Rocket carries, eagles and wedding patties: the Chicago contest that led to a skyscraper explosion

Published in Odd and Fun on 21st September 2017

In 1922, the Chicago Tribunes owner propelled a competition to design a towering new HQ for the working paper and changed high-rises for ever. Will the relaunch of the call-out by the Chicago Architecture Biennial create such seismic causes?

It was legislation as” the greatest architectural contest in record”, a hunt for” the most beautiful and unique office building in the world” to room” the world’s greatest newspaper “. The Chicago Tribune’s owner, Colonel Robert R McCormick, “havent had” deficit of aspiration when he propelled the open call to design a sparkling brand-new HQ for his newspaper in 1922. And he wasn’t disappointed by the response.

The glamour of the summary, along with the enticement of $100,000 in prize money( around $1.5 m today ), investigated 263 architects submit patterns from 23 countries around the world. The enters support a fascinating cross-section of the aesthetic preoccupations of the working day, wandering from neoclassical marriage cake confections to modernist slab, indicating a few moments on the cusp of radical change.

Winner Winner … an early kill of Tribune Tower, been developed by Raymond M Hood and John Mead Howells. Picture: Keystone-France/ Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

The winning enter, which still holds proudly on the area of Michigan Avenue, was a neo-gothic fantasize of stone quays and hovering buttresses, a rocket ship created from 16 th-century France. It remains one of the finest and most fascinating towers in Chicago, if not “the worlds”, its facade encrusted with boulders and clumps of other famous constructs brought back from exotic districts by the newspaper’s reporters. But it was the competition itself that had “the worlds biggest” impact on the architectural imagination. The sheer range of enters activated an international debate on what attitude the future of the skyscraper should take, affording a stylistic smorgasbord for generations of towers to come.

It is a discussion that the curators of the second largest Chicago Architecture Biennialhope to reignite this month, with an exhibition that will restage the Tribune Tower race, 95 years on, questioning contemporary designers to respond to the brief.

Choosing as their theme ” make new biography”, co-curators of the biennial Mark Lee and Sharon Johnston set out to ask a new generation what a high-rise could be today. The L-Abased duo, founding partners of Johnston Marklee architecture firm, say that coming to Chicago as intruders, they” wanted to generate a discussion that would have an international resonance like the original challenger did “.

Walter Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer’s recommendation. Image: Rizzoli press

That 1922 competition was the ultimate duel of the styles. The majority of American architects, then still trained in the Beaux-Arts manner, promoted a traditionalist approaching, their intends arraying from teetering romanesque campaniles to gothic accumulations. These were office structures as cathedrals, their mighty stone shafts crowned with domes, globes and skyscrapers. Columns were piled on pilasters, rusticated plinths sighed under heaving cornices and every junction was developed with a twiddly moulding. It was the post-industrial capitalist society sought for legality in the fancy dress of yore.

Bruno Bruno und Max Taut’s expressionist pyramid. Photo: Ullstein Bild/ Getty

The European entryways, by compare, were much more diverse, straddling from gigantic Art Deco statues to stark steel chassis stripped of all gild. There was an expressionist pyramid by Bruno Taut, an asymmetrical planar composition by Bauhaus maestroes Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer and, perhaps most famously of all, a tower in the shape of a gigantic doric tower by Viennese provocateur Adolf Loos. On the eve of the publication of Le Corbusier’s seminal manifesto, Vers une Architecture, you can sense the evident excite about captivating the” heart of the age” in glass and steel.

Adolf Adolf Loos’s doric column-shaped tower. Image: Rizzoli press

The competition has repetition down the generations, and Johnston and Lee are not the first to revive the game as a means of sampling the climate of the working day. In 1980, Chicago architects Stanley Tigerman and Stuart Cohen invited” Late Entries” to the rival, expecting such luminaries as Tadao Ando and Frank Gehry to submit intends. As Tigerman wrote:” The original race occurred at a time that was near the end of one age and the beginning of another. This expo takes plaza during a day of revisionism in which Modernism is being safely relegated to its lieu in history .”

Tadao Tadao Ando’s characteristically minimalist intuition for the 1980 version of the architectural game. Photo: Rizzoli press

The enters were a riotous postmodern hotch-potch of reference and collage. The designers sampled promiscuously from different periods and used their proposals as vehicles for critical note. Gaetano Pesce proposed a build as a fractured portrait of the newspaper, incarnating” violence, liberty, politics and technology” in its sculpted facade. Helmut Jahn looked at employing the available breeze rights above the existing tower, constructing a mirror-glass doppelganger of the Tribune on top of its gothic crown. Ando proposed a characteristically mute grid, while Gehry submitted a mad sketch of a tower surfaced with an eagle, from whose offstages visitors could hang in an aerial fairground ride.

Frank Frank Gehry’s sketch for the 1980 Late Enterings exhibit. Photo: Frank Gehry

Just as the 1922 tournament revealed a new generation of modernists, so the 1980 version celebrated the yield of biography and adornment, the” complexity and contradiction” called for by Robert Venturi.” Our own generation has gained brand-new vigour ,” wrote Tigerman,” through its desire to find formal signify in our culture beginnings now that the barrenness of Modernism is behind us .”

Helmut Helmut Jahn’s 1980 introduction. Image: Helmut Jahn

So what will the 2017 edition tell us about the government of contemporary architecture? By restraint the selection to just 15 inventors, all sampled from a similar-ish school of thought, it is unlikely to give the complete picture. Rather than participate in the temperature of global tradition, the curators say they wanted to give a younger generation the chance to make a statement about building towering. There are none of the obvious big names- no spherical “parametric” stalagmites from Zaha Hadid Architects , no Lego brick ziggurats from Bjarke Ingels , no soften stone obelisks from Peter Zumthor , no minimal lily-white pillars from Sanaa. Instead, there will be a series of astute, critical reflections on the Tribune competition, exhibited as an immersive orchard of three-metre high-pitched proportion models.

London architect Sam Jacob persists the amusing strain of the 1980 competitor. Denoting to the archaeological fragments embedded in the facade of the existing tower, its own proposal investigates an octagonal cupola perched atop arched colonnades that in turn rest upon modernist grids. With this playful layer-cake of various types of structures Jacob is reflecting on how” building is not something that we make but something that are present, just waiting for us to discover it “.

The The Chicago Pasticcio: Sam Jacob’s 2017 introduction fuses Adolf Loos’ unbuilt 1922 proposition with the actual Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. Photograph: Sam Jacob Studio

Swiss practice Christ& Gantenbein have gone down the ready-made direction extremely, choosing to recreate an automated concrete garage tower built in Sao Paulo in 1964, as a gala of” the pristine structure of pure tectonics “.

Christ Christ& Gantembein’s 2017 recommendation repurposes a 1964 cement tower building up Sao Paulo. Photo: Johnston Marklee( Chicago Architecture)

Others have preferably lazily recycled previous programmes of their own, with Mexico’s Productora stacking one of their framed proposals on top of another, and France’s Eric Lapierre scaling up a faceted editorial from a student dwelling blockage he’s built in Paris. 6a Architectfollow a similar path, but with a more elaborate narrative, questioning a number of American wood-turners to each lathe a section of their tower is in accordance with a series of profiles taken from their Raven Row gallery in London, whose Georgian interior was, for a while, on display in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Serie’s Serie’s proposed vertiginous stack of pavilions in this year’s rivalry. Photo: Chicago Architecture

The representations will no doubt make for a series of diverting artwork patches, but overall there seems to be too much interest in contriving a ingenious fib and little attention given to actually designing a high-rise media headquarters for the 21 st century.
Some entries touch on the changing media scenery, but don’t take it very far.
Serie proposes a vertiginous load of pavilions, like nested coffee tables travelled awry, saw as a scenery of” theaters, gratifying zones, restful landscapes and hedonistic gardens: the true productive openings for today’s media workers .” African architect Francis Kere thoughts a mixed-use neighbourhood, with home, workspace and cultural facilities set around a series of vacancies in a tower of cylinders. Mexico’s Tatiana Bilbao suspects a” vertical community” of 192 schemes, paid attention to a range of traitors to design.

Francis Francis Kere Architect’s sketch for the 2017 game. Photo: Library of Congress/ Kere Architecture

Visitors expecting a cross-section of contemporary tradition is likely to be baffled. But then again you merely have to visit Manhattan to find Bob Stern house classical stone skyscrapers next to Herzog and de Meuron’s overwhelmed glass Jenga tower. When every kind of high-rise imaginable is already being built, from Stefano Boeri’s vertical forests to Calatrava’s kilometre-high spider’s web in Dubai, it seems that many of the young traditions here would rather retreat into the realms of note and commentary than add to the melee.

As for the Chicago Tribune itself, the exhibition comes at a poignant instant. The newspaper recently announced that it is moving out of its iconic headquarters after its parent company exchanged the Tribune Tower to a Los Angeles developer for $240 m. There are plans to convert it into luxury accommodations and a inn, a striking reminder that neither newspapers , nor inventors, have the supremacy they once enjoyed.

Vertical City will be on display at the Chicago Cultural Center within the framework of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, 16 September to 7 January.

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