WILLIAM VAN ALEN, Architect: The Chrysler Building, 1926–1930

The Chrysler Building could only have been constructed in the competitive climate of Manhattan in the 1920s. The American economy was flourishing, and there was not enough office space to go around; urban builders were encouraged to aim high.

In 1926, Walter P. Chrysler, one of the wealthiest men in the automotive industry, entered his bid in the unofficial competition to build the tallest structure in New York City. He wanted an office building exalted enough to symbolize his own astounding ascent in the business world.

Brooklyn-born architect William Van Alen, who had a reputation for progressive, flamboyant design, met Chrysler’s challenge with a seventy-seven-story building, the first in the world to exceed a height of one thousand feet. The Chrysler Building when completed in 1930, surpassed the Eiffel Tower to become the world’s tallest structure.  Almost as important, the Chrysler Building, with its jazzy, Art Deco lines and curves, announced to the world that Midtown Manhattan had arrived.  Today it represents the finest of the Art Deco style and indeed is probably the most beautiful Art Deco building in the world.

The  building has a lot of ornamentation that is based on features that were being used on Chrysler cars of the day. Atop the Chrysler, seven overlapping arches diminish toward the top to create the illusion of a building even taller than it is. The distinctive decoration, a pattern of narrow triangles set in semicircles, has been likened to a sunburst, but it might equally recall the spokes of a wheel. The decorative stainless steel top is basically a series of hubcap-like curves. The spire’s gleaming stainless steel cladding calls to mind the polished chrome of a brand new car.

The gargoyles are actually Chrysler hood ornaments. These stylized American eagle heads protrude from some corners of the building in playful reference to the gargoyles on Gothic cathedrals. Other corners are embellished with the winged forms of a Chrysler radiator cap.

If the exterior ornament enhances the modernity of the skyscraper, the interior was designed to recall the distant past, and positions the Chrysler Building among the wonders of the world. The most spectacular features of the grand lobby are the elevator doors, adorned in brass and marquetry (decorative inlays on a wood base) with the lotus flower motif.

The discovery in 1922 of King Tutankhamen’s tomb had unleashed an enthusiasm for archaic and exotic cultures, and the Chrysler Building was designed at the height of this mania for all things Egyptian. In addition to the lotus decoration, the public rooms display a range of ancient Egyptian motifs intended to suggest the building’s association with the great pyramids of the pharaohs. The paintings on the lobby ceiling record the heroic progress of the tower’s construction, as if the monument to Chrysler had already assumed a place in history equal to that of the Great Pyramids.

The Chrysler Building c. 1926 - 1930, William Van Alen, Architect

To learn more about the Chrysler Building view our March 22, 2011 class PowerPoint.

WILLIAM VAN ALEN The Chrysler Building PowerPoint    – Mrs. S

“Through all eternity to Thee a joyful song I’ll raise; for, oh! eternity’s too short to utter all Thy praise.”  – Joseph Addison

“I will praise You, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.”   Psalm 9:1

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