The Rookery was designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root, heads of one of Chicago’s most famous architectural companies of the 19th century and, like most of Chicago’s early skyscrapers, it was built to last.
A sturdy structure with a red brick facade, elaborately adorned with elements reminiscent of Moorish architecture and Mr. Root’s open-mouthed crows (or rooks) to which – no, the building does not owe its name*, cast-iron columns and mosaics, upon its completion in 1888 it was considered Burnham and Root’s masterpiece; today, it is the oldest standing high-rise and one of the most recognisable buildings in Chicago.
But it wasn’t the famous rooks, nor the cast-iron columns and mosaics, original parts of which were uncovered during renovation and were left open for comparison that had brought us here; it was what lay inside that we eager to see.
I mean, of course, the central light court with its glass ceiling, two-storey lobby, magnificent spiral staircase, and the unmistakable touch of Mr Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect in charge of the building’s first major renovation in 1905-1907. Although Mr. Wright made some very important changes like, for instance, dressing the original copper-plated ironwork in white marble with gold patterns, he generally respected the original design. The result is an airy, modern interior that breathes, so much different from the heavy art-deco lobbies of other historical buildings in Chicago.
And it is absolutely stunning.
*The Rookery was built on the site of an initial Water Tower later turned into the City Hall. It seems that the building has been called a “rookery” due to the nickname of the former City Hall that had crows on its walls and crooked politicians inside it (according to our guide).
While you can wander about the ground floor freely, the upper level is only open to guided tours. Check for info on the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust website, or in their brick and mortar office/shop, on-site.
November 2nd, 2017