Term Paper: Monadnock Building

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Monadnock Building

House Divided:" the Monadnock Building


Today, the Monadnock Building's location in Chicago, Illinois' downtown Loop district places it squarely in the heart of the financial section of the city. However, at the time this section of Chicago was still expanding and "few Chicagoans had faith in the proposal to locate a new building so far south" of what was then the existing commercial core of the city in 1884, when the construction of the office building was first proposed ("Monadnock Building," Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, 2008, p.1). Not until 1889 were the plans to build in the area finalized, after skyscrapers began to creep into the district.

The aspirations that brought the building into being were artistic as well as commercial -- to create an architectural spectacle and also draw tenants and make revenue for the Boston-based developers brothers Peter and Shepard Brooks. The Monadnock's period and design locate it at the tail end of 19th century architectural grandeur, because of its impressive size and its elaborately crafted south half. But its older northern half, with its subtly curving lines and faint traces of Egyptian architecture act as a harbinger of the later modernist period and the Frank Lloyd Wright Chicago School. The lack of breaks and projections and utter continuity of line makes this part of the building look much younger than its construction date (Roth 176).


The Chicago-based architectural firm of Burnham and Root was selected to design the new building. "Burnham and Root had previously done two other [successful] commercial projects for [Peter] Brooks and [his agent Owen] Aldis: the Montauk Building in 1882 and the Rookery Building in 1886" ("Monadnock Building," Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, 2008, p.1). The primary architects, John Welborn Burnham and Daniel Hudson Root, originally wanted to create a tall, pylon structure of Egyptian design, with elaborate ornamentation and different shadings of surface texture and materials similar to but even more ambitious than the Montauk, but Peter Brooks insisted on an utterly Spartan concept (Roth 176). Brook's one concession to practicality was to allow the inclusion of bay windows when Owen Aldis pointed out that this would make the building more marketable, given that employees within the structure were likely to want more light while working ("Monadnock Building," Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, 2008, pp.3-4).

Later Citations

The ultimate fusion of spare grandeur combined with slight curves that still reflect the original 'pylon' design are what make the north half Monadnock so revolutionary. It was originally supposed to be even taller but Brooks finally settled on a sixteen story structure, with a seventeenth 'attic' floor in the Southern parapet ("Monadnock Building," Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, 2008, p.3). Its north side design is both subtle yet oddly haunting. The final overall result, because of the fusion of styles, is holistically something both prototypically modernist and classical at once, a jarring juxtaposition of forms. The distinct differences in style reflect the fact that architects were switched mid-stream during the Monadnock's construction. The northern side of the Monadnock was solely Root, and based upon a masonry-style artifice, but Root died of pneumonia before he could finish the entire building ("History," Monadnock Building, 2008). The southern half, based on a steel frame, was finished… [END OF PREVIEW]

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