Burnham & Root's Rookery

Chicago IL

Studs Terkel Radio Archive
Written By Studs Terkel Radio Archive

Over the course of his 45 years on WFMT radio, Studs Terkel discussed every aspect of 20th-century life with movers, shakers, artists, and working folks. From civil rights to labor to jazz, his work spanned an impressive array of topics and figures. Hear these enchanting, historically-significant interviews come to life in the comprehensive Studs Terkel Radio Archive.

Beyond the glass ceiling

In 1871, the Great Fire ravaged Chicago. While devastating, it launched a building boom that pushed architectural experimentation and advancement that put Chicago at the forefront of progress. Among the resulting impressive masterpieces of commercial architecture was the Rookery, which upon completion was thought to be the largest and finest office building in the United States. Designed by the great architects Root and Burnam, the Rookery set the style for the layout, the style, the corridors for office buildings to come for the next 100 years.

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When Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to work on The Rookery in 1905, the light court’s elaborate ironwork and ornament had gone out of fashion. A full-blown Prairie Style scheme would have overwhelmed the space. To strike a balance, Wright removed much of the iron and terra cotta detailing on the central staircase, balconies, and walls, replacing it with strong geometric patterns based on the railings of Root’s oriel stairs. He encased the iron columns in white marble that was gilded and incised with Root’s Arabic motif found in the LaSalle entrance. The fanciful electroliers that once flanked the central staircase were removed, and Wright added bronze chandeliers with prismatic glass that still hang there today.

“Here of all her cities, ran the true power, the true spirit of America - arrogant in the new found knowledge of its strength, proud of its wealth, infinite in its desires,” Frank Noris, on the beauty and power of Chicago’s art deco architecture.

Did you know that the city’s first public library – a water tower that survived the Great Fire in 1871 – previously stood on the site of the Rookery? Photos and text are attributed to Lowe, David. Chicago Interiors. Avenel; Random House, 1979. Print.

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