PRINT September 1980

Better Never than Late: The Late Entries to the Chicago Tribune Competition

THE EXHIBITION ENTITLED “THE LATE Entries to the Chicago Tribune Competition ” which opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art on May 31, 1980, was organized by Rhona Hoffman, of the Young Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, and by architects Stanley Tigerman and Stuart E. Cohen; the idea of the exhibition was suggested by Ben Weese.

Cohen, Tigerman and Weese are in a group of architects who, three years ago, called themselves the “Chicago Seven,” who, “like their political namesakes,” as Cohen stated in his introduction to the catalogue, “have been cast in the role of radicals by Chicago’s architectural Establishment.”1 Unlike the original competition in 1922 which offered $100,000 in prizes, and was open to all architects throughout the world, “Late Entries” was an invitational event. Over 100 architects were invited because Cohen and Tigerman “hoped each architect’s work would represent a point of view or theoretical position,” and thus, “some well-known practitioners were not invited.”2

In 1922, participants were required to furnish plans sections, elevations and one perspective. The “Late Entries” architects were asked to submit a brief description and one drawing, with the same perspective as that used originally in 1922, and the same 30 by 60 inch format. Unlike the first entrants, who were limited to black-and-white on white mounting boards, the “Late Entries” used a variety of materials and colors.

The Tribune competition, thought to represent the contemporaneous state of architecture, has always been regarded as a milestone in the history of American architecture.

The editors of the Chicago Tribune, Colonel Robert R. McCormick and Captain Joseph M. Patterson, who was once a Socialist advocate,3 set the style for the Tribune as early as 1916. Both of these men became known for their isolationist attitudes. In 1916 McCormick wrote an article for the Century magazine called “Ripe for Conquest” in which these attitudes are clearly revealed:

In addition to being the chosen home of those richest Americans who have not sought European domiciles, the Eastern seacoast is the landing-point of foreign immigrants. Immigrants of long standing may have absorbed as much patriotism as the native born, but the newly arrived immigrants are still foreigners in thought and in law. In the event of invasion, thousands upon thousands of them would be legally bound to join the invaders, and none of them would be bound to help defend the country. 4

And Patterson, in his book on foreign policy, The Note Book of a Neutral, published in the same year, stated:

Our duty as Americans is not to the extent of one percent of one per cent to France. Belgium, Germany or foreign humanity. It is to America, it is only to America, all to America, and to America always. 5

Stating that America was inferior in music, literature, theater, painting philosophy. science, municipal government, colony managing patriotism agriculture and social legislation, he continued:

However, a nation that in about a century has invented the steamship, the telegraph, the Ironclad, the revolver, repeating rifle, machine gun, reaper, telephone, incandescent light, arclight, Pullman car, stock yards, Bessemer steel, typewriter skyscraper, submarine, aeroplane trolley car, and moving picture may not be dismissed with contempt. Such a nation is worth saving.6

Back from the war, where both had earned military titles, Colonel McCormick and Captain Patterson found themselves in the midst of prosperity. As the circulation of their family newspaper rapidly increased they began to make further investments, establishing an immensely successful newspaper the New York Daily News, and investing in a mass-appeal weekly, Liberty Magazine. In celebrating the Tribune’s 75th anniversary, they decided to hold an International competition to “design the world’s most beautiful building” for the “Worlds Greatest Newspaper”—a slogan they patented.

The Jury for the competition consisted of only one architect Beaux Arts trained Alfred Granger, who served as Chairman. Holmes Onderdonk. the Tribune Real Estate Manager and Edward S. Beck, the Tribune Managing Editor, along with Patterson and McCormick, comprised the rest of the jury. In order to stimulate interest in the competition the Sunday Tribune weekly featured historic and recent buildings such as the Harkness Tower at Yale by James Gamble Rogers under the heading “Architectural Beauty”:

Here’s a picture of the tower of the Harkness Memorial at Yale. It is a fine architectural achievement. Notice how the continuous vertical lines make the tower seem taller than it really is the eye leaps from height to height with ever increasing gratification. There is no “visual bump” when you come to the top . . . Imagine yourself in the place of the architect chosen to build the Tribune’s new home! The Chicago Tribune would say to you “You are to build the most beautiful building in the world. You can spend all the money you want in order to do it” 7

In addition to the challenge of designing "the most beautiful building in the world, the extremely generous first prize of $50,000 ($226,000 at today’s rate of inflation) offered incentive to 260 competitors, 54 of whom were from 23 foreign countries. Ten American architects were invited to participate tor a guaranteed fee of $2,000.

The rules required participants to respect the structural module and height limitations established by the Tribune. Every architectural style was imposed upon the skeletal structure by the contestants who borrowed freely from the Greeks, Romans, the Middle Ages and Renaissance, often including statuary obelisks, columns, spires and globes. Hugh Garden, William Drummond, and the offices of D.H. Burnham & Company, and Holabird & Roche, architects previously representative of the Midwestern prairie school, failed to express the principles which they had originally developed, and applied the current Beaux Arts style to their designs. Only Walter Burley Griffin, a former Chicagoan, and his brother-in-law, Roy Lippincott, both of whom lived in Australia, attempted to translate their own Midwestern prairie school grammar into high rise design. The influence of the modern movement, begun a decade earlier, could be seen in the work of Walter Gropius and Adolph Meyer, Max Taut, Bruno Taut, Johannes Duiker and B. Bijvoet, several lesser known German and Dutch architects, and a few obscure Americans.

The entry of Gropius and of Meyer (whose design compromised a strong concrete frame with recesses and balconies), and that of Adolph Loos have preoccupied historians for decades. Loos, whose essay “Ornament and Crime,” written in 1908, condemned the use of ornament, submitted a design for a 21-story office tower in the form of a black granite Doric column atop an 11-story base, with a classical entrance, that served as a pedestal for the column. The fact that the building had a double meaning, referring to both tribunal and newspaper columns,8 has allowed historians to re-evaluate the significance of Loos’ concept of using architecture as metaphor.

The results of the competition are well-known. The first prize was awarded to John Mead Howells, one of the ten invited participants, and to Howells’ associate Raymond Hood, whose building now houses the Chicago Tribune’s offices. Howells was the son of the novelist William Dean Howells. who was once regarded as the “most vital literary man in all America,” but was largely considered “old fashioned” 9 by the time of his death in 1921. He was also the nephew of William Rutherford Mead of McKim, Mead & White Howells, his son John, and McCormick were contributors to Century magazine. Though the jury claimed that their selection was made anonymously, a premature decision had been made before the arrival of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s entry, among others. Granger, the one architect on the jury, thought Saarinen deserved first prize, 10 but the jury overruled him.

As soon as the results were announced, rumors were rampant. McCormick was accused of favoritism and false patriotism, and criticized for his refusal to allow a “foreigner” to win the competition.

How the ten invited competitors were chosen has never been made clear. Though all had experience in designing public buildings in the Beaux Arts style, several, including Howells, had never before designed a skyscraper. Realizing that he did not have the time for such a project, Howells invited Hood to join him. Hood’s office executed the drawings and he received one-fifth of the prize money. 11

Saarinen’s entry immediately won the praise of critics and the enlightened public. Louis Sullivan, in the last year of his life, wrote a critique for Architectural Record comparing the first and second prize winners. It was his last attempt to define the point of view that had for a lifetime permeated his thought. He wrote

. . . there remain, for some. two surprises: first, that a Finlander who, in his prior experience, had not occasion to design a soaring office building, should, as one to the manner born, grasped the intricate problem of the lofty steel-framed structure, the significance of its origins, and held the solution unwaveringly in mind, in such wise as no American architect has as yet shown the required depth of thought and steadfastness of purpose to achieve.12

In contrast regarding Hoods winning entry, he wrote:

Confronted by the limpid eye of analysis the first prize trembles and falls, self-confessed, crumbling to the ground. Visibly it is not architecture in the sense herein expounded. Its formula is literary words, words, words. It is an imaginary structure—not imaginative. Starting with false premise, it was doomed to false conclusion, and it is clear enough, moreover, that the conclusion was the real premise, the mental process in reverse of appearance. The predetermination of a huge mass of imaginary masonry at the top very naturally required the appearance of huge imaginary masonry piers reaching up from the ground to give imaginary support. Such weird process of reasoning is curious. It savors of the nursery where children bet imaginary millions.13

To Sullivan, Hood represented the architecture of fashion, Saarinen the architecture of reason. Saarinen’s solution seemed to him a logical progression of the spatial concepts expressed in his article in 1896, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” By comparing the two entries, Sullivan made a case for an architecture without archaic symbolism, related to his beliefs in a democratic and free society.

Few competitions before or since have published the entries and documented the results so thoroughly. The original entries seem beautifully drafted though few of the original drawings survive. For 50 years it has been thought that this volume of reproduced drawings illustrated the state of architecture at the time.

Did the competition truly represent a cross-section of progressive western thought? Did the limitations of “beauty” as seen through the eyes of organizers attract mostly the affluent and successful, leaving out the radical practitioners of the modern movement, who either knew of the conservative climate fostered by the Tribune or could not spend the hundreds, or thousands, of dollars required in order to compete?

For reasons unknown, such architects as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, J.J.P. Oud, Erich Mendelsohn, Richard Neutra, the Russian Constructivists, the French Rationalists and dozens of other European architects did not participate; in the United States Frank Lloyd Wright, Barry Byrne, Irving Pond, William Gray Purcell, George Grant Elmslie, Irving Gill and Richard Schindler also did not enter. They remained uninfluenced by the wave of Beaux Arts popularity, and did not allow their beliefs to be compromised.

By 1922, Mies had designed and published his two glass towers, Le Corbusier had designed his City of Towers, published his book Towards a New Architecture, and the Constructivist and Futurist architects had, five years earlier, designed their radical towers and published their manifestoes. In America, Wright, employed by Louis Sullivan when Sullivan’s first high rises were built, had on his own designed skyscrapers for Chicago and San Francisco, using cantilevers and new materials. Wright, of course, in his autobiography, later expressed disdain for competition. In the end, Patterson and McCormick did not attract those participants who, for five decades, were to make the most profound contributions to architecture. The uninformed and conservative taste of the sponsors conditioned the nature of the entries as well as that of the selection.

THE RESULTS OF THE “LATE ”Late Entries" were determined by the participants’ interpretations of the idea devised by Cohen and Tigerman who, in organizing the exhibition, play the roles of Patterson and McCormick by offering incentives to design an imaginary building which, paradoxically, already exists. Although they required that each entry be rendered from the same perspective as the original Tribune Tower drawing, they did not request the usual plans, cross-sections or stringent building programs necessary to the normal competition or building commission format. The first competition offered an extraordinary monetary reward, Cohen and Tigerman offered exposure. They hoped to present a cross-section of viewpoints but such architects as Robert Venturi, Aldo Rossi, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, James Sterling, Peter Eisenmann, John Hedjuk and others in the mainstream who were most likely invited, did not participate. Cohen summarizes the outcome of the exhibition in the catalogue:

The work is not as substantial architecturally as we had hoped; but then there is no competition, no prize and no real building to be built. It would seem that many of the participants did not take the project seriously enough and that others, including some who declined, may have taken it too seriously. Certainly no one has taken on the rethinking of the skyscraper as a building type in our society. 14

Despite the few limitations imposed, the exhibition did not evoke originality. The general approaches in the 1980 exhibition echo those taken in 1922. Ziggurats, waterfall fronts, curtain walls and spotlights arbitrarily applied to their structures, replace the pinnacles, buttresses and globes of the earlier competition. The drawings reiterate the architectural vocabulary of the recent past as the original referred to a (now) more distant past.

The 1980 exhibition has elicited a range of serious architectural commentary in the form of writing and drawing. Whereas entries of Frank Gehry and Susana Torre are dependent on their written commentary for a clarification of their social implications, Tadao Ando’s drawing, without commentary, aspires to making profound architectonic statements. Frank Gehry accompanies his pencil sketch with the following humorous description:

The building is made of solid concrete and has an eagle on top. Inside the eagle there is a computer that sends out the news. Attached to the sides of the building are wings and a hoist-type ride for people. At the bottom, surrounding the office building.are tents that the people who come to use the ride would set up.

Ando presents a handsome giant 17-story structural grid with square openings, substantially changing our perception of scale, proportion and detail of the traditional skeletal structure.suggesting that perhaps the “box” isn’t dead after all. Susana Torre uses the original 1922 competition as a reference for commentary (as do several other participants). She submits a reproduction of Loos’ design, altering the relationship of base and column. By removing the column from its base and placing it in the background, she accomplishes both a re-evaluation of Laos’ entry and a commentary on the validity of the skyscraper in today’s society. Although Ando and Torre approached the problem offering distinctly different interpretations they are among the few entries to side-step the obvious and begin to suggest that intellectual issues be considered.

Thirteen years earlier, Claes Oldenburg had used the Tribune competition as a humorous point of departure for formal analogy and visual witticism in his drawing for a sculpture, Late Submission to the Chicago Tribune Architectural Competition of 1922, (Colossal Clothespin), 1967. In fact, his “ Proposals for Monuments” have significantly influenced some of the present entries, including drawings of a tommy gun, “classic torso” and of a baby bottle on a Play-skool block.

Architecture as metaphor is not in itself new. Just as Loos’ structure has been interpreted as column (as in newspaper) and base (as in tribunal), one might stretch the play on words further to associate capital with capitalism. In his unsubmitted 1922 entry (cited by three of the essayists in the catalogue), Ludwig Hilberseimer, instead of using steel structure disguised by lavish materials, used factory construction as being characteristic of the working class. The double towers on a single base unified the design, and the undemarcated cellular windows brought daylight and ventilation to each worker. Hilberseimer, symbolizing the ideals of socialism, fulfilled the Tribune’s request for “beauty” by expressing it in the Platonic sense. He was the last Marxist to remain on the faculty of the Bauhaus. He joined his colleagues, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Peterhans in 1938, when together they reorganized the architecture school at the Illinois Institute of Technology which has since fostered a strong rationalist architecture.

The architecture of Loos and Hilberseimer related directly to their political and social thinking. Their use of metaphor can be interpreted as integral parts of their buildings’ structures. They proposed a direction for architecture within its accepted limitations, whereas “Late Entries” architects have ignored its functional nature. Metaphor in the present exhibition is imposed upon the designs of the buildings. Many of these current works succeed as visual commentary on the work of other architects (past or present), but in the process they have lost touch with the realities of architecture.

Tigerman’s catalogue essay polarizes architecture into two camps—the rational, and the historically referential. It states that “On the basis of the work in this exhibition, I challenge the Neo-Rationalists and Neo-Platonists to defend their line that historical referentiality is evil.”15 This polarization disintegrates into a differentiation between “good guys” and “bad guys,” the former representing modern architectural thought and the latter continuing the Beaux Arts tradition. Tigerman says:

The 1922 event represented a watershed in architecture composed of “good guys” and “bad guys.” For some fifty-eight years now the “good guys” have been seen either as the logical descendants of the First Chicago School of Architecture (Gropius, the brothers Taut, Hilberseimer and Duiker) or the descendants of another architectural family tree that spreads from Richardson to Sullivan to Wright and inevitably to Eliel Saarinen. Of course the “bad guys” have always been the 145 American architects whose designs successfully communicated history as valuable to a larger public and not merely to the architectural cognoscenti.16

Tigerman’s “bad guys” are those he would like to have reassessed as “good guys,” as he laments later that:

[The] morality [of Modern Architecture] simultaneously decried the use of history as retardataire and derrière-garde, while it advocated newness and equated it with architectural credibility. The concept that the new equals good has been the root of avant-garde ideology in all the arts.17

Saarinen’s 1922 entry demonstrates that the equation of goodness, newness, and avant-garde, versus badness, the historically referential and retardataire does not function, since his design is not in the so-called “avant-garde” tradition assigned to it by Tigerman. Saarinen’s building begins and ends with Roman arches. It expresses a verticality that does not exist in the expression of the steel frame grid; and, from the transverse section (published in the 1922 catalogue), he created four of the five set-backs by increasing the thickness of the structural beam rather than by stepping back to the structural column—the method used in the more rational solutions, like Bertram Goodhue’s reinforced concrete design and Andrew Rebori’s design—both free of classical restraints. (Neither Goodhue nor Rebori would generally be considered in the “avant-garde” or radical tradition.) Saarinen’s plan and interior elevations are purely classical in detail and Beaux Arts in every respect. What he offered, as most critics of his time realized, was a subtle, graceful and homogeneous design. His highly creative form was not inspired by “the famous Butter Tower in Rouen, France and the Tower of Malines in Belgium,”18 as Hood’s building was said to be, or by any other previous structure.

The concept of “good guys” and “bad guys” eliminates objective thought and objective evaluation. The issue becomes whether good architecture can be produced without being defined as either “avant-garde” or retardataire. Good architecture can be conservative, as, for example, in the work of Goodhue, Rebori, Hood and several of the other 1922 participants, who made significant architectural contributions; or good architecture can be radical as in the work of Gropius and Meyer, Hilberseimer, Max Taut, Bruno Taut, and Bijvoet and Duiker, who were not trained in the Beaux Arts tradition. Their sources are derived from the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, first published in Europe in 1911, as well as the 19th-century European Rationalists.

The belief that the architecture in the original Tribune competition had validity can be attributed to the Beaux Arts system taught in the schools, a system which began to lose its momentum soon after the competition, although it continued until after World War II. Before that war, when the descendants of the European Rationalists emigrated to the United States, an alternative system of teaching supplanted the older one and further questioned the Beaux Arts tradition. With the acceptance of Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, who was hired as the director of Harvard University’s School of Architecture, and of Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus, hired to start the new Department of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Rationalist system gradually won approval. Because of their strong academic influence, Gropius and Mies played a major role in determining the direction taken by architecture in the United States since 1938. With the deaths of these two great teachers, the academic structures which they had created weakened. The recent direction of architecture has come not so much from the curriculum which they developed, but from the influence of historians and critics, who for the most part are not practitioners, and from the architects they helped raise to eminence. The “Late Entries” exhibition reflects this condition.

Although a few of the participants submitted sketches with a note of humor (i.e., Frank Gehry, Peter and Alison Smithson), most of them submitted renderings using techniques associated with architectural presentation. The usual Zip-a-tone, photo-montage, air brush, color pencils, and photostats were employed, often executed by assistants in association with the designer. Consequently, the visual results of the exhibition range from the slickly rendered and commercially appealing, to the simplistic and naive. These outnumbered the few that might be regarded as works of art in their own right.

THE CATALOGUE WHICH ACCOMPANIES the exhibition is printed in two volumes. The first volume is a reduced version of the original 1922 competition catalogue; the second contains the “Late Entries.” In addition to the introduction by Cohen and the essay by Tigerman, critical essays by George Baird, Juan Pablo Bonta, Charles Jencks, Vincent Scully and Norris Kelly Smith have been included. Each of these essayists had access to the 40 entries submitted, prior to the production of the catalogue.

Bonta’s essay, “A Propos The Tribune Projects, 1922 & 1980,” offers the most accurate historic perspective on the past and present exhibitions. After endorsing several participants, he admits:

"My endorsements are personal. As such, they are unlikely to have earth-shattering consequences. unless and until such time as they are shared by a significant number of people. An interpretation that receives collective endorsement . . . becomes a canon that may regulate the opinions of critics and the work of designers for a number of years.19

Scully, although highly critical of the competition results, cannot resist applying verbal gymnastics to his favorite entry “[Helmut Jahn’s] new Tribune seizes, frames, and leaps up, jittering above the old.”20 Jencks, well-known perpetrator of post-Modernism, in his essay, “Post-Modern Classicism and the Emergence of Architectural Humor,” believes “. . . that now Post-Modernism is the reigning approach, Post-Modern Classicism is, perhaps, the new consensus, and tall buildings really can be funny.”21 He concludes: “. . . the direction this competition shows to be emergent, if not yet a consensus, is Post-Modern Classicism.”22 Norris Kelly Smith in his essay, “Crisis in Jerusalem,” says:

A few of the submissions I cannot classify or interpret. Perhaps they are Post-Modern, but I do not yet know what that term refers to, if anything.23

But in resorting back to the 1922 competition he says:

. . . those old-fashioned designs were strikingly handsome and would have made splendid additions to the Chicago skyline—and that is more than I can say for the plethora of Miesian boxes with which that skyline has since been cluttered.24

Referring to photomontages constructed by him specifically for the catalogue, in which the towers of New Jerusalem replace the towers created for the 1922 Tribune competition, Smith says:

The great majority of the Tribune towers from 1922 can pass the acid test. As I have tried to demonstrate, they can take their place within Van Eyck’s heavenly city without seeming to be offensive intruders.25

Like the architects in the “Late Entries” exhibition, the essayists are forced to participate in fantasy, as the exhibition has lost touch with reality in terms of both past and present. To lend validity to the recent exhibition. the importance of the 1922 competition staged by Patterson and McCormick has been inflated out of proportion to its actual significance in the broader history of architectural ideas. This exhibition is symptomatic of the current dilemma in architecture—the emulation of a false past holds false hope for the future.

John Vinci is an instructor of architectural history at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a practicing architect.



1. Stanley Tigerman and Stuart E. Cohen, Chicago Tribune Tower Competition/Late Entries, volume 2 (New York. Rizzoli, 1980), p 7.

2. Ibid., p. 7.

3. Joseph M. Patterson, Little Brother of the Rich. (Upper Saddle River N.J., 1908–1968). According to the introduction to the 1968 edition, signed F.C.S., Patterson was a socialist between the years 1906 and 1909. and even in his “Socialist” phase, was closer to the middle-class, conservative humanism of Scott Fitzgerald than to the utopian, revolutionary viewpoint of Upton Sinclair or Tobenkin."

4. Robert R. McCormick. “Ripe for Conquest.” The Century (April 1916). p. 839.

5. Joseph M Patterson, The Note Book of A Neutral. (New York Duffield & Co . 1916), p. 15.

6. Ibid., p.15

7. Chicago Tribune (August 20, 1922, rotogravure section).

8. Ludwig Müntz and Gustav Künstler, Adolph Loos, Pioneer of Modern
(New York and Washington: Praeger. 1966), p 193, also elaborated upon by Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1977).

9._Edwin H Cody and David L Frazier, War of the Critics Over Howells (Evanston. Ill., Elmsford. N.Y. Row. Paterson & Co., 1962). Introduction.

10. Alfred Granger, Chicago Welcomes You (Chicago: A Kroch, 1933).

11. Henry F. Withey and Elsie Rathburn Withey. Biographical Dictionary of
American Architects (Deceased)
, (Los Angeles Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc
1970), pp 297–298.

12. Louis H. Sullivan, “The Chicago Tribune Competition”. The Architectural
(February 1923). pp. 151–157.

13. Ibid.

14. Tigerman and Cohen. pp 7–8.

15. Ibid., p. 10.

16. Ibid., p.13.

17. Ibid., p. 13.

18. Souvenir of Tribune Tower, booklet (1934, hand dated), p 49.

19. Tigerman and Cohen. p. 98.

20. Ibid., p. 105.

21. Ibid., p.101.

22. Ibid., p. 102.

23. Ibid., p.109.

24. Ibid., p.108.

25. Ibid., p. 108.