Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Yesterday, I made a presentation of “The Canadian Side of the Chicago School of Architecture 1884 – 1935” to a group of architecture students and faculty visiting Chicago from Fachhochscule Frankfurtam Main of Frankfort, Germany and Ryerson University of Toronto, at their request. It was a group of about fifty people, they had booked the Lecture Hall at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
While the important role of William LeBaron Jenney towards the development of the skyscraper building format is well known, the substantial Canadian influence in his practice at that time tends to be overlooked.
Jenney’s practice was one of a few noteworthy architectural practices in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire in 1872. In 1879, he designed and constructed the First Leiter Building, which is seen as a significant contributing building to the skyscraper format, both technically and aesthetically. In 1884, William Bryce Mundie, a young architect from Hamilton, Ontario, entered the Jenney practice. Mundie was immediately made Site Superintendant of the Home Life Insurance Building, widely considered by historians as being the first true skyscraper. Mundie was exceptionally talented and capable. Working his way up in the Jenney practice, Mundie was made Partner in 1891, at which point the practice’s name was changed to “Jenney and Mundie”. In 1897, the State of Illinois adopted an Architect’s Act, which defined who may practice architecture and what that practice may entail. Mundie obtained licensure as an Architect; Jenney did not, and passed away in 1907.
The period of time from 1891 – 1897 was very lucrative for the Jenney and Mundie practice, producing some of the most memorable projects associated with Jenney that are rarely associated with Mundie, though it appears that Mundie had considerable influence. Those projects would include the Fair Store (1890 – 96), the Ludington Building (1891), the World’s Fair Horticultural Building (1893), the YMCA Association Building (1893) and the New York Life Building (1894).
During this time, another young architect, John D. Atchison, passed through the Jenney and Mundie practice. After leaving to persue his own practice, Atchison did a string of unknown greystones and courtyard apartment buildings in Evanston, Illinois; he established an architectural practice in Winnipeg that was the only local practice with the knowledge and ability to take on ‘skyscraper’ projects.
John Atchison was the Architect of many skyscraper in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, such as the Fairchild Building (1906), the Maltese Cross Block (1909), the Great Western Insurance Building (1909), the Union Tower Building (1912) and the Bank of Hamilton Building (1916).
William Bryce Mundie continued on, being a guiding force in the Chicago Architectural Club, developing its curriculum and competition formats, becoming a major influence for incoming generations of Chicago architects. There is evidence that he stayed in contact with Atchison, who was also a member of the Chicago Architectural Club.
Meantime, Winnipeg’s economy took a prolonged downturn. John Atchison became a civic planner, being the force behind the establishment of the “Capitol Mall” concept leading up to the Manitoba Legislature Building. Atchison also persued out of town work, first in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, then in Pasadena, California.
There are many unanswered questions I’ve come across in my limited research, all of which would make excellent research topics for students of architectural history. Any takers?