Two of the principal architects in the firm Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge were educated at MIT: George F. Shepley (class of 1882) and Charles A. Coolidge (class of 1883), and the firm itself enjoyed a long association with the Institute. The firm inherited H.H. Richardson's practice in 1886 and was responsible for completing many of his most noteworthy designs, including Glessner House in Chicago, in which there was a liberal use of Romanesque elements such as rounded arches, polychrome, and carved organic detailing. In these buildings, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge was clearly continuing in the style made famous by their predecessor.
In 1892, the firm won the competition for the Chicago Public Library which led to the commission for the Art Institute of Chicago in the following year. In this work, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge rejected the Richardsonian Romanesque for the Classical Revival. As a result of these two projects, the firm opened a Chicago branch office in 1893. Subsequently, many architects who would later be part of the Prairie School received their early professional training with Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. The design for the library is a good example of the firm's turn from the Richardsonian Romanesque style to the Renaissance Revival associated with McKim, Mead & White's Boston Public Library.