John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, Chicago, IL

History: Federal Center, Chicago, Illinois

In 1960, Congress authorized the U.S. General Services Administration to construct a new office complex in Chicago's Loop District. The Federal Center consolidated over thirty agencies formerly scattered throughout the city in substandard leased space. Four Chicago architectural firms joined forces for the commission. The world-renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) served as the chief designer with Schmidt, Garden and Erikson; C. F. Murphy Associates; and A. Epstein and Sons all working on the project.

German-born Mies was a pioneer of Modern architecture and the last director of the influential Bauhaus school, which operated in Germany from 1919 to 1933. He utilized new materials and technology, most notably industrial steel and plate glass to create austere yet elegant buildings. Calling his buildings ¿skin and bones architecture,¿ he was well-known for his maxims, ¿less is more¿ and ¿God is in the details.¿

The original plan for the Chicago Federal Center called for two towers. The first was to house federal agencies including the U.S. Department of the Treasury and U.S. Department of Defense. The second was for the courts, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Postal Service. However, vehicular access for the post office required a street-level loading dock that would have intruded on the openness of the plaza between the two buildings. Upon further study, Mies designed a separate post office building with its own, below-grade vehicular access.

The site for the new Federal Center included the block occupied by the Beaux-Arts style U.S. Post Office and Courthouse (1898-1905) designed by Henry Ives Cobb, which replaced an 1879 government building in the same location. It was in Cobb's domed building where Al Capone was tried for tax evasion in 1917.

Tenants occupied the new U.S. Courthouse, the first of the complex's three buildings to be completed, in 1964. The government began demolition of the old post office in 1965 to clear the site for the two remaining buildings. The Loop Station Post Office and new Federal Building were completed in 1973 and 1974 respectively. The courthouse was renamed for Everett M. Dirksen to honor the longtime Illinois Senator after his death in 1969. The Federal Building was renamed in 1975 to honor John C. Kluczynski, U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1951 until his death in 1975.


The simple and well-proportioned steel-and-glass design of the Chicago Federal Center epitomizes the minimalist architectural approach favored by its architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Considered one of the greatest architects of the twentieth century, Mies is best known for such projects as the master plan and buildings at the Illinois Institute of Technology (1942-58), Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1946-51), Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago (1948-51), and Seagram Building in New York (1957-59). Works such as these helped bring the International Style, for which Mies was famous, to the forefront of American architecture. Highly geometric and devoid of extraneous ornament, Mies's designs are elegant in their simplicity and illustrate his mastery of spatial composition.

The Federal Center extends over two blocks; a one-block site, bounded by Jackson, Clark, Adams, and Dearborn streets, contains the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building and U.S. Post Office Loop Station, while a parcel on an adjacent block to the east contains the Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. A glass-enclosed great hall, 100 feet wide and 25 feet high, spans the center of the courthouse, serving as a visual gateway through the complex. From State Street on the east, one can look west down Quincy Street, through the courthouse, across Dearborn Street to the central plaza and post office beyond.

The structural framing of the buildings is formed of high-tensile bolted steel and concrete. The exterior curtain walls are defined by projecting steel I-beam mullions covered with flat black graphite paint, characteristic of Mies's designs. The balance of the curtain walls are of bronze-tinted glass panes, framed in shiny aluminum, and separated by steel spandrels, also covered with flat black graphite paint. This organization emphasizes the impressive height of the sleek towers. Franz Schulze, a scholar of Mies's work, has praised ¿Mies's uncompromising devotion to principle, together with his vaunted sensitivity to proportion and structural detail and the organizational scale, [that] combine to give the complex a monumental urban presence.¿ The entire complex is organized on a 28-foot grid pattern subdivided into six 4-foot, 8-inch modules. This pattern extends from the granite-paved plaza into the ground-floor lobbies of the two towers, where the floors and elevator lobby walls are also granite. The lines of the grid continue vertically up the buildings, integrating each component of the complex.

The 42-story, John C. Kluczynski Federal Building is the tallest of the three buildings. It has a total of 1.2 million gross square feet of space, and rises 562 feet above grade with three basements below grade. Both the Kluczynski and Dirksen buildings are elevated on open colonnades, called pilotis, at the plaza level.

To its northwest is the freestanding Loop Station post office, which is one story with two workroom levels below grade. Directly across the street from the Kluczynski building is the thirty-story Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. The courthouse contains 1.4 million gross square feet of space and is set at a right angle to the Federal Building high-rise across Dearborn Street. The Dirksen courthouse was designed with fifteen, two-story courtrooms located on the top ten stories of the building. Courtrooms were located away from the curtain walls to reduce audio and visual distractions. The simple but elegant book-matched black-walnut paneling and molded-plywood spectator benches are lit by ceiling fixtures covered with an aluminum grid. During the 1990s, additional courtrooms were created within the building in a style complimenting the original details; Mies's initial design planned for future expansion of this nature.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. General Services Administration, under its Art in Architecture program, commissioned a steel sculpture for the plaza from the celebrated artist Alexander Calder. His creation, entitled Flamingo, was unveiled on October 25, 1974. The 53-foot-tall steel stabile, with its bright red color and graceful curves, provides a striking contrast to the dark, angular steel and glass curtain walls of the Federal Center buildings. In 1998, the stabile was conserved and lighting was added.

Significant Events

1960: Congress authorizes the construction of the Chicago Federal Center

1964: U.S. Courthouse completed

1965-1966: 1905 federal building demolished to allow for the construction of remaining two buildings

1973: U.S. Post Office Loop Station completed at Federal Center's northwest corner

1974: Federal Building completed; Flamingo stabile by Alexander Calder installed in plaza

1993-1999: Additional two-story courtrooms constructed within original structure of Dirksen U.S. Courthouse

2002: Installation of perimeter-security bollard system in response to increased security requirements for federal properties

2006: Exterior curtain wall repair and repainting of entire three structure complex with Miesian black paint

Building Facts

Architects: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Schmidt, Garden and Erikson; C. F. Murphy Associates; A. Epstein and Sons

Construction Dates: 1960-1974

Location: Dearborn Street between Jackson Boulevard and Adams Street in downtown Chicago's central Loop

Architectural Style: International Style

Primary Materials: Steel and bronze-tinted glass; granite paving

Prominent Features: Striking glass tower; Projecting steel I-beam mullions; Open colonnades at tower bases; Flamingo stabile

1.4. Architectural Description

The John C. Kluczynski Federal Building has changed little since its completion in 1974 and still retains its original architectural features and configuration. It stands 562 feet above grade (42 stories) with a vertical floor to floor height of 12 feet. The building is oriented to run east-west measuring approximately 114’-10” by 226’-10”. Furthermore, it is laid out on a 28 square foot grid with a total floor area of approximately 1.2 million gross square feet.

The building’s structural system is of steel frame construction encapsulated in concrete fireproofing. The exterior is clad with steel plate spandrel panels, applied wide flange steel mullions, and aluminum-framed windows. The steel was originally painted with black graphite paint in a flat finish. The aluminum window frames are of a dark bronze anodized color and the glass had a slight bronze tint. Each structural bay is divided into six window bays that are 4’-8” wide. Windows run from floor to ceiling on the interior. At the ground level, the lobby is enclosed with large plate glass frames with painted steel. The lobby walls are recessed to create a continuous overhang; the perimeter steel columns create a pilotis effect. The top portion of the building is devoted to mechanical louvers, though the vertical rhythm of steel mullions continues to the top. The overall effect of the exterior is one of verticality and simplicity.

The main entry of the Kluczynski Building is off Dearborn on the east end and leads to centrally-located elevator banks. There are several other entry doors located along the lobby perimeter. The entire first floor is clad in plate glass and rises 24 feet high to create a monumental space. Flooring and elevator walls are of gray Rockville granite that matches that of the plaza. The ceiling is white painted plaster with recessed downlights. There are 24 elevators to serve the upper floors. The elevator cabs have been sensitively altered from their original design. Elevators are divided into three banks that serve groups of floors, such as low, mid and high rise floors.

The upper floors are devoted to federal office space. These floors are the standard 12 foot height with a public elevator lobby and corridors. Originally, these spaces were open plan with modular furniture systems. Office spaces have been modified over the years, mostly with the replacement of office cubicles and changes to floor plans and suspended ceilings. In 1973, before construction was even complete on the JCK, the GSA decided to change Mies’ original design scheme for open office space and add relocatable partitions in many of the upper floors to section off tenant spaces and create corridors. These partitions had steel frames with gypsum board panels and incorporated full height hollow metal doors. Many of the partitions still exist on a number of floors including floors 4 – 10, 27, 29, 31 – 32, 34, 37, and 39.

Alterations and Current State

Alterations to the federal building have been minimal and have not adversely affected the historic character. The exterior underwent rehabilitation in 2005, which included replacing glazing sealant and repainting the steel with a coating system that closely matches the original flat black color. The upper floor elevator lobbies and all elevator cabs have been altered. The lobbies now have granite walls. Office areas have been modified over time with multiple phases and changes in plan, new cubicles, new flooring, new lighting and suspended acoustical ceilings. Many of the upper floors have been significantly renovated, especially GSA floors.


Mies van der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was born in Aachen, Germany in 1886. His father was a master mason, a career in which Mies intended to pursue as well. As a young man, he briefly worked as an apprentice in the trade, but soon moved to a number of different drafting jobs with local architectural offices. To advance his architectural career further, Mies moved to Berlin in 1905 to work for architect Bruno Paul. Three years later he began working for Peter Behrens, a well known German architect and mentor to other celebrated modern architects such as Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. In 1912, Mies left Behrens office and began to pursue a solo career. He worked mostly on small residential projects and his early works were significantly influenced by the architecture of Behrens. Mies’ work began to take on a more modern appearance following World War I and quickly developed into the modern architectural aesthetic that he is most famous for. In 1926, his career was further elevated when he was asked to direct the design of the Deutscher Werkbund’s Weissenhofsiedlung housing exposition in Stuttgart. Mies designed the site plan and one of the buildings for the project which also included designs by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Peter Behrens, and Bruno Taut.

In 1930, Mies was appointed director of the avant-garde Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. The school, which was founded by Gropius in 1919, became a nucleus for modernist design in Europe in the 1920s. However, by the time Mies took over, the Nazi party was becoming more powerful in Germany and its more conservative policies were at odds with the more freethinking, liberal agenda of the Bauhaus. Mies was forced to close the school in 1932 when the Nazis took over the city of Dessau.

With the Nazi party on the rise in Germany, Mies was eventually forced to leave. He accepted a position as the head of the architecture department at the Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1938. In Chicago Mies was able to practice his modernist architecture freely. He cultivated a new curriculum at the school and used the architecture studios to experiment with and develop his design concepts. From the studios Mies developed the concepts of the clear span building and universal space. He also developed a master plan for the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus and designed twenty of the university’s new buildings.

While directing the architecture program at IIT, Mies also developed a private architectural practice. The ideas and concepts that were developed in his design studios at IIT came to fruition in his private practice. His designs for the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois as well as S. R. Crown Hall on the IIT campus were developed out of his concept of universal space. In addition to the smaller low rise buildings, he also designed skyscrapers. His skyscrapers were designed so the structural system was fully expressed on the exterior and utilized his two favorite building materials: steel and glass. Two of his most well known projects that took advantage of this system include the apartment towers 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and the Seagram Building in New York. The Seagram Building also included a public plaza, a concept which Mies would further develop and utilize in later designs, including the Chicago Federal Center.

The Chicago Federal Center was one of the largest projects Mies’ office worked on and became a significant challenge in urban design. In addition to his design for the Chicago Federal Center, Mies completed other large urban planning projects, including the Lafayette Park Housing Project in Detroit and the Toronto Dominion Centre. The Toronto Dominion Centre closely resembles the Chicago Federal Center in its layout and architectural design. Both projects were in the office at roughly the same time and both were laid out on a grid with an asymmetrical massing of buildings surrounding a central plaza.

Mies continued to teach and practice until his retirement from IIT in 1958. Following his retirement from teaching, he continued to stay involved with his architectural practice. Many of his students at IIT went on to work for him and for other well respected architecture firms in Chicago and throughout the country. He also influenced the work of many other architectural practices of the time including Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) and C. F. Murphy and Associates. When Mies died in 1969, his firm continued as the Office of Mies van der Rohe under the leadership of his trusted associates Joseph Fujikawa, Bruno Conterato, and his grandson Dirk Lohan. In 1975, the partners changed the name to Fujikawa, Conterato, Lohan and Associates.

Mies van der Rohe was the lead designer for the Federal Center project and his office was responsible for all phases of design. Mies himself was involved with the project and had the final say on all design decisions; however, the project was led initially by his associate Gene Summers until he left in 1965. After that, the project was led by Bruno Conterato.

C.F. Murphy and Associates
C.F. Murphy and Associates was founded in 1937 as Shaw, Naess and Murphy. Its original owners and principals included Charles Francis Murphy, Alfred Shaw and Sigurd Naess. The three partners had previously worked together at Graham, Anderson, Probst and White and were close associates of Ernest Graham. When Graham died in 1936, the three were fired and joined together to form the new firm. In the 1940s, Shaw left the firm and the name was changed to Naess and Murphy. Charles F. Murphy never had professional training as an architect; however, he had apprenticed under Ernest Graham and was an excellent businessman. The success of the firm was primarily due to Murphy’s business expertise and extensive list of client contacts. In 1957, Naess retired and the firm changed its name to C.F. Murphy Associates a few years later.

The firm’s first major project was the Prudential Building in 1955, which at the time was the tallest building in Chicago. Because of Murphy’s close relationship with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, C. F. Murphy and Associates was able to work on a number of major public building projects including planning and terminals for O’Hare International Airport, the McCormick Center, the Chicago Civic Center (now Richard J. Daley Center), and the Chicago Federal Center. The firm also designed the First National Bank Building (now the Chase Building) in a joint venture with Perkins and Will. C.F. Murphy continued to be successful throughout the 1960s and 70s with the help of talented architects such as Gene Summers and Helmut Jahn. In 1981, the firm changed its name to Murphy/Jahn when Helmut Jahn became a partner in the firm. Jahn became sole owner of the firm when Charles Murphy died in 1985.

For the Chicago Federal Center project, C.F. Murphy Associates was primarily responsible for architectural detailing and planning. They did not, however, lead the overall design of the project, which was conducted by the Office of Mies van der Rohe.

Schmidt, Garden, and Erikson
Schmidt, Garden and Erikson dates back to 1901, when Richard Ernest Schmidt joined together with Hugh Mackie Gordon Garden to form the firm of Schmidt and Garden. Before forming their partnership, Garden had previously worked for such notable Chicago architects as Sheply, Rutan and Coolidge, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Henry Ives Cobb, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Schmidt had also established his reputation in Chicago by the 1890s as a talented residential designer. Schmidt and Garden’s early work included the original building of Michael Reese Hospital and the Administration and Powerhouse buildings of the Schoenhofen Brewery in Chicago. The firm changed its name to Schmidt, Garden and Martin in 1906 when the talented structural engineer Edgar Martin joined the firm as its newest partner. In 1925, Edgar Martin was replaced by longtime employee Carl A. Erikson and the firm became known as Schmidt, Garden and Erikson. In later years, the firm designed five campus buildings for the Illinois Institute of Technology, all of which were designed to follow the Miesian aesthetic and master campus plan.

The firm of Schmidt, Garden and Erikson was primarily responsible for the mechanical engineering for the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building and the rest of Federal Center complex.

A. Epstein and Sons
A. Epstein and Sons was founded in 1921by structural engineer Abraham Epstein. The firm’s name was changed to A. Epstein and Sons when Abraham’s two sons, Raymond and Sidney, joined the firm. Although founded as engineering firm, Epstein and Sons expanded its scope over time to include architecture, especially that of industrial buildings and warehouses. Some of their early work included projects at the Central Manufacturing District and the Union Stockyards in Chicago. Because of its engineering expertise, the firm collaborated on numerous high profile projects in the post-War years including the Chicago Federal Center project. In the 1950s, the firm became one of the first to do design/build work, in which the firm was responsible for both the design and construction of a building. A. Epstein and Sons still remains in Chicago today as an architecture/engineering firm.

A. Epstein and Sons was primarily responsible for the structural and electrical engineering work on the Chicago Federal Center.

2.1 Integrity and Significance

An assessment of the historic integrity of exterior and interior spaces and elements at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building (JCK) was conducted as part of this report. The assessment was conducted by comparing original design drawings, historic photographs and the existing conditions in order to identify each space’s level of architectural significance and historic integrity. As part of the assessment of the existing conditions, a cursory survey was conducted of the exterior and interior spaces. Based on the building assessment, the JCK was divided into different preservation zones based on the relative historic and architectural significance and integrity within each area of the building.

The exterior and interior spaces and/or elements will be categorized as being either in the Restoration, Rehabilitation or Renovation Zone. The criterion for each of the Zones has been established by GSA and is outlined in Attachment 3: Guidelines for Zoning Historic Buildings. They will also be summarized before the Zoning drawings. In general, all portions of the building’s exterior and site are of primary significance and are classified in the Restoration Zone. Original spaces and elements in primarily public locations that have high architectural significance will typically be categorized in the Restoration Zone.

Elements/spaces in semi-public or private spaces that are original and moderately architecturally significant will be considered in the Rehabilitation Zone. Spaces not fitting in the above two categories will be classified in the Renovation Zone.

The analysis of the Restoration spaces will be subdivided by element (i.e. flooring, walls, etc.) and further subdivided into “description”, “condition”, and “recommendations” for spaces in Zone 1: Restoration Zone. This information will be general however, given that only a cursory survey of the spaces was performed. The basement levels will be treated less specifically given that there are numerous spaces which have similar treatments which are typically non-public service and workspaces.

The following zones have been identified:

Zone 1: Restoration Zone
1A Exterior -- Plaza and Surrounding Site
1B Exterior – Building Facades
1C Interior -- Main Lobby
1E Interior – Stairs from Workroom Mezzanine to Main Lobby

Zone 2: Rehabilitation Zone
2A Interior -- Corridors & Tenant Spaces – Floors 4 – 10, 27, 29, 31 – 32, 34, 37, 39

Zone 3: Renovation Zone
3A Interior -- Corridors & Tenant Spaces – Floors 2 – 3, 11 – 26, 28, 30, 33, 35 – 36, 38
3B Interior -- Elevator Corridors
3C Interior -- Public Toilet Rooms
3D Interior -- Mechanical floors (13A, 13B, 40-42)
3E Interior -- Basement Levels (Platform Level, Workroom Level, Workroom Mezzanine Level): Corridors, Mechanical/Electrical Rooms, Storage Rooms, Loading Dock, Locker/Shower Rooms, Non-original Toilet Rooms, Non-original offices.

The analysis of the above Restoration and Rehabilitation spaces will be subdivided by element (i.e. flooring, walls, etc.) and further subdivided into “description”, “condition”, and “recommendations”. The descriptions will be based on a cursory survey of the spaces and will therefore provide only an overview of the conditions. A determination will be made as to element’s level of contribution to the overall architectural aesthetic. The criteria for identifying the Zones have been established by the GSA and are outlined in Attachment 3: Guidelines for Zoning Historic Buildings. In general, elements in primary public spaces that directly contribute to the architectural character and retain their original configuration and materials will be deemed significant. Elements/spaces in semi-public or private spaces that are original and moderately architecturally significant to the building will be considered moderately significant. Spaces not fitting into the above two categories will be classified in the Renovation Zone. Although the conditions will only be generally described there may be some that are specifically called out and warrant more attention. The recommendations are likewise general in nature and only intended to provide guidance for future repair or maintenance.

Description Architect
1966 1975 Joint venture Mies van der Rohe
1966 1975 Joint venture Schmidt, Garden, & Erikson
1966 1975 Joint venture A. Epstein and Sons
1966 1975 Joint venture C. F. Murphy and Associates
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13