In order to best show the innovations of any movement, a comparison to the old way of thought is usually the best means. I would like to compare the Chicago School of Architecture to the architecture that existed only a few years before it began. In this paper, I will be comparing and contrasting the differing styles of the Marshall Field Warehouse by H.H. Richardson to the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department StoreofLouis Sullivan. Both of these structures were built in the same region of the country, as to take away any effect regionalism may play in such a study.
The type of architecture that existed before the Chicago School took hold could be classified as European. The new architecture that was being created was based primarily on examples brought to America from Europe. Classical styles were a choice of many of the public buildings because it represented power and authority of the Roman world. Many of these Roman ideas were borrowed from France, as was the Gothic architecture that was being used in the mid-nineteenth century by the likes of Frank Furness. These Classical or Gothic buildings had either rounded or pointed arches in the door and window-ways. Generally, a great deal of brick or masonry was used as the structure of the building, while columns might also appear as support beams. These buildings were usually quite well decorated, with elaborate mouldings, especially on the inside. Shields reminded us in a lecture that the older forms of architecture, especially Classic architecture, had a myth of perfection surrounding it. The perfection of the columns, arches, and domed roofs. (figures 1-6.)
H.H. Richardson had his input to the pre-Chicago School in designing churches in the Romanesque style. He built libraries that exhibited his two main design elements, "engulfing archways and horizontally continuous windows of the reading rooms."As we look to the Marshall Field Warehouse of Henry Hobson Richardson, we can already see just a bit of the form following function idea. This warehouse appears to be little more than a box that has been covered with dark brick. Richardson, according to Scully, is to have combined classicism and romanticism, two opposites, however the Marshall Field Warehouse may not be the best example of this. It is, however, a good example of the type of architecture that would influence Louis Sullivan. "It is a single mass, but its surface swells vertically and stretches laterally to contain its open interior. This is shown by its visual appearance to be tall, while standing only seven stories up. (figure 7.) The rectangular windows also causes the eye to feel as if the building is very wide, like the reading windows from his earlier libraries. This 1885 design is said to be one of Richardson's greatest masterpieces, by both his critics and himself, and was his ultimate achievement in commercial architecture. The building was tall for its time, and Louis Sullivan called it "a man on two legs." Two very wide legs when compared to the Chicago School buildings to come. The base of the Marshall Field Warehouse was a bit thicker than the upper floors, but Richardson does a relatively good job of containing the width, unlike that of the warehouse in Bristol, England. (figure 8.) Early sketches of Richardson's warehouse were done in lighter colors, (figure 9,10.) but the dark stone was opted for in the finished product. The Marshall Field building was built of brick or masonry, like most of the new buildings at the time, since the Great Chicago Fire had ripped through the city only a few years earlier, in 1871.
I will not dwell on a long history of the Chicago School of thought in architecture, but I do feel that some of the basic concepts should be mentioned before a comparison is done. The fire that was mentioned allowed for a rebuilding of a very large city with all the latest innovations. One of these innovations was to be the main feature of the Chicago School of Architecture. This was the iron skeleton, introduced to Chicago buildings by William LeBarron Jenney. (figure 11.) Serving under Sherman and Grant during the Civil War, Jenney, an engineer, learned how to build structures with minimal cost and time, thus increasing efficiency. He also was accustomed to bringing together men and materials, according to Shields. Jenney's Home Insurance Building is generally considered to be the first sky scraper, in such that it was the first tall, steel-frame building. This building had thin walls because the walls were not needed for support, as had been the case earlier.This began the Chicago School, which is the term for the commercial architecture that was produced during the last quarter of the 19th century. According to the same source, the two features of the Chicago School are the "metal frame as the basic structural system and its clear expression on the building's exterior in a simple, non-historic vocabulary." Shields, however, gave us five points to remember about the Chicago School. These were the iron skeleton for the entire frame of the building, which allowed for the open plan to emerge because of the fewer brick walls. Both of these features reduced the price while increasing the flexibility of the buildings. A third point was the light skin cladding, which was also cheaper, and produced more brightness than was used to from a building. The advanced technical services, especially the elevator, were required in these taller buildings so that the upper floors could command the same rent as the lower floors. Finally, Shields discussed the prospect of an entirely unique modern architecture in which the past is left behind. (figures 12-14.) This was a reflection of the American economic growth and expansion out west. We might say that the movement of the Chicago School was due mainly to private money.
The money that was spent to create these first sky scrapers was not wasted on the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department Store, "which we should regard as the last of his (Sullivan's) epoch-making metropolitan images."(figure 15.) It was designed by Louis Sullivan, arguably the most influential architect of the Chicago School. This building was a little bit of a change from the other Chicago School buildings in that the most visible lines were the horizontal rather than vertical. (figure 16.) These horizontal lines may be a bit reminiscent of the those which existed in the works of H.H. Richardson, such as the Marshall Field Warehouse. These horizontals reflect the business of the city street that the building is on. This feat is accomplished by hiding the supports with an interwoven ironwork ornament at the base. (figure 17.) The similarities do not continue too far past that, however. They both appear to be relatively the same height, but the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department Store is nearly twice as tall at twelve stories. Actually, the most striking contrast is the brightness of the Sullivan building. This is produced, not only with its light sheathing, but also with the use of the large Chicago Windows, (figure 18.) which, as Shields explained, are large fixed windows surrounded by smaller operable ones. All of the five points that Shields gave us about the Chicago School are expressed in the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department Store. Also expressed in this building in part is the tripartite theory of Sullivan himself, which is better shown in the Guaranty Building. This department store does have the base, as discussed by Shields, in which the bottom two floors are dedicated to shops and retail. As seen in figure 19, the large windows were perfect for window shopping. Also seen here is Sullivan's iron ornamental system based on plants from the region with "a perfectly logical starting point." (figure 19.) As for the two other parts of Sullivan's theory, vertical lines are certainly expressed, though not as dominantly as the horizontal. The shaft or body goes up to the cap or top, which is to have clubs or institutions, according to Sullivan.
As quickly as the Chicago School appeared, it was gone. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Beaux Arts movement had taken hold in America. Both before and after the Chicago School, Americans seemed to be satisfied that the ancient Romans and Europeans had the best means of architecture. This thought was only to be questioned by the newness of America and its economic growth during the years of the Chicago School. Although light buildings like the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department Store did not fit into the drab and dark stereotype of cities, the various heights and styles of the Chicago School upset the Beaux Arts advocates. A building such as the Marshall Field Warehouse, though having some of the old European style, would have been seen as too dark and out of touch with its surroundings, be they of the Beaux Arts style. So neither building, for all the accolades they had received, was considered adequate for a city by 1900. That does not say, though, that their purposes were any less important. These buildings were both built for economic reasons, and for that purpose they served their duties.
The function performed by the Marshall Field Warehouse left a little to be desired after the Chicago School innovations, but it did exist.Formfollowed function in the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department store, but form, too,certainly did exist. The form that existed is said to be that of the busy street, but we might also see it as a sky scraper on its side, reaching out to the horizon instead of up to the heavens. In this sense, we may consider the Carson-Pirie-Scott Department Store to provide a fitting end to a school of architectural thought that tested the bounds of size and height, never to reach all of the way up.