Day 282/365 of Steel – John Wellborn Root

John Wellborn Root (January 10, 1850 – January 15, 1891) was an American architect who was based in Chicago with Daniel Burnham. He was one of the founders of the Chicago School style. Two of his buildings have been designated a National Historic Landmark.

His later design work was said to have been influenced by the pioneering work of Liverpool architect Peter Ellis, who designed and built the world’s first two metal-framed, glass curtain-walled buildings, Oriel Chambers (1864) and 16 Cook Street (1866).

The Rookery Building
Fig 1: The Rookery Building
Photo: Unknown author

In 1871, Root moved to Chicago, where he was employed as a draftsman in an architectural firm. He met Daniel Burnham and two years later in 1873, the young men formed the firm of Burnham and Root; they worked together for 18 years.

Illustration of Montauk block, Chicago
Fig 2: Illustration of Montauk block, Chicago
Photo: A. T. Andreas ‘History of Chicago.’ 1886.

Root developed the floating raft system of interlaced steel beams, to create a foundation for tall buildings that would not sink in Chicago’s marshy soil. Root’s first use of this revolutionary system was for the Montauk Building in 1882, the first high-rise building in steel in Chicago. He later transferred use of the steel frame to the vertical load-bearing walls in the Phenix Building of 1887.

The Rookery

The Rookery Building
Fig 3: The Rookery Building
Photo: The Office For Visual Interaction

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. From 1989 to 1992, the lobby was restored to Wright’s design. The building is 55 m in height, twelve stories tall, and is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago. 

The Rookery Building
Fig 4: The Rookery Building
Photography by James Caulfield & Rock Photo

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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