Coming up the stairs from the Blue Line subway stop, don’t let the Inland Steel Building (built 1954-58) blur into the skyscape of bad postmodern corporate glass office buildings. Looking as fresh architecturally as it does, it’s hard to believe that the structure has sat on the corner of Madison and Dearborn for a little over half of a century.
Bruce Graham and Walter Netsch of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architecture firm designed the office building that is exemplary of progressive postwar design. They used brushed steel to reference the business of the corporation itself, and the architects experimented with locating the utilities, like elevators and bathrooms, in a separate tower. This allowed the floor plan to be an unobstructed universal space (a modernist concept). But unlike Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s nearby Federal Plaza, the Inland Steel Building with its green-tinted glass and shining steel façade has a minimal cool that isn’t brooding.
The sculpture in the lobby,Richard Lippold's Radiant One, 1957, seen above, is a golden rod-and-wire construction, shaped like an atomic era asterisk, a clear indicator of mid-century style. It dominates the space and feels weightless against a black marble wall that reflects the sculpture and the city outside. Alan Artner, former art critic for the Chicago Tribune, notes that in terms of Chicago’s public art, Radiant One is the “earliest successful abstract sculpture on permanent display in the Loop.”
Last fall, the New York Times reported on renovations to Chicago’s Inland Steel Building at 30 W. Monroe, thanks to part-owner Frank Gehry. Luckily, most of the work to be done is for environmental sustainability; nothing major can be changed since the building is on the historic registry. Nonetheless, I hope the glass desk that Gehry is contributing to the lobby isn’t too wacky next to the very mid-century Lippold sculpture.
Just after I decided to write the building this little valentine, I was informed that the Chicago Architectural Foundation is putting on a swanky mid-century-themed fundraiser in the space, March 11. Cheers Inland Steel!
-Mia DiMeo, ArtSlant Staff Writer
All photography courtesy of Mia DiMeo