Saturday, February 21, 2015

Borg-Warner Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Borg-Warner Building (1958) A. Epstein & Sons, William E. Lascaze, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

A few decades before the two towers in the middle of the picture rose above the skyline, the blue-hued building tucked into the center of the image helped introduce a new style of architecture to Chicago, and the Michigan Avenue building wall of heavy, massive, masonry.

  [Borg-Warner Building, 200 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Designed in 1955, the building was one of three new commercial buildings under construction in the city's downtown district, which hadn't seen any new construction since 1930. What made this project unique was that unlike the other two towers, this building was a spec building, not constructed by the owner/occupant. However, soon after the developer announced plans to build, Borg-Warner, maker of auto parts, signed-on to take over the top 5 floors, becoming the building's major tenant, with their name proudly displayed high above the penthouse.

  [Borg-Warner Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Not only did the structure replace Solon S. Beman's Pullman Building of dark, heavy, 9-foot-thick walled masonry, but it brought a modern, International Style building to Chicago's front yard. Designed by the Chicago firm of A. Epstein & Sons, New York architect William Lascaze was brought in as consulting architect, credited with designing the first International Style building in the United States in 1932, the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building. It was also in that year that the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition called the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture, which included the works of modernists like Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, J.J.P. Oud and Corbusier. The exhibit's curator, architect Phillip Johnson, and the architectural critic Henry Russell-Hitchcock coined the phrase, which came to define mid-century modern architecture.
Internationalists embraced and pushed the limits of building design and technology in their work, just as a group of Chicago architects had done a generation before. For the International crowd, technological advances allowed them to push the steel-framed structure to new heights. A building no longer had to be defined by its mass, but by its volume, enclosing space in a light frame, wrapped in a light skin (the blue panels were only 1 1/2 inches thick), and opening up the base of the building by raising it off the ground in a series of thin, sleek pilotis. When the Borg-Warner was ready for occupancy in 1958, it stood out from its mortar-lined crowd along Michigan Avenue.
Even though the company moved out of the building in 2003, their name still sits on top. And although the structure sits in the middle of a designated historic district, it is not among the historically designated buildings since the criteria cut-off date for historic status was set at 1930. Yet the Epstein/Lescaze design seems to have had an impact beyond its Michigan and Adams street corner. Although the majority of the buildings that make up the visually stunning Michigan Avenue street wall were built between 1882 and 1930, the handful that joined the eye-pleasing parade after 1958, almost to a structure, have blue spandrel panels and/or a hint of blue in their glistening glass facades.

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