Rookery Building

The oldest standing skyscraper in Chicago, the Rookery Building was built as part of an architectural boom that followed the Great Chicago Fire.

Rookery Building
- © Ann Fisher

What is the Rookery Building?

A 181 ft high-rise in the Chicago Loop with an ornate brick facade, the Rookery Building was completed in 1888 to the designs of architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root. It is today considered one of their masterpieces and a National Heritage Site.

Its lobby was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright, 'the greatest American architect of all time' according to the American Institute of Architects (1991), in 1905.

Rookery Building
- © Jay Galvin

The Origins the Rookery Building

Prior to the Rookery Building the site was occupied by a temporary City Hall, put up after the old one was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. The hall became notorious for crows, which used to flock around it, earning it the name the 'Rookery Building'.

The destruction caused by the fire gave birth to a new school of local architects, 'the Chicago School'. These raced to repopulate the city with innovative new high-rises that combined traditional elements, like intricate brickwork, with more modern ideas: steel frames, elevators, fireproofing, etc.

When the temporary City Hall was dismantled a new building was designed to take its place by two members of this architectural school, Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root. Their new structure was completed, in line with the school's ideals, in 1888.

Several names were considered for it but its predecessor's nickname won out and the Rookery Building we know today was born.

Rookery Building
- © Eric Allix Rogers

The Architectural Innovations of the Rookery Building

Along with its elevators and steel frame, the building features many other elements novel at the time. Amongst these are its 'floating' foundation, designed to manage the infamously swampy Chicago soil, and its light court, a much-acclaimed multi-storey space that provides natural light to the building's offices.

Wright's later modifications to the lobby were also forward-thinking and modern. These include white marble ornamentation and a double-set of elegant curving staircases both of which add a sense of grandeur to the building's interior.

Rookery Building
- © Kyle Magnuson

The Life of the Rookery Building

The building was originally home to Burnham and Root's offices, and later Wright's too. Today it houses US Bank, Brooks Brothers, Perkins Eastman and more.

It was last purchased in 2007 for $73 million by an investment group.

Since 1975 it has been a National Heritage Landmark and it is today Chicago's oldest standing skyscraper.

Tours are available from various different groups including Chicago Walking Tours on a daily basis, and Chicago Architecture Foundation monthly. The iconic light court is also available for private hire.

Rookery Building
- © Timothy Neesam

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Chicago Scavenger Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Chicago and beyond!

Rookery Building
- © Jeff Gunn