Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ryerson Physical Laboratory – “The Most Beautiful University Building in the World”

I previously mentioned (link) the Kent Chemical Laboratory building at the University of Chicago, and now I get around to posting the picture of its next door neighbor and close cousin, Ryerson Physical Laboratory.  I had just one class here as an undergraduate, physics of course, and a tough one it was.  Rambling around inside and peering into the nooks and crannies of the beautiful, old, storied building was I think the most enjoyable part of that particular experience.   

The young University’s main architect Henry Ives Cobb designed the building, which opened in 1894 and was named after Chicago lumber businessman Martin Ryerson.

At its dedication, according to Jay Pridmore’s U of C architectural Campus Guide, then university President William Rainey Harper called Ryerson “the most beautiful university building in the world,” and I’m not here to dispute that.  Pridmore writes that the building “exhibits a dreamy Gothic fantasy: complicated solids and voids on the surface, with balconies, gables, and a crocketed roof line.  As usual in Cobb’s buildings, the main entrance is the most elaborate part…”  An annex was added in 1913, by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, “sympathetic” to Cobb’s design but “with noticeably richer ornamentation.”  

Pridmore tells us that “one of the earliest denizens was physicist Albert Michelson, the first Nobel laureate among many at this university,” who was honored in 1907 for his measurement of the speed of light. 

In the second post card image, the pre-annex building rear is seen from the north, with Botany Pond just to the left foreground and Hull Gate to the right, and the original Law School building in the distance.  

R Balsamo

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