Skyscrapers as visual icons

NEH grant-Day 4/Wednesday July 15, 2009

July 15 th is always a special day in the year. It is my anniversary. Not my wedding anniversary ( that’s November 8th, right Scottie?), but my work anniversary.  It is a special day I always share with Paula Heap, who began work at Saint Stephen’s the same day as I, on  July 15th, 2004.  Happy anniversary Paula. I have left a message on your telephone, as I do every year. Silly, perhaps.

It had rained last night, so the walk to class  at the Chicago ArchitectureNEH Chicago-Day 4 001 Foundation was under a cloudy sky.  The view of our skyscrapers was very mystical amidst the clouds.

Today’s workshop theme   will discuss how  and why were architects visually representing skyscrapers in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries?  How did these images inform and influence public opinion and the design of buildings to follow?

neh-day3 062

Lauren, a master teacher, touring the exterior, Chicago Tribune Building

Dr. Katherine Solonson  of the University of Minnesota  delivered a discussion  entitled  The 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition.  Dr. Solomonson explored the impact to the 1922 Chicago Tribune tower competition had on the architectural community as well as the citizens of Chicago.The  Tribune’s editors, Robert McCormick and Joseph Patterson  predicted a new for a new building  to ‘sell class appeal to the masses, not just newspaper”.   The acquisition of the site North of the Chicago River on North Michigan Avenue was possible with the adventure of a new  bridge to promote traffic Northward. McCormick and Patterson had enlisted in the war efforts  during WWI, were the  witness some limited exposure to European architecture  in Germany (Gothic) .  Both men were great fans of the Gothic style. While this was an open design competition,   there was some persuasive actions by the newspaper men.  The newspaper ran  photos of famous buildings  from other countries as a means to drum up enthusiasm,  Gothic style ran three separate times.  A subtle hint. By 1919 the Tribune  also saw this as a stimulus plan of sorts, to help restart a post war economy all the while  restart the  Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Chicago  urban plan ( of which we are celebrating its centennial this year) to develop  North of the River.

The  goal of the competition  was to inspire future development in the city as well as  to secure the more beautiful office

Chicago Tribune Building

Chicago Tribune Building

building in the world.  McCormick and Patterson’s broader aspirations were to  position the Chicago Tribune as the greatest newspaper in the world ( as per their masthead), to position Chicago as the greatest city in the world,  to position American as the greatest nation in the world and finally to erect a skyscraper that  symbolized all of the above , within the city’s building codes.  This competition was capitalising on  the public’s ‘skyscraper mania”.  Architects were  challenged to  create a skyscraper  that was representative of the American identity, using new technology, aspiring new development and architecture style. The foot print of the North Michigan Ave site was 100 by 100 feet square, thus lending itself to a tall tower construction, only way to build was up. This building needed to have a set back, and that the top 40 floors had to be empty as per Chicago’s building codes of the time.  Beauty, distinctiveness ( an icon in which to advertise) as well as being

Sculpture based on Aseop's Fables

Sculpture based on Aseop's Fables

practical and efficient were qualities the selection committee was looking for. We then looked at the submissions of Adolf  Loos, Gropius and Meyer (Germany), Jules Van den Hende ( Dutch) and Ludwig Hilberseimer ( Germany).  The impact of the competitions was a win win for America.  The design by Howells and Hood was selected as that is heavy in Gothic design qualities and thus became a WWI commemoration. A number of cornerstones are stones found by Patterson and McCormick from the battle field in Belgium.  Louis Sullivan was of mixed feeling  of the design.  On one hand, he adored the vertically and spiritual aspirations and not just materials qualities.  It was a vertical integration in Daniel Burnham’s master city plan.  On the other hand, Sullivan did not like the design as that it was heavily Gothic,  a style borrowed from Germany, and not furthering a new independent uniquely American style. He viewed the Gothic design of the Chicago Tribune building as  looking back on the past and not looking forward in an innovative fashion. Howell and Hood’s design garnered their design firm the  100, 000$ prize. ( it was hinted that Howells’ wife was on the Chicago Tribune’s Board of directors and this might have played in Howell’s favour.)

The second runner-up, who received 20, 000$,  still impacted American architectural history.  Eliel Saarien’s, a Finnish architect, designed a submission expressed  height and structure, was a spiritual aspiration. Despite  coming in second in the Chicago Tribune competition,  he decided to move to Michigan and worked at Cranbook School.  His son, then when on to become an architect and designed the TWA  terminal as well as the St. Louis Arch.  Thus,  America and the national architectural identity benefited from the runner up.

NEH Chicago-Day 4 003

Lunch was a quick sandwich outside in the Chicago Art Institute  gardens across the street.  By now, the sunshine had come out and  theNEH Chicago-Day 4 004 skies had cleared.

Our afternoon session was a fun one.  We walked across the street to the Institute , and walked through the art research library to meet with the Archivist and look at several  primary sources, blue prints for  some of the city’s skyscrapers.  We had a short period of time to look around the  center  hallway, at the display of  pieces of former Chicago buildings, pediments,   cornices, stained glass windows etc.  Many of us, also had a chance to  quickly see some of  the Art Institute’s most famous paintings in the Impressionist collections.  Dr. Julie Goldsmith, a Senior Program officer of the NEH, joined us at the Institute. She was attending to view the progress of this program, as that her bailiwick is the selection and dispersal of grant monies to fund these programs all across the country.

NEH Chicago-Day 4 007NEH Chicago-Day 4 008NEH Chicago-Day 4 010NEH Chicago-Day 4 011

NEH Chicago-Day 4 005NEH Chicago-Day 4 006

Joel Berman a local architect, demonstrated a best practise How to sketch like an architect.  Mr. Berman  discussed how illustrations influence the way we perceive buildings.  he introduced the group  to various drawing techniques for classroom use.  We  walked out side , across the street into Grant park (yes, where

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

Mr. Joel Berman

Mr. Joel Berman

President Obama accepted the nomination last November).  Beside the  famous Buckingham Fountain (of Married With Children television fame), we  sketch snap shots of what is around us, looked at how to capture detail in an architectural sketch.

To summarize today’s  topic,  corporate buildings wanted to present a building to grace the city and image of the Chicgao Tribute building  to act in the public interest, according to Daniel Burnham’s 1909 City plan.   Architects and clients were interested in investing in beauty. New developments in architecture help to develop the American identity, in a post WWI era.

Supper was a fantastic ruben’s sandwich at Berghoff’s, on 17 W. Adams Street,  as per Dr. Esparza’s suggestion.  This restaurant, housed in a historical building from yesterday’s docent tour,  is famous for the Germanic foods.   The wood panelling, the ornate mosaic floor tiles give the interior an old world, turn of the century feel.   After placing my order, I could  imagine  it being a place were women might not have been allowed at one time,  such as a gentleman’s smoking club or such;  an “old boys club”.  And the ruben’s sandwich wasn’t  half bad either.  Saucy, but not too drippy. Yummie. Do they deliver to Florida, I wonder?

Sugar Bliss, Cupcake emporium

Sugar Bliss, State Street, cupcake emporium

Then to Sugar Bliss, on State Street, in an homage to Mrs. Pullen.  It is a little known fact that my Head of School is a fellow cupcake gourmand.  Sadly, the shoppe was closing as I arrived.  I left with a promise to return tomorrow.

The remainder of my evening was spend looking around  the Macy’s across the street.  While, yes, we do have a Macy’s inNEH Chicago-Day 4 024

Bradenton, and a better grade store in Sarasota, this location was the former Marshall Field’s building.  The interior  is decorated with Corinthian columns,   a mosaics tile ceiling, nothing like our Sarasota store. Ironically, this Macy’s location houses a Sarah’sNEH Chicago-Day 4 025 Pastries and Candies emporium,one of Martha Stewart’s favorite bakeries in Chicago.

NEH Chicago-Day 4 029

Girl reading at table

In preparation for my trip to Chicago to study architecture, I find myself reading up on the  Art Institute of Chicago, located a few blocks away from  the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  I am eager to visit the A Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) by George Seurat. This has me thinking about my first love:  art history.  After some reseach, I found an image that I enjoyed while at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 


1934 Pablo Picasso  Oil and enamel on canvas; H. 63-7/8, W. 51-3/8 in. (162.2 x 130.5 cm)
Girl Reading at Table.  1934   Pablo Picasso Oil and enamel on canvas; H. 63-7/8, W. 51-3/8 in. (162.2 x 130.5 cm)

Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain, and grew up in Barcelona, where he associated with a large group of artists and writers that gathered at Els Quatre Gats café. In 1904 Picasso settled in Paris and became friendly with artist Georges Braque, with whom he developed Cubism, and writers Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. Picasso’s painting style changed many times throughout his career, and he produced a range of images from classical figures to radical abstractions. He exhibited widely and is considered one of the most important and influential figures in twentieth-century art. Besides being a prolific painter and draftsman, Picasso was also an accomplished sculptor and printmaker and produced ceramics and theatrical designs. He died in Mougins, France, in 1973.

In 1927, when he was forty-five, Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter. In this painting of Marie-Thérèse, the time is night and the scene is intimate: she sits reading at a table in a room illuminated by only a small lamp. One hand gently holds open the pages of her book while the other touches her garland-crowned head with fingers that resemble feathers. The space of the room is compressed, but the resulting distortions are never severe. Sinuous rhythms absorb the straight linear accents of the table, and the exaggerated height of both table and plant emphasizes the young woman’s childlike appearance. Her pale blond hair and blue-white skin make her look especially ethereal within this dark and deeply colored interior.
Bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn, in honor of William S. Lieberman, 1995