Architecture, Artist Profile, Culture

Throwback Thursday // The Chrysler Building

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The Chrysler Building in New York is hands down one of my favourite buildings of all time. During my trip to New York this past December, I couldn’t help but love the architecture that decorates the city that to be honest, is rare here in Toronto. It is a classic example of the Art Deco architecture using geometric patterns, and glitzy man-made materials. It was designed by an American architect, William Van Alen for Walter P. Chrysler during New York’s competitive race to build the tallest skyscraper in the late 1920’s. With the real-estate market at it’s highest at the end of the 20’s, skyscrapers were becoming a clear method for architects to make a name for themselves and skyrocket them to stardom like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. At the same time, his ex-partner H. Craig Severence had been hired to build an even taller building- 40 Wall Street, and so in order to be the tallest building, Van Alen designed a needlelike spire in secret within the building.

It stands at 1,046 feet tall with 77 floors, and for a time the Chrysler Building was the world’s tallest building until 11 months later and the Empire State Building was erected in 1931. After it’s completion, critics mocked the idea of the spire, stating that it lacks design and too gimmicky. It’s still the world’s tallest brick building in the world, but only the 4th tallest structure today tied with The New York Times Building.

When Van Alen received the commission for the Chrysler Building, he never entered into a contract with Walter P. Chrysler and after it was completed, he requested a payment of 6 percent of the construction budget ($14 million according to American Institute of Architects standards at the time). Chrysler refused to pay and Van Alen sued him and eventually received the fee, this conduct inevitably ruined his reputation as an employable architect. In addition as a result of the Great Depression that followed and the bad critiques of his designs, his career as an architect was done and lead him towards teaching sculpture and managing his real-estate investments until his death.

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