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Architecture Design

Past, Present, Future Perfect

theMART has been serving the design community for 90 years.

theMART’s iconic facade, today and under construction in 1929.

theMART’s iconic facade, today and under construction in 1929.

For 90 years, the white, Indiana limestone building covering two blocks of prime real estate at the junction of the North, South, and main branches of the Chicago River, has been a cornerstone of the business of design in Chicago and far beyond. theMART was built by the Marshall Field department store to serve as a manufacturing facility and showroom. At the time, it was the largest building in the world, and today it remains the world’s largest commercial building, and the largest wholesale design center.

The Art Deco building, designed by Alfred Shaw, integrates elements from three distinct building styles: the warehouse, the department store, and the office tower. At the pedestrian level, the two-storey base is defined by over scale windows, and the elegant main lobby, with a palette of buff and bronze, is set off by eight square marble piers. The terrazzo floor, conceived as a carpet, has a lively pattern of squares and stripes, in pale hues of green and orange, bordered by over scaled chevrons inlaid with an abstraction of theMART’s initials. The crowning feature of the lobby is Jules Guerin’s frieze of murals, which complete the iconographic trilogy of the building.

During World War II, the building was converted to government offices, until it was purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy in 1945. Kennedy revived the building’s original purpose as a mercantile, and eventually allowed public access. In the decades that followed the war, theMART became the United States’s largest producer of trade shows. In 1998, Vornado Realty Trust purchased the building, and still owns it today.

Today, theMART, located in the center of the sought-after River North submarket, is interwoven into the fabric of Chicago as an innovator in culture, art, business, fashion, media, and more. It is one of the world’s leading commercial buildings and wholesale design centers, and the is the preeminent international business location in Chicago. Encompassing 4.2 million gross square feet, theMART is visited by an average of 30,000 people each business day, and nearly 10 million people annually. Offering continuous innovation and creativity from leading manufacturers and showrooms, theMART serves as a business hub for interior designers, architects, contractors, business owners, and buyers, and Chicago’s most creative and technologically innovative companies. In 2007, theMART was awarded LEED Silver Certification, and in 2013 and 2018 achieved LEED Gold Certification. This year marks theMART’s 90th birthday, and the building continues to lead in trends and innovation, constantly reinventing itself for today’s market.

theMART

Artist: Charles Atlas

In addition to being home to award-winning showrooms and designers, theMART serves a role in the community as a cultural center. It is filled with amenities which include a collection of eating establishments, services, and specialty shops located on the first and second floors. These timesaving businesses include a beauty salon, a food court with more than 20 local eateries, a FedEx Office, a United States Post Office location, and Marshall’s Landing, a full service restaurant, coffee bar, and gathering place. Since its launch in 2018, Art on theMART has quickly become a celebrated landmark along the Chicago River and Riverwalk. In the spirit of Chicago’s great legacy of public art and culture, Art on theMART is a next-generation media space unlike anywhere else in the world. This unique, long-term, public art installation is unprecedented in scale, illuminating the more than 2.5-acre river façade in downtown Chicago and transforming its urban context. For more information please visit themart.com.