November 23, 2015 marks a special occasion in the life of HDR’s architecture life in Chicago. Almost twenty years after we first established an office here, we embark on the next twenty by connecting with the design community in a very special way. Starting today, our studio will occupy the 7th Floor of the Inland Steel Building, located in the heart of Chicago's Loop.
The Inland Steel Building is a national landmark, designed by Walter Netsch and Bruce Graham of SOM and opened in 1958. It is a favorite Chicago building of many architects and engineers and features prominently in tours of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
What makes the Inland Steel Building so special? It may well represent a pinnacle of high modernism, a post World War II ideal expressed in stainless steel and glass. The well known phrase “form follows function” (from Chicago's own Louis Sullivan, of course) is clearly expressed in the building. The office floors are column free, wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass, with ultimate flexibility for various office configurations depending on the need of the particular tenant. The services and vertical circulation (exit stairs, passenger and service elevators) are contained within a windowless core that is pulled away from the office tower.
The entire structure is wrapped in stainless steel. The distinctive green-tinted float glass naturally complements the stainless steel: the green hue is in part a result of iron within the silica sands that make up the glass, and of course stainless is itself a derivative of a base iron material.
The building and its designers owe a heavy debt to Mies van der Rohe, the German architect who emigrated to Chicago twenty years earlier and had already built several groundbreaking structures in the city. However, Inland Steel breaks from the Miesian traditions in several ways, most notably the building’s skin. The stainless steel provides a warmth and depth that the flat black paint of 860-880 Lake Shore or the stark white steel of the Farnsworth House cannot.
As originally conceived, the Inland Steel Building would have been one of the first buildings in the world with a double facade. As built, there are still many advances. A Walker duct system distributes electrical and data through a series of sheet metal troughs cast within the structural slab. The below-grade parking was a first, and the aforementioned column free spaces were in radical contrast to the pre-war buildings of some of the greatest names in American architecture, including Sullivan, Burnham and Wright.
Of course, for our studio, the Inland Steel Building represents much more than architectural history or a relic of systems that were advanced 60 years ago but now seem almost archaic. Finding a home within this landmark building, HDR connects to a long legacy of Chicago architects and engineers, with great works produced and built locally and around the world. The rigor that went into the design and creation of the Inland Steel Building is the same that we seek in our own work. It is a remarkable feat for a building to be both timeless and yet of its time; to be both innovative and forward-thinking while remaining firmly practical. Our surroundings for our creative environment show us exactly what is possible and hold us accountable to the highest standards of the profession.
We had many options for our new location, but none that ticked as many boxes as Inland Steel. The most important aspect will be the inspirational feeling that comes every single day walking through the revolving doors into the elegant lobby and on up to our own studio. We've been here for 20 years, but in many ways, we've finally arrived.
Exterior images of the Inland Steel Building courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © Tom Harris @ Hedrich Blessing. Interior images of Inland Steel Building 7th floor renovation courtesy of Joe Cliggott.