Founded in 1890 through the beneficence of John D. Rockefeller, the historic center of this 211-acre campus was built on a 3-block parcel donated by Marshall Field in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Architect Henry Ives Cobb conceived the quadrangular arrangement, in which thirty neo-Gothic buildings enclose six courtyards. O.C. Simonds created a picturesque setting around the quadrangles with informal clusters of plantings and meandering paths. In 1901, John Charles Olmsted for Olmsted Brothers created a formal, axial master plan for the campus. Simple angular paths and lawns with stately American elm trees produced an understated formality, and campus-wide coherence was maintained through the stylistic uniformity of the architecture and spatial symmetry.
In 1929 Beatrix Farrand updated the campus master plan. She introduced native shrubs and trees such as crab apple to the campus and designed new benches. In 1955, Eero Saarinen, working with Dan Kiley, created a new master plan and developed the Laird Bell Law Quad in a Modernist style. The central courtyard of this quad contains a reflecting pool and fountain, while small terraces are adorned with sculptures by Antoine Pevsner and Kenneth Armitage. A more recent master plan was created in 1999 and revised in 2004, resulting in the continued evolution of portions of the campus outside the historic core. Several structures are designated as National Historic Landmarks, including Chicago Pile-1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, and Robie House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and purchased by the university in 1963.