Neo-Classical Architecture in Chicago and Bay City

The Greek and Roman elements of neo-classical architecture were quite symbolic to the mid-1600s world in which it became popular. The first big wave of globalization was enveloping the world, more people were separating from the flashy, hierarchical Catholic church as Protestants, and the early Enlightenment-era thinkers were brainstorming how politics and philosophy will shape the changing world around them. It’s obvious to see why the Greeks, who were profound thinkers and the founders of democracy, would be the inspiration for the buildings of the world where the average man had more of a say in how his world worked.

This elements would also become quite important in the late 1800s, when a second huge wave of globalization hit in the form of mass immigration, and worker’s rights became a major issue for Industrial Revolution factory workers. To Daniel Burnham, the head architect of the Chicago World’s Fair, this elements needed to be reflected to the world, as a way to show up-and-coming Chicago as a city for the people.

photographed by Miranda Owen.
photographed by Miranda Owen.

The Art Institute Building in Chicago was built for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1891. Since its original building was destroyed during the Great Fire, the leaders of the World’s Fair decided to donate the building to the Art Institute after the fair was finished. However, it’s democracy-centered themes were still invoked while the fair occurred, as it was held as a meeting place for scholars and professionals to lecture.

The building, which was designed by the Boston architectural firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, features many neo-classical elements that pay homage to old Greek temples of worship. The building is wider than it is tall, with short, triangular facades on the top, Greek columns, and Romanesque arches. To add to the artistic theme of the building, the names of famous artists are inscribed into the building. The front of the building also includes sculpted pictures of people that resembles the art found on Greek and Roman pottery.

photographed by Miranda Owen.
photographed by Miranda Owen.

The Federal Building on Washington Street in Bay City, MI (now known simply as the post office), was built in the thirties by architect James Wetmore. It was one of the few buildings build in Bay City during the depression, and the neo-classical style shows that, while people were struggling greatly while it was built, the government building would still be a place for the people, giving them hope in the face of  economic adversity.

The building features Corinthian-style columns near the front doors, and the same triangular facade at the top of the building. During the Cold War, the building was renovated to include a fallout shelter, which shows its dedication to the people in a much more morbid way.


Dillon, Diane. “Art Institute of Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, n.d. Web. 13 June 2015. <;

“Neoclassical Architecture.” Neoclassical Architecture (1640-1850). Visual Arts Encylopedia, n.d. Web. 13 June 2015. <;.

Rydell, Robert W. “World’s Columbian Exposition.” World’s Columbian Exposition. Art Institute of Chicago, n.d. Web. 13 June 2015. <;.

Wolicki, Dale Patrick. The Historic Architecture of Bay City, Michigan. Midland, MI: Bay County Historical Society, 1998. Print.

9 thoughts on “Neo-Classical Architecture in Chicago and Bay City

  1. I really liked your comparison to the post office. I’ve always thought that was a really neat building, so it was nice to learn a little background on it. Very interesting post.

  2. What attention to detail, your comparisons were great and I liked how you used the post office, not something I would of ever thought of to use. It really is something that is apart of our history, the evolution of mail over time, it made perfect sense to tie it into the depth of history Chicago contains. Really great job, I would of liked to see it a bit more personal, it felt a bit more like an essay than a blog post.

  3. I actually drove by this building while doing research in Bay City, and wanted to compare it to the art institute. You knocked it out of the park. Both places have columns, and similar window styles, but the research behind the post office was cool, I could not find any. Awesome job.

  4. Great buildings to compare. and i liked your introduction because it gave some insight on the architecture that would be talked about later in the posts.

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