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Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral

2010 October 28
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Chicago

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, CNS 2010

1121 N Leavitt St.

Eager eyes carefully search the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral inside and out for any trace of renowned architect Louis Sullivan’s distinctive touch of lavish, nature-inspired ornament. However, other than in the canopy over the church’s entrance, his signature decorative work is hard to find and unusually restrained. Holy Trinity is a delightful church: endearing in its size and playful in its shape. It is no wonder why so many people love it, as did the architect himself.

Sullivan not only loved the building – he invested in it. He was so proud of his scheme that he returned half of his fee so that the church could afford to complete the final details of his design. He wrote of his hope that the church would become one of “the most unique and poetic buildings in the country.”

Plans for Holy Trinity began in the late 19th century as Chicago’s Russian Orthodox community was growing by leaps and bounds. The Ukrainian Village neighborhood needed a permanent church. This wish became a reality when Tsar Nicholas II provided the initial funds for building. The first designs commissioned by the church were by architect John Clifford. He designed a monumental church in keeping with the traditional, grand, Russian city cathedrals. However, the majority of this particular congregation did not come from the big cities. Most of Holy Trinity’s congregation came from small towns and farm country such as in Byelorussia, Ukraine and the Carpathian mountains. They found Clifford’s designs imposing. Understanding this, and being on a tight budget, Father Kochurov instead turned to Sullivan. The church was built according to Sullivan’s design in 1903.

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, Chicago

One of Louis Sullivan’s Sketches of Holy Trinity

Sullivan derived his design for Holy trinity from a place as far from Chicago as one could get, where there is a small wooden church in the town of Tartarskaya, at the heart of the Siberian steppe. Another major source of inspiration was likely the French critic Violet-le-duc’s popular book on the history of Russian architecture. Holy Trinity follows Le-Duc’s description of Russian church design as “elegance, not without boldness; the attentive study of the effect of the masses; a discreet ornamentation that is never powerful enough to destroy the principal lines and leaves repose for the eye.” A well balanced and bold but not overdone building, Holy Trinity is, in many ways, a traditional Russian Orthodox design.

Just as little Sullivan ornament may be found on the building’s interior as on its exterior. The only exception is the stunning colored glass chandelier suspended from the middle of the sanctuary (though unconfirmed, some say the chandelier was designed by the prolific artisan, Louis Millet). The inside of the church is intricately and thoroughly covered in ecclesiastical paintings by Russian artist V. N. Vasnetoff. The centerpiece of the sanctuary is the iconostas (a screen decorated with church icons) depicting scenes from the life of Christ. It was brought from Russia and donated to the church in 1912.

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, Chicago

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church Sanctuary, CNS 2010

Though many of us look hopefully for signs of Sullivan’s signature decorative touches in the church, it is oddly enough the lack of his ornament that makes Holy Trinity a perfect example of his design philosophy. He famously believed that “form follows function” in architecture. The function of this building was to serve as a religious center of Chicago’s Russian Orthodox community. His typical ornament was irrelevant to the needs of this traditional community. Sullivan understood what was being asked of him and designed first and foremost, a church that fulfilled the needs of its congregation, and second, an elegant and harmonious structure appreciated by anyone lucky enough to stumble across it in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.


Fun Fact: Did you know that the church was at one point painted in various bright colors ranging from red to ultramarine blue?

The Holy Trinity Orthodox Church was designated as a cathedral in 1923. For church Visitor Information click here.

word of the week: ANTHEMION

2010 October 24
Comments Off on word of the week: ANTHEMION
by Caroline Nye Stevens

1443 W. 18th St.

ANTHEMION: an ornament of honeysuckle or palm leaves in a radiating cluster. It is also called honeysuckle ornament.

Anthemia (plural) are often found in groups. They might be seen in a group of three on the corners of a pediment or many more forming a line as pictured below on the Museum of Science and Industry.  However on a small building in Pilsen (1443 W. 18th St.), one large anthemion sits proudly alone  at the top of the building as the major focal point of the structure.

anthemia, museum of science and industry

Aon Center

2010 October 20
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Aon Center Building

Aon, CNS 2010

200 East Randolph Street

At a time when glass and steel buildings were the norm, architect Edward Durell Stone believed in masonry. He thought masonry buildings conveyed a feeling of strength and permanence that glass buildings did not. When he clad the Aon Building in marble, creating the tallest marble faced building in the world, he hailed the material as costing “no more than crumpled up aluminum.” If only that were really the case. Today the Aon Building is remembered as the biggest building blunder in Chicago history.

Completed in 1973, the tower was originally built for the Standard Oil Company (its name later changed to the Amoco Building and eventually Aon Center) to consolidate their twelve downtown offices into one central building to be shared with some of their major subsidiary companies.  Standard Oil didn’t want just anyone designing their headquarters, and Stone had the reputation they were looking for. He was regarded as one of the country’s greatest living modernist architects, famous for designing such buildings as the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Stone was charged with the building’s overall design, and the Chicago based architecture firm of Perkins + Will handled the structural design and details.

Aon Center Trees

CNS 2010

At 1136 ft. Stone was aiming for the Aon tower to be Chicago’s tallest building, but the Willis Tower took over that title before the Aon Building was completed. Today it remains a defining skyscraper in our skyline as the third tallest building in Chicago behind the Willis and Trump towers. Its structure is essentially a vertical square tube. The mechanicals (elevators, bathrooms etc.) are located in the central core of the building, leaving the surrounding area on each of its 82 floors as clear unobstructed and workable space. Beneath each floor, trusses connect the core of the building to the many vertical piers that make up the tower’s four sides. This system allows for a column-free interior, but consequently a great number of piers are needed to support the weight of the building. That is why there is such a high stone-to-glass ratio in the Aon Building. That, and we can’t forget Stone’s love for, well, stone.

It’s simple in form, and its simplicity is what makes it so striking. Its massiveness and height give the building strength. Its vertical piers, one after another, give the building rhythm. The piers are triangular in shape, and were originally clad in Carrara marble, the same marble that Michaelangelo favored in his prized sculptures. However, were you to visit the Aon center today, you would find it clad not in marble, but in North Carolina granite.

Aon Plaza

Aon Plaza, CNS 2010

What happened? Chicago weather happened. As a cost-cutting measure, the original marble cladding was cut to an unprecedented width of only 1.25 inches. It didn’t take long to discover that the marble was cut too thin for Chicago’s extreme temperature changes. Heat causes permanent expansion in marble. While the exterior side of the marble was expanding due to sun exposure, the side of the marble facing the building was not, and it began to bow. As it would eventually become a safety hazard, the marble was removed and replaced with two inch thick granite. The original cost of the building was $120 million. Replacing the stone cost somewhere between $60 and $80 million, more than half the building’s original price.

Despite all of its masonry-related drama, the Aon Building still looks good today. In fact, though under-appreciated, it is one of Chicago’s greatest architectural treasures. The tower occupies only one-quarter of its entire lot. The rest is reserved for a grand bi-level plaza. Waterfalls and fountains cool the plaza. Rows of honey locust tress provide welcome shade on hot summer days and warm bright colors during the fall. Nestled in one corner of the plaza is Harry Bertoia’s “sounding sculpture” which sings in the wind.  Made up of a series of thin metal rods, it mimics and puts music to the Aon Building’s soaring piers of stone.

CNS 2010


Edward Durell Stone designed a number of noteworthy buildings in his lifetime. To take a tour of his architecture click here. While Larry Perkins and Phillip Will are no longer around, their firm still is. Click here to visit the site of Perkins + Will.

To the left notice how the rods of Bertoia’s “Sound Sculpture” relate to the lines in the Aon Building. Click on the image to ENLARGE it!

SKYLINES — Aon's Shadows

2010 October 18
by Caroline Nye Stevens
Aon Building Shadows

Tranquil Scene at the Aon Building, CNS 2010

Reebie Storage Warehouse

2010 October 13
by Caroline Nye Stevens

CNS 2010

Because I am on vacation and unable to profile a new building this week, I hope you instead enjoy this recycled early article first published in January 2010.

2325 N. Clark St.

There are some Egyptian Revival buildings in the country, but not a lot.  There are far fewer Academic Egyptian Revival buildings.  The Reebie Storage Warehouse fits into the category of the latter – it’s one of the best.  And it is definitely the most impressive in Chicago.  To clarify . . .

Egyptology was all the rage in the early 20th century, particularly after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.  One effect this had was seen in the popularization of Egyptian Revival architecture across the United States.  However, not all of the buildings were equals in terms of being historically accurate.  Some buildings fit into the category of Egyptian Revival, and some Academic Egyptian Revival.  Egyptian Revival architecture was much more common, and though it had many Egyptian-like elements, it lacked a sensibility to Egypt’s history.  Instead they were “picturesque” – which is lovely, but not necessarily accurate.  Academic Egyptian Revival architecture was historically accurate.  And The Reebie Storage Warehouse is one the country’s finest examples of Academic Egyptian Revival architecture.

The warehouse was based on two ancient Egyptian temples: Dendera and Edfu, both of which date back to the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II (around 200 BCE).  The columns on the Reebie building are replicas of columns at the Temple Horus at Edfu.  The ornamentation on them is symbolic of the unity of Ancient Egypt through the depiction of the bundled lotus flower which represents Upper Egypt, and the water lily representing Lower Egypt.  On either side of the building’s entrance is a statue of Ramses II, representing the two Reebie brothers: William and John.  Beneath the two statues are William and John’s names written in the hieroglyphic equivalent of their phonetic spellings.  Two other hieroglyphic inscriptions read “I have protection upon your furniture and all sealed things” and “I have guarded all your property every day warding off devouring flames, likewise robbery.”  All of the ornamental drawings for the Reebie warehouse were reviewed for accuracy by both the Field Museum and Art Institute prior to their implementation.

What interested me initially about the building had nothing to do with its historical accuracy.  I just learned about that element of the building recently.  Instead, I was struck by the brilliant artistry of the terra-cotta and the Egyptian theme.  The terra-cotta ornamentation was designed by the sculptor Fritz Albert.  As the supervisor and chief sculptor for the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company (the largest manufacturer in the country), he also oversaw the terra-cotta modeling for the Wrigley, Civic Opera, Merchandise Mart and Carbide and Carbon buildings. George S. Kingsley was the architect of the Reebie building which was completed in 1922.  He designed many storage buildings in Chicago in various Revival styles, though the Reebie building was the most prominent.

The Reebie Storage and Moving Company was founded in 1880 by William Reebie who was later joined by his brother John.  It still operates out of the building to this day, and they continue to use the head of the Sphinx in their logo.  I think that their early advertising slogan sums up the story of the Reebie building pretty well: “If old King Tut were alive today he’d store his things the Reebie way!”


For  additional information on the Reebie Storage and Moving Company check out their website. And for a great article that goes into greater detail on the Reebie building and will direct you to some other Egyptian Revival buildings in Chicago click here. Its author, Heather Plaza-Manning, also writes a fun blog about Egyptomania called Dr. Sphinx’s Blog worth checking out.

One last thing: If you’re an EGYPTOMANIAC consider checking out the Chicago Art Deco Society’s upcoming lecture, the Sights and Sounds of Egyptomania at Roosevelt University on November 6th at 1:30pm. Want to know about what other architectural events are happening across Chicago? Check out BLUEPRINT: Chicago’s CALENDAR OF ARCHITECTURAL EVENTS.

word of the week: PAGODA

2010 October 11
Comments Off on word of the week: PAGODA
by Caroline Nye Stevens

PAGODA: A Buddhist temple or watch tower with roofs projecting from its many stories. Pagodas are most frequently found in China, Japan and Nepal. The first pagodas were built of timber but eventually brick and stone became the more popular material (since the 6th century).

Pagodas can be found in Chicago too — to find a few just head to Chinatown. Pictured here are a couple of modern adaptations of the pagoda. Below is an open-air pagoda, found in Chinatown Square, built not of timber, brick or stone – but metal. Though pagodas are typically independent structures, also pictured here is a pagoda supported by a larger structure — the On Leong Merchants Association building.

1430 W. Berwyn

2010 October 4
by Caroline Nye

1430 W. Berwyn

The greystone home at 1430 W. Berwyn is a source of fascination for those who have stumbled upon it and admired the caryatids and other countless architectural artifacts that decorate the house and surrounding courtyard. However, the eclectic ornamentation on the outside of the building is only a small hint of what is found inside. When Michael Pilsner moved into his apartment on the building’s second floor two weeks ago, all he brought with him was a duffel bag. There wasn’t room for anything else.

His apartment came fully furnished and included an occasional drop-in roommate, the building’s owner Ronald Flores*. Mr. Flores bought the property in 1975 for $80,000 and made decorating it inside and out one of his personal hobbies. Trying to discern fact from fiction about this building is no easy task, as Mr. Flores is every bit as eccentric and mysterious as his home.

Let’s start with the facts. The house was built in 1904 for a man by the name of C. Christiansen. The architect was George Pfeiffer, who later ended up moving to Miami designing Art Deco buildings, and the builder was John P. Flick. With its gothic embellishments and heavily rusticated limestone façade, it is an interesting mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles. Its defining caryatids were a later addition by Mr. Flores. He spotted one such caryatid in a sculptor’s studio and asked for him to make three more to fit the turret. Though they look like bronze from below, in actuality they are hollow and constructed of green-painted plaster.

CNS 2010. For more photos visit BLUEPRINT’s facebook page

It is not surprising that a home bedecked with extraordinary ornament on its exterior would have an unconventional interior, but few could imagine just how over-the-top it is. Every iota of space in the second floor apartment is lavishly decorated in 18th century Rococo style . . . on steroids. It feels more like a museum than a home – all that’s missing are tourists and red velvet ropes. There isn’t a single comfortable chair to sit in or place to put up your feet. However, there is no shortage of unexpected things to look at.

According to Mr. Flores, the unlikely ornate gold-painted moldings that decorate the walls and turret were already there when he bought the home, as were many of architectural artifacts filling the courtyard. He said that the furnishings are a mix of things he found in the house and antiques he brought over from a church in Elgin he once owned and lived in for a few years. The focal point of the apartment is the light fixture hanging from the mirrored turret. Like so much of the house, it too is a mystery.

Mrs. (left) and Mr. Christiansen

One important mystery of the home has been solved: what the original owners, Mr. And Mrs. C. Christiansen, looked like. Today their busts sit on either side of the living room doors. Apparently, not long after moving into the home a large family appeared at his door claiming to be the descendants of the original owners. One of them had the Christiansen busts in his basement which he gave to Mr. Flores. Dressed in military costumes Flores found in one of his closets, Mr. and Mrs. Christiansen regally stand watch over the 1430 W. Berwyn home.


Ronald Flores owned and managed a number of properties across Chicago. Towards the end of his life (see footnote below) he mostly lived in Elgin. And if the rumors are true, his house there was even more excessive and eccentric than this home in Andersonville. As you can tell, much of the story behind this home is buried in mystery. If you happen to have any information about the house please share it below. In the meantime, take a PHOTO TOUR of the home’s interior, and let us know what you think!

*UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, Mr. Flores passed away in the early winter of 2010.

word of the week: PARAPET

2010 October 3
Comments Off on word of the week: PARAPET
by Caroline Nye Stevens

PARAPET: A low, protective wall at the edge of a terrace, balcony, or roof. It is most frequently used to describe the part of an exterior wall that rises above the roof.

Compare the heavily classical parapet with Moorish influences on the Rookery building to the postmodern parapet with brightly colored zigzags on the Waveland Bowl building.

Carson Pirie Scott

2010 September 29
by Caroline Nye Stevens

CNS 2010

1 South State St.

In the July 1904 issue of the Architectural Record, Henry Desmond wrote the following about Louis Sullivan: “Mr. Sullivan occupies today something of the usually isolated position of the prophet, the forerunner, the intensely personal force . . . For let it be understood, Mr. Sullivan is really our only Modernist . . . He has his precedents no doubt, but his mature work . . . is not to be dated from elsewhere either as to time or place. Mr. Sullivan himself is the center of it. He is his own inspiration, and in this sense may be saluted as the first American architect.” This was written immediately after and in regards to the opening of Louis Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott store.

However, when this was written the building was not owned by Carson Pirie Scott, but instead by Schlesinger & Meyer – a dry goods store dating back to 1872. Due to escalating financial difficulties, the store was sold to Mr. Scott in the fall of 1904. Still under the name of Schlesinger & Meyer, advertisements were found everywhere in anticipation of the building’s opening in October of that year. In typical windy city fashion there was no end to the store’s advertised amenities, such as “mahogany and marble fixtures . . . new combination arc and incandescent lights . . .[the] largest and finest display windows in the world . . . reading, writing and rest rooms . . . telephone booths . . . [an] emergency medical aid room . . . [an] exposition of oriental rugs . . . and 10,000 chrysanthemums . . .” That didn’t even include the restaurant, grill and tea room that sat 1,000. What the advertisements failed to mention was the most important feature of all – the building itself.

as the store appeared in 1904

The Carson Pirie Scott Building was the last major commercial building by Sullivan and is considered to be the culmination of his skyscraper designs. Sullivan took the model of a Chicago School commercial building to its highest level. The Carson Pirie Scott building had the most clearly expressed steel frame of any building in Chicago. The frame, sheathed in glazed white terra cotta, allowed for some of the largest windows ever seen and flexible, wide-open spaces. Both of these features were key to a successful department store and examples of Sullivan’s famous design philosophy, “Form follows Function.”

But what really makes Sullivan’s design stand out is the building’s lavish foliate ornamentation. Every inch of the framework surrounding Carson’s bottom story windows is covered in entirely original cast-iron, nature-inspired embellishments. Though many claim that the artist behind the building’s ornament had to have been Sullivan himself, most of it is more likely attributed to his principal assistant George Grant Elmslie. Elmslie claimed the ornament as his own and Sullivan never denied it. However, Elmslie did credit Sullivan as his major influence and teacher in ornamental design, and said that Sullivan looked critically and approvingly over his shoulder as he worked.

CNS 2010

The over all effect of the building is nicely summarized in Willard Connely’s biography of Louis Sullivan: “The effect was festive, a store . . . bedecked for permanent commemoration; but the psychology of it was that an individual shopper should feel that her own visit was being celebrated . . . At the corner, the bulge offered a choice of five arched entrances, to invite approach from all directions, each door being topped with a great wreath of laurel . . . To cross such a threshold . . . confirmed not one’s interest in vulgar commerce, but one’s devotion to art.”


Carson Pirie Scott was sold in 2006, currently stands empty and has since been renamed to “Sullivan Center.” If the rumors are still true, Target is likely to take over as the building’s newest tenant. The good news is that after years of the building’s trademark ornamentation hiding under scaffolding, its full and glorious restoration is complete thanks to Harboe Architects. The next time you walk by this building be sure to look for Sullivan’s initials H.L.S. (Henri Louis Sullivan) buried in the ornament surrounding the main entrance.

click to ENLARGE!

(It’s important to note that the first three bays of the building on Madison street were completed by Sullivan in 1900, the corner and first seven bays on State St. completed in 1904, the next five bays in 1906 by Burnham and Co., and the final three bays on State St. by Holabird and Root in 1961.)

The Rookery

2010 September 22
by Caroline Nye Stevens

CNS 2010

209 S. LaSalle St.

Between 1872 and 1884, after the ravages of the Great Chicago Fire, the corner of LaSalle and Adams streets was the popular hangout for politicians and pigeons alike. It was the location of City Hall and a water tank. City Hall was the place where politicians cheated or “rooked” one another, and the water tank was the favored place for birds or “rooks” to roost. Even after City Hall and the water tank were demolished and a building that invoked awe like no other in the city took its place, there was no hope in the building adopting any other name than The Rookery.

The fact that the Rookery looks a lot like a castle, or what in the game of chess is called a “rook,” is probably coincidental. But the carved rooks flanking either side of the building’s main entrance are anything but a coincidence. They were a small joke of John Wellborn Root.  Root and his partner Daniel Hudson Burnham were the architects of the Rookery completed in 1888. Root was the firm’s master craftsman and engineer, and Burnham was their visionary and salesman. For almost twenty years Burnham and Root were an unstoppable team designing 40 buildings of note in Chicago and another 25 across the country. Only a few of their buildings remain standing today and the Rookery is one of the best. Burnham and Root must have thought so too — they kept their offices on the Rookery’s top floor until Root’s untimely death from pneumonia at the age of 41 in 1891, just as the two began their efforts in planning the World’s Columbian Exposition.

They were commissioned to design the building by Peter and Shepard Brooks – East coast developers with a number of prominent structures to their name in Chicago. The speculative office building was developed under the auspices of the Central Safety Deposit Company of which Daniel Burnham was a stockholder. Root designed an impressive 11-story building that was transitional and innovative in both style and structure. It combines some modern ideas of what became the Chicago School (it’s visually divided into thirds, and celebrates its structure) with a more historic interest in lavish ornamentation. Much of the ornament, such as its pinnacles and delicate terra-cotta carvings, looks almost Moorish in design and lends the building an international flare. The Rookery’s structure was also transitional in how Root used both masonry load-bearing techniques (seen on the walls of LaSalle and Adams streets) and experimented with the new technology of an iron frame (seen in the light well, and first two stories along the alley and Quincy Street).

The Rookery is in the shape of a hallowed square surrounding a light-filled inner court – one of Chicago’s greatest interior spaces. This plan allowed all offices to receive natural light and fresh air from either the street or light well – an important attribute in a time when electrical lighting was weak and air conditioning nonexistent. Times changed quickly at the turn of the century, and by 1905 Root’s iron decorative work in the interior court had already gone out of fashion. Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to renovate the interior to more modern tastes. He encased most of Root’s ironwork in white marble incised and gilded with a design inspired by one of Root’s Arab motifs surrounding the Rookery’s entrance. Wright also added the hanging prairie style chandeliers and grand geometric urns.

CNS 2010

Over the years the Rookery has continued to evolve. In 1931 it was renovated again, this time in the Art Deco style by William Drummond – who had worked for many years as one of Wright’s chief draftsmen. His elevator doors decorated with stylized rooks survive today. For a number of years the building also went into a period of great disrepair – the light well was even tarred over to protect the interior court from water damage. The building went through an extensive and award winning restoration and renovation under the direction of the McClier architecture firm during the early 1990’s, bringing the Rookery to the grandeur we see it in today.


Interested in learning still more about the Rookery? The current owner’s website contains a thorough history of the building – visit it here. If you want to take a tour of the Rookery, the Chicago Architecture Foundation leads a great one twice a month. Search their tours here. And the doors of the Rookery are open to anybody. Want to take a look? Just walk right in.

word of the week: CALF'S-TONGUE

2010 September 20
Comments Off on word of the week: CALF'S-TONGUE
by Caroline Nye Stevens

CALF’S-T:ONGUE: a molding featuring repeated tongue-shaped elements in relief against a flat or curved surface.

Below are two pictures of the calf’s-tongue terra-cotta ornament on the Swedish American State Bank Building – one up close and another shown in perspective of the building’s surrounding ornament. Both show that this building’s terra-cotta is in need of restoration!

Have you seen other examples of this ornament with a funny name elsewhere in Chicago? If so, write a comment about it below!

IBM Building

2010 September 14
by Caroline Nye Stevens

330 N. Wabash

The “City of the Big Shoulders” may have originally referred to Chicago’s industrial history, but the nickname could just as easily be shared with Mies van der Rohe and his muscular buildings that transformed Chicago’s skyline. Mies’s IBM building has the biggest shoulders of them all.

Completed in 1972, The IBM tower was the last American office building designed by Mies before he died in 1969 just weeks after the designs were finalized. It wasn’t an easy project. When Mies first saw the site for the tower he inquired on where exactly the site was. It wasn’t obvious. It was an irregularly shaped 1.6-acre plot of land – small for a tower as grand as IBM had envisioned. That wasn’t the only complication. There were railroad tracks running beneath the site that delivered newspaper rolls to and from what was then the building’s neighbor – the Chicago Sun Times Building.

Despite the limitations he had to work with, Mies managed to erect a tower that looked anything but crammed into Chicago’s streetscape. He designed a 52-story tower and saved half of the site for a surrounding plaza. And though the building may have broad shoulders, it still maintains a sense of weightlessness in typical Miesian form. The lobby soars to a height of 26ft and is encased in floor to ceiling glass. Pilotis elevate and support the upper floors allowing for the lobby to be open and mostly unburdened by structural concerns.

CNS 2010

At first glance many might criticize the IBM building of being just another steel and glass box. But to appreciate a building like this one requires an open mind and a closer look. Mies was known to say, “God is in the details.” His partner traveled through quarries in Rome to ensure that the honey colored marble adorning the lobby’s walls would be carefully cut so that the horizontal grain would be horizontally matched. Follow the lines in the plaza’s pavement – they line up perfectly to the central point of every piloti and window mullion. They even continue uninterrupted inside the building forming a grid of polished marble tile flooring.

Mies was onto something when he famously declared, “Less is More.” His buildings are structurally simple – they celebrate the industrial materials which made them possible: steel and glass. But in their simplicity subtleties become important. The IBM tower is transparent. Its interior and the exterior are separated only by glass. Repeated lines of steel at regular intervals give the building a sense of rhythm. And depending on the time of day the tower becomes a canvas for reflecting all of the complex shapes and colors of its surroundings.

IBM, or the International Business Machines Company, commissioned Mies to design a modern building for a modern company. The motive was to consolidate all of their Chicago offices under one roof. 2100 IBM employees used forty percent of the building, and the rest was available for lease. Because it was full of computers (before computers were popularized), the building had to have a sophisticated system of climate control. Associate architects CF Murphy designed a heating and cooling system that could be automatically controlled by an IBM 1800 computer. And the architects went through the added trouble of double-glazing the curtain wall to maintain a high level of interior humidity.

CNS 2010

So the IBM building isn’t so simple after all – there’s a lot going on inside and outside this steel and glass box.


The official name of the building was changed to 330 N. Wabash when IBM moved out in 2006 – but everyone still calls it the IBM building. Want to learn more about the IBM Building? It was recently landmarked, and everything you’d want to know about it is included in the landmark report. Just for fun, watch this hilarious and educational short video all about Mies.