Marquette Building

Chicago IL

10 Iconic Chicago Buildings/Marquette Building
Chicago Architecture Center
Written By Chicago Architecture Center

WE ❤️ DESIGN. Tours, exhibits, programs and events about Chicago architecture. Formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

The Marquette building was one of the most profitable skyscrapers built in Chicago during the 19th-century building boom. This historic landmark stands as an ideal example of a speculative commercial office building. It was created as a collection of first class office spaces whose primary purpose was to fatten the pockets of real estate investors taking a gamble on an up-and-coming urban center.

Chicago: A City on the Move

The late 19th century was a time of explosive growth in Chicago. The population grew exponentially as railroad trains zoomed in and out of the city and the city played host to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. As the city began to earn international recognition, savvy real estate investors like Peter and Shepherd Brooks saw Chicago as a land of financial opportunity.

The Brooks invested in several speculative commercial buildings in downtown Chicago, including the Marquette building. They took a chance, hoping that as the city continued to grow the demand for office space would increase. The gamble paid off and the brothers made a fortune.

Architects William Holabird and Martin Roche put a spin on the traditional interior light court by designing the plan of the Marquette in the shape of a capital "E." They positioned office space along the backbone, the upper and lower arms of the "E." The building's systems then occupied the middle arm of the "E." Holabird & Roche’s plan greatly increased the building’s available exterior space and consequently its profitability.

One component of this plan was the strategic arrangement of office space around a building's perimeter. Modern climate control strategies weren't available since electricity was still in its infancy, so architects designed interior light courts to allow natural light and fresh air to flow freely through occupied space.

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The Marquette’s Decline, Decay, and Restoration

Early on, the Marquette building was wildly profitable. However, by the mid-20th century occupancy declined and the building’s owners were no longer able to afford much of its costly upkeep. In the 1950s the original terra cotta cornice was removed. This was a common practice at the time since it was more economical to remove decorative cornices than to restore, fix or maintain them.

During an economic boom in 2001 the building's new owners, the MacArthur Foundation, began a multi-year process of replacing the Marquette’s monumental cornice. The replica cornice on the building today is composed of GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) and spans 400 feet in length. It was installed in 10-foot segments, each weighing more 3,000 pounds.

“The Marquette Building is one of Chicago's special gems. When you walk into the lobby for the very first time, you have the impression that it is an art gallery rather than an office building. The exquisite, detailed mosaic panels depicting the journey of Father Marquette are awe inspiring, while the sculptured heads present images of a period in Chicago's early history. Truly, this building ranks among Chicago's legacy of great architecture!” - Adina Van Buren, CAF Docent class of 2005

Did you know...Peter and Shepherd Brooks were based in Boston and rarely traveled to Chicago, instead working closely with a local developer named Owen Aldis. By the completion of the Marquette in 1895, the team had fully realized a plan for creating profitable office buildings.

Did you know...Forward-thinking developer Owen Aldis insisted that the Marquette be piped for electricity and gas long before it was widely available.

One last one...Building agent and developer Owen Aldis was fascinated with Father Jacques Marquette’s history and even translated some of Marquette's diary.

Did you know...The petal-shaped garage floors and balconies are cantilevered from perimeter columns.

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