The brightest architectural minds of the early 20th century laid the foundation for today’s modern city of Chicago through their use of innovative building methods and cutting-edge materials.
Although some of these architect’s architectural marvels may not remain, their influence can still be seen in the skylines of cities across the globe.
Let’s take a look at a few of the famous architects that took part in the city’s revival after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and helped establish Chicago as an internationally recognized destination for architecture.
William Le Baron Jenney
Credited for creating the world’s first skyscraper, William Le Baron Jenney pioneered the use of metal-frame buildings with his design for the New York Home Insurance Company. With its fire-resistant materials and outer iron columns covered in stone, Jenney’s design for a 10-story metal-framed building met the New York Home Insurance Company’s request for a “fireproof” building.
The successful completion of Jenney’s project ushered in a new era of competition amongst architects dedicated to creating taller skyscrapers.
Responsible for defining the aesthetics of early skyscrapers, Louis Sullivan elevated the visual appeal of skyscrapers to new heights. Known as “the creator of the modern skyscraper,” Sullivan used terracotta, wood and iron to create intricate designs that adorned the exterior surfaces of his buildings.
One of Sullivan’s most famous examples of ornamental ironwork is the Carson Pirie Scott store on South Street in Chicago. A few of Sullivan’s other surviving works include the Auditorium Theater and the Charnley House in Chicago. Exquisite examples of his work, which was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau style, can be viewed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and other iconic museums around the world.
To this day, many designers and architects still quote Sullivan’s famous mantra, “form follows function.” However, his most profound influence on the world of design might be seen through the work of one of his famous disciples, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Arguably the most renowned American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was determined to define American architecture. After departing from Sullivan’s firm, he continued to develop the residential designs that eventually became known as "prairie houses," because of the way the houses complemented the Chicago landscape. The homes, which feature shallow, sloping roofs, clean lines, suppressed chimneys and wide-open interiors are also considered the first examples of the "open plan” layouts.
Wright revolutionized the art and architecture of the 20th century, and it’s worth the short trip to the suburbs to observe his home as well as the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. Visitors staying at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago can join a one-hour tour through Oak Park starting at the Chicago Architectural Foundation, just a 15-minute walk from the hotel.
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