The rookery building is a historic office building located in the Chicago loop. Designed by architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellroot of the firm Burnham and root, it is one of the oldest standing high-rise buildings in Chicago. On 5th July 1972, it was declared a Chicago landmark, in addition to being designated as a national historic landmark on 15th May 1975.

The 55 m marvel standing at the intersection of Adams Street and South Lasalle Street is 12 stories tall. The structure was remodelled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905, with Wright’s design being incorporated from 1989 to 1992. What sets the building apart is its unique exterior load-bearing wall which was a unique practice to be adopted. The interior was done using a steel frame. The building is a historic landmark in its construction technique, making the transition from old to new construction practices.

Rookery Building, Chicago, Illinois: A Chicago Landmark - Sheet1
Rookery building_©Hedrich Blessing

The great Chicago fire played an important role in the initiation of the building. In the aftermath of the fire, a temporary building occupied the site. The temporary shelter, a city hall, was built around the large tank after which the Rookery was made. The name rookery in itself is a reference to the crows and pigeons that flocked the area.

The Rookery is distinguished by its hollowed square plan. The plan maximizes the amount of light and ventilation in the office spaces, resulting in better working conditions. The building was ahead in its time for its technologically advanced practices also.

Technological advancements like the provision of hot and cold running water, the use of electricity, and a unique metal frame construction. The exterior facade, which is a load-bearing construction, is the signature of the Richardsonian or Romanesque style, highly distinguished by Rookery’s dark reddish-brown brick and granite exterior.

Social and political importance of Rookery

The Rookery plays an important role in the history of skyscrapers in Chicago. It started with the great fire of Chicago.The great Chicago fire was a disaster that burnt the city of Chicago in 1871, destroying over 17000 structures. The fire spread rapidly owing to the prevalent wooden construction in the city, engulfing Chicago part by part. The aftermath of the fire led to a lot of changes in the building codes and construction techniques, leading to higher standards of construction. It also led to the inception of the first skyscrapers in Chicago with the use of modern equipment like lifts, metal, and protection from fire and glass. The Rookery is one of them, which came up in place of an old city hall building where a bird colony also existed.

Rookery Building, Chicago, Illinois: A Chicago Landmark - Sheet2
Elevation of rookery building_©Artist Burnham and Root

Style and relevance to the era

In the architectural heyday that followed the great Chicago fire, the quest for creating true skyscrapers came up. Architects worked intensively in designing innovative structures using modern materials and fire-resistant techniques. The Rookery was highly inspired by a variety of factors in its design of interior and exterior spaces. Byzantine, Venetian, Romanesque and Moorish influences are seen in the design of interior and exterior space in the initial design done by Ross and Burham. Wright, who is known for his signature prairie style, cast an effect on it in this building as well. It can be particularly seen at the entrance of the building. Wright brings up a sense of modernity in the design. He also utilised lighting as a simple yet effective element in the design.

White marble with Persian-style decoration was one of Wright’s most significant additions. The lobby’s interior, which was dominated by steel and Burnham and Root’s skeleton metal ribbing, was given a sense of luxury by the marble and decorative accents. The atmosphere is light and airy throughout. The interior of the building is accessed from the second floor of the lobby by a double set of winding, elaborately adorned stairs. The Wright refurbishment opened up the building to more of the available light, which is enhanced by a wrap-around balcony on the second level.

Historical importance

In order to construct compact, towering structures in the city’s financial area, the Loop, Chicago architects started looking into new construction techniques and materials after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. New heights were reached by visitors because of innovations like the Otis safety elevator, which was originally displayed at the 1854 New York World’s Fair. Manufacturing innovations also made it possible to mass produce steel that was reasonably priced for building.

Street view of the rookery_©Hedrich-Blessing

The generally held belief that historic structures are not regarded as Class A structures and that the expense of expensive, high-quality restoration cannot be repaid in rents was something Baldwin was keen to debunk. Baldwin’s plan was to preserve the Rookery’s original architectural elements while integrating modern electrical, heating, air-conditioning, elevator, security, and telecommunications equipment onto the top office levels without sacrificing the historical sense of the structure. Essentially, the original Burnham and Root library on the 11th level underwent a complete renovation, along with floors three through twelve of the building.

The building remains to be a significant landmark in Chicago today as well, marking the transition from the Old to the new age.

References:

  1. The Rookery (no date) Architecture.org. Available at: https://www.architecture.org/learn/resources/buildings-of-chicago/building/the-rookery/ (Accessed: August 22, 2022).
  2. “The architecture of the Rookery Building by John Wellborn Root and Daniel Burnham” (no date) Encyclopedia Britannica.
Author

An aspiring designer, she believes architecture plays an innate role in adding nuances to the multi faceted world we live in. When not reading, pondering on how design can shape , or be used to influence human behaviour has become her favourite pastime.

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