Famous Ceilings: Chicago Cultural Center

Written by Milan Jara

Chicago is often praised as being a city full of beautiful and fascinating local architecture, and the Chicago Cultural Center is definitely one of the city's most precious gems. Originally built as a public library in 1897, the center also happens to house the world's largest Tiffany glass dome. After more than 100 years of wear and tear, the dome underwent a massive restoration project in 2008 to help bring it back to its original, gleaming splendor.

A Breathtaking Public Construction

The dome is massive, about 38 feet in diameter and more than 1,000 square feet in total. With more than 30,000 individual pieces of colored glass arranged in 243 sections, the dome was a massive undertaking to both build and eventually restore. Originally built by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a master of light, the dome was meant to show off the city's cultural richness. Over the years, the original protective glass covering was replaced by a safer, steel exterior, which, while being safe, unfortunately blocked the light that made the dome so breathtaking. The restoration team in 2008 meticulously took off, cleaned, and restored each piece of glass and allowed natural light to seep through the piece. The protective exterior is now energy-efficient and translucent. This laborious process enabled the sunlight to dance through each individual piece of Tiffany's ornate glass, as the great artist originally intended.

"The People's Palace"

After the great Chicago fire of 1871, the city was reinventing itself with a neoclassical image. The locals no longer wanted their city to be known for being dirty and sooty, but for its culture, aiming to be the Paris of the U.S. Also, after the fire, there was a great sense of community. Unlike other major projects in cities across the U.S., this library was actually commissioned by the people of Chicago, not by a wealthy millionaire looking to philanthropically produce a cultural space. It was the Public Building Commission of Chicago, the people of Chicago, that produced the work. The name "the people's palace" comes from this fact. It's fantastic that a publicly funded building could look so breathtakingly beautiful!

Tiffany Glass

Tiffany glass, named after the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, is famous for its delicate appearance and unique style. His team's work can be found in churches and museums across the U.S., from Texas to Wisconsin to Florida. In addition to large stained glass projects, Tiffany and his team were also famous for colored-glass lampshades that were popular in the early 1900s and often imitated. Their works used many different styles, including opalescent glass, favrile glass, fracture glass, and ripple glass. Tiffany pulled out all of the stops for the creation of this massive dome and its surrounding light fixtures. The dome was created to emphasize the imitated Greek and Roman architecture of the surrounding building, which has a subtle emphasis on learning. With the symbols of the zodiac at the top, the illuminating dome encourages the people of Chicago to reach for the stars!

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- Milan Jara