The Developing Metropolis

The Developing Metropolis

Abrams and Chronicle’s third edition of Chicago Architecture and Design by Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson gives a historical account of one of America’s most interesting cities through the lens of the architects who shaped it, including Daniel Burnham, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Gehry. With a foreword by Helmut Jahn and photographs by Hedrich Blessing, the publication documents the influential metropolis through its intriguing buildings, from the 19th century through to the present day.

Widely known as the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago is examined through its historical, social and technological contexts, piecing together various movements and their stylistic developments. The publication begins with Daniel Burnham and his infamous Plan of Chicago (1909) – which, coauthored by Edward H. Bennett, documented the city’s transformation from the Great Fire in 1871 – and works its way up to contemporary projects such as Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago (2009). Throughout this journey, however, lies a singular thread. Building upon John Ruskin’s theories of organic architecture, each featured project is included for its overall sensation within the landscape, something that has developed naturally with humanity’s needs. “Its life was an outgrowth of its form,” Pridmore notes.

Whilst this concept manifests, for the most part, as the quest for an inherently American design, Pridmore breaks the notion down to its essence: a marriage between the architecture and the building – that is “between poetry and prose”. This is interpreted by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, with an opening of interior spaces with few divided sections and lots of natural light. The unconventional Robie House carries these ideas into fruition: a complex geometry allows for a sociable, open plan, spacious interior.

Seemingly at philosophical odds is the Art Deco movement. “[The buildings] were traditional in appearance but driven by values that were modern, if not avant-garde,” explains Pridmore. The Reed House (1931) by David Adler for instance, updates traditional designs with contemporary elements.

Moving forward into the 20th century, new technologies produced a sense of freedom, seen in, for example, Mies van der Rohe’s work, which “required not only an understanding of materials and function but also an almost spiritual command of the way people perceive space,” Pridmore notes.

An example of this in action is the Kluczynski Federal Building (1974) – a 42-floor skyscraper which harnessed the landscape for its spatial and formal potential. Today, skyscrapers have become icons of speed and efficiency, offering the optimal example of how structures have evolved, almost anthropomorphically. Throughout this thought-provoking text, Pridmore is constantly searching for a distinctly American type of architecture – a task which he certainly achieves.

Chicago Architecture and Design is published by Abrams and Chronicle. Find out more here.

Gunseli Yalcinkaya

1. Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2009, Renzo Piano (© Dave Jordano).