"The north half is often called a fountainhead of modern architecture because of its total absence of exterior ornament. Root evidently felt that all that was needed here was graceful form for the structure itself. The south half of the building, on the other hand, is a masterful early application of classical architectural principles to the design of a tall building" ("History," Monadnock Building, 2008).
The early death of Root was not the only problem to plague the office complex -- when the building was finally finished and built, it was "so heavy that it sank into the ground after....requiring [reinforcement]...and steps to be installed at the entrances" to support the massive weight and to enable people to enter the structure ("Monadnock Building," Archinform, 2008). There was also some contention about what style of windows to use: "Chief developer Peter Brooks originally ruled out any projecting bay windows, but he was persuaded of their financial benefit by his Chicago agent Owen Aldis" who stated that office workers would appreciate the added light from the windows, regardless of how they appeared from the outside ("The Monadnock,"Emporis, 2008).
Roth's acquiescence to his patrons' demands, and the more conservative orientation of the second largest architectural firm in Chicago, Holabird & Roche, is what keeps the Monadnock from being considered thoroughly modernistic in style. "In spite of Root's artistic achievement in making the tall building a unified, coherent statement, it was structurally traditional, employing cast iron and wrought iron framing only for window spandrels and the internal frame"("The Monadnock," Emporis, 2008).
This is why the walls at ground level had to be so thick to carry the upper floors, such "massive bulk then rested on an immense iron and reinforced concrete raft" (Roth 176).
Still, the Monadnock marks a historic occasion history of architecture and urban structural methods, as the north half of the Monadnock remains the tallest building ever supported almost exclusively by brick, a support style retained by the original south half of the building. The later addition to the south quarter improved upon the building's support system, after the original 'sinkage' problem, thus this section is "is supported entirely by a steel frame, as were most of the tall buildings that followed it. Today, this is called 'curtain wall' construction: the facade doesn't support the building; it's just a 'curtain' to keep out the elements ("Monadnock Building," Archinform, 2008).
The building's location in the Loop district of downtown Chicago, Illinois was determined by the intended centrality of commerce in the building's functionality, which is retained today in its current use, despite the great changes that have occurred in Chicago since its original construction. Chicago, one of the great cities of modern architecture and the great commercial 'hub' of the Midwest makes it difficult to conceive of the Monadnock being located anywhere else -- it showcases what was then Chicago's architectural supremacy, as distinct from older-appearing cities such as Boston and Philadelphia. The building today houses everything from private offices to sandwich shops, and has every imaginable amenity.
Movement and Style
There are many elements of the building that are quite 19th century, including its constructed material, pre-skyscraper technology lack of a real internal skeleton, even after its rehabilitation ("The Monadnock," Emporis, 2008). The spread foundations are so wide that they extend 11 feet beyond the building's lot under the surrounding streets. However, the sleekness of design and subtle curvature point towards the future of architectural design. Although later modernists decried the 'older looking' additions in its Southern sections, the whispering reminders of Egyptian architecture, fused with elements of more classical style now makes the building seem even more contemporary -- postmodern in its melding of different periods, as well as modern in its spare grandeur.
The Building." Monadnock Building. http://www.monadnockbuilding.com/building.htm. Accessed 21 Apr 2008.