Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Auditorium Theater

In the famous words of Frank Llyod Wright, the Auditorium Theater is..
"The greatest room for music and opera in the world-bar none."

It all began with a dream of a rich Chicago businessman Ferdinand Peck. A dream of building an opera house in Chicago which would be the world's largest and grandest theatre, one that would rival such institutions as the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. He wanted to provide the city, a place of art and culture, instead of a city choked by stockyards and smokestacks.. In 1886, he incorporated the Chicago Auditorium Association and managed to pursuade many of Chicago philanthropists to join the Association, including Marshall Field, Edson Keith, and George Pullman. On December 22, 1886, the association hired the renowned architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, as architects on the building... and an architectural masterpiece was waiting to happen..

The Association realized that such opera theaters are not big moneymakers, so they decided on a multi-use structure, which apart from a theater included a hotel, offices and stores. The building was completed in 1889. It was a tall Romanesque-style structure with thick load-bearing outer walls. When completed, it was the tallest building in Chicago and the largest building in the country. What made it even more special were it's contrasts, a rough-hewn rock base piled by increasingly shaped and refined upper floors.. and fluid and florid interior space. . Although, very soon the hotel and offices became unprofitable [ The opening of nearby Congress Plaza Hotel and the elevated "L" tracks, contributed to it's failure]. Although the Auditorium Building has been associated with financial ups and downs [through wars & depression], but when one is talking about the building from engineering, architectural and artistic point of view, It's A MASTERPIECE!

It is difficult to cover the theater in one post, so I have divided into multiple posts..

The Foundation..
One of the main challenges in the construction was the Chicago's soggy and unstable, soft blue clay to the depth of over 100 feet. Those days, the 20th century technology of caissons sunk to bedrock, had not yet developed. As a solution to the problem, Dankmar Adler, along with engineer Paul Mueller, came up with an innovative solution, variously termed as "Spread Footing" or a massive "Raft Foundation"..
# For more on the Foundation.. click here..

The Outer Lobby..
The main entrance to the theater is located right below the Auditorium Building's 17th floor tower. In 1889, the outer box office lobby extended to the exterior walls, which included heating and ventilation grills around the column bases. In 1850's Congress Parkway was expanded and an exterior sidewalk was installed along the Auditorium Building's front facing the Congress parkway. This process destroyed , half of the box-office lobby, the ladies resturant and men's cafe.
# For more on the outer lobby, click here..

Twin objectives of "optimal acoustics" with a "democratic" theater.
Adler incorporated many ideas to achieve optimal acoustics. His "isacoustic curve" is accompanied by relatively low arched ceiling, that minimised echoes. The progressively widening arches "shaped like a cone or speaking trumpet", helped in maximizing amplification and minimizing echoes. His low ceiling also made it difficult to built more than a few boxes. This perfectly corresponded with Peck's desired to build a "democratic" theater, which not a symbol of social divisions.
# For more, click here..

Gold leaf spandrel with portrait medallions....
Beautiful gold leaf with portrait medallions can be seen on each side of the stage. The medallions were designed by Johannes Gelert. The portraits are of Joseph Haydn [orchestral music], Richard Wagner [opera], Demosthenes [oratory] and William Shakespeare [drama]..
# For more.. click here..

There are murals above the proscenium arch and on the north and south walls..
Proscenium arch murals are designed by Charles Holloway..
Murals on the North and South Walls are designed by Albert Francis Fleury.
# For more.. click here..

Grand Stairways, Mosaics, Stencils, Carpets and Plaster Decorations..
The curvilinear foliate motifs with interwined vines and leaves can be seen in wrought iron, stencils, carpets, plaster relifs and stair railings..
Mosaics: Designed by Sullivan..
Stenciling: Designed by Sullivan or Healy & Millet
Iron Ornament: Designed by Sullivan..
# For more images.. click here..

Art Glasses..
Designed and created by the firm of George Healy and Louis Millet.
Six art glasses above the doors leading from the box office entryway into the main lobby. These are inspired from the allegorical figures of Wisdom, Oratory, Drama, Music, Poetry and Dance..
# For more.. click here..

"I have stood in every great hall and sat in all famous theatres and opera houses of the world, but in its unrivaled acoustics, both for oratory and music,...and in the harmony and taste of its ornamentations, this Auditorium of Chicago is without a rival or a peer.”
Let me end with these words of Chauncey Depew,
State Senator from New York and President of the New York Central Railroad, 1890..
Sullivan's Ideas next..


# Auditorium Theater - The Foundation..
# Auditorium Theater - The Outer Lobby..
# Auditoirum Theater - The Democratic Theater..
# Auditorium Theater - Gold Leaf Spandrels..
# Auditorium Theater - Murals..
# Auditorium Theater- Grand Stairways..
# Auditorium Theater- Art Glasses..

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