New York

Raymond Hood

Whitney Museum Of American Art At Philip Morris

For decades the skyscraper has been a keystone in architectural practice, at once defining the scope of its ambition and determining the urban skyline. Architects have measured their aspirations against the yardstick of its forms, finding in them an image of contemporary city life. Among these individuals Raymond M. Hood occupies a central position, for it was Hood who, in 1922, won the competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower, rising from obscurity to the position of the ’20s’ most celebrated skyscraper designer. Over the next decade he was to introduce four buildings that altered mid-Manhattan’s configuration and consolidated the architectural and commercial image of the burgeoning pre-Depression metropolis. He was also to contribute to the theory of the tower’s form and function, both through existing buildings and through his proposals for futuristic towns.

Presented in conjunction with the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, this small exhibition included drawings and photographs from all Hood’s major projects, among them the Tribune Tower, the Daily News Building, the American Radiator Building, the McGraw-Hill Building, and the RCA head-quarters in Rockefeller Center, along with several studies for skyscraper cities. As such, it was a significant study of skyscraper form, showing the evolution of the vertical, uniform shaft over setback, “slab” design. It indicated important ideological transitions, as in the movement from decorative external detail to unifying structural pattern, much as it illustrated, through Hood’s city schemes, the impetus of urban thought. Perceptible throughout was the debate of the time on the tower’s regulating power in future city life, and on the relation of massing, verticality, and “needle” design to traffic patterns and zoning rules. Yet Hood was, most importantly, a commercial architect, operating in business spheres, and it was on the level of corporate presentation, or representation, that this show’s shining lights emerged. For if there were stunning charcoal sketches (as for the Tribune Tower), what were more salient were the blueprints, renderings, and working drawings used to appeal to the client. Hood was a skillful navigator in industrial waters, and in drawings like those for Rockefeller Center, executed by an illustrator in color and naturalistic technique, he commissioned prime examples of corporate suasion. His models, too, were both “comprehensible forms” and studies in proportion and mass, indicating the strategies requisite to the fusion of business and architectural success. Secreted in this diminutive show of some 20-odd drawings and prints, then, was an index to the forces that have shaped metropolitan New York.

Kate Linker