A History of Height: Chicago and the Tribune Tower



Chicago holds a unique place in skyscraper history. It was home to one of the very first skyscrapers and for many years was the location of the world’s tallest building. Chicago’s skyscrapers weren’t just cutting edge in technology; they also pushed boundaries and explored new ideas in design. A prime example is the Tribune Tower, located on Michigan Avenue adjacent to the Chicago River.

At the beginning of skyscrapers construction, architects were met with a serious design dilemma: how to decorate a building that was so tall. Today, for the most part, we don’t think twice about skyscraper design. So many of them are plain glass, with sleek lines emphasizing their height. What came before glass? The Tribune Tower was the result of a 1922 design competition and was done in a Gothic Revival style. The details are stunning, even if the style didn’t turn out to be on trend. Interestingly, though, the other entries also got a great deal of press. Looking back, some of the designs are incredibly ahead of their time while others are completely outlandish (okay, so the one that looks like a Greek column was satirical, but you get the idea).

The Tribune Tower today is one of many memorable, towering landmarks in Chicago. Its detailed top looks like no other building in the city. Even up close, it is impossible to ignore, both due to its heavy decorative details and the pieces of other buildings that have been built into its walls (you may recall, I previously wrote about the Tribune Tower’s interesting collection here).

What do you think? Would you trade out some of our glass skyscrapers for Gothic Revival or was it a match that was never meant to be?






Sources and Further Reading:

Don’t miss my previous piece about the building, Tribune Tower: A Vertical Museum.

The Home Insurance Building was, depending on your definition, the first skyscraper in the world. Read more about it in this Tribune article.

Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) was the tallest building in the world until 1998. Read more about it here.



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