old chicago skyscraper of the week–University Club

University Club, Michigan Ave. and Monroe St.Designed by Holabird & Roche and completed in 1909, the University Club represented changing tastes in building aesthetics around 1910.  While tall office buildings continued to display a pragmatically-based articulation of their steel columns and girders, a generation of hotels and club buildings built after 1890 tended to mask their skeletal structures behind increasingly solid, elaborately composed skins of stone, brick, and terra cotta.  These programs, unlike office and commercial spaces, could afford the continuing high cost of electricity, and thus were able to sacrifice the free daylighting that came with large windows in favor of more solid exterior walls.

The University Club was unusual in its neo-Gothic style, though this was seen as appropriate for its academically-oriented clientele.  Holabird & Roche borrowed heavily from Magdalen College, Oxford, for the building’s details and ornament, and the additive nature of “Elizabethan Gothic” allowed them to create a facade along Monroe Street that was quite irregular for the day, representing accurately the program behind it.  Dining rooms, game rooms, a small hotel, and recreational facilities all found their expression on this facade in windows of different size, material, or composition, making the facade programatically, if not tectonically, expressive.

The learned precedents for the building impressed critics, particularly an anonymous scribe for Inland Architect, who drily noted that the building attained a sophistication for which “Chicago was not yet known.”  Holabird & Roche would go on to design numerous collegiate buildings throughout the midwest using this experiment as a basis for further explorations in the “collegiate Gothic.”

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