What's That Building? The University Of Chicago Law Library | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

What's That Building? The Modernist Home Of The University Of Chicago Law School

On the south end of The University of Chicago campus is a modernist structure beloved by some and considered cold and sterile by others.

The Laird Bell Law Quadrangle, home for the university’s law school, was designed in the 1950s by architect Eero Saarinen. The centerpiece is the D’Angelo Law Library, a spiky glass structure that overlooks a reflective pond of roughly the same dimension.

The modernist stunner is noteworthy for several reasons, including its role as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's point of entry into Chicago when she moved to the city to get a law degree.

The boxy building has is reflective on the outside, with expanses of glass and handsome wood inside.
WBEZ/Jason Marck
The boxy building has is reflective on the outside, with expanses of glass and handsome wood inside.

More than the law library

The Laird Bell Law Quadrangle includes more than just the D’Angelo Law Library. Classrooms, offices, a law clinic and even a courtroom can be found in other parts of the structure.

Those other parts are clad in limestone, linking the quadrangle to U of C's signature Gothic buildings. The folded glass face of the library could also be a modernist take on the many points and angles of a Gothic building.

And, as the name states, the building is a quadrangle (with four sides around a courtyard), which echoes the layout Henry Ives Cobb laid out for U of C in the 1890s.

The law library looks starkly different from nearby buildings, but both are made with same limestone.
Jason Marck/WBEZ
The law library looks starkly different from nearby buildings, but both are made with same limestone.

The modernist designer

Saarinen, who is best known for designing the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the swoopy TWA Terminal in New York, once had two buildings on the U of C campus, but his Woodward Court women’s dorm was demolished in 2002 to make way for a new business school building.

The Laird Bell Law Quadrangle, which was dedicated in 1959 by then-U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon, remains as a testament to Saarinen’s unique style. Inside the library, wooden handrails slope down and around, alongside terrazzo staircases supported on slender stainless steel balusters.

handrails inside the u of c law library
Jason Marck/WBEZ

The only other work by Saarinen in the Chicago area is Crow Island School, a Winnetka public school that he worked on with his father, Eliel Saarinen, and Chicago architect Lawrence Perkins.

Famous students

U of C law students who walked the halls of the Laird Bell Quadrangle have gone on to become leaders of organizations like the NBA and the FBI — and the mayor of Chicago. Here are just a few of the famous U of C law students:

Dennis Rodkin is a real estate reporter for  Crain's Chicago Business and Morning Shift's "What's That Building?" contributor.

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