The Formwork

Adler & Sullivan: Schiller Building


Università Iuav di Venezia

Dipartimento di Culture del progetto

Master’s degree in Architecture, 2020-21

Contemporary Architecture History course


Scientific Project: Marco Pogacnik

BIM Consultant: Paolo Borin with Claudio Vianello

Steel Frame Consultant: Mario De Miranda

Coordinators: Francesca Rognoni / Riccardo Segradin

Exhibition Designer: Marco Stiz / Cristiano Bertan

Interviews with Francesco Maranelli

Graphic Designer and Communication: Matthew Mahoney

Video: Razin Khan (The Schiller Building), Walter Stefani (The Steel Frame)


Drawings by:


Sharon Giammetta & Gaia Stolzi (3D Model BIM),

Marco Stiz (Foundations, Pratt Truss, Warren Truss, Cross Section),

Caterina Mattiolo (Longitudinal Section),

Francesco Manganotti (Roof Truss, Clubhouse Plans),

Gaia Stolzi (Framing Plan, Ground Floor and Mezzanine Plan, Elevation),

Vincenzo Greco (Structural Elements, Cross Section)



With the generous support of:

Alphawood Foundation Chicago


Special Thanks:

Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture, Chicago

Università Iuav di Venezia

Art Institute of Chicago

The Chicago History Museum

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH)

The Formwork, Associazione Culturale Venezia

Tim Samuelson, Outlaw A

Michelangelo Sabatino, IIT CoA Chicago

Daniele Baraldi, Università Iuav di Venezia

Dario Trabucco, Università Iuav di Venezia


Davide Bergo, Marco Bonotto, Francesco Antonio Bragagna,
Aron De Cesero, Gabriele Greco, Martina Marziani, Vittoria Pizzol,
Zeno Pogacnik, Vincenzo Zappia, Stefano Zuccatti


This project would not have been possible without the support
of John Vinci (FAIA) and Angela Demma (AIA), Chicago.





Through the collaboration between three different architectural disciplines – architectural history, BIM (building information modeling) and structural design – a project was launched at the Università Iuav di Venezia that aims to reconstruct a remarkable Adler & Sullivan skyscraper, built in Chicago in 1891 and demolished in 1961. The initial investigation of this laboratory’s work took the form of a contribution to the exhibition “Romanticism to Ruin: Two Lost Works of Sullivan and Wright”, which opened on September 24, 2021 at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago. The exhibition in Chicago was created around John Vinci’s re-examination of the building whereby he meticulously began re-drawing it in 2018, almost 60 years after it was demolished. Starting from these drawings and other historic materials, the laboratory continued Mr. Vinci’s work by redrawing all the most notable elements of the building structure. Large-scale tables, axonometric cross-sections obtained from the BIM model and two videos document the result of these studies, which will be complemented by a selection of full-scale decorative ornaments from the building. These elements offer the public a direct connection to the materiality and rich color palette of the delicate surfaces designed by Louis Sullivan.



The Building


During the winter of 1961 in the city of Chicago, one of the most significant buildings created by the office of Adler & Sullivan was demolished: the Schiller Building. The building, located inside the Loop, which was and still is the financial center of the city, was built in 1891 on behalf of the large and influential German community in Chicago. They wanted to erect a theater where they could present the works of their own dramatic and musical traditions (from which the naming of the theater after the German poet Schiller is also derived). The Schiller Building, which housed a 1000-seat theater, accessible from the street and preceded by a sumptuous vestibule, stood on a lot of 25 x 55 m. The building was divided into three elements: an 18-story tower 62 meters high at the street front; a 14-story central wing which included the 6-story theater volume; and a rear section of 13 floors (which also contained the scenic tower). The theater, for safety reasons, was built in a traditional way with thick masonry walls that reached up to the sixth floor. The tower and the upper volumes, on the other hand, were constructed of steel columns and beams designed and engineered by the Binder & Seifert engineering office in Chicago. The successive studies of the building relied on three important documentary sources after initial analyses of Mr. Vinci’s drawings: the drawings by Adler & Sullivan (The Art Institute of Chicago / Burnham & Ryerson Library), the engineering drawings and shop drawings of the metal structure by Binder & Seifert (The Art Institute of Chicago / The Chicago History Museum) and finally, the photographs taken by Richard Nickel during the demolition of the building (The Richard Nickel Committee and Photographic Archive at The Art Institute of Chicago). We also owe the extensive recovery campaign to Richard Nickel and John Vinci, among others, which made it possible to save the building’s most notable terracotta, plaster and two-dimensional decorative elements (columns, friezes, cornices, sculpture, stencils), some of which were presented or recreated in the Chicago exhibition.

Exhibitions archive

– Videos and interviews: the Schiller Building

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Within our “Building a Skyscraper. Schiller Building Adler & Sullivan” exhibition in Venice (Ca’ Pesaro, 15 Nov. 2022 – 29 Jan. 2023, Ca’ Tron, 15 Nov. 2022 – 15 Feb. 2023), we displayed a video of the BIM 3D structural model of Adler & Sullivan’s Schiller Building.

Credits: Sharon Giammetta & Gaia Stolzi (BIM model), Walter Stefani (video).

For the Venetian exhibition, we also interviewed specialists from different fields – architecture and urban history, technology, preservation – on the building’s history and role within their disciplines. The experts interviewed included Carol Willis, David Van Zanten, Thomas Leslie, John Vinci, Michelangelo Sabatino and Dario Trabucco.

The interviews are now available on our cultural association’s Youtube channel.

Lorenzo Missieri, Davide Stiz
Corso di Illustrazione digitale, prof. Maria Malvina Borgherini
Università Iuav Venezia, 2022

The archival experience, devoted to a rigorous, meticulous, peremptory study of documents, drawings, photographs, is distorted; the ornament, the constructive detail lose their material consistency to become pure performative acts. The image is repeated intermittently, the rigour of the elements is nullified: it can be distorted, overturned, bent to the artist’s will.

– Exhibition photographs, Ca’ Tron + Ca’ Pesaro

photo Luca Pilot

– The exhibition, Venezia @Ca’ Pesaro, Nov. 15, 2022 – Jan. 29, 2023 + Ca’ Tron, Nov. 15, 2022 – Feb. 15, 2023,

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Building a Skyscraper: Schiller Building Adler & Sullivan


The purpose of the exhibition is to reconstruct the architectural organism conceived by Adler & Sullivan by investigating, through detailed drawings and digital information modeling (BIM), the constituent elements of the building: the metal structure, the brick and terracotta walls with their anchoring systems, the structure of the floors made of “tile arches” and the internal construction which is not only part of the elaborate decorative scheme, but also of the mechanical system (heating and cooling systems). The construction of the Schiller Building contributed significantly to the definition of a new architectural type: the American skyscraper, in its version developed in Chicago after the devastating fire of 1871. The metal structure used in the tower and in the main parts of the building presented pioneering solutions which constitute some of the first and most important examples of the application of steel in the construction of tall buildings. The metal structure consisted of box-shaped beams and columns formed by bolting together both steel sheets and profiles. The use of structural steel profiles was used only for the secondary structural elements (beams and joists).

An absence of archival evidence makes us wonder whether these members had been calculated following the then well known principles of graphic statics, taking into account the plastic behavior of the metal – an approach that allowed for the easy calculation of very complex systems as demonstrated by the best-known case – the Eiffel Tower. The patient work of reconstructing and redrawing the structure, the masonry and the decorative elements of the building which was carried out by a group of master’s degree students from the Università Iuav di Venezia and led by three instructors – Prof. Mario De Miranda (metal structure), Prof. Paolo Borin (BIM modeling) and Prof. Marco Pogacnik (historical research) – will be presented in this exhibition. The idea that animates the project is to question the linear conception of technical and structural innovation and to reveal the concrete and vivid presence of the building through an in-depth historical investigation. Large drawings will be exhibited to illustrate building sections and important details and to highlight the structural elements and the exterior envelope. Large 1:10 scale sections and a video, developed from the BIM model, will make it possible to explore the building again, utilizing digital precision to return to the actual material and chromatic qualities of the lost building. The exhibition intends to enhance and disseminate, thanks to the work of tomorrow’s designers, the study of the historic roots of modern metal construction, highlighting the ingenuity and audacity of yesterday’s designers.

With this approach in mind we hope that there will be an opportunity for a closer collaboration between the Università Iuav di Venezia, the Venetian museum system and the world of design and construction, which is made up of companies and designers whose presence in our territory is rich, prestigious and unique.

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15 November 2022 – 29 January 2023

Venezia, Ca’ Pesaro – Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, Santa Croce, 2076 Venezia

15 November 2022 – 15 February 2023

Ca’ Tron – Università Iuav di Venezia, Santa Croce, 1957 Venezia


Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

Consiglio di Amministrazione:

Presidente: Mariacristina Gribaudi

Vicepresidente: Luigi Brugnaro

Consiglieri: Bruno Bernardi, Giulia Foscari Widmann Rezzonico, Lorenza Lain

Segretario Organizzativo: Mattia Agnetti

Dirigente Area Attività Museali: Chiara Squarcina


Ca’ Pesaro – Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna: Elisabetta Barisoni

con Matteo Piccolo, Cristiano Sant, Annalisa Tonicello


– The vernissage, Venezia @Ca’ Pesaro + Ca’ Tron, Nov. 15, 2022

– The construction site, Venezia @Ca’ Tron + Ca’ Pesaro, Nov. 9 – Nov. 15, 2022

Fotografie di Cristiano Bertan e Francesco Maranelli

– The exhibition, Chicago @Wrightwood 659, Sep. 24, 2021 – Feb. 26, 2022

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Curated by John Vinci, Tim Samuelson, Eric Nordstrom, Chris Ware and Jonathan D. Katz, Romanticism to Ruin was a double exhibition held in Chicago (@Wrightwood 659) between September 2021 and February 2022. The two exhibitions were: Reconstructing the Garrick: Adler & Sullivan’s Lost Masterpiece, curated by John Vinci with Tim Samuelson, Chris Ware, and Eric Nordstrom; and Reimagining the Larkin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modern Icon, curated by Jonathan D. Katz. To illustrate the Schiller Building, the curators provided the precious opportunity to showcase here digital drawings and videos produced by the Iuav team.

Romanticism to Ruin


“Romanticism to Ruin presents a single building by each of two eminent Chicago architects: the Garrick Theatre in Chicago, by Louis H. Sullivan, and the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, by Frank Lloyd Wright. Though outwardly two very different structures, they are united in several respects: both were heralded upon their completion, razed prematurely, and are significant works of their respective architects that continue to resonate with every successive generation who mourns their senseless destruction. Both Sullivan and Wright understood that all architecture dictates how it is used, but transcendent architecture fundamentally alters how people interact within it. Both the Garrick Theatre and the Larkin Building show how these masters used the power of architecture to redefine the inextricably linked sociocultural life of a building. Each building was commissioned for a specific purpose, but then transcended that initial function to become something more iconic in the public memory. Romanticism to Ruin traces the life and death of these iconic buildings and shows that architecture consists of more than bricks and mortar.

Reconstructing the Garrick: Adler & Sullivan’s Lost Masterpiece uses fragments, drawings, photography, and narrative to elucidate the life and death of an iconic building that once towered over downtown Chicago. Opened in 1892 and initially called the Schiller Theatre in tribute to Friedrich Schiller, the great German playwright, poet and philosopher, the Garrick Theatre was then, at seventeen stories, one of the tallest buildings in the city. Its opulent ornamentation drew upon German history, especially evident in the second story arcade decorated with terra cotta portraits of accomplished men of arts and letters. The destruction of Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan’s lavishly decorated Garrick Theatre cast a long shadow. It was razed in 1961 amidst a great protest that eventually organized itself into the historic preservation movement in Chicago and led to the city’s Landmark Ordinance of 1968.

The Garrick is deeply interwoven not only with the history of the city, but also with the life of yet another well- regarded Chicagoan, John Vinci. As a young architect, Vinci (b.1937) worked alongside the celebrated photographer Richard Nickel (1928– 1972) to salvage the sumptuous ornamentation characteristic of Sullivan’s work. It was an experience that left a deep imprint. Several years ago, Vinci “revisited” the building, creating a series of drawings on display in the Garrick section of Romanticism to Ruin. It was Vinci’s exploration that sparked the idea for this part of the exhibition that traces the construction and ill-fated demise of the Garrick, a building that helped cement Chicago’s reputation as the originator of the skyscraper. Vinci was assisted in curating the show by Tim Samuelson, an eminent Chicago historian and another participant in the salvaging of the Garrick’s ornamentation; graphic artist Chris Ware, who designed the Garrick section of the exhibition; and Eric Nordstrom, owner of the salvage shop Urban Remains, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Nickel, Sullivan and his ornamentation proved invaluable to the curators.”

This text was published in the Wrightwood 659’s Exhibition Guide. Fall/Winter 2021.