Saturday, December 4, 2010



I posted this photograph of the Merchandise Mart on Facebook, and a friend posted the comment "is this still the largest building in the world?"  I didn't know.

Alfred Shaw, working for Graham Anderson Probst and White designed this building for Marshall Field & Company in 1930. At 4.1 million square feet is was the largest commercial building in the world. (The Beijing and Dubai Airport terminals now hold first and second place based on size alone.)

Consolidating all of Marshall Field and Company's City warehouses into one location seemed to be just the ticket to James Simpson, president of Marshall Field & Company AND Chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission. Especially when that location was sited at the confluence of the country's railroad and steam shipping systems. And (btw) was a major component of the Chicago River improvement recommended in Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago

The only logical selection for a project of this scope, site and importance was the architectural firm of Graham Anderson Probst and White. Alfred Shaw was ready. Designer of the Straus Bank, the Pittsfield Building (tallest in the City at its time of construction) and the Civic Opera Block, Beaux-Arts educated Shaw had joined GAPW at the specific request of design Partner Peirce Anderson.

Talk about credentials!

But for me, the real story here is not the building. (Although the Merchandise Mart remains one of my favorite buildings in the City). The story is Alfred Shaw. Born in 1895, he worked his way into the direct architectural line of succession begun with Daniel Burnham. He was colleague and assistant to William Peirce Anderson. He designed four beloved Chicago Landmarks, still recognized, even today. And then went on to survive the Depression and War that crippled Chicago's architectural community for 25 years......reinvented himself and came out swinging. At the age of 60.

The United of America Building, the first McCormick Place, Mid-Continental Plaza and that elegant, poured in place concrete spiral staircase that leads straight to the Rodin at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Not a bad second act, I'd say.

Not a bad first act, either.


Anderson brought on other notables at GAPW, including Theodore Lescher, George Robard, Charles Beersman, Louis Bourgeois, Frederick Dinkelberg and Mario Schiavoni. (Credit to Sally A. Kitt Chappell's "Architecture and Planning of Graham Anderson Probst and White.)  Thank, Anderson, too, for extending Daniel Burnham's direct influence far beyond his lifetime  ... almost, even, to our own. 

No comments:

Post a Comment