At once sleekly stylish and splendidly brutish, Chicago's John Hancock Center, which opened in 1969 and was created from plans by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Bruce Graham and the ingenious engineering of Fazlur Khan, remains the culminating totem of a decade of affluent Great Society bravado. That decade ended with America putting a man on the moon, but at a neat 100 stories, "Big John," as Chicagoans affectionately came to call the commercial/residential tower, wasn't much less of a feat in terms of colonizing the heavens. This trim volume is part of Princeton Architectural Press's very cool Building Blocks series on great edifices, which also showcases the Chapel of Ronchamp, Fallingwater, the Seagram Building, the Whitney Museum, and the TWA Terminal, among others. The book combines opening text by Khan's engineer daughter with the incomparable architectural photographer Ezra Stoller's marvelous black-and-white shots of the building, taken both during construction and shortly after the building's opening. Khan provides a concise and charming summary of the major decisions made by Graham and her father (who would collaborate again on 1974's Sears Tower in the same city), such as the Hancock's tapering shaft--which not only makes the building look taller than its 1,127 feet but which also narrowed rentable square-footage with every rising floor--and the famous X-shaped cross-trusses that kicked off a generation of towers with steel bracings built visibly into their curtain walls rather than hidden behind them.
But of course Stoller's photographs are what capture the improbable romance of this rather industrial-looking building: workmen walking the beams of the uncompleted monolith with all the Windy City quivering vertiginously beneath them; a profusion of stunning sidewalk perspectives; the adjoining spiral ramp, hopelessly evocative of Wright's Guggenheim, that residents drove their cars up to get to the sixth- through eighth-floor garages; the coldly chic "state-of-the-art" bank offices with pen sets, typewriters, and ashtrays perched on every desk; and women in minidresses peering out of the enormous windows of their austerely appointed parlors in the sky. America already lost Jack, Bobby, and Dr. King--and inflation, Watergate, and the protracted toll of Vietnam were still a few years off--but for a brief moment, the Hancock seemed to say, right alongside Neil Armstrong, "America, I want to take you higher." A compact valentine to Big John, the book vividly captures that heady, bittersweet moment with great energy and verve. --Timothy Murphy
Each compact volume in this impeccably curated series is devoted to a single, seminal work by a modern master. -- House Beautiful, July 2000
Handsome and well-priced; based on the brilliant photography of Ezra Stoller. -- Interior Design, June 2000