Chicago Architecture 1: South Michigan Ave

Week 1

  1. Motorola Building

Also known as Santa Fe Building, it is a 17-story building at south Michigan Avenue. It was designed by Frederick Dinkelberg in the Chicago style. He is also the associate designer of the Flatiron Building. The main entrance was located at Jackson Boulevard. Back then it was more important than Michigan Ave. The building has a similar plan with Rookery, a street level two-story enclosed court designed in a symmetrical Beaux-Arts style, open to the sky surrounded by a ring of offices. Inside the courtyard, the grand staircase led to the second story.

The exterior is cladded with white-glazed terracotta sheaths featured with Classical elements. The structure is steel frames. Daniel Burnham and his staff made the 1909 Plan of Chicago in this building back in history which makes it significant as a historical site.

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  1. Metropolitan Tower

Metropolitan Tower was once called the Straus Building, completed in 1924, alongside with Chicago Temple Building, was one of the tallest buildings in Chicago by taking advantage of the 1923 zoning code.

The Tower is symmetric and designed for a monumental feeling. The pyramid and beehive at the top features this building with some others around with similar facades.

The entrance on both Jackson and Michigan Ave is relatively small and humble. It used to have a glorious three-story entrance on Michigan Ave based on old photographs. But from the impressive elaborate brass elevator doors and sweeping marble floors, I can still get a sense of its glorious past.

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  1. Metra Entrance Canopy

Chicago Van Buren metra entrance canopy at south Michigan Ave looks similar to the     Paris metro entrance, with art nouveau style. It is a replica of the Paris metro entrance.

  1. Fine Arts Building

The Tower is symmetric and designed for a monumental feeling. The pyramid and beehive at the top features this building with some others around with similar facades.

The entrance on both Jackson and Michigan Ave is relatively small and humble. It used to have a glorious three-story entrance on Michigan Ave based on old photographs. But from the impressive elaborate brass elevator doors and sweeping marble floors, we can still get a sense of its glorious past.

  1. Auditorium Building and Congress Hotel

The auditorium building was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler at 1889. It was the biggest theater in the world back then. It was intended to building a theater for the people, the 73m tower marks the entrance of the theater. Decorations on the exterior are limited, simple geometric form indicates the democratic idea of the project, also cuts off from the heavily decorated old European theaters which is connected with corruption and under table deals.

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The theater part (blue) is in middle, with hotel (pink) facing Lake Michigan, and the office (green) facing the elevated rails.  The hotel is Roosevelt University today. When approaching the entrance, the cantilevered balcony on the second floor caught my eyes. It gives a three dimensional depth to the flat building facades on the Michigan Ave. Massive corbels with simple geometric shape supports the balcony. In between those corbels are three Neo-Romanesque style rounded arches and grand entrances. The scale is huge, bigger than any other entrances on the Michigan Ave. The bronze pediments with geometric decorations bring the entrances down to a human scale. At this level, ashlar masonry change into rustic granites.

Once step inside of the building, I found in contrast with the door,interior space of the lobby is gigantic. On the left side, the grand stairs leads to the second floor, on the other side, the waiting area is surrounded by marble walls with delicate alabaster decorative archivolts and cornice. All the handrails are made of bass, with typical Sullivan style. The top floor was a grand dining room with great view to Lake Michigan, but used as a library for right now. The wood Doric columns with decorative capitals and the golden ceiling make the space glorious and warm.

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  1. Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning

The Spertus Institute is one of the few buildings with a gemlike modern facade on the South Michigan Ave. The folding facade gives this Jewish institute a unique character, but more important, articulates the concept of “light”. The facade does not only bring light into the building physically, but also indicates the concept of “enlightenment through learning”.

The vestibule generous in size, and it is filled with light and has a visual connection with the street outside, implying the “transparency” of the facility. Front desk is secured by a second layer of doors, which is also necessary for hash winter in Chicago. A small art gallery is on the other side of the vestibule. After entering the main lobby, the origami-like folding wall caught my eyes. It stretches all the way to the third floor. Behind that wall is the main theater, no big in size, but great in details. The library is located at the 8th floor, study areas are either lit up by natural light from the facade or from a skylit. 10th floor is a multi-functional space right now, perfect for parties and events. A small Jewish collections in at the back of the space. The roof floor features with a small conference room and a terrace. The conference room has a cantilevered deck,due to the folding of the facade which provides a unique perspective of the South Michigan Ave.

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Source: AIA Guide to Chicago, varies online sources