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Unloading rolls of paper from a horse drawn cart. Nov 7th 1903.

[Detail] Unloading rolls of paper from a horse drawn cart. Nov 7th 1903.

Architecture: The Chicago School

In 1871, a fire blazed through the city of Chicago for three days, killing 300 people, destroying 18,000 buildings and leaving 90,000 Chicagoans homeless. Search on fire of 1871 for several relevant items. In a few years, an energized rebuilding effort was under way. It drew architects from around the world and resulted in a new kind of architecture that came to be known as the "Chicago School."

Championed by architects such as Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and the team of William Holabird and Martin Roche, the Chicago School cast aside Greek and Roman models in favor of simplicity and function. The result was the invention of the modern skyscraper. In adherence to Louis Sullivan's mandate that form should follow function, the Chicago School architects adorned their buildings' facades sparingly, with vertical and horizontal lines and geometric shapes.

Search on Louis Sullivan for images that capture his Stock Exchange building and Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Search on Carson Pirie Scott for an image of the first department store to have an entirely steel frame. The metal work adorning its entrance was done by Sullivan.

A search on Daniel Burnham provides only one image, of an architectural model. But photographs of his department store are found by searching on Marshall Field and Co.

Search on Holabird and Roche for several architectural plans drawn up by this team that left its mark on Chicago during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Search on new County Building, also known as the new City Hall, for an example of their work.

Search on the names of other buildings of the era, including the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, and new Board of Trade Building. Search on loop, as well as street names such as State, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Washington, Dearborn, and Michigan Avenue for more views of the cityscape that emerged during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

  • How would you characterize the architecture of the Chicago School?
  • How did the work of the Chicago School differ from the urban architecture that preceded it?
  • In what ways do these buildings illustrate the idea of form following function?
  • What was the legacy of the Chicago School?