The Cook County offices and City Hall have had a long history of shared buildings and locations in Chicago. The current building is the 7th edition of City Hall and is built on the same location as its Italianate predecessor. The previous building was notorious for its poor structural design. Employees began to notice structural failures in the building soon after arrival. Plans to build the current building began within 10 years of its previous structure.
When the current building was under development, it became clear that the people of Chicago did not want their city and county government housed in a “modern day” skyscraper. They preferred to see it encased in the Neoclassical style, still all the rage following the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.
The Cook County offices and City Hall are two entirely separate but identical buildings designed by Holabird & Roche and finished in 1907 and 1911. The County building faces east towards Daley Plaza while City Hall faces west. Their ionic, 9 foot wide Corinthian columns are hollow and stand 75 feet tall. The monumental capitals are another 12 feet in height. All together, the columns were the largest in the world at the time of completion.
In late 2005, Building Blocks collaborated with Mark 1 Restoration on significant facade work for the Cook County side. The large scope of work was divided into three main areas: the main exterior, the inset bays, and the light court. The main exterior included 100% of the course above the 11th floor heads. Initial bid documents presented a typical restoration project with attention given to lintels, and the visible cracks and distress that had accumulated over the years.
Soon after work began, a few unexpected challenges arose. The first complication was a high degree of variability between sets of ornamental terra cotta from floor to floor on the inset bays. The bid package presented a much simpler concept than what existed on the building. That variability had to be closely tracked, for which Building Blocks developed a complex naming system. The accuracy of survey and setting drawings was crucial to project completion.
Our second surprise was a result of failed steel supports and tight joint lines. Too much compressive pressure had built up between the terra cotta panels. When masons relieved pressure by grinding joints and removing failed pieces, new cracks formed across adjacent terra cotta and dramatically increased the number of new units that were needed. Daily updates and multiple site visits became essential for success.
118 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60602