Chicago architecture has influenced and reflected the history of American architecture. The city of Chicago, Illinois features prominent buildings in a variety of styles by many important architects. Since most buildings within the downtown area were destroyed (the most famous exception being the Water Tower) by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, Chicago buildings are noted for their originality rather than their antiquity. Beginning in the early 1880s, the Chicago School pioneered steel-frame construction and, in the 1890s, the use of large areas of plate glass.
These were among the first modern skyscrapers. William LeBaron Jenney’s Home Insurance Building of 1885 was the first to use steel in its structural frame instead of cast iron, but this building was still clad in heavy brick and stone. Daniel Burnham and his partners, John Welborn Root and Charles Atwood, designed technically advanced steel frames with glass and terra cotta skins in the mid-1890s; these were made possible by professional engineers, in particular E. C. Shankland, and modern contractors, in particular George A. Fuller.
Louis Sullivan was the city’s most philosophical architect. Realizing that the skyscraper represented a new form of architecture, he discarded historical precedent and designed buildings that emphasized their vertical nature. This new form of architecture, by Jenney, Burnham, Sullivan, and others, became known as the “Commercial Style,” but it was called the “Chicago School” by later historians. In 1892 the Masonic Temple surpassed the New York World Building, breaking its two year reign as the tallest skyscraper, only to be surpassed itself two years later by another New York building.
Daniel Burnham led the design of the “White City” of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition which some historians claim led to a revival of Neo-Classical architecture throughout Chicago and the entire United States. It is true that the “White City” represented anything other than its host city’s architecture. While Burnham did develop the 1909 “Plan for Chicago”, perhaps the first comprehensive city plan in the U. S, in a Neo-Classical style, many of Chicago’s most progressive skyscrapers occurred after the Exposition closed, between 1894 and 1899.
Louis Sullivan said that the fair set the course of American architecture back by two decades, but even his finest Chicago work, the Schlesinger and Meyer (later Carson, Pirie, Scott) store, was built in 1899–five years afer the “White City” and ten years before Burnham’s Plan. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School influenced both building design and the design of furnishings. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Chicago influenced the later Modern or International style.
Van der Rohe’s work is sometimes called the Second Chicago School. The Sears Tower would be the world’s tallest building from its construction in 1974 until 1998 and later for some categories of building. Numerous architects have constructed landmark buildings of varying styles in Chicago. Some of these are the so-called “Chicago seven”: James Freed, Tom Beeby, Larry Booth, Stuart Cohen, James Nagle, Stanley Tigerman, and Ben Weese.