Tribune Tower

263 designs were submitted for Chicago's Tribune Tower. They ranged from neo-gothic to outright bizarre. One even planned to top it with a giant Native American head.

Tribune Tower
- © Afshin Taylor Darian

What is Tribune Tower?

The former home of the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Tower is a 463 ft skyscraper in downtown Chicago with a distinctive crown on top. It was built between 1923-5 following an international design competition. Today such contests are commonplace but at the time this was groundbreaking.

Tribune Tower
- © Ryan Derry

The Tribune Tower Contest

The contest was announced in 1922 to mark the Chicago Tribune's 75th anniversary. A first place prize of $50,000 was on offer for whoever could design the 'most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.'

The building itself was to replace the original Tribune Tower, which had been built in 1868 only to be destroyed 3 years later in the Great Chicago Fire.

263 designs were submitted and, although only one could become the new Tribune Tower, many went onto play an influential role in US architecture across the rest of the century. The contest is now seen as a turning point in the artform.

Tribune Tower
- © EyeTunes

The Tribune Tower Designs

The designs ranged from tongue-in-cheek (one was shaped like an over-sized column, a play on words on 'newspaper column'), to the forward-thinking, to the downright bizarre (one was in the shape of a giant Native American).

The eventual winner was the John Mead Howell and Raymond Hood's neo-gothic structure you see today. Many however think runner-up Eliel Saarinen should have claimed first prize. His unbuilt tower has gone on to inspire several similar buildings.

Tribune Tower
- © Jinjian Liang

Howell and Hood's Tribune Tower

Saarinen had to settle for the $20,000 2nd prize cashpot whilst Hood and Howell's building went into production.

This design is most striking for the buttresses around its peak, which form a sort of spiky crown. This is modelled after the 13th century Rouen cathedral.

Other quirks include: sculptures made by Rene Paul Chambellan, three of which are Robin Hood, a howling dog and a frog, in turn symbolising Hood, Howell and Chambellan; and fragments of famous buildings Tribune reporters brought back from around the world. The lower storeys of the tower contain pieces of the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid, the Berlin Wall, Notre Dame, the Parthenon and many more iconic landmarks.

Tribune Tower
- © Anthony Viviano

The Life of Tribune Tower

The tower opened in 1925 and for almost a century served as the base of the Chicago Tribune as well as the associated Tribune Publishing, Tribune Broadcasting and Tribune Media companies. Finally, in 2018, it was sold to a private developer to be converted into condos.

There has been some controversy around this, particularly in regards to whether or not the developer should be able to display the historic Chicago Tribune sign. The Tribune claim it is their intellectual property but the developer say the rights to it were included as part of the deal.

In popular culture, the tower has featured more than once in CSI: NY, as well as in Transformers: the Dark of the Moon, where snipers fired from its windows.

Tribune Tower
- © The West End

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