The Reliance Building is a skyscraper located at 32 North State Street in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. The first floor and basement were designed by John Root of the Burnham and Root architectural firm in 1890, with the rest of the building completed by Charles B. Atwood in 1895. It is the first skyscraper to have large plate glass windows make up the majority of its surface area, foreshadowing a feature of skyscrapers that would become dominant in the 20th century. The Reliance Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970; and on January 7, 1976, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. The Reliance Building is also part of the Loop Retail Historic District, a collection of over one hundred buildings that reflects the growth of State and Wabash Streets as the central retail district of Chicago. The building fell into disrepair starting in the 1940s, and was restored in the late 1990s. Since 1999, the building has housed the Hotel Burnham.
Commercial real estate in Chicago, Illinois boomed in the late 1870s due to the recovery from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and the Depression of 1873–79. In 1880, William Ellery Hale purchased a small lot in the Loop community area, the central business district of the city. Hale was the founder of the Hale Elevator Company, one of the early producers of hydraulic elevators, a necessity in skyscraper design. Hale envisioned a new tower on the site, but first needed to raze the existing four-story First National Bank Building. However, the tenants in the building did not want to terminate their leases. To solve this problem, Hale lifted the second, third, and fourth floors of the building on jackscrews and demolished the first floor. The First National Bank Building had been one of the few buildings in downtown Chicago to partially survive the Great Fire.
A new basement and ground floor, designed by John Wellborn Root of the Burnham & Root firm, were constructed in 1890, with the other floors still on jackscrews. Hale became acquainted with Burnham & Root from his other real estate projects, such as the Rookery Building. Burnham & Root were renowned in Chicago by this point, having already designed twenty other buildings in the Loop. Root developed the floating raft system, which enabled designers to build large, steel-frame buildings on a reinforced concrete foundation, a necessity in Chicago's moist soil. Root and Hale agreed that the new building needed to have large glass windows on the first floor with large, open spaces. On the upper floors, Hale intended to have several stories dedicated to smaller tenants, with offices for doctors and other professionals on the top floors. He also specifically emphasized the need for natural lighting on all floors. The plan for the Reliance Building was consistent with the growing concept of the Chicago school of architecture, which emphasized the importance of designing to address the function of a building. Root died of pneumonia on January 15, 1891, before the completion of his portion of the Reliance Building; his intended design for the rest of the building has never been found. Carson Pirie Scott & Co. was the first tenant of the Reliance Building, opening a dry goods store on the first floor once it was completed.
Daniel Burnham recruited Boston architect Charles B. Atwood to complete the building with E. C. Shankland as lead engineer. After the remains of the original building were finally demolished, Atwood was able to implement his own design for the rest of the structure. He used white glazed architectural terra-cotta cladding, a feature that would later become strongly associated with him following his works for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. At the time, it was believed that the recently-developed enameled terra-cotta would never need to be cleaned because its smooth surface would allow any dirt to wash away in the rain. The steel framing on the top ten floors was completed over fifteen days in 1894. The Reliance Building, so named for its functionality, opened in March 1895. It was one of the first skyscrapers to offer electricity and phone service in all of its offices. In its first few decades, it provided office space for merchants and health professionals, including Al Capone's dentist.