rebori on classicism

May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

A major interest of my research is how and why mercantile classicism took over from the so-called “commercial style” that Chicago was so known for around 1900.  While Giedion and others have suggested unshakeable cultural forces–conservative, and inspired by the 1893 World’s Fair–the book will make the argument that there were technical reasons, too, why a massive, solidly-clad skyscraper made sense in 1913, but not in 1900.  The desire was certainly there, but not the means.  In the words of Burnham draftsman (and, eventually, successful architect in his own right), A. N. Rebori:

“It requires…but a casual study of the structural conditions upon which modern construction is dependent, to realize that the laws of Vignola were not drawn to solve such problems as those with which the designer starts out to illustrate them.  Surely the difficulties are not lessened when classical detail is employed, for the moulding and ornaments, increasing with the module of measure, tend to sacrifice the space in the façade that is needed for light and air, which to say the least is a costly procedure.”[i]

The Stewart Building is one example, but a series of banks built between 1899 and 1907 also reveal the tensions between function and style of the era.  Over the next week or so I’ll post some case studies that have been distilled into the book, but that deserve telling in their own right.


[i] A. N. Rebori, “The Work of Burnham & Root, D. H. Burnham, D. H. Burnham & Co., and Graham, Burnham, & Co.” The Architectural Record, Vol. XXXVIII, no. 1.  July, 1915.  66.

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