Inves t i gat i on and Repa i r of Ter ra Cot ta
Designed by D.H. Burnham & Co. and completed in 1895, the Reliance Building is a unique expression of a skeleton frame in terra cotta cladding.
As part of the process of restoring the exterior of this historic landmark, WJE was retained to investigate and develop the restoration design for the terra
cotta facades, and to design a new cast aluminum cornice to replicate the missing original terra cotta. The restoration of the exterior facades was the
first phase in the conversion of this historic office building to a luxury hotel.
WJE’s award-winning work on the Reliance Building contributed to the restoration of one of Chicago’s most notable historic skyscrapers. This
project enhanced national recognition of WJE’s expertise and capabilities in historic preservation, especially in the restoration of terra cotta facades.
Notes of Interest
• With its open, glass facade and large window area, the
Reliance Building is often cited as a forerunner of modern
glass skyscrapers. The light and airy facade is comprised
almost entirely of “Chicago windows,”which feature a
wide fixed pane with narrow movable sash windows.
• In 1999 the building reopened as the Hotel Burnham after
a meticulous interior restoration. The Atwood Café in the
hotel lobby is named after the building’s principal architect
Charles B. Atwood. Atwood also designed Chicago’s
Museum of Science & Industry and the Fisher Building.
• The original retail tenant in 1891 was Carson Pirie Scott &
Company, which later took over a new building one block
south. Before construction of the Reliance Building, the site
was occupied by the five-story headquarters of the First
National Bank of Chicago.
WJE 50 Years