The Illusion of Architectural Permanence

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Earlier this month, The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin wrote a thoughtful column about the newspaper's upcoming move from the iconic building bearing its name: The Tribune Tower. He reminds readers about a quote by 19th-century English architecture critic John Ruskin that is featured in the building's lobby floor:

“Therefore when we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred.”

But as Kamin points out, buildings are commodities and the companies that create them rarely stay in them - and he raises the question if the building's new owners can "Change the use but maintain the character."

I often talk about my belief that every building has a story to tell. The Tribune Tower, completed in 1925, speaks volumes. As an example, the tower features carved images of Robin Hood and a howling dog near the main entrance to commemorate the architects, John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood. The top of the tower is designed after the Tour de beurre (″butter tower″) of the Rouen Cathedral in France. But perhaps more fittingly, the historical fragments embedded in the building's facade (collected from sites like The Parthenon and the Berlin Wall) remind us that nothing, in fact, lasts forever.

The newspaper's relocation and the Tribune Tower's conversion to a mixed used development seems to underscore the impermanence of a seemingly permanent structure. But with care and attention, the neo-Gothic structure at 435 N. Michigan will grace the Chicago cityscape for years to come. Like many of Chicago's landmarks, we hope the Tribune Tower has another durable, sustainable chapter in its ongoing story.