World War I inspired a great interest in the study of chemistry, and enrollment in the subject doubled between 1917 and 1921. By the mid- 1920s, the department had the largest staff and most course offerings of any on campus, a popularity that prompted the University of Iowa to consolidate its resources into a single facility. Before that time, laboratories and classrooms had been scattered around campus; some were even located in a former mess hall. Walter Jessup, the University’s president at the time, included the new facility in a broad program of construction that gave the campus east of the Iowa River much of the appearance it has today.
As this building boom, and the focus of campus architecture, moved from the Pentacrest, there was a growing desire to express that transition architecturally, even while maintaining the same Beaux- Arts Classicism style. The Chemistry Building, composed of brick with limestone detailing, effectively represents that initial shift. The stonework—at the entrance, around the windows, and in quoin detailing—recalls the Pentacrest, but the brick walls represent a move to a more economical material. Classical ornament nevertheless remains important. The columns framing the entrance bay are a Corinthian variant (capitals with acanthus leaves below and palm above) that recall the first-century BCE Tower of the Winds in Athens.
The building is accessible to persons with disabilities. The building elevators connecting ground and third floors may be utilized as an alternate method to the Bionic Bus for maneuvering up and down the steep hill between Capitol and Madison Streets.