Reaching New Heights: Architects Reimagine the Chicago Tribune Tower Once Again
“There never has been such a contest and it is very doubtful that there ever will be another,” gushed a Chicago Tribune writer in 1922 about the competition to design the newspaper’s new headquarters. Two hundred and sixty-three submissions poured in from “architects from every civilized country” the New York Times reported, and the winning entry, John Mead Howells’s and Raymond Hood’s steel-framed neo-Gothic fortress, joined the ranks of Manhattan’s Woolworth Building and Bush Tower as the best skyscrapers in the United States.
The competition has now inspired two tribute exhibitions in the nearly one hundred years since it was originally staged. The first, Late Entries to the Tribune Competition, organized by Stanley Tigerman and the Chicago Seven in 1980, solicited drawings from brutalist, postmodern, and deconstructivist architects of the day, including Peter and Alison Smithson, Robert A. M. Stern, and Frank Gehry. The second, Vertical City, is on view this year at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which runs until January 7.
Vertical City comprises a grid of fifteen sixteen-foot scale-model skyscrapers that reach to the coffered ceiling of the Chicago Cultural Center’s Tiffany-decorated Sidney R. Yates Gallery. Among them is a montage of historic architectural forms and references called Chicago Pasticcio by Sam Jacob Studio, Kéré Architecture’s curvaceous cut-away foam-and-wood Tower of Babel, and two representatives from the original competition—Adolf Loos’s Greek Doric order–skyscraper and Ludwig Hilberseimer’s simple, modernist tower block—which stand like sentinels at either end of the grid.
Howell’s and Hood’s masterpiece still lords it over Michigan Avenue (looking a little shorter in the shadow of Trump International Hotel and Tower a block away), but the newspaper may soon be making its exit. As it is, what could be the new “Tribune Tower” is visible from the Yates Gallery’s windows, right across Millennium Park: Prudential Plaza, which, if negotiations don’t fall through, could soon be the Chicago Tribune’s new home.