Non-Gothic Buildings on the University of Chicago Campus

The University of Chicago campus is justly famous for its Victorian Gothic architecture. The oldest buildings on campus date back to the 1890’s, when the school’s founders set out to imitate Oxford in scholastic rigor and architectural aesthetic. Much of the campus retains that Gothic vibe, but we wanted to explore some of the newer non-Gothic buildings that dot the University of Chicago campus. A lot of these buildings rose in our esteem while researching our University of Chicago Campus Architecture Tour.

Mansueto Library University of Chicago campus reading room
The reading room of the Mansueto Library on the University of Chicago campus. Photo credit: David on Flickr

Mansueto Library

I’ll start off with a building that was under construction when I was a student at UChicago. The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library was designed by Helmut Jahn, whose post-modern architecture can be seen all over Chicago, this glass domed space opened in 2011. The library consists of a airy and light-filled reading room at ground level and underground storage facilities for up to 3.5 million volumes. I’ve been in here a few times on visits back to campus. 

For me, the most striking thing about the building is how it contrasts with the neighboring buildings. The Victorian Gothic Main Quad is across 57th Street and next door is the Regenstein Library, a concrete building from the Brutalist school of architecture. Seeing them from inside the Mansueto makes it feel like you’re looking at the Earth from a spaceship. The library is always a big hit on our Chicago Neighborhoods and Cultural Diversity Tour.

University of Chicago campus logan center
The Logan Center for the Arts demonstrates the newer styles on the University of Chicago campus. Photo by Tom Rossiter / The University of Chicago

Logan Center for the Arts

Across the Midway Plaisance from the Main Quads, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts was designed as a home for the university’s visual and performing arts programs. The building abuts the Lorado Taft Midway Studios, which was home to the titular Mr. Taft’s sculpting studios and has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 50 years. The Logan Center itself consists of a tower that soars above the Midway, multiple performance spaces and theaters, studios, set construction shops, rehearsal spaces, and classrooms.

Like the Mansueto Library, the Logan Center is an example of more contemporary architecture. Its saw-toothed roof mimics the Taft Midway Studios and the facade irregularly breaks between glass and brick. The architectural look sort of reminds me of men who repeatedly comb and gel their hair up straight for fifteen minutes. The overall effect, though, has always reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West out in Arizona. That architectural style could hardly contrast more with the Gothic Main Quad a few blocks away.

University of Chicago campus saieh hall
The new Saieh Hall fuses Victorian Gothic and contemporary architecture. Photo by Tom Rossiter / The University of Chicago

Saieh Hall for Economics

I chose to end with this architectural example because it blends the old and new styles from across the rest of the University of Chicago campus. The building now known as Saieh Hall dates to the 1920’s, when the the university-affiliated Chicago Theological Seminary built it. Its neo-Gothic architecture fit in with the Main Quads of the University of Chicago campus, though the soaring brick tower was always iconoclastic. The Seminary, and the much beloved Seminary Co-Op Bookstore moved into new spaces a few years ago. The university’s Department of Economics & Friedman Institute for Research in Economics became the new tenants.

For this change, the University gave the old structure a postmodern renovation. Spaces were updated to modern standards and a new pavilion was added to tie the structure together. The ornamental neo-Gothic architectural style remains the dominant aesthetic. Newly installed glass, polished steel, and airy spaces make the building feel contemporary and functional. Consequently, the architects ingeniously blended old and new. I suspect will spread across campus quickly as it continues to evolve.

–Alex Bean, Office Manager and Tour Guide

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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