Term Paper: Monadnock Building

Pages: 5 (1411 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Topic: Architecture  ·  Buy This Paper

Monadnock Building:

Prototypical Melding Of Architectural Forms And Styles

Architect, Patron, Historical Context

Although it is hard to believe today, given the collective cultural memory of the Twin Towers and the still awesome presence of the Empire State Building, at the time of its construction during the 1890s, the Monadnock office building seemed awesome in its height, sprawl and its physical presence and power. Upon its completion in 1893, the Monadnock stood tall as the world's largest office building, a monument to Chicago's expanding commercial infrastructure. It is often called prototypically modernistic because of its curves and sprawling lines, and although it is classified as a historical building, its 300 suites are still used by numerous firms and entrepreneurs ("The Building," Monadnock Building, 2008).

When it was first commissioned, the Monadnock was designed to be a structure of powerful height. In fact, the four original sections envisioned in the prototypical blueprint of the building were all named for Union navy ships and New England mountains. The greater structure was to operate as four separate office buildings, each of which was designed to be free-standing and to have "its own entrance, elevators, heating system and name: from north to south, they were the Monadnock, the Kearsarge, the Katahdin, and the Wachusett" ("History." Monadnock Building, 2008).

The original architects of the Monadnock, John Welborn Burnham and Daniel Hudson Root said, with an early modernist spirit, that they wished to reduce the building "to an elemental statement," spare and arresting to the eye (Roth 176). However, the original commissioners of the work, the Brooks brothers, were less concerned about architectural innovation -- they decided that the work should be constructed out to be of traditional bearing wall construction and masonry and be as unostentatious and unadorned as possible. They were mainly concerned with the attention that its "unprecedented height of sixteen stories" would attract, in terms of likely office tenants (Roth 176). "Early drawings show this as a 12-story building, but a threatened change in zoning laws prompted the developers to get a permit for 16 floors while still possible" ("The Monadnock,"Emporis, 2008).

Root was not as convinced as the Brooks brothers that height could be equated with beauty, but he acquiesced to their demands, and tried to use the mandated height as a challenge to blend harmony with towering size (Roth 176). Root originally envisioned the building an Egyptian papyrus column, deciding that the Egyptian empire provided the most obvious example of a work that blended height with elegance. However, he still did not want his work to be a mere recapitulation of an earlier period, or at worst a pastiche of Egyptian motifs.

Root, partially under pressure from the conservative Brooks brothers and partly as his own vision shifted, "over the long period of design...gradually stripped away [ancient Egyptian] historical detail," leaving only a massive brick pile with a slightly curved base and outward curving cavetto cornice at the top in reference to his earlier idea (Roth 176). The final design was strikingly spare for the period, with no "stringcourse or projection breaks the continuity of line so that the tapered mass of the Monadnock Building becomes its own ornament" (Roth 176).

This lack of projection breaks was another of the demands of the Brooks brothers. However, some suggestion of the original Root Egyptian pylon conception is evident, even to the naked eye, in the way that the walls then curve in slightly at the second story, and flare out at the top of the building ("Monadnock Building," Archinform, 2008). Thus still, the Northern side of the Monadnock is considered the Architect John Wellborn Root's "last and boldest design before he caught pneumonia and died at the age of 41," and those familiar with his style say that the building reveals his work to be a harbinger of Chicago modernism ("History," Monadnock Building, 2008).

The current structure is clearly split in its style, reflecting the break in construction, as no one could entirely reconstruct the deceased Root's 'feel' for the work (his partner was too busy with other projects to continue alone). The southern half was the work of the architectural firm Holabird & Roche, but still under the commission and control of the Brooks brothers.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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