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Inter-War Chicagoesque C. 1915—C. 1940

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A large part of Chicago’s business district was wiped out by fire in 1871, and its rebuilding saw the birth of the skyscraper as we know it. High land values pushed office buildings upwards. The elevator, pioneered by Otis and given electric power by von Siemens, gave access to upper floors which could then generate high rentals. The steel frame made it possible to build high without recourse to enormously thick load-bearing walls of brick or stone. During the x88os and 189oS Chicago architects gradually came to grips with these new realities and the need to find an appropriate architectural expression for them. Louis Sullivan’s Schlesinger & Meyer (later Carson, Pine, Scott and Company) store of 1899 summed up these developments: its steel frame (which still had to be sheathed in terracotta fireproofing) clearly expressed the grid of vertical columns and horizontal beams framing openings considerably wider than they were high, which were filled in with large windows. This new form of expression flouted precedent and convention: it had always been assumed that the wall area of a façade would exceed the window area, and window openings were expected to have vertical rather than horizontal proportions. Recognition of the rationality of the ‘Chicago solution’ to the problem of the high building has been evident throughout the twentieth century.
Somewhat belatedly, Australian commercial buildings showed Chicagoan influences most strongly during the period from World War Ito the Depression. The Inter-War Chicagoesque style appears in buildings of widely differing status, ranging from unpretentious brick warehouses to prestigious office blocks and department stores which have some of the trappings of the INTER-WAR COMMERCIAL PALAZZO style. The common factor is the horizontally emphasised window opening and the frank expression of the fact that the building has a steel skeleton frame. Rarely, however, did the designer give equal emphasis to horizontal and vertical elements on a façade. More often than not, horizontal spandrels beneath each set of windows are recessed behind unbroken vertical pier-like elements which suggest giant classical pilasters running through several storeys.

Westminster House, George Street, Sydney, NSW. Architect and date unknown. A building recalling the Chicago skyscraper work of William Le Baron Jenney.

Sheffield House, Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW. Architect unknown, 1922. The façade bays are so wide that they express a structural framework within.

Quoted from:
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.

Capitol Theatre, Melbourne opened 1924
Style Definition
The "Chicago School of Architecture" was a proto-modernist style which arose during the building boom after the Chicago Fire. The style is a major step in the direction of simplified modern architecture, and although it incorporates many features of historical styles the ornament is subordinated to the overall structural scheme. The style encompasses the first skyscrapers, and in many buildings the facade depicts nothing more than the rectangular steel grid underneath.

Buildings in this style were built in various cities, mostly in the Midwest but even in New York. Its influence was very strong in industrial architecture, and many early factories and warehouses fall into this category of design.

The two most prolific and important firms in the early development of the Chicago School were Holabird & Roche and Burnham and Root. The firm of Adler & Sullivan designed many of this style's most refined works, with intricate organic decorations in a style related to Art Nouveau.