Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer, competition entry to the Chicago Tribune tower (1922)

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The competition design for the Chicago Tribune tower by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer

Bart Lootsma
Bauhaus: A Model
New York, 2009

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The design by Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer for an office and administration building for the Chicago Tribune was conceived in 1922. The context was an international competition announced by the Tribune on the occasion of the sixty-fifth jubilee. For decades already, European architects had drawn inspiration from developments in the United States, and the competition represented an initial opportunity to come to terms with the specifically American task of designing a skyscraper. Many Europeans submitted designs, although the names of such well-known figures as Erich Mendelsohn, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier — whom one might have expected to participate — were absent. Among the two hundred and sixty-five submissions from twenty-six different countries were thirty-seven from Germany, where debates about skyscrapers had been particularly intense, especially around the time of the 1921 competition for a high-rise building on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. In Chicago, the winners were the Americans John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, whose Neo-Gothic building was erected in 1925. The decision sparked passionate debate, instigated by critics who had preferred the modernist design of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

The competition came to symbolize the heroic struggle of the modernist movement. As late as the 1949 film The Fountainhead, viewers saw Gary Cooper in the role of Howard Roark, his face filled with bitterness, viewing plans which strongly resemble those by Max Taut, Walter Gropius, and Adolf Meyer. They bear the handwritten inscription “NOT BUILT.” Roark’s rival, Peter Keating, prefers an eclectic style. Many years later, in 1950, Gropius explained in retrospect: “In 1922, when I designed the Chicago Tribune high-rise, I wanted to erect a building that avoided using any historical style, but which instead expressed the modern age with modern means; in this case with a reinforced concrete frame which would clearly express the building’s function.” The accuracy of this statement must however be called into question, as it seems to have been influenced by the design’s subsequent reception. In the 1950s, moreover, Gropius could no longer recall that in 1925, he had still presented the building in Internationale Architektur as being planned in “iron, glass, and terracotta.” Continue reading