Chicago’s Ever-evolving Skyline: The Future of the Skyscraper in Chicago

Chicago’s ever-evolving skyline – a series

A few months ago, we re-published an article written by Dr. Michael Masi, Eric and Kevin Masi’s father, that was originally published in 1975. The article, “The Birth of Architecture in Chicago,” touches on so many parts of Chicago’s architectural history. Since the time the article was published, much has changed in our city – new thinking, new buildings. In this series, we are exploring those changes and giving updates to pieces of the 1975 article.


The Chicago School

One thing Dr. Masi wrote about in “The Birth of Architecture in Chicago,” was architects and buildings that exemplify the Chicago School of Architecture and the style’s importance to the city.

“The culmination of the work by what is now called the Chicago School of Architecture was reached in the designs of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the latter probably considered among the very greatest of American architects. Three of their most representative buildings —the Garrick Theater, the Stock Exchange Building, and the Auditorium Theater—were landmarks in the maturation of modern building style, but unfortunately only the Auditorium Theater survives.” 

The Birth of Architecture, 1975


Building on the Chicago School

The first Chicago School of Architecture was started by William LeBaron Jenney. The second by Mies van der Rohe.

When Dr. Masi left off in 1975, the second Chicago School was still firmly in place. But architects and their clients are a competitive bunch, always looking to distinguish their companies and creations from the rest. That urge to compete soon brought a reaction against the ruthlessly efficient Miesian school, and some of the characteristics and ornamentation of earlier styles began to reappear. Postmodern works favored Art Deco and classical influences, in the works of Murphy/Jahn, SOM, or non-Chicagoans such as Kohn Pedersen Fox, Ricardo Bofill or Johnson/Burgee. These architects, and today’s stars such as Gang, Goettsch and Gehry, have taken the city’s architecture into new directions, but none counted as a third Chicago School.

The first Chicago School was about creating the skyscraper, and the second was about making the skyscraper ruthlessly efficient. Today, we’re really just tweaking the relationship between efficiency and distinctiveness. When will the third Chicago School arrive, and how will our skyline look in another 30 years?