building’s mechanicals such as bathrooms, elevators and staircases to an adjacent 332 ft service tower also sheathed in stainless steel (this layout would not be possible to repeat today as it is against fire code).

Inland Steel Building

CNS 2011

Two prominent SOM architects are credited with Inland’s design: Walter Netsch (1920-2008) and Bruce Graham (1925-2010). And as is all too common with famous and popular buildings, there’s long been a controversy over whom to give credit for Inland’s design. Netsch was the original architect in charge of the Inland project. He is credited with coming up with the building’s layout and pushing all of the mechanicals into a separate tower. But when Netsch was asked to design the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Graham took over Inland’s design. He kept Netsch’s floor plan, but minimized the number of columns from nine pairs to seven and pulled them out from behind the tower’s curtain wall. Graham also simplified the exterior and came up with the innovative floor module concept.

It’s simpler to agree that the two architects worked together in creating a Chicago favorite – a building that refuses to grow old. As architect critic M.W. Newman wrote upon the tower winning an AIA 25 year honor award in 1982, “In a steel-building city, [the Inland Steel Building] . . . retains a lightness, serenity, and polished grace that continue to make it an influential emblem of modernism.” Thirty years later, it’s still true.

Richard Lippold, "construction"

Richard Lippold sculpture, "Construction"


The Inland Steel Company was sold in the late 1990’s, and now Capital Properties and starchitect Frank Gehry own the building. Curious on how Frank Gehry became involved? Here’s an interesting NYT article that will answer that very question. The building recently underwent a renovation to make it more energy efficient and suitable for the 21st century. The building has a snazzy website with some details on the renovation as well as nice photographs of the interior. And if interested, here is SOM’s website, and page on the Inland Steel Building. Inland Steel was awarded landmark status by the Commission of Chicago Landmarks in 1998.

Leigh Block commissioned Richard Lippold to create the pictured steel starburst sculpture entitled “Construction” for the building.

word of the week: GROTESQUE

2011 January 25
by Caroline Nye Stevens

GROTESQUE: a sculpture of a creature characterized by fantastically combining incongruous human, animal, and foliate forms (also sometimes called an antic). The word grotesque is also used as an adjective denoting a decorative style distinguished by such outlandish forms.

A grotesque should not be confused with a gargoyle — which is definitively a water spout in grotesque form. So while gargoyles are grotesques, a grotesque is not always a gargoyle.

There is a limitless variety of grotesques in the world. Here are two examples of grotesques in Logan Square: one found on a home on Francisco Avenue and the other at 2656 W. Logan Blvd.

Grotesque 2656 W. Logan Blvd.

Grotesque at 2656 W. Logan Blvd.

grotesque, chicago

Francisco Ave. Grotesque

SKYLINES — The World Without Us

2011 January 21
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Urban Decay

Urban Decay in the Loop 1, CNS 2011

Urban Decay

Urban Decay in the Loop 2, CNS 2011

Marina City

2011 January 21
by Caroline Nye Stevens

Marina City Towers

Photo borrowed from Marina Management website

300 N. State St.

When Marina City was first built between 1960 and 1967 its towers loomed over the surrounding historic buildings and parking lots on either side of the Chicago River. Today glitzy new skyscrapers frame the complex, yet the Marina Towers still remain as two of Chicago’s greatest icons, and likely will for time to come.

When built, the towers were both the tallest concrete structures and tallest residential towers in the world. More importantly, they were an experiment in a new urban philosophy: building a city within a city. Chicago had experienced a long period of suburban flight, which left an abandoned and deteriorating downtown. Marina City was part of an effort to reintroduce downtown Chicago as an attractive place to live. Marina City is actually a complex of five structures: two residential towers (60 stories each, with the first 18 stories reserved for parking), an office building (10 stories), and a theater building all standing upon a large commercial platform. Every amenity imaginable could be found within – such as a swimming pool, gym, ice skating rink, bank, barbershop and even a grocery store. And of course there’s still the ever-popular marina – hence the name. The first of its kind, it truly was a city within a city.

Marina City, Hedrich Blessing Photographers

Marina City, Hedrich Blessing Photographers

An organization especially invested in the city’s revival – the Janitor’s Union (more formally called the Building Service Employees International Union) – financed the building of Marina City. When completed, Marina City would provide work for 100 janitors within the complex, and a downtown revival would promise work for many more still. It wasn’t uncommon at the time for unions to invest health, welfare, and pension funds in low-cost housing. The Janitor’s Union followed suit. Charles (Chuck) Swibel, a realtor and later chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, proposed the idea to the union and was integral to pushing the plan to fruition. A staunch supporter of Mayor Richard J. Daley and his plans for downtown revitalization, Swibel was especially enthusiastic about the project. But it was architect Bertrand Goldberg who was responsible for Marina City’s design and instant emergence as a Chicago icon.

Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) was born and raised in Chicago. After studying architecture at Harvard, in 1932 at the young age of 19 he left for Germany to study at the Bauhaus – the greatest school of modernist art, architecture and design of its day. While there he apprenticed under Mies van der Rohe and his partner Lily Reich. He only attended the Bauhaus for one year before it was closed by the Nazi regime. He eventually followed Mies back to the Armour Institute of Technology (today IIT) where he was the director of their architecture program. Despite his admiration for Mies, he never adopted the right angle that was so central to his mentor’s design philosophy. Instead Goldberg centered his attention on the circle.

Marina CityThe towers were the first circular apartment buildings in history. And Goldberg’s choice in the circle was based on more than just aesthetics. The circle gave the highest ratio of usable floor space to exterior skin. And to Goldberg the circle offered still something more. He once said,  “(I) wanted to get people out of boxes, which are really psychological slums . . . those long hallways with scores of doors opening anonymously are inhuman. Each person should retain his relation to the core. It should be the relation of the branch to the tree, rather than that of the cell to the honeycomb.”

The structure of the towers is in fact like a tree. All of the buildings’ mechanicals are located in the cores of each tower (or the “tremendous tree trunk(s)” as Goldberg called them). On every floor 16 reinforced concrete beams radiate out almost 40ft from the core – just like branches – to 16 exterior columns. And similar to a tree, the structure of the towers is completely exposed and celebrated.

"Corny But . . ." Chicago Daily News

"Corny But . . ." Chicago Daily News Image

In Chicago the Marina Towers are rarely related to trees, though they are often compared lovingly to corncobs – making the towers more than just icons, but great monuments to the Midwestern fields surrounding this metropolis.


All of the information for this article came from reading Igor Marjanovic and Katerina Ruedi Ray’s fantastic new book entitled, “Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg’s Urban Vision.” Their book goes into far more detail than this post, covering everything from the politics surrounding Marina City’s construction to the Towers portrayal in contemporary culture . . . and goes highly recommended.

And to learn more about Bertrand Goldberg explore this website devoted entirely to him! One of his Chicago buildings, the Prentice Women’s Hospital, is currently threatened with destruction. Follow along the efforts to save this building and be sure to become a fan of Save Prentice on facebook.

Marina City Online is the number one resource for online information on Marina City – updated daily. For Marina City news, fun facts and even real estate listings visit the Marina City Online website.

And finally the construction of the Marina Towers was an impressive feat. It was also accomplished at high-speeds: the towers were built at a speed of one floor per day on alternating towers. Watch this fun old video showing the construction of Marina City produced by the Portland Cement Association of Skokie: “This is Marina City (Part 1)” . . .

Liked that? Watch “This is Marina City (Part 2)!”

Marina City is full of stories. Do you have any you would like to share?

Lakeview Presbyterian Church

2011 January 15
by Caroline Nye Stevens

Lakeview Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Lakeview Presbyterian Church, CNS 2011

716 W. Addison St.

John Wellborn Root (1850-1891) once wrote “Reason should lead the way, and imagination take wings from a height to which reason has already climbed.” And so it is with his design of the Lakeview Presbyterian Church. It is grounded in carefully massed, simple geometric forms: triangular steeped roofs, an octagonal tower, conical steeple, and circular arches. But it is in the details – found in the art glass windows, the barely visible spiral pattern of the steeple, and artfully carved interior trusses – where Root’s imagination takes flight.

The Lakeview Presbyterian Church was completed in 1888 – the same year as Root’s famous Rookery building in the Loop. At the time of construction, what we now know as Lakeview was part of a quiet suburban community called the Lake View Township. In 1889 the township was annexed to the city of Chicago (thus increasing the city’s population) in conjunction with our bid for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Led by Dr. Thomas H. Skinner, the church had its beginnings in 1884. Meeting sometimes in the town hall, and often under a tent where the church sits today, the congregation asked Root to design their church.

Lakeview Church Balcony, CNS 2011Root worked closely with his partner Daniel Burnham (1846-1912), and the two together were a vital force in shaping Chicago’s architectural landscape. They designed such history-making buildings as the Montauk Block (demolished), the Rookery and the Monadnock. Burnham later went on to be the chief planner of the World’s Columbian Exposition and the man behind the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Burnham was the firm’s business man and Root was the designer – each in awe of the other. Burnham once said to fellow architect Louis Sullivan, “My partner . . . is a wonder, a great artist. I want you to meet him some day; you’ll like him.” It would be hard not to like Root, or at least be impressed by him. As the historian Donald Miller wrote, “[Root] could sing before he learned to talk, began drawing almost as soon as he could hold a pencil, and played the piano as well as his teacher when he was barely twelve.” Root’s artistic sensibilities are seen all over the Lakeview church – inside and out.

Because the church was located outside the limits of Chicago’s control, Root was not restricted by Chicago’s ban on wood construction (implemented after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). Cedar shingles in a spectrum of earthen colors decorate and define the exterior of the church. Though, it hasn’t always been this way.

Lakeview Presbyterian Church

Balcony Scene, CNS 2011

The church has gone through numerous alterations since it was first built. By 1898 the congregation had already outgrown the building and built a large addition, nearly doubling the size of the sanctuary. A wide open space – what is now visually the back of the new sanctuary – originally was the front of the church. The windows, executed by Healy & Millet, that line the sides of the sanctuary once decorated the area behind the original alter. In the 1940’s the church was re-clad with asbestos shingles and painted white with green trim. Root’s carefully considered design was hidden for decades. In 2005 The Lakeview Presbyterian congregation finished restoring the building to its 1898 appearance under the direction of the their pastor, Joy Douglas Strome, and the architectural firm of Holabird and Root (the descendents of John Root and William Holabird’s firms). The church was re-shingled and fireproofed. The art glass windows were restored.

And so today we’re lucky to see what Root once saw. Burnham said of his partner’s composure at work, “He could really see it. I’ve never seen anyone like him in this respect. He would grow abstracted and silent, and a faraway look would come into his eyes, and the building was there before him – every stone of it.” Or in the case of the Lakeview Presbyterian Church – every shingle.

Lakeview Presbyterian Church, Chicago

CNS 2011


The transformation the church went through in the last decade is noteworthy – so much so that the church was awarded a 2005 AIA Distinguished Building Award for its exterior restoration and a Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award in 2008.

Visit the Lakeview Presbyterian Church to see this gem of a building yourself. Just walk right in — they’re a welcoming congregation.

SKYLINES — Root’s Kaleidoscope

2011 January 11
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Lake View Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Lake View Presbyterian Church, John Wellborn Root, CNS 2011

Coming up next is a post on this beautiful church designed by John Wellborn Root — the Lake View Presbyterian Church. Stay tuned!

SKYLINES — The Original Sears Tower

2011 January 6
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Homan Tower

The ORIGINAL Sears Tower, CNS 2011

When we think of the Sears Tower, a soaring glass and steel skyscraper comes to mind – today called the Willis Tower. But the original Sears Tower is not found downtown but rather in North Lawndale. The tower was once attached to a huge sprawling complex where Sears Roebuck & Company printed their catalogs and filled their orders. Today only the tower remains.

SKYLINES — For Christo

2011 January 6
by Caroline Nye Stevens

LaSalle and Huron, CNS 2011

The Auditorium Building

2011 January 5
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Auditorium Theater, Chicago

Photo Borrowed from the Auditorium Theater Website

50 East Congress Parkway

The opening of the Auditorium Theater on December 9, 1889 was the grandest and most anticipated social event Chicago had ever seen. One after another, horse-drawn carriages pulled up to its Congress St. entrance emitting an endless stream of women in their most extravagant jewels and men in their finest tailored suits into the electrically lit theater. People cheered as Adelina Patti welcomed them with her rendition of the song “Home Sweet Home”. Special guest President Benjamin Harrison was rumored to have leaned over to Vice President Levi Morton and murmured, “New York surrenders, eh?,” temporarily ending a battle of greatness between the two cities (from Chicago’s point of view). The Auditorium Building was the biggest building in the country and the tallest in Chicago. The theater’s acoustics were the greatest in the world. At the time many referred to the Auditorium as the eighth wonder of the world. Its success was key in Chicago winning the commission for the World’s Columbian Exposition, and above all else it was what turned Chicago into a world-class city.

Auditorium Theater, Chicago

Auditorium Theater, CNS 2011

The idea for the Auditorium came from Ferdinand Peck, a wealthy Chicago businessman, wanting to build a cultural institution that would finally put an end to the city’s reputation for being a brawling, frontier town. An unrivaled home for the city’s opera company and symphony orchestra was the perfect solution. Knowing that it would be difficult to financially uphold his vision, he decided that the building should be multifunctional. He hoped that the theater would be financially supported by building a hotel on its eastern side and an office structure on its western side. He chose Dankmar Adler, a man he knew well as a self taught acoustical genius, to be its architect. Adler’s partner at the time was a little known man by the name of Louis Henri Sullivan. The Auditorium’s completion was the beginning of Sullivan’s celebrated career – a career that would eventually award him the (popularly used) title of America’s first modern architect.

Sullivan ultimately chose to design the building in the Richardson Romanesque style that is characterized by massive rusticated stone walls, heavy rounded arches and deeply recessed windows. The building looks heavy, and it is heavy. It’s a masonry load bearing structure, and was the tallest in the city until the completion of the Monadnock building three years later.

Auditorium Building Dining Hall

Auditorium Dining Hall/now Library, CNS 2011

It is inside the building however, where Sullivan’s gift for design truly shines. Sullivan quickly became famous for his lavish nature-inspired ornamentation that is found in every nook and cranny of the Auditorium Building. It’s found in the mosaic floors, column capitals, within the stairs’ railings, adorning the walls, ceilings and light fixtures – few parts of the building were left untouched by the artist-architect Louis Sullivan. But Sullivan didn’t work alone, and though less visible, Adler’s contributions towards the Auditorium were of equal importance. While Sullivan handled the building’s visual design, Adler was responsible for its engineering and acoustical design. Adler had such insights as leaving the area above the theater’s wide arched ceiling hollow, and steeply inclining the seats. These details and more turned it into one of the most acoustically impressive theaters in the world.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long before the Auditorium began to struggle. One of its greatest selling points was also its greatest downfall – the theater’s unparalleled size. Seating 4,200 people, it was too large for either the Chicago Opera Company or Chicago Symphony Orchestra to fill the theater and maintain memberships. By 1904 the Chicago Symphony moved to its own smaller building, and the Chicago Opera did the same in 1929. The office portion of the building began to struggle as soon as the elevated lines were erected in its backyard in the early 1900’s. And the hotel, lacking in private bathrooms, became dated as soon as the Congress Hotel was completed – with private bathrooms for every room – in 1893. The Auditorium would have been demolished if the cost of demolition was not more than the land was worth. The theater began its descent into disrepair.

Roosevelt University, Ganz Hall

Auditorium Building, Ganz Hall, CNS 2011

After serving as a WWII servicemen’s center from 1941 – 1945 (the stage was converted into a bowling alley), the Auditorium Building was sold in 1946 to Roosevelt University, who still owns it today. The theater portion of the building remained vacant and continued to deteriorate until a group lead by Beatrice T. Spachner saw to its restoration. The Auditorium Theater reopened on October 31, 1967 with the New York City’s Ballet Midsummer Night’s Dream – and it hasn’t closed since.  Let’s keep it that way.


Volumes of books have been written about this single building – going into far more detail than can be captured in a blog post. If you want to learn more about the Auditorium Building, an excellent starting point would be visiting the Auditorium Theater website. The Auditorium also offers impressive in depth tours of the theater.

Chicago has been celebrating Louis Sullivan through a number of events and exhibitions this year. The exhibition, “Louis Sullivan’s Idea” at the Cultural Center should not be missed. BLUEPRINT has also covered many other Sullivan buildings of note in Chicago, such as the Carson Pirie Scott building, Charnley-Persky House, Krause Music Store and the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral.

The Auditorium is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. Treasures lie behind every door. Be sure to look for the Sullivan Room (floor 2), Ganz Hall (floor 7) and the Dining Hall – turned Library (floor 10)  . . . you won’t be disappointed (access through Michigan Ave. entrance).