Hotel Burnham - Reliance Building

Antunovich Associates

January 14, 2008 /

Chicago, Illinois

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

The Reliance Building was reborn as the Hotel Burnham in October 1999 in the heart of Chigaco.

Located in the heart of downtown Chicago and the State Street retail district, the Hotel Burnham fuses a sophisticated interior and service with historic early 1900's architecture and design. 

Originally designed by Burnham and Root in 1891 and finished after Root's death by Charles Atwood of D.H. Burnham and Company in 1896, the Reliance Building is one of the most important early skyscrapers in America.

Its large expanses of glass and minimal bands of white glazed terra cotta is often referred to by architectural historians as a "proto-modern" building. Its significance is recognized by its being listed as both a National Historic Landmark and a City of Chicago Landmark.


Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

As part of its rebirth the Reliance Building has undergone a $27.5 million refurbishment and
renovation under the initiative of the owners, along with the City of Chicago Planning and Development Department. 
The storefront has been recreated to Root's original bronze and granite design with wide glass windows.

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

The elevator lobby was reconstructed using imported Italian marble for the walls and ceiling,
ornamental metal elevator grilles and stairwell railings, and an elaborate mosaic tile floor modeled after the original - which had been completely destroyed. 

burnham_5.jpgPhoto courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo: arcspace 

Restoration architects also focused on preserving the upper floors (7-14) where some authentic
elements remained in the floor lobbies, guest rooms and corridors. 
Terrazzo floors and marble walls and ceilings were cleaned and honed in the floor lobbies. Intact plaster ceilings, patterned (Florentine) plate glass, interior storefronts and varnished mahogany doors and trim were restored, as well.

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

The Reliance's turn-of-the-century opulence has been recreated by the use of leathers in deep earth tones, tumbled stone mosaic and mahogany wood throughout the lobby. Furnishings and linen in the guest rooms have deep blue and gold accenting.


Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

Photo courtesy the Hotel Burnham

The intimate Atwood Café, with its floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains and ornate decorations, is the perfect downtown Chicago restaurant. A private dining room on the Mezzanine level can be booked for meetings, lunch or dinner.

Photo: arcspace

The Hotel Burnham is the third Chicago hotel managed by the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, Inc., a San Francisco-based company known for its collection of stylish boutique hotels that are coupled with bustling chef-driven restaurants.

Building Design
The Reliance Building's skeletal frame construction was ahead of its time - preceding by a generation the sheer glass facades of skyscrapers designed by European architects in the 1920s.

An elegant structure wrapped in a skin of cream colored glazed terra cotta and wide expanses of
broad, tall glass windows, the Reliance Building seemed almost to defy gravity when viewed
by Chicagoans in the early 1900s.

Photo collection of Edward C. Hirschland

Photo courtesy The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

Photo courtesy The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

The exterior is marked by narrow piers and spandrels, covered with enamelled terra cotta
decorated with Gothic-style tracery (including a quatrefoil design element also found in the

Photo courtesy T. Gunny Harboe

Photo courtesy T. Gunny Harboe

The light and airy facade is almost entirely windows comprised of both flat and
projecting bays - what is known as a "Chicago window." A flat cornice topped the 14-story
structure, which has been reconstructed.

Photo courtesy T. Gunny Harboe

All structural support for the building is provided by the internal steel skeleton, which utilized an unusual two story-high column that improved wind bracing capabilities, simplified design, saved on steel and provided continuous pipe space inside the column.

For more details about the restoration view Harboe Architects Reliance Building.

While in Chicago visit the nearby Millennium Park, featuring Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion and the 925 foot long BP walking bridge, connecting Millennium Park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza. Also the new Spertus Building, designed by Krueck +Sexton, a few blocks further. 


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

On the way you will pass the construction site of Renzo Piano's new wing for the Art Institute of Chicago. Scheduled to open in 2009 the building features a "flying carpet" roof structure. Piano is also designing the Nichols Bridgeway that will connect Millennium park to the Modern Wing. The 62 feet long, 15 feet wide pedestrian bridge will be made of painted structural steel, stainless steel mesh, and aluminum planking.


Photo: arcspace


Photo: arcspace

Not to be missed is a walk around the IIT campus with 20 buildings by Mies van der Rohe. Crown Hall (1950 - 1956), one of his masterpieces, was designed to house Illinois Institurte of Technology's Department of Architecture, Planning, and Design. The building was designated a Landmark in 1997. The Chapel of Saint Savior (1949 - 1952), a small brick building with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, was his only religious building.


Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

While at IIT visit the McCormick Tribune Campus Center by Rem Koolhaas OMA.


Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Located next to it is Helmut Jahn's new Student Residence Hall, a long glass and corrugated stainless steel structure comprised of six interconnected housing units. The student rooms have large windows overlooking courtyards and the IIT campus.


Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a superb selection of Chicago architecture tours. We highly recommend them. 
They also published an excellent small book about the Reliance Building.


The Reliance Building

A Building Book from the Chicago Architecture Foundation
By Jay Pridmore
Publisher: Pomegranate 

Photographs by Hedrich Blessing

Find the book "The Reliance Building" on Amazon / European customers visit

If you have not read "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson we suggest you order it right away. The juxtaposition of the two main characters - architect Daniel H. Burnham and murderer H.H. Holmes - is fascinating. The combination of the birth of Chicago as a world class city, the magic of the fair, and the creepy serial killer makes for a compelling read.

The San Francisco Cronicle called it "As absorbing a piece of popular history as one will ever hope to find."


The Devil in the White City

By Erik Larson

Publisher: Vintage

Find "The Devil in the White City" on Amazon / European customers visit

Facts about Hotel Burnham - Reliance Building

Architects of Record:

Antunovich Associates

Restoration Architect: Harboe Architects/McClier

Interior Design: Susan Caruso


Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group

Last updated: December 19, 2013

See also

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