- Walking Tour
- Season 1
- Episode 9
Architect Explores Chicago's River North Neighborhood
Released on 01/10/2023
Hi, I'm Linda Dossey,
I'm an architect
and today we are taking an architectural walking tour
through Chicago's downtown River North neighborhood.
Prior to the completion of the Bascule Bridge in 1920,
the North Side of the river was primarily wharves
and residential and very low slung structures.
One of the first people to take advantage
of this was the Wrigley Building.
The Wrigley Building itself sits
on a very regular shaped site, and therefore,
the building itself has a unique shape as it rises.
The organization of the building is such
that local ordinance capped all the buildings
at about 260 feet
with a provision to have an unoccupied tower
above it to go up another 200 feet.
So what we're seeing behind me is a building
that's at 240 feet tall and the tower goes up to 429 feet.
The design itself by Graham Anderson, Propst and White.
It was based on the cathedral in Sylvia
with its clock tower but it's also layered
with motifs from the French Renaissance.
The building was also cloaked
in white terracotta in six different shades of white.
So at the base, it's a little less white, and it gets more
and more gleaming white as you get to the top
of the building to actually increase the overall height
of the building visually.
So several years later,
as a consequence of a Chicago statute
a banking tenant who had offices at the same level
in both towers was required to connect them
so that they had to be all on the same level,
and thus, the bridge was added some years
after the building opened.
It's done in polished aluminum
and it gives this amazing, remarkable sheen to it.
A few years after the completion of this building,
construction began on the Tribune Tower
directly opposite of Michigan Avenue.
The story of the Tribune Tower actually starts
with a design competition that was launched in 1922,
an international world design competition.
Unheard of at the time, but pretty normal these days.
It's solicited over 260 entries from 23 different countries
and it was a kind of bell weather test artistically
for prevailing architectural styles at the time.
The design was eventually awarded
to Halzen Hood who created this neogothic fantasy
in front of us that is trying to merge the idea
of a neogothic church with a skyscraper.
More intriguing for this building though, is the fact
that over the duration of Chicago Tribune up to that time,
all of its journalists were traveling
around the world and bringing back relics
and fragments from all their different journeys.
When this tower was built, all of those fragments
have been incorporated into the base of the building.
So as you walk around the building,
you can see fragments of other remarkable places
like the Pyramids, Notre Dame Cathedral, Westminster Abbey,
so on and so forth from around the globe.
That tradition has carried on, and there are some new
more recent fragments that have been added
like a fragment of brick from the Berlin Wall,
fragment from World Trade Center, even a fragment
from the old Comiskey Park baseball stadium
that was torn down.
So even though Howells and Hood won the competition,
some of the more forward looking designs that loss
became influential in skyscrapers all across America.
You can see the samples
of them in Cleveland, Cincinnati, all across the country.
So in many ways it was the losing entries
that were more influential than the final victor.
We're standing in front of 875 North Michigan Avenue
on the Mag Mile.
This building is known to most locals, as the John Hancock.
It is the handy work of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
specifically Bruce Graham and Falzer Khan
who is a structural engineer, merging their efforts
together to create a seamless expression of form
and structure as the chief aesthetic of the building.
The building itself is acting as a giant cantilever
much like a flagpole would out of the ground
because it's so super tall, they had to come up
with a way for it to resist all the lateral forces.
The cross bracing is what actually stiffens all
the columns together and creates it as a structural tube.
It tapes as it goes down to the base
to also resist the overturning moments
of the lateral forces.
When they first opened
people didn't think they were gonna be able to rent
the units that had the cross bracing in them
but it turned out to be quite the opposite.
People were so excited to say
that they lived in a unit with the cross bracing
that they actually flipped what the rents were.
So they ended up being the more expensive ones
were the ones that had the piece of structure in them.
So during the mid to late seventies, there were a lot
of these super tall buildings that were going up.
You will see a lot of the express dressing
a lot of the express structure, just because
it was a requirement to actually go that tall.
And so it all gets expressed
on the outside and becomes the aesthetic.
So we are merging together architecture
and structure in a moment
but it's actually one big moment diagram of the forces.
We're standing in the park,
in front of the world famous Chicago Water Tower.
It's completed in 1869 by WW Boynton
who was one of the early Chicago architects
when the city was getting rolling.
He also, in addition to this building
did some of the early train stations in the city hall.
We've lost all those now, but we still have the Water Tower.
The Water Tower was intended to hide 138 foot tall
standpipe, which serves as a surge buffer
for the water coming in off of the lake
being pumped through the city.
The pumping station done at the same time
in the same style
is just across the street of Michigan Avenue.
Part of the feature is that are little bit
of a play on a classic gothic castle.
You can see the Castellation, you can see added torts
but they're hyper-extended,
pointed gables which are a very gothic feature.
Over on the pump house, you can see the sort
of the leaded diagonal glass that you see
in medieval buildings and medieval castles.
So it was very much a stylistic choice
and it was very much a flight
of fancy to make these civic buildings
as delightful as possible.
Because it was limestone it is one
of the few buildings that actually survived the 1871 fire.
When this was initially built
it was north of the city proper
and it was actually kind of out in a field.
And then as the city grew and developed
it grew closer and closer
but then when the fire hit and everything wiped out.
So this is one of the few things remaining standing
with just tragedy around it.
A great irony during the fire though is even
though the limestone of these buildings survived
the roof of the pumping house was wood.
So it actually burned, crashed in
and took out all the pumps
which rendered it unable to help any further
during the fire.
We're standing in front of the Nickerson Mansion
also known as the Driehaus Museum.
The original Nickerson home was burned
in the fire of 1871, so they came back and hired a firm
to give them what they considered a fireproof new home.
As such, it also became known as the Marble Palace.
When completed, it was at a cost of $450,000 in 1883 money.
It was the largest residence in Chicago.
The building itself is completely clad in marble.
This building represents what the standard fabric
of the River North neighborhood was up until the time
of the bridges being completed and the real estate moving
to the north and expanding the city.
Now, it's over shrouded by all of its surrounding neighbors
but it serves as a nice reminder
of what the original historical fabric was.
Although the foreman massing is effectively
a Queen Anne style, it's a Milan of style.
So at the base you can see the heavy restication
which is a nod to the Richards Sonian architecture.
You have the turret style that sort of emanates
from the Queen and Bay window style.
You've got Neoclassicism at the entrance
with the double Corinthian columns.
Those columns echo up
and then you have some really strong dentition
around the base of the cornus.
As a consequence of it trying to make it
a fireproof building, a lot of the details
were simplified and the stone was cut
in a way that would resist fracturing or breaking off.
So the Nickerson's sold the mansion in 1900
to another prominent family in Chicago
the Fisher family that actually developed some
of the old skyscrapers.
In 1919, a group of Chicago citizens got together
bought the building collectively, and gave it
as a gift to the American College of Surgeons
who owned the building until 2003.
In 2003, they sold it to a philanthropist,
Richard Driehaus, who then lovingly restored it
over five years and created the Driehaus Museum
which is now open to the public.
Those tenants were also very careful stewards
of the building.
So as a consequence, all of the interiors
are pretty much intact
from when the building was sold to the citizens in 1919.
Behind me, across the river is the Merchandise Mart.
It was commissioned by Marshall Fields and was executed
and designed by Grant Anderson Propst and White.
It was begun in the 1930s
and it continued on through the depression.
The goal of the building was to merge typologies together
warehousing, commerce, and a department store
with the expression of a high rise.
The results are very big building that was
the largest office building
and largest building in the world when finished.
The lower floors are the department store feel
with large storefronts selling house goods
and the upper floors were a variety
of textiles, fabrics, carpets,
wall coverings that are still being sold today to the trade.
Additionally, the building housed TV studios, radio stations
and a variety of other office buildings.
The details of the building are a little bit sparse
because of the mashup and the bulk of the warehousing
as it combined three different warehouses together
in one space for Marshall Fields.
So to try and delineate the broadness of the building
there's a heavy articulation and rhythm of the windows.
The edges are chambered and the center tower tries
to draw your eyes up and make it seem less big than it is.
The surface is clad and terracotta
and there's little medallions with the logo
of the Merchandise Mark set all across the building
especially at the ground level where it's actually carved
into the stone.
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