Campus tour

A revised walking tour of the University of Chicago campus, now with 100% more Marxist class analysis — right after the jump…

WELCOME to the University of Chicago. {My name, one hour fifteen minutes, what we’ll see.] Few other places in America have such a remarkable degree of architectural consistency; here, forty years of almost continuous construction have blended together to create a harmonious architectural symphony in Gothic, inflected with various other styles. “There are buildings at other places which are finer than anything at Chicago, but nowhere else is so harmonious and satisfactory as a group.” Edward Slosson, arch critic, 1910.


First UoC: 1856, Stephen Douglas donated land at 35th/Cottage to the Baptist church for a college. Church established school in 1857. Closed in 1886, buildings gone.

Resurrected in 1892 with $600,000 from John D. Rockefeller (who had never been to Chicago) and $400,000 from both Baptist and secular donors (fundraising organized by Rev Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed), as a nonsectarian university. Chicago’s nouveau riche seeking to establish credibility for the city. Chicago was brand new, a “city on the make” as Sandburg said. In 1830, it was a little village; in 1890, well over a million people lived here. Its new millionaires spent fortunes on both private and public extravagances that equalled or surpassed those in East Coast or European cities: the Art Institute, the CSO, the skyscrapers, department stores, Historical Society, Academy of Sciences, Pullman, the Ship Canal, the World’s Fair. America’s industrial might found its highest expression here, making Chicago the most modern, industrial, and exciting city in an era and a land of high hopes.

Chicago, circa 1890: the instant-antique White City seeks to impose the
confidence and security of the past onto the Black City of the present,
creating a clean, prosperous, bourgeois city of the future. A city
carved from the prairie–“God’s blank slate.”

Robert Herrick, English professor here: “ardent, ambitious businessmen eager to change the city’s image from one of barbarous materialism to one of refinement and culture.”
It was in this hopeful moment that Rockefeller brought Wm Rainey Harper on board as first president; he taught Semitic languages at Yale. Harper sought to create the university of the future here, and with the help of Rockefeller’s fortunes he created a scholarly center almost overnight, devoted to individual graduate research along the lines of German universities but also with a college, press, extension programs, etc. “Instant university.” The univ was coed at founding. Harper used the fortune to poach faculty members from other universities, offering much higher salaries to draw big names.

The campus adopted a master plan created in 1891 by Cobb for land donated by Marshall Field in the newly annexed residential suburb of Hyde Park. The plan created seven quadrangles: three south, three north, and one central. The plan also called for Tudor (or Collegiate) Gothic architecture; the trustees (Hutchinson and Ryerson, particularly) felt that �the very latest English Gothic� was a style appropriate for a great university, that in the American public imagination it recalled the great seats of learning at Oxford and Cambridge. The urban plan also recalls the medieval walled quadrangles of those campuses; most building entrances and the more ornate exteriors face into the quads. This style was also important for establishing credibility and permanence for the university in a city marked by constant upheaval. The late 19th century was a time for grand urban plans in the U.S., not just for cities (the City Beautiful movement that grew out of the fair being most prominent) but also for universities: new plans arose for Columbia, Berkeley, NYU, Washington Univ, West Point, Stanford, and Chicago. These plans often called (for the first time in urban history) for the concentration and separation of uses into residential or industrial or, in the case of campuses, academic districts. And, appropriately, the University of Chicago is located in placid suburb outside the central area and, at the time, well south of existing settlement.

Cobb was a reactionary choice; the 1890s were the peak of Louis Sullivan’s production. Both Chicago Schools of architecture (in a nutshell, Sullivan and Mies) believed that architecture should honestly express its function, structure, and materials — a radical notion in their time, and one rejected by the conservative, monied UC board. The board instead voted for a variation of the 1880s’ Richardsonian Romanesque, quite the fashion back East; Cobb delivered a similar historical fortress in Gothic to shelter knowledge from the commercial sin just outside — added benefit of Gothic having sacred connotations dating back to the medieval cathedrals.

Many of the buildings we will look at were built before 1930 by one of two firms. Both were best known at the time for their downtown libraries: Cobb’s Newberry Library & Shepley’s Chicago Public Library (1897).

Henry Ives Cobb (1892-1901): Romanesque (Newberry Library) and Classical (Fair’s Fisheries Building). Emphasis on doors, high windows, and roof elements — gables, dormers, hipped roofs. Traditional Gothic ornamentation: grotesques, finials, fleurs-de-lis. Square windows.

Shepley, Rutan, Coolidge (1901-1929), campus architects from Boston, descendant firm of H.H. Richardson: emphasis on walls, fewer planes and bays. Lower, simpler roof planes, fewer dormers/gables. Simpler massing. Intricate carving around doors. Arched, mullioned windows. Richer, more elaborate, historicist interiors (few Cobb interiors remain, as most of the 19th c. buildings were gut rehabbed, but the spaces were not that memorable) — vaults, hammer-beam ceilings, carved stairs (this was coincidental with Arts & Crafts movement, return to handcrafted ornament). After 1910 or so, symbolic ornamentation.

In the first decade, Coolidge designs often directly recalled those at Oxford and Cambridge. After the Great War, a building boom on campus � fueled by the 1920s� prosperity � created buildings that referred to an imagined campus gothic more so than the actual English predecessor.


1916, Coolidge

Why it faces the Midway: the university’s face. Women’s student center, with dining and recreation

Exterior: knights in shining armor alongside door

Interior: hospitality, residential feel. Masque at dedication; mural by Jessie Arms Botke in 3d floor theater.

Immediately to the north is the new Graduate School of Business, finished in 2004. Architect is Rafael Vinoly of Spain.


FL Olmsted for South Park Commission

1893 World’s Fair. “Plaisance” = winding paths. White City vs. Gray City created distinct contrast, symbolism of Classicism (materialism, mercantilism of Renaissance) vs. Gothic (timeless religious devotion of Medieval)

More electricity than entire city of Chicago. 250 foot Ferris Wheel (world’s first), right next to Foster between University and Greenwood. The “Street in Cairo,” Persian, and Moorish palaces were at Woodlawn.

By 1907, the university owned all of the street frontage along the Midway; the original plan was revised to reflect a grand boulevard frontage along the Midway.


1895, Cobb


Laird Bell Law Quadrangle: 1959, Eero Saarinen. includes classrooms, a courtroom, and a library arranged around a courtyard and fountain. The vertical undulation of the fa�ade recalls the verticality of the gothic.

Social Sciences Administration: 1965, Mies.

Burton-Judson Courts.


1893, Cobb. Women’s quad; all dorms same year. Note ornamentation; they pretty much mirror Goodspeed/Gates/Blake across the quads in roofline. Now social sciences offices, renovated mid 1960s. The extensive ornamentation of Foster at the outside corner was an architectural statement — World’s Fair visitors were to “keep out.”



1929, Coolidge. Calipers, slide rules, ballot, adding machine on gargoyles. On portico, SE Adam Smith, NE Edward Gibbon, Jeremy Bentham, NW Auguste Comte, SW, Francis Galton


Was Graduate School of Business, now under renovation for various academic departments.

Rosenwald: 1915, Holabird & Roche. Symbolic, not stylized, ornamentation as of 1915. Geology, geography. Possibly the most generously ornamented building on campus. From Harper Quad, note ornaments on tower: originally for meteorology, it depicts the four winds and birds. “Dig and Discover.”

Walker Museum: Cobb, 1893. Originally paleontology museum (now Field’s collection) from Fair collections.

Stuart: 1904, Coolidge. Law School, modeled on chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. Scales of justice, Moses, 10 Commandments.


1912, Coolidge. East Tower: Christchurch Hall, Oxford. West: King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. Center door flanked by Descartes and Ben Franklin, symbols of general learning.

Interior: east screen has Eastern universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Berlin, St Petersburg, Bologna, Tokyo, Calcutta). west screen has Western unis: Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Chicago.

The university did not have a seal at the time; one was created, with a phoenix (the mystical bird that rises from fire � this recalled the Great Fire of Chicago) resembling a German eagle.

Prior to the completion of the general library, all departments had individual libraries. This pattern was continued here by establishing third floor libraries and connecting the buildings with third floor bridges. The top-floor library was common in 19th century schools, since a clear span space was structurally easier to include.


1896, Cobb. Cornerstone has inscriptions in three languages, all about light and knowledge. Originally O.I. museum. Totem pole: 1946, 27 feet tall, cedar, by Wilson Williams (half Kwakiutl from B.C.)


1928, Coolidge. “Literature laboratory:” north face: Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, Ibsen, Dante, Molienre, Hugo, Cervantes, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Emerson. Scenes from works. Mirrors SocSci.



1915, Coolidge. Aesop’s Fables on cornice, doorway: Seneca, Cicero, Plato, Socrates.


1892, Cobb.


1926, Coolidge. Adam & Eve on west face. Angels and good shepherd inviting in on east. Beasts, devils on cornice. Narthex screen: birds among grapevines. Hammer-beam cherubs. Beatitudes (from Matthew) carved into frieze; radiators are behind.

Chancel window by Charles Connick, 1928. (Note some degree of abstraction; note again at Rockefeller, where stained glass is abstract.) Left to right: top row: cherubs (love), seraphim (wisdom); second: powers, virtues, thrones, dominions, principalities;

Medallions in center: third row: sword, keys, shell; fourth (begin saints): Mary-ointment, Lazarus-phoenix, Martha-fruit; fifth: Thomas-sparrows, Philip-loaves, [skip one] John the Baptist-lamb/book, [skip one] Simon-fish, Matthias-hatchets; sixth: Elizabeth-gate, Zachariah-censor


1926, Coolidge. Divinity. Location and symbolism; unusual that the site was left clear.



(Silas) COBB

1892, (Henry) Cobb. University’s first building: 8:30am, 1 October 1892. Originally, it was the entire university. Gut renovated in mid-1960s. Houses Ren Society.


1948, Holabird Root Burgee. One of three Modern buildings on the actual Quadrangles, but by far the most prominent. In 1945, Trustee Peter Russell attended a lecture by Harvard GSD’s dean, Joseph Hudnut, who decried the University as “that horror on the Midway.” Modern education needed Modern buildings, or so they thought at the time. It is widely despised by students. Nevertheless, it’s a functional design that maintains several features of the Tudor Gothic: the hipped roof, the cornices, the proportions and material.


1929, Coolidge. Door: Williard Gibbs (physical) and August Kekule (organic). West door: John Dalton. Other ornaments: Bessemer converter, balance, spectroscope. Room 405: 18 Aug 1942 plutonium first isolated, 10 Sept first weighed. First synthetic chemical element, first isolation of a man-made isotope. The secrecy of the Manhattan Project demanded that they call the new element “copper” and actual copper “honest-to-God copper.” Later, plutonium was decided upon, with its rather silly symbol Pu (not Pl).


Kent: 1894, Cobb.

Ryerson: 1894, Cobb. Both were used to frame the outlines of the main quadrangle early on in the university’s construction and feature elements typical of Cobb construction: heavy doorways, rusticated stone, turrets, slight asymmetry, and complex rooflines. Kent has an octagonal lecture hall in the rear which was, for a while, the largest assembly hall in the university. Ryerson houses a small observatory at its peak.


Vast, labyrinthe complex covering as much land as the rest of the university–12 miles of hallways! Construction on the first buildings began in 1916 but was not finished until 1927. Moderne detailing typical of the time has echoes in Rockefeller Chapel. Latest addition is Comer Children’s Hospital, completed 2004.


1902, Coolidge. Brick is rare here; other instance is the Quadrangle Club (faculty club) on the other end of campus.


Cummings: 1973, I. W. Colburn. Load-bearing walls and columnar vents whose verticality recalls gothic.

Crerar: 1984, Subbins Assoc. Note horizontality, with vertical fenestration that reflects the division between reading rooms and stacks (and one Gothic arch). Capacity 1.3 million volumes; originally was a privately owned, publicly accessible library complementing CPL and the Newberry, at 150 N Michigan (now Smurfit-Stone Container, the building with a diamond shaped roof).

Hinds: 1969, Colburn.


1985, Holabird & Root

Point out map of campus (if possible to gain entry/time; at north end). Traditional stance with punched windows along Ellis, glassy and modern curtain wall to face science quad. Science quad evolved over time without any unifying architectural theme; hence, early buildings like Cummings face away from it while newer ones like KPTC face towards it. The vast Interdivisional Research Laboratories under construction at the north end of the quadrangle are another attempt to unify the quad.


1968, Smith Smith Haines Lundberg & Waehler. Campus legend has it that, due to the chemistry experiments inside, the building is designed to implode rather than explode; however, that design feature (common to most modern buildings) is hardly a reaction to the program. It does fit into its context through scale, materials, and fenestration.


1893, Cobb. Only Cobb-era residence hall still used as such and only one of two residences still on the quads.


1902, Dwight Perkins

Oxford-inspired suite design inside; outside has Gothic ornaments and elements (dormers, cloister, tower, buttresses) unified with Prairie iconography (horizontal emphasis [note long, low dormers], geometric/stylized carvings of prairie plants on runcourse below cornice, geometric art glass windows). Mrs Annie Hitchcock selected young Perkins as the architect; she had paid for his MIT education, he was a young associate at Frank Lloyd Wright’s firm.


1967, Henry Moore

Skull, mushroom cloud. Hope, fear, what?

On 2 December 1942, at 3:25pm, George Weil withdrew a cadmium plated control rod and initiated a nuclear reaction (graphite and uranium) in a squash court underneath Stagg Field. The reaction lasted for 28 minutes.


1970, Walter Netsch of SOM

“Slipped segments” design minimizes scale, recessed entry brings users to center of building. Nearly 4 million volumes live here. This is also one of the less loved buildings on campus, although it’s certainly the most used. Project underway to expand, as with any academic library, using a super high tech box to the SW.


2001, Ricardo Legorreta

Scale & sequence of spaces, unique colors to add interest especially during gray winters, but geometry is clumsy, perhaps appropriate to its block but possibly overwhelming to old Quads
Dorms, like most residential spaces, now mostly about interiors


1897-1901, Cobb.

Cobb’s swan song; he donated it, and they fired him. Symbolism of gargoyles.


1897, Cobb. Cheaper than Ryerson/Kent; the trustees were upset with Cobb for spending too much on ornament, so this group of science labs was built on a tight budget. Cobb spent his time lavishing ornament upon the Gate instead. Nowadays, the labs are antiquated.


Coolidge, 1904.

Probably the only gymnasium anywhere built with a stained glass window (depicting Rowena crowning Ivanhoe, by Edward Sperry of the Tiffany studio) opposite a mural of a jousting match (by Frederick Clay Bartlett, for whom the building is named — his father was the donor). Built as men’s gym/pool, now a dining hall. Rockefeller Jr.: “Is it wise to use the cathedral architecture in a gymnasium?” The window was removed for restoration; if you get a chance, go inside for lunch and see how the old running track was retained.


1903, Coolidge.

Mitchell Tower: after Magdalen College, Oxford. Palmer chimes: change ringing. Ten bells, each inscribed.

Reynolds Clubhouse: after St John’s College, Oxford. Contains student center. Residential feel, like Ida Noyes.

Hutchinson Commons: after Christchurch Hall, Oxford. Walls up to 60′ wainscoated in oak, above stained. Shields are English and American universities.

Hutch Court: fountain 1914. 1954 Court Theatre started here.

Mandel Hall: Tiffany windows, again with university coats of arms.


1930, Charles Klauder

South door has Newton and Gauss. Other ornaments include geometric figures, signs of the zodiac, the shields of the Uni Gottingen, Sorbonne, and Cambridge (seats of mathematics) on west face of Mandel bridge, Euclid’s proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (outside south door), famous astronomers, mathematicians, and physicists.


1892. Originally clustered residences (graduates, men, women) into quadrangles. This site was to have had the chapel (and gate), with a University Hall opposing; the original axis was E-W rather than N-S, was altered after Marshall Field donated the blocks to the north (now the Reg) in 1898. In 1902, the plan was revised to focus humanities and social sciences in the southern quads and sciences in the north, due to the forthcoming construction of the new general (but mostly H/SS) library.


1971, Ralph Rapson & Assoc; Burnham & Hammond; J Lee Jones

Limestone and verticality matches gothic traditions. Orig. Center for Intl Studies. Bridge to Walker never built. Sculpture by Virginio Ferrari.


1931, Mayers Murray & Phillip (Goodhue�s successor firm)

Egyptology fad of 1920s-1930s after Tutankhamen�s tomb opened in 1922.

Art Moderne simplicity begins to replace Gothic. Bas-relief tympanum above doorway by Henry James Breasted (with Ulric Ellerhusen), first director and model for “Indiana Jones.” East and West meet the sun; hieroglyphs read “I have beheld thy beauty,” symbolizing the gift of writing from East to West. Ankh symbolizes life. Icons of East and West (Hammurabi is 2nd on L, Herodotus, Caesar, and Alexander represent the West), with the Nebraska State Capitol on the right (Goodhue design).


Not part of campus, but still interesting.

1926, Riddle & Riddle. Tower is totally ornamental; not even bells hang there.


1910, FLW

The pinnacle of Wright’s Prairie Style. For information on separate tours, please visit the gift shop.

Four horizontal planes: a prow on the prairie. Symmetrical around the chimney, symmetry of visual weight. Cantilevered roof and long windows add to horizontality. First residence in U.S. to use poured in place concrete; with welded steel beams for roof and balconies; with central vacuum; with three car attached garage.


2005, Rafael Viñoly

From Uruguay, Tokyo Intl Forum & Kimmel Ctr in Philadelphia & Conv Ctrs in Pgh & Boston
Most famous works feature delicately ribbed internal atriums; here, a winter garden with four (Gothic) pillars, natural light
Stacked horizontal massing and entry sequence recall Wright


1928, Bertram Goodhue

Goodhue�s �Modern Gothic�/Arts & Crafts. University President Ernest Burton: �finely proportioned solids and surfaces devoid of all detail except that of noble sculpture.�

Carvings on exterior: south face around Te Deum window has religious figures and saints. Door of east transept: the Acropolis and the University. Woodrow Wilson (Princeton) and Theodore Roosevelt (Harvard) with respective shields. Seal of university, seal of President of US.

The only building on campus built in a medieval manner, with load bearing walls (and ceiling — one of Chicago’s few examples of Guastavino tile vaulting). Some vertical supports for roof trusses and tower are structural steel.

Tower over east transept (transept is typically north-south, with nave pointing east to Jerusalem; here, the nave points to the Midway for architectural value, and the tower faces east � only other example is at Liverpool, another �modern cathedral�) holds Laura Spelman Rockefeller Carillon, 72 bells, 220 tons, second largest musical instrument in world (after the other L S Rock carillon, at Riverside Church near Columbia Univ. NYC). Over east transept door: Goodhue with his tower and Bach with his organ. (Goodhue died in 1924, before construction began.)

Unusually wide, tall clerestory windows have abstract design and pale amber/purple color to emphasize airiness of interior.

For info on separate tours, including of the bell tower and carillon, please see the office in the NE corner.

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