Wednesday, February 18, 2015

John G. Shedd Aquarium
 by: chicago designslinger

 [John G. Shedd Aquarium (1930) Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

If you're at all familiar with the classic architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, this building at first glance, might remind you of a great temple sitting on a hill in Rome or Athens. Of course we're not in Rome, and the building you're looking at is simply an amalgam of bits and pieces of architectural antiquity, cut-up and pasted together to create a veritable soup of ancient motifs inspired by the neo-classical, Beaux-Arts school of fine cooking. But designers Graham, Anderson, Probst & White did have a little fun by placing aquatically inspired decorations all around the John G. Shedd Aquarium, providing hints to the building's function as home to all manner of marine life.

  [John G. Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The building sits like a period at the end of a Beaux-Arts sentence. Hugging Lake Michigan at the southeastern edge of Grant Park, a landscape filled with romanticized versions of columns and balustrades, lined with trees and gardens in formal patterns found in the great palace gardens of 18th century France, the Shedd was a final and total embrace of the classical traditions laid out by park planners in the early 1900s. The architectural team that designed the aquarium grew out of the remnants of the firm once operated by Daniel Burnham, who along with Edward Bennett presented the 1909 Plan of Chicago to the city. The Burnham & Bennett scheme provided the finishing touches to a park that had once been lake water, now filled-in with acres of landfill. The aquarium opened in 1930, and by the time everyone recovered from the double whammy of the Great Depression and the Second World War, 55 years of neo-classicism gave way to post-war modernism.

  [John G. Shedd Aquarium, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The name so prominently carved into the marble John G. Shedd, was once the President, and in 1924 the Chairman of the Board of Marshall Field & Co., when he gave $2 million to the Aquarium Society to construct a building. In 1926 when told there would have to changes in the design due to construction overages, Shedd asked how much more would be needed to maintain the integrity of the original design, and he donated an additional million to cover the cost.
Unfortunately the benefactor didn't live long enough to see the building completed. But his wife Mary and their children were there on May 30, 1930 to formally dedicate the John G. Shedd Aquarium, at the time, the largest such facility in the world. The structure has grown since then, and there is still an active Shedd connection to the aquarium in the person of John's great-granddaughter, Ginevra Reed Ralph, a member of the Board of Trustees.  

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