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Skyscraper Gothic Expressionist Architecture

Chicago Tribune Tower. Raymond M. Hood and John Mead Howells, 1922. Woolworth Building, New York. Cass Gilbert, 1911. Mather Tower, Chicago. Herbert Hugh Riddle, 1928
General Electric Building, New York. Cross & Cross , 1939. Barclay-Vesey Building, New York. Ralph Walker of McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin, 1923. American Standard (Radiator) Building, Raymond Hood & André Fouilhoux, 1923.
The Cathedral of Learning, the fantastical Gothic skyscraper at the heart of the University of Pittsburgh. The Cathedral of Learning. Charles Zeller Klauder, 1926-37.  
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State Theatre, Sydney. Henry White and John Eberson, 1929. State Theatre, Sydney. Ceiling detail. Former Sun Building, Sydney. J. Kethel, 1929.

Former Grace Building, Sydney. Morrow & Gordon, 1930. A direct copy of the Chicago Tribune building of 1922.

The skyscraper evolved in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was a response to high urban land values, and it was made feasible by the fireproofed steel structural frame and the elevator. By the early twentieth century the tall office building had become a powerful symbol of corporate prestige. Towers vied to outdo one another in sheer height, and their silhouettes against the sky became very important as they rose above their ground-hugging neighbours. The Woolworth Building in New York was completed in 1913, its 241-metre height accentuated by the insistent verticality of skillfully applied medieval styling. In 1922—23, after a well publicised international architectural competition, the Chicago Tribune newspaper built Raymond Hood’s winning design—a tower topped by a Gothic ‘lantern’ ringed by Gothic ‘buttresses’. The case for Skyscraper Gothic was simple and powerful: Gothic cathedrals soared; skyscrapers soared; therefore the Gothic style was appropriate for skyscrapers. Whether the soaring was towards God or Mammon seemed to matter little.
The Woolworth Building and the Chicago Tribune Tower are among the best known of these medievalised high-rise office blocks, and a close look at them shows that the Gothic detail tends to be spread fairly thinly, with concentrations where the visual impact is most telling. The real influence of these buildings is to be found in the fins and other vertical features of the many Art Deco skyscrapers which had the insistent upward drive of Skyscraper Gothic without its specifically medieval characteristics.
Taking a cue from the 1913 Woolworth Building in New York, many essays in the style used architectural terracotta (faience) as a facing material. Especially popular during the 1930s, terracotta enabled the designer to choose from a wide range of colours. The versatile material enabled complex Gothic shapes to be mass-produced from moulds or cast in special configurations for ‘one-off’ details such as lettering.

Adapted from:
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.