Monday, May 10, 2010

Photo of the Week: 55 West Monroe

(Bartholomew Photo)

Address: 55 West Monroe, Chicago, Illinois
Architect:  Helmut Jahn for C. F. Murphy Associates
Construction Finish:  1980
Height:  45 stories; 495 feet (151 meters)
Space:  1,528,000 square feet; 41,500 square feet per floor

About the Architect
Helmut Jahn came to Chicago in 1966 after studying at the Technical University of Munich.  He began work at the Illinois Institute of Technology, studying under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the master of the mid-century modernist style.  Jahn joined C. F. Murphy Associates in 1967 and was named Executive Vice-President and Director of Design for the firm.  The firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn in 1985.

Since Murphy worked for Peirce Anderson and since Anderson worked for Daniel Burnham, Helmut Jahn's practice is a direct descendant of the Burnham firm.

About the Building
Originally planned as two towers, filling up the block between Clark, Dearborn, Adams and Monroe, the plan was scaled back when the Italian Village declined offers to sell its property.  The result was this single reinforced concrete concrete building which attracted Xerox as its principal tenant.  When the building opened it was known as the Xerox Building.

This was the first of Helmut Jahn's major projects in Chicago.  55 West Monroe holds its own on a corner in which it faces two iconic neighbors -- the soaring parabola of Chase Bank to the north and the stainless steel glamor of the landmarked Inland Steel Building, diagonally across Dearborn.

An interesting feature of the building is that as it rounds the corner at Dearborn and Monroe, its windows change to accommodate differences in norther and southern sunlight.  The southern wall is 75% glass while the eastern wall is only 55% glass.

Just two block north of Mies's Federal Center, the building breaks with the taut order of Miesian modernism.  Instead of using steel, Jahn chose reinforced concrete for the building's structure.  While its reflective glass curtain wall references mid-century modernism, it shows the exposed rows of columns of that style only as it rounds the corner.  Only at the entrance to the building are the columns exposed and the building's structure revealed.

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