In a time when thick coal smoke blanketed the city and skyscrapers were often maligned for casting long shadows on the streets, the architects of the Reliance Building, designed by Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root, sought to create a building that could be "self-cleaning." The glazed terra cotta cladding provided what was thought to be the perfect solution. It was believed to never need cleaning because its smooth surface would allow any dirt to wash away in the rain. Though that belief ultimately turned out to be unfounded, it inspired the Reliance Building’s most distinct feature, its shining facade of glass and white terra cotta.
Information provided in part by: Chicago Architecture Center