For more than 100 years, travelers through Chicago’s South Side have marveled at the red-brick facades and distinctive, ornate architectural design of Main Building and Machinery Hall on the Main Campus of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Today, the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks awarded official landmark status for these Romanesque structures, built in 1892 and 1901, respectively, and situated across the street from each other at 33rd and Federal Streets.
With contributions from famed architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Helmut Jahn and Rem Koolhaas and a tradition in the sciences and engineering, IIT has long been a leader in Chicago architecture and higher education. And these two campus buildings have stood longer than any other; longer than the merging of Armour Institute and Lewis Institute to become IIT; even longer than the original Comiskey Park, which sat directly to the southwest from 1910-90.
“Main Building and Machinery Hall are an integral part of IIT's history – symbols of the proud architectural legacy that began with our founder, Philip Armour, and gained global prominence under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe,” said IIT President Lew Collens. "The buildings provide immediate recognition to those traveling past IIT's Main Campus from the Dan Ryan Expressway or State Street and they are important contributions to Chicago's rich architectural heritage.”
Granting city landmark status to the buildings recognizes the value they hold to Chicago’s history and culture and, more importantly, protects them from demolition. Landmark status is first recommended and then imparted by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The designation will also help IIT raise funds necessary to renovate and revitalize both historic structures.
Both buildings are representative of architecture developed for educational institutions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and are built in the Romanesque Revival style, which includes geometric forms, brick-and-stone walls and arched windows. Patton and Fisher was a leader in this design and built the Chicago Academy of Sciences in Lincoln Park as well as libraries at many Midwest universities. The firm built Main Building in 1892 for $500,000 and Machinery Hall in 1901 for $150,000.
The five-story, red-brick-with-terra-cotta-trim Main Building, 3300 S. Federal St., was built shortly after the founding of Armour Institute. It is the oldest building on IIT’s Main Campus and most recognizable as the structure looming to the east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. It features ornate designs inside and out, including a 17-foot-by-18-foot stained-glass window on the first-floor landing designed by Edwin Sperry, an associate of Louis Tiffany. Donated to the university in 1900, the window is divided into three sections of images representing success, heat, motion, gravity and light. Four other stained glass windows, gifts of the classes of 1897-1900, adorn the north wall of a first-floor office. The windows were discovered during renovations to the building in 1982. Key examples of the intricate ornaments and carvings are on display along the façade, on the roof and in the basement, where a former boiler room rises two stories on the south end of the building.
Built in 1901 to add more classroom space to the institution, Machinery Hall, 100 W. 33rd St., complements Main Building in design, but contrasts it in function. It was the first Armour Institute building constructed in the 20th century and features ornamental moldings and red brick. It was intended to ease crowding in Main Building as the Institute grew and features an arched entryway, round-arched windows and terra-cotta pilasters. Its top floor includes a large room with skylights and arched windows, as well as Classical-style details such as iconic capitals. The building is fitted to hold heavy machinery and served as a machine shop, forge, wood shop and foundry for many years.
The two buildings lend significance to Chicago architecture and history through their connection with the Romanesque Revival style. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks cited seven criteria for naming the buildings landmarks, including their status as critical parts of Chicago history, significant people involved in the design and development and unique visual features.