CNA Center

Cna Center
  1. About the CNA Center in Chicago
  2. Architect and team
  3. Architectureal style
  4. Spaces and uses
  5. Structure and materials

The CNA Center is an International Style skyscraper designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and built between 1970 and 1972 in Chicago, IL.

CNA Center is not the only name you might know this building by though. It is common for companies to want to attach their names to iconic buildings when they move in, or for the general public to come up with nicknames, and this one is no exception. The building has changed names several times over the years, and is also known as:

  • CNA Center until 2018.
  • Continental Center III.
  • 333 South Wabash.
  • Big Red.

Its precise street address is 333 South Wabash, Chicago, IL. You can also find it on the map here.

The building underwent a major restoration in 2008.

Building's timeline

Construction begins
Construction completed
years ago
  1. 2008 - A deep facade recovery was carried out using a fluoropolymer coating system. The project was conducted in two phases. The first involved cleaning and repainting the steel and aluminum surfaces of the 44 floors, followed by coating these surfaces with modified epoxy resin and a layer of aliphatic polyurethane before applying the final coating.

Architect and team

Graham, Anderson, Probst & White was the architecture firm in charge of the architectural design.

Also known as GAP&W, the firm was founded in 1912 in Chicago, and remained active until 2006, when it finally closed its doors.

GAP&W is not only key in the evolution of Chicago's architecture because of the buildings they designed, which were many and nothing short of cutting-edge for their time, but also because two of their architects, Hubert Burnham and Daniel Burnham, eventually started their own practice, which became Burnham Brothers, yet another of the most influential firms the city has ever seen.

The firm's style evolved according to the times. Their first buildings had clear Beaux-Arts inspirations, but they eventually embraced the arrival of Art-Deco, as well as neogothic and neoclassicism.

Graham, Anderson, Probst & White was in charge of the architectural design, however, architecture is a complex discipline, which usually involves many professionals from different fields, without whom this building would have not been possible. We will surely be leaving out a lot of names here, but at the very least we know that there was one other part involved, that was Environmental Systems Design, Inc. in charge of MEP Engineering.

Architectural Style

The CNA Center can be categorized as an International Style building.

The international style originated in Europe in the early 20th century, and made its way to the US a couple of decades later when the rise of the Nazi regime forced figures such as Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, or Mies van der Rohe to flee Europe.

The International Style emerged as a response to the prevailing historicism and ornate architecture styles of the late 19th century, which according to a younger generation of architects didn't represent the new materials and construction techniques that were on the rise at the time.

Architecture in the early 20th century US was marked by the adoption of steel structures, modern construction techniques, and the rise of the skyscraper. As it turns out, this combination of circumstances created the perfect ecosystem for the International Style to flourish, becoming the to-go style for skyscraper designs during the mid-20th century, when American cities were growing fast.

The International Style’s legacy can not only be found in numerous iconic buildings across all major American cities, but also incorporated in contemporary architecture, which still puts a big emphasis on functionality and minimalism.

Spaces & Uses

The CNA Center reaches an architectural height of 600ft (183m). It has a total of 44 floors, served by 28 elevators. In total, it has a built-up area of 1,299,999 sqf (120,774m2) offering 1,206,999 sqf (112,134m2) of usable space.

Ever since opening its doors to the public in 1972, the CNA Center has mainly been used as Commercial space.

600ft (183m)

Materials & Structure

The CNA Center uses a frame structure made of steel columns and slabs.

A frame structure uses a combination of beams and columns to sustain the building's weight. The walls in this case are non-load bearing, which allows for more flexibility when distributing the interior spaces.

The facade is non-load bearing either, as it is common in frame structure type buildings.

From an aesthetic point of view, the facade features a continuous curtain wall that is its most characteristic feature since it was painted red. If the building was black it would not stand out from the collection of international-style skyscrapers in Chicago, such as the Equitable Building, the IBM Building or the skyscrapers on Michigan Plaza. But by painting it red the CNA Plaza has managed to stand out in the skyline of the windy city, becoming a recognizable landmark.