Age-Appropriate: Fitting A Business Into Chicago’s Historic Monadnock Building

Chicago’s Monadnock Building is an anomaly; at 16 stories, it’s the tallest masonry structure in the world, but it was completed after similarly-sized steel frame buildings like the nearby Reliance Building.


In fact it was designed and built in response to the innovation of the steel skeleton; the developer was skeptical of the long-term safety and structural integrity of steel frames. History is on the side of steel, but the scale, the sheer aesthetic weight and presence of the Monadnock make it stand out from its late 19th century brethren.

And just how much masonry support does this require? The walls at the top of the building are 18 inches thick, which sounds massive until compared to those at the ground floor, which measure in at four times that — a full six feet thick.

This presents a challenge for the street-level retail tenants.

A solution was to work with the age and peculiarities of the building by attracting businesses that reflect the spirit of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The mostly small, boutique-style businesses include a barber shop, a florist, a tobacconist and an Intelligenstsia coffee shop. One recent addition to the Monadnock family is the haberdashery The Optimo Hat Co.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation produced the following video feature about the blending of retail and history behind situating a business in such a building, and the way in which the location adds to the customer experience.