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RR Donnelley & Sons Facade Restoration After Bridge Removal

Engineer > Thornton Tomasetti
my role > historical research, restoration drawings, and construction administration
Project Type > Restoration
Location > Chicago, IL
Historical photos courtesy of the University of Chicago

Development of the Wintrust Arena in Chicago's south loop required demolition of the RR Donnelley & Sons plant expansion to the west of Calumet Avenue.   The plant expansion was connected to the main plant with a bridge spanning Calumet Avenue.   Removal of the bridge was necessary, leaving a scar on the remaining plant, commonly referred to as the "RR Donnelly & Sons Calumet Plant."  Considered one of Chicago's finest industrial buildings, the building is crafted with fine detail in stone, terra cotta, and cast iron, showcasing printing history. Restoration of the facade to the original appearance was initially thought to be impossible.    The building's perimeter is adorned with intricately carved limestone medallions above the first-floor windows identifying important printers with their printer's mark (i.e., graphic trademark or logo).  A close study of the building revealed 92 medallions with over 40 unique printers' marks.     Over a half-century earlier, the bridge construction erased the origins of two medallions and damaged the cast iron and terra cotta.  Records were lost.  To the team's surprise, the University of Chicago obtained the RR Donnelly & Sons Company Archive donated by the company.     A search of the archive found historical photos and the blueprints of the plant.    Photos taken during the original bridge construction showed the missing medallions to be the printers' marks of  Fust & Schoeffer (established 1457) and Kelmscott Press (established 1891).   Identical printers' marks were found in the executive offices stained glass windows on the 8th floor.   The importance of Fust & Schoeffer was evident as it was one of the stained glass windows found in Mr. Donnelly's private office.   Fust was a financial partner for the Gutenberg Bible, the first printed book using a printing press,  and later Fust & Schoeffer advanced typesetting for the new industry. 


Replication of the missing medallions was completed using a CNC stone cutting machine.  The Kelmscott medallion was replicated using a three-dimensional digital scan of the printer's mark found on the building.   The Fust & Schoeffer medallion did not exist and was digitally recreated based on photographs and the original printer's mark.   The original cast-iron spandrels and terra cotta shields were salvaged.   An artisan reconstructed the missing half of one of the damaged terra cotta shields.  The terra cotta shields were reglazed with a specialized coating designed for terra cotta repair.  Small pieces were cast in iron and attached to the original spandrels.   The missing window was replaced with one approved by landmarks.   Completion of the project restored the history unceremoniously stripped from the building over a half-century ago. 

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