Historic building holds its own

The new Kellogg School of Management’s Global Hub is a $250 million monster of modern glass. Less than half a mile south, also overlooking Lake Michigan, sits the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, a sleek, $108 million architectural beauty built with double layers of glass for state-of-the-art sound quality.

Then there’s Fisk Hall. Built 130 years ago for $75,000 ($2.2 million in today’s dollars), it welcomes young journalists through simple, metal-framed doors with glass that’s a little scuffed and scratched. “Fisk Hall 1898” reads the engraved concrete next to the front entrance. Over the main entrance, red oxidized metal proclaims the building the “McCormick Journalism Center.” Portraits of Medill Hall of Achievement winners line the walls.

Fisk is charming, not ostentatious or gaudy, or shiny or flashy. A flashy, gilded journalism building would feel wrong. 

Still, it’s modern in the ways it needs to be: in the lobby, three muted flat-screen TVs show the latest news. 

Designed by noted Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, perhaps the most famous architect of the era, Fisk Hall started as a preparatory school before it became Medill’s home in 1954. 

Girl gets her laptop out of a bag.

Taylor Schmitt sits in Fisk 217 to prepare for a lecture. Photo by Abby Banks

In the main auditorium, known as Room 217, students become accustomed to the music of maroon chairs that squeak every time someone leans back. This is Fisk Hall, sing the chairs.

It’s a symphony hall. During lectures, dropped and knocked-over metal water bottles click, clack and clank. The sound crescendos as the runaway bottles roll farther and farther down the inclined floor of the auditorium. 

It all screams journalism, like no building with double-layered glass walls ever can.