Monday, February 23, 2015

Tribune Tower
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Tribune Tower (1925) Howells & Hood, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When you publish the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Newspaper" and decide to "erect the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world," why not create a competition to design such an important building to architects around the world. Which of course is exactly what the Chicago Tribune did in the summer of 1922, and erected what was to become a Chicago, if not a world, landmark.

  [Tribune Tower, 435 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Tribune was no stranger to the location of their new tower - what was new was the street they were building on. The company's printing plant was located just north of the Chicago River and east of Pine Street, in an area packed with industrial buildings and warehouses. All that started to change in 1920 when the Michigan Avenue Bridge opened. Spanning the river from busy Michigan Avenue on the south and quiet Pine Street on the north, Pine underwent a transformation. The street was widened, had its name changed to Michigan Avenue, and evolved into the bustling boulevard you see today. But in 1922 the neighborhood was anything but glamorous. Publishers and cousins, Robert R. McCormick and Joseph Medill Patterson joined in the fanfare of the city's latest rendition of the Burnham & Bennet Plan of Chicago and decided to relocate from their Loop-located, business-district home, and build the world's most beautiful building in front of their existing printing plant.

  [Tribune Tower, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The competition not only drew the attention of architects from one end of the globe to the other, but all the hoopla associated with the announcement made for great publicity. Newspapers around the country and the world, carried the story and anxiously awaited the day when the big decision would be proclaimed. The PR campaign turned this into one of the most sought after commissions of its time, which just so happened to come with a very generous $50,000 first prize. Architects were "not required to present drawings specific and meticulous in detail, but only those showing the south and west elevations and a perspective from the southwest." The right idea, along with a really good architectural illustration, just might be able to secure the job.

  [Tribune Tower, Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

And so, of the over 200 submissions from 22 countries, that winning combination of a good concept accompanied by dynamic artwork, came from two New York architects who had never done a project of this scale before, John Mead Howells and Raymond M. Hood. Howells had been a practicing architect for a number of years when he joined-up with Hood to submit their concept for an office tower draped in a distinctive coat of 12th century inspiration. It was kind of combination of American skyscraper ingenuity with a mix of historical references that suited the conservative Tribune company. Heralded by some, modernists were chagrined. Many thought that Eliel Saarinen's 2nd place finisher was a much better piece of architecture than Howells and Hood's Gothic Revival tower, but all that really mattered in the end was what Robert McCormick thought best. Ironically, third place finishers Holabird & Roche ended up doing all the working drawings for the Tower. It wasn't unusual to have one firm do the conceptualizing while another did the less glamorous grunt work, plus Howells and Hood were from New York, and Holabird & Roche were local and knew how to build in Chicago.
The relatively unknown winners became instant celebrities. They did a couple more   projects together before heading out on their separate ways. Hood did very well for himself in a short 10-year span, garnering high profile projects like the American Radiator and McGraw-Hill buildings in Manhattan. His relationship with the Tribune family didn't end with the Tower, and he was asked to design a building for Joe Patterson's Daily News which the Medill publishing family heir had started in New York in 1919. Hood's final project was as a leading member of the team of architects working on Rockefeller Center, which the architect was consumed with at the time of his death in 1934. Howells never achieved the kind of recognition Hood did. He never landed another big bang project like the Tribune, or like Hood's Daily News or Rockefeller jobs, and died in 1959 at the age of 81 in relative obscurity.

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