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Modern American Architecture

December 02 – December 15, 1930


Development of Style in High Building Since the 80's

The photographs in this section are of buildings built from about 1880 to date. They show the development of architectural design in skyscrapers from the time of the modern style as it is represented by other photographs in the exhibition.

One's first reaction is perhaps that architectural design must have reached its very nadir in some of these early high buildings. But it must be remembered that the upward elongation of these buildings offered an absolutely new problem in design to their unfortunate architects. Solutions of the problem were slow in forthcoming, and it is perhaps only in the last ten years that the problem of skyscraper design (speaking from the aesthetic rather that the technical point of view) has begun to be understood.

In general, the earlier skyscrapers were designed in ingenious, if somewhat forced, versions of the historical styles. The results may be seen in the accompanying photographs. A very few architects realized that the skyscraper, as a new method of construction, demand a new treatment of exterior and interior design and ornamental detail. Notable among them was Louis Sullivan, of Chicago. A few others realized that inasmuch as no historical style was justly applicable, they would avoid the issue and use no "style" at all, in the sense that they would abandon all attempts at traditional composition of the whole and traditional stylistic detail. The resultant buildings were called huge boxes, but they at least wiped clean the slate for the development of an authentic and appropriate style for the new buildings.

From 1900 to the War, most buildings belong to two general types. The cubic block type included many large office buildings which made no pretense to an interesting mass treatment, and merely treated the bottom and top stories of the facades with details of traditional styles, chiefly Classic or Italian Renaissance. In shape they were huge boxes. Another group strove to capitalize on the extraordinary height of the skyscraper by a tower treatment- the motive for the design very often adapted from some spire or bell-tower of the Gothic past. The tower type has survived in some very interesting modern buildings.

This is the transcript of Mr. Morrison's Gallery Talk on Dec. 15, 1030

Author: Hugh S. Morrison
The Renaissance Society
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Tue  Jun 25, 2024