Architect Alfred Smith designed the Victorian building; an example of the numerous, familiar Victorian corner buildings of the era. Borrowing lessons learned from the Chicago School of Architecture, the structure consisted of a cast iron turret on the corner and three matching cast iron bays that project from the building; each features slate shingles and colored glass in the central windows. The rest of the building includes red brick intertwined with sandstone trim.
The construction of the building by a dentist, Luke Burlingham, represents the development of Chicago's near north side, notably in areas along Clark Street in Chicago, where the Burlingham Building is located. The area north of the Chicago River had generally remained undeveloped the first few decades of Chicago's transformation from swamp town to major metropolis. However, bridge development during the mid-19th century and real-estate speculation turned the north side into an area filled with wealthy residential areas near Lake Michigan and the Chicago River with low-income housing (for laborers) industry to the west, away from the water. In between, along Clark Street, numerous businesses, and service industries arose, effectively acting as a transition zone from residential north side to industrial, as well as a dividing line between the middle class and the poor.
Today the building stands as a monument to that early development of Chicago and the architecture befitting that growth.