Case Studies

Holabird & Root LLC

Architectural, engineering and design services in Chicago and beyond

Holabird & Root LLC is a renowned architecture, engineering and interior design firm based in Chicago. Established in 1880, the business has performed more than 15,000 contracts over the last 135 years. The company has operated from Chicago since inception, growing alongside the city as the third most populous urban center in the country gained a reputation as the birthplace of modern architecture.

In the wake of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, architects and builders had a blank slate to work with. These professionals took advantage of the opportunity to develop a distinct style. Holabird & Root, along with other local architecture firms of the time, designed many of the buildings and skyscrapers that would come to define the Chicago School of Architecture.

holabird & root

Among these early examples of the company’s portfolio is Holabird & Root’s own office building, a structure the firm designed in 1895. Over the years, the company has called the Marquette Building home. The 16-story building was one of the earliest steel frame skyscrapers in the city featuring a rich terra cotta exterior. The structure is owned by the MacArthur Foundation and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The Holabird & Root team has provided consistent maintenance design services for the building over the years. In 2006, the Marquette Building underwent a full renovation in order to preserve its historic integrity.

Strong capabilities

Holabird & Root has a powerful legacy in the Midwest market. A unique company structure and diverse capabilities have allowed the business to outlast other firms over the years. Greg Cook, managing principal at Holabird & Root, is a second-generation member of the team. He has worked at the firm since 1981, following in the footsteps of his father. “I started off in business and my father had always told me not to go into architecture,” Greg notes. “While I was in school, I worked in the construction industry for five years and ended up getting my master’s degree in architecture.”

Greg works alongside a team of 60 people, including architects, engineers, interior and graphic designers as well as the administrative staff that keeps the gears running smoothly. As the distinct winner of the prestigious American Institute of Architects Firm of the Year Award in 2000, Holabird & Root serves a broad market comprised of regional and national work. While in the early 1900s the company was one of the largest firms in the United States doing international work, the focus has shifted to a more domestic market share.

“We are set apart by our team’s ability to adapt with the times and change as a company,” Greg explains. “We try to do the best work we can and that is always in demand. We have the flexibility to change our company in order to perform the type of work that our clients need.”

With a wide berth of in-house capabilities, Holabird & Root is able to offer integrated, comprehensive design, architecture and engineering services to clients. The crew performs architectural, interior and graphic design work for clients, as well as structural engineering. The business also offers specialty services, such as architectural programming, master planning, investigative studies, theater planning and laboratory planning.

The company has a long history of providing outstanding support for institutional projects for schools, ranging from early education to the nation’s colleges and universities. As demonstrated by work on the firm’s headquarters, historic renovation and restoration is also a specialty. Working closely with clients, Holabird & Root is able to determine and realize the space, functionality and sustainability needs of each project.

A growing portfolio

Recent work has taken Holabird & Root’s design capabilities all over the United States. In California, the team recently completed a master plan for a brand new University. While construction has not yet been approved for the potential school, the company’s design incorporated student housing, educational facilities, arts and science facilities, a theater, a recreation center and a student union for 5,000 undergraduate students and 2,000 graduate students. The campus came together in phases designed for a 30-year plan in five-year segments taking future growth into account.

Locally, the firm completed the historic restoration of the Monroe Building, a historic downtown Chicago office building originally designed by Holabird & Root in the early 1900s. The historic renovation included the challenge of restoring the building to its original design intent. “To address this, many of the structure’s historic elements, including the façade, were preserved to the highest of preservation standards,” explains Greg. “Additionally, the roof, tile walls, vaults and the entire floor were restored to match the original design. The resulting project combines the best elements of meticulous restoration with modernization to meet the demands of a building built for the future.”

Higher education is also a major part of Holabird & Root’s market share. At Loyola University in New Orleans, the team designed the school’s Monroe Hall renovation working in association with Holly & Smith Architects, based in New Orleans. The project is substantially complete.

Monroe Hall is one of the largest buildings on the campus, housing several academic departments, including applied science, humanities, natural science, social science, music, fine arts and technology. According to Greg, spaces include: classrooms, science teaching and research laboratories, fine arts and dance studios, as well as offices for science and arts faculty. The redesign will contribute to an interdisciplinary community between arts and sciences on campus, a major goal of the university.

In keeping with its legacy of innovation, Holabird & Root has positioned itself as a leader when it comes to design for future generations. “This includes taking into account cultural adaptations, flexibility of spaces and designing with accountability and sustainability in mind,” Greg elaborates.

Numerous stand-out projects, such as the firm’s work with St. Olaf College, Grinnell College, Central College, Beloit College, the Chicago Housing Authority, Winona State University and many more, have been awarded LEED Platinum, Gold or Silver certification for sustainability. Greg is proud to note that Monroe Hall at Loyola University is on track to join the ranks.

One of the more unique institutional projects Holabird & Root has been involved with in recent years is the design for East West University in Chicago. The school is now contained almost entirely within a 17-story tower building. The new urban campus includes student housing, student classrooms, common spaces and academic services, all within one tower. This atypical single-structure campus building includes a unique vertical quadrangle atrium in addition to a distinct glass column that flows from the second to the seventeenth floors and features views of the city from all angles. All of the dormitories have a view of the lake. Construction on the campus wrapped up in 2013 and the space was occupied in 2014.

Staying a step ahead

Throughout the recession, a slow market took its toll on the entire construction market. Beyond the builders, design, engineering, supply and fabrication companies took a hit too. Holabird & Root downsized significantly as incoming work dropped dramatically. In order to stay afloat, the business held onto relationships throughout the country, keeping the firm viable and allowing for future growth.

The firm’s diverse capabilities have helped encourage growth as the market slowly turns around. A major component in market improvement has been the rise in demand for public housing, especially in Chicago. Holabird & Root is taking on new challenges all over the United States and Greg says his team is looking into more international work.

In 2015, Holabird & Root will celebrate 135 years in business. This longevity is evidence of a strong commitment to quality as well as the ability to evolve with changing markets. Greg and his colleagues are looking forward to new opportunities as construction picks up, still leaning heavily toward the institutional market. With unmatched experience, a breadth of diverse capabilities and a dedicated team, he is confident in the company’s ability to build and maintain growth in the coming years. Holabird & Root has an unusual legacy that will continue as the firm builds on strong foundations in the Midwest.

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