The Century Building, Chicago, IL
Location: 202 S State St, Chicago, IL 60604
The 202 S. State Street Building was designed by the noted firm Holabird and Roche. It is historically unique for two important reasons. First, the distinct vertical expression of the exterior elevations of this building and others by the firm, notably the North American Building, portend the transition from the Chicago School buildings of the late 19th Century to the Art Deco of the 1920s. This change is prominently exhibited in the Tribune Competition of 1922, in which the first three places were won by architects who accented the vertical in their designs. Second, the overall design of the façade ornament appears to be of based on a design of unique origin, contributing to the diversity of the architectural environment within the Chicago Loop.
Mr. Robert Bruegmann, Professor of Architecture History, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author of “Holabird & Roche/Holabird & Root,” has stated;
1. John Holabird and John Root came to the H&R office in 1913. (This follows their education at l’École des Beaux-Arts, Paris). John Root was extremely interested in obscure historic styles that had not been “discovered” and someone gave him a book on Portuguese Gothic (Manueline) architecture.
2. This team knew was familiar with Cass Gilbert’s design for the Woolworth Building in New York.
3. The North American Building, at the intersection of Monroe and State Streets, just predates 202 S. State Street and exhibits some verticality in the façade. Bruegmann feels the size of the property, 96’X120’ for the North American vs. 42’X101’for the Century, probably had something to do with accenting the verticality on the latter’s façade, i.e., the narrow bay spacing selected for State St. was carried through on Adams and the spandrels were set back.
It can be assumed that Root’s interest in obscure historic styles led him to the design of the façade of 202 S. State. Manueline and Neo-manueline styles feature a proliferation of complex ornament around building openings, such as windows and doors, and often feature botanical motifs and pinnacles, among other elements. Neo-manueline surged in popularity in Portugal at the turn of the 20th century. Therefore, it is likely that the program of ornament for 202 S. State was based largely on this unique historic style.
Emphasis of verticality is also seen in the design of 202 S. State. Comparison to earlier Holabird and Roche designs, such as the Marquette Building, which used strong horizontals in balance with verticals, it can be understood that this trend began with a strict derivation from preceding popular architectural forms. The motif of strong, deep verticals with recessed understated spandrels was also used in Holabird and Roche’s entry for the Tribune Tower Competition seven years later. Several other entries for the competition, including Howells and Hood’s first place design and, most notably, Saarinen’s second place design, also used this design technique. Then a radically new motif, it soon became a Chicago skyscraper standard. 202 S. State, constructed 7 years before the contest, was a precursor to the proliferation of this new vertically-focused style.
Louis Sullivan said of Eliel Saarinen’s entry for the Tribune Tower Competition, a design which also lauded a strong vertical emphasis:
“………it prophesies a time to come, and not so far away, when the wretched and the yearning, the sordid, and the fierce, shall escape the bondage and the mania of fixed ideas.
Qualifying as it does in every technical regard, and conforming to the mandatory items of the official program of instructions, it goes freely in advance, and, with the steel frame as a thesis, displays a high science of design such as the world up to this day had neither known or surmised. In its single solidarity of concentrated intention, there is revealed a logic of a new order, the logic of living things; and this inexorable logic of life is most graciously accepted and set forth in fluency of form. Rising from the earth in suspiration as of the earth and as of the universal genius of man, it ascends in beauty lofty and serene……until its lovely crest seems at one with the sky.
To summarize current (May 2009) levels of interior integrity: most interior partition walls have been demolished and few original finishes remain. Only the stairways (original) and main lobby (1951 remodeling) retain high levels of historic character. Overall, 202 S. State Street also has poor exterior integrity. The remaining original façade, while deteriorated, is important as a rare example of Neo-Manueline influenced architecture in the Midwest and as a very early precursor of the vertically-emphasized façade that became very popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s (as manifested in the 1922 Tribune Tower Competition). The overall form and detailing is very important to maintaining the significance of this building. Alterations at the storefront and second floor levels have completely altered their original appearance, but remain in fair to good condition and have contributed historically in their own right. The alterations are significant due to the rarity of remaining Art Moderne architecture in the area, and because 202 S. State Street acts as a testament to the multiplicity and diversity of styles popular in Chicago architectural design in the first half of the twentieth century. Therefore, major changes that occurred to the storefront and lobby during the 1950’s should also be considered as unique and important examples of the age that they represent.