Building History

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was founded in 1866 by a group of 35 artists. Then called the Chicago Academy of Design, its early success resulted in construction of a building to house the school, which opened its doors on November 22, 1870. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed this building less than a year after it was completed. In the following years, the school operated out of a rented space on the corner of State and Monroe Streets and then a temporary building before moving into the iconic Michigan Avenue building that was built for the Columbian Exposition in 1893 and now houses the Art Institute of Chicago museum.

Today SAIC's campus has expanded beyond Michigan Avenue with classroom facilities and residence halls located throughout downtown Chicago from Columbus Drive to State Street and Randolph Street to Adams Street. Read on to learn about the history of each building.

The Art Institute of Chicago—111 South Michigan Avenue

The Art Institute of Chicago moved to its Beaux-Arts building on Michigan Avenue after the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The building entrance is flanked by two bronze lions that were given as a gift from Mrs. Henry Field for the museum's opening. The museum has added buildings to house its growing encyclopedic collections over the years, most recently unveiling its 264,000-square-foot Modern Wing designed by Renzo Piano.

The museum-school partnership remains the largest in the United States and is integral to the education SAIC provides its students. Generations of SAIC alumni remember walking through the museum to get to their classrooms, which were once housed in the basement of the building. Today students continue to have open access to the museum, its research library, and its collections, which span 5,000 years of human history and represent cultures across the globe.

280 Building—280 South Columbus Drive

Designed by renowned architect Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 1976, the 280 Building was SAIC's first building independent of the museum. Today, the 280 Building houses some of the largest departments on campus, a student-run gallery, digital fabrication studio, wood shop, metal shop, and a foundry—the only one located in a school in Chicago.

Lakeview Building—116 South Michigan Avenue

The Lakeview Building was built in 1906, and like SAIC's other historic buildings, has lived many lives before its integration into SAIC's campus. The building was used as Chicago's City Hall for a brief period of time before the current City Hall and County Building was completed in 1911. It was renovated shortly thereafter, with five floors added by the original architects Jenney, Mundie, and Jensen—totaling an impressive 17 floors. From the 1930s onward, much of the building was rented out to the Commercial Art School of Chicago—later known as the Ray-Vogue School—an institution that taught the creative technical skills necessary for success in a burgeoning business world.

In 1997, the Art Institute of Chicago purchased the Lakeview Building and moved its corporate offices into the space. In 2009 SAIC moved into the second floor, and by fall 2012, it occupied most of the building. While the building was originally used by SAIC for extra classroom spaces, in recent years, Career and Professional Experience (CAPX), Continuing Studies, and Historic Preservation departments have relocated their offices and classrooms to the building, and a number of science labs and studios have been added as well.  

MacLean Center—112 South Michigan Avenue

The MacLean Center, which is now an academic facility, was built in 1908 to house the Illinois Athletic Club with a full gymnasium with a pool, racket ball courts, and leisurely dining areas. Remnants of the gymnasium can be recognized in older parts of the building even today. The pool and tanning/steam rooms are still located in the basement, and pieces of the racket ball court are integrated into the architecture of the 13th floor.

SAIC purchased the 112 South Michigan Avenue building in 1993 and transformed it into the school's first dormitory—Wollberg Hall—a year later. Shortly after the residences opened, the building's historic Ballroom was restored and now hosts many public and school events. As SAIC acquired more buildings, the residences at Wollberg Hall were converted into classroom spaces, and the building is now known as the MacLean Center, named after donors Barry and Mary Ann MacLean. It houses offices, classrooms, and graduate studios for many academic departments in addition to a small cafeteria and student lounge.

Roger Brown Home and Study Collection—1926 North Halsted Street

Located in Lincoln Park, the Roger Brown Home and Study Collection is the former residence of the late artist, alum, and faculty member Roger Brown. This property is one of several donated to the SAIC upon Brown's death in 1997.  

Roger Brown New Buffalo Property—New Buffalo, Michigan

Roger Brown left his New Buffalo property to the school after his death, intending it to be used as a retreat for SAIC faculty and staff. Brown commissioned his partner, architect George Veronda, to design a home and studio for a property he purchased in New Buffalo, Michigan. Construction of the Veronda Pavilion and the Roger Brown Studio and Guest House were completed in 1979. The estate is currently used as the site of residency programs offered to SAIC faculty and full-time staff. Its landscaping was restored in 2007 by a Historic Landscape Studio class offered by SAIC's graduate program in Historic Preservation.

Sharp Building—37 South Wabash Avenue

The Sharp Building, previously known as both the Powers and the Champlain Building, was built in 1902. It was constructed with the intention of being a location for learning. Its original name was an homage to Orville M. Powers, the president of Metropolitan Business College—a professional school that taught skills such as German, typesetting, and stenography.

The architecture department of the Illinois Institute of Technology moved into the property in 1945. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of Chicago's most renowned architects, was the head of the department at the time and chose to rent his private office at the site as well.

In 1988, SAIC purchased the Sharp Building to house additional classrooms, studios, and offices. Named after donors John B. and Alice R. Sharp, the building is now home to the John M. Flaxman Library, Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection, a number of academic departments, administrative offices, and SAIC's first student center, the LeRoy Neiman Center.

Sullivan Center—36 South Wabash Avenue

Aside from the Spertus Institute, the Sullivan Center is the only building that SAIC occupies but does not own. Originally the flagship store for Carson Pirie Scott, the building was designed and built by leading architect of the Chicago School Louis Sullivan between the years of 1899–1904. Remnants of the original ornaments, stairwells, and other architectural design elements still adorn the interior and exterior of the building. In 2007, when Carson Pirie Scott filed for bankruptcy, the building was sold to Joseph Freed and Associates and converted into retail and office space.  

Currently, SAIC leases four floors of the building for administrative offices, classrooms, and studios. SAIC's Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects is located in the Sullivan Center, along with wood and metal shops, a digital fabrication space, and Sullivan Galleries, the largest contemporary exhibition space in the Chicago Loop.

162 Residences—162 North State Street

The 162 Residences was built from a combination of the original 1924 Butler Building and a modern addition. The building houses 617 graduate and undergraduate students and leases its first three floors to the Gene Siskel Film Center and a few outside businesses.

Jones Hall—7 West Madison Street

Jones Hall sits on an intersection that was once considered the “world's busiest corner,” smack between the activity generated by the Mandel Brothers and Carson Pirie Scott department stores. Built in 1904, the Holabird & Roche-designed building is an early example of the famed Chicago School of Architecture. The site once known as the Chicago Building—or more formally, the Chicago Savings Bank Building—housed more than just its namesake's bank. The building was home to storefronts and offices of surgeons, physicians, optometrists, jewelers, and small merchants.  

The Chicago Building was purchased by SAIC in 1997 and was the first office building in the Loop to be converted into residential spaces. Positioned at the zero-zero mark for Chicago coordinates (Madison and State Streets), the building has been maintained in accordance with its status as a historic landmark. It was renamed Jones Hall after SAIC's former president and chancellor, Tony Jones, and currently houses 174 graduate and undergraduate students.

Spertus Building—610 South Michigan Avenue

SAIC leases several classroom spaces from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. Designed by Krueck and Sexton Architects with a façade of angular windows facing South Michigan Avenue, the structure and aesthetic of the building are unique in its stark contrast to the surrounding architecture of historic Michigan Ave.