Visiting family in Chicago last summer provided the perfect opportunity to check out the Chicago Cultural Center, originally Chicago’s first Central Public Library and with a dome designed by Tiffany. We were intrigued and found it was well worth the time to go!
The dome is 38 feet in diameter and made with 30,000 pieces of glass. Designed with a fish scale pattern and signs of the zodiac at the very top, it’s not made with the brightly colored glass that is often associated with Tiffany. The glass in this application is a clear iridescent-type glass (Tiffany’s proprietary Favrile glass) that lets a lot of light into the space. While the dome was solely sunlit at one time, it is now lit with electric lights as well. Interestingly, the exterior of the dome was covered with concrete and copper in the 1930’s (what were they thinking?!) but restored to its original design intent in 2008.
The dome covers the Preston Bradley Hall on the second floor, once the General Delivery Room for the library and now used for special events of all kind. There are lovely Tiffany chandeliers throughout the space with the clear iridescence of the dome. The use of color was saved for the incredible mosaic wall designs that cover practically every surface and archway of this room. These beautiful mosaics made from Favrile glass, stone, and mother of pearl intermix symbols related to printing, libraries and books in a palette of bright green, turquoise, gold, gray and white. A variety of quotations carved into marble in many different languages is also part of the captivating wall decoration.
The room has a definite feminine quality to it in a lovely, bright, refreshing way. I was surprised that it was not the dark, subdued colors found to be more typical during the Victorian era of Interior Design. This quote from the center’s brochure detailing the workmanship caught my attention: “The noted Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York executed most of the room’s decorative features, including the dome, mosaics and lighting fixtures, employing mostly a female labor force, as women were thought to be more adept at the fine handiwork.”