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Loop: Designs for a Vertical City
Early concepts, final design drawings and original blueprints and hectographs for Chicago's first Loop skyscrapers.
After the smoke cleared from the great fire of 1871, Chicago's famed downtown "Loop" became the epicenter of skyscraper invention. Girdled by river and railroads, its limited amount of land was multiplied by floor after floor of rentable real estate.
Burnham and Root became the most famous architectural firm in the race to build the world's tallest structures. Its "Masonic Temple Building" was just one of the entries it produced in a fifty year quest for supremacy on the Chicago skyline. Designs for its penthouse ballroom have survived as a symbol of the elegance and the arrogance of its period.
Speculative designs for ever-taller buildings proposed for the same plot of land demonstrate the leap in technology in successive decades. Romanesque and Gothic Revival styles morphed into Art Deco and Streamlined Moderne towers forming a time-lapse album of Chicago's evolving building types.
ArchiTech Gallery has assembled original conceptual and design drawings, working blueprints and hectographs from the historic archives of D.H. Burnham and Company.
The builders of the iconic Carbide and Carbon Building of 1928 worked from these drawings of this spectacular structure high above Michigan Avenue. But the pencil designs of the unbuilt Cuneo tower, a taller version of the Carbide, remained undiscovered in the storeroom after the Crash of '29 ended the Loop's building boom. ArchiTech's collection of vintage photographs by Richard Nickel and Aaron Siskind capture this heroic era of building in America's architectural capitol.
All works are for sale. "The Loop: Designs for a Vertical City" opens Friday, September 8 and runs through Saturday, November 25th.
Notes on the Exhibition:
Though I own the work of some important designers, ArchiTech's "Burnham Collection" is the most famous single group of materials I have in the inventory. Over several years, I had bought every Burnham company drawing, print and file available outside of the Art Institute's important holdings. Their collection, given to them by Burnham's sons in the 20s and my own material constitute what is left of the record of the Burnham firms.
When I did an inventory a few months earlier, it was strongly apparent that there were enough original design drawings, from all the conceptual phases to illustrate the development of the skyscraper. And because, like all architectural archives, there are many designs for Chicago buildings that never got built, this could be a fascinating survey of an "un-built" Loop as well.
The drawings and blueprints of the flamboyant Art Deco Carbide and Carbon Building, designed in the 20s by the sons of the great Daniel Burnham , had always been good sellers here. The collection also had rolls of early pencil details of Gothic and Classical buildings that were later drawn in ink on drafting linen.
I've long felt that ArchiTech hovered somewhere between a museum and a shop. The art here is frequently "museum level" but it should be presented as if it were in a swank boutique. That walks a dangerous line in the art business if the dealer is to be taken seriously by the most discerning collectors. Glitz is to be avoided but a certain amount of gloss is necessary to stay in business and have people coming back for more.
The context of the drawings makes or breaks the show. Pencil drawings of the 1923 Burnham Building's stonework, ink on linen details of bronze doors for the 1928 Carbide and John Root's India ink roof scheme for the first Art Institute of 1887 could hang alongside each other in a way that could be read as both "academic" and "marketable."
Some of the local magazines played up the juiciest Deco images and the Tribune noted how beautiful some of these drawings were. But when word was leaked to some of my regular clients that I was doing this show, I sold enough of the materials in the months leading up to it that it was paid off before it opened. Such is the power of the Burnham name that nearly a hundred years after his death, Daniel Burnham remains one of the most influential names in American architecture.
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730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654