Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
CTBUH Staff Given Tour of Tribune Tower
December 19, 2014
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CHICAGO – The weekend before Christmas marks a special time at CTBUH headquarters. Each year, the staff is given a guided tour of a local tall building, comprising the main event of the annual holiday party. The subject of this year’s tour was none other than the Tribune Tower, a neo-Gothic icon that has defined the Michigan Avenue streetscape since its completion in 1925. The tour was graciously led by Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, who provided a unique and colorful perspective on the tower and its numerous quirks.

The Tribune Tower was built as a result of a design competition that was held in 1922 by the Chicago Tribune for its new headquarters. This competition was notable for being one of the most successful and lucrative of its time. With a prize of $100,000 (almost $1 million today), the competition attracted 263 entries from 23 countries. “Their goal was fairly modest, and that was to build the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world,” Kamin quipped. The winning design was submitted by American architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, both heavily influenced by the historicist callings of the Beaux-Art movement.
CTBUH staff visits the Tribune Tower
The tour began in the lobby, where travertine marble walls were tastefully adorned with festive holiday décor. The space is also appropriately referred to as “the hall of inscriptions” due to the presence of quotes and adages carved into the walls. These quotes are directly associated with journalism and the quest for truth, embodying the purpose of the building itself: to elevate journalism as a profession. The lobby – restored to its original design in the 1980s – features an ornate guard desk, a large relief map of North America, and a hand-carved stone screen above the entryway that incorporates highly-detailed imagery from Aesop’s fables. At the top of the stone screen, carvings of Robin Hood and a howling dog can be seen, forming a subtle tribute to the building’s architects.
Carved stone screen with imagery from Aesop's fables
Blair Kamin and CTBUH staff admiring the carvings in the lobby
The decorated lobby with inscriptions Original detail of the elevator doors
Next, the group was taken to the tower’s crown on the 25th floor, once a public observatory that has since been repurposed as an event space for the Howells & Hood restaurant occupying the ground floor. Emerging from the elevator core, jaws dropped as the group walked into the open-air space lying beneath the tower’s iconic flying buttresses. Around the perimeter of the tower, a curtain of limestone arches and pinnacles create the illusion of being inside the nave of a Gothic cathedral, but where there is usually a vaulted ceiling, instead there is only sky. The crown provided 360-degree views of the Chicago skyline, made visible through openings in the limestone elements, which were artfully decorated with stone gargoyles and bats.
The Tribune Tower’s iconic flying buttresses
Carved-stone decorations and a view of the Trump Tower
Blair Kamin describing the crown details
View of the open space
Kamin added, “This building is often looked upon as ‘retro,’ but I think you can also look at it as a transformation of tradition, and a very successful one. It isn’t just a literal recasting of Gothic traditions, but a transformation of that tradition to an American program in an American city.”

The final leg of the tour traversed the fourth floor, where the Chicago Tribune’s headquarters are located. There, the group was brought to the editorial board office, a wooden-walled room that harkens back to the building’s original aesthetic. Since completion, the room has been used by the editorial board to meet with important figures. The hexagonal table in the center of the room establishes a neutral hierarchy, ensuring that each voice is given equal weight. The group finished the tour with a birds-eye view of the newsroom, a bustling swath of cubicles, paper stacks, and journalists pushing deadlines – a fitting end to the day’s journey.
Editorial board office The Tribune's newsroom
Detail of the entryway
Antony Wood presents the 2014 Best Tall Buildings book to Blair Kamin as thanks for leading the tour
CTBUH staff and Blair Kamin at the crown level of the Tribune Tower (left to right): Peng Du, Son Dang, Jessica Rinkel, Daniel Safarik, Marshall Gerometta (back), Steven Henry, Jason Gabel, Antony Wood, Blair Kamin, Patti Thurmond, Kristen Dobbins, Carissa Devereux, Marty Carver, Tansri Muliani, William Miranda, Daniel Rong, Lan Phan, Aric Austermann (back), and Liwen Kang.