Day 149/365 of Steel – Daniel Burnham

Daniel Hudson Burnham (September 4, 1846 – June 1, 1912) was an American architect and urban designer. He designed several famous buildings, including a number of notable skyscrapers in Chicago, the Flatiron Building of triangular shape in New York City, Union Station in Washington D.C., London’s Selfridges department store, and San Francisco’s Merchants Exchange.

The Rookery Building, Chicago
Fig 1: The Rookery Building, Chicago
Photo: Adam Daniels Photography

At age 26, Burnham moved on to the Chicago offices of Carter, Drake & Wight where he met future business partner John Wellborn Root, who was 21 and four years younger than Burnham. The two became friends and then opened an architectural office together in 1873. The talents of the two partners were complementary. Both men were artists and gifted architects, but Root had a knack for conceiving elegant designs and was able to see almost at once the totality of the necessary structure. Burnham, on the other hand, excelled at bringing in clients and supervising the building of Root’s designs.

Rookery Light Court
Fig 2: Rookery Light Court
Photo: James Caulfield

The Rookery Building is a historic office building located at 209 South LaSalle Street in the Chicago Loop. Completed in 1888, it is considered one of their masterpiece buildings. The building is twelve stories tall, and is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago. It has a unique construction style featuring exterior load-bearing walls and an interior steel frame, providing a transition between accepted and new building techniques. The lobby was remodeled in 1905 by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chicago Rookery Escalier Face
Fig 3: Chicago Rookery Escalier Face
Photo: Velvet

On January 15, 1891, Root died after a three-day course of pneumonia. After Root’s death, the firm was renamed D.H. Burnham & Company. Root’s death, while devastating to Burnham personally, allowed him to develop as an architect in a way it might not have, had Root lived on.

The Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building, Manhattan, New York
Fig 4: Flatiron Building, Manhattan, New York

In 1901, Burnham designed the Flatiron Building in New York City, a trailblazing structure that utilized an internal steel skeleton to provide structural integrity; the exterior masonry walls were not load-bearing. This allowed the building to rise to 22 stories. It would be Burnham’s first in New York City.

Flatiron Building
Fig 5: Flatiron Building
Source: Unknown author Copyright: Creative Commons 3.0

Construction proceeded at a very rapid pace. The steel was so meticulously pre-cut that the frame went up at the rate of a floor each week. By February 1902 the frame was complete, and by mid-May the building was half-covered by terra-cotta tiling. The building was completed in June 1902, after just a year of construction. 

Flatiron construction stages
Fig 6: Flatiron construction stages
Photo: Credited to the Library of Congress

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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