Chicago Sun-Times: Ready for their close-up; Chicago Historic Skyscrapers

“They are domed or stepped back or crenelated, like castle towers. With illuminated clocks or fierce gryphons or flying buttresses. Urns and eagles, ladies liberty and neon signs.

“In Chicago, there is the azure blue of the American Furniture Mart, whose windows seem to float against perfect summer skies. Or the white summit of Mather Tower, a reminder that the top four stories started crumbling and were lopped off, only to have the city eventually force the owner to helicopter in a replacement. The glittering gold crown of the Carbide and Carbon Building.

“Chris Hytha, a 25-year-old Philadelphia photographer, calls them simply ‘Highrises’ on his sleek online project presenting stunning high-resolution photographs stitched together from close-up drone shots of grande dame buildings across the country.

“Imagine if you never saw a building taller than five stories, when the tallest thing you ever saw is a church steeple,’ said his collaborator, historian Mark Houser. ‘This technology was mind-bending.’

“Not just a valentine to lovely old structures, the book is a scholarly attempt to puff off the dust and view them afresh.

“‘I saw each of these buildings as an individual, having its own personality, or character. Each of them are unique, in their materials, range of styles. The details at the top of these buildings was incredible. Details no one gets to see. I saw that as an opportunity to create unique images.’

“‘We don’t appreciate that these iconic buildings were disruptive high technology,” Houser said. ‘They radically changed every city in America, not just Chicago and New York.’

“‘This is new high-tech technology looking at old high-tech technology,’ said Houser.

‘A lot of these oldest iconic landmark skyscrapers have been through a long rough period of near abandonment,’ said Houser. ‘Now people are moving back into downtown. We’re coming to appreciate these buildings again.”

“‘One of the most fun things about architecture school was learning to decode the reasons buildings are the way they are,’ Hytha said. ‘To think about the decisions of the people who constructed them. I’m thinking about 100 years ago, the physical drawing of this facade, coming up with this dream, sending it to the builders, sourcing the stone, figuring out who can carve this eagle. I love stone carved eagles, using the country’s bird on top of your building. To see the hard work it took, the vision and the dream. Nowadays, a lot of new buildings don’t aspire to the same showiness and grandeur. These old buildings have a sense of patriotism and pride of the country, glamor and glitz, to put gold leaf on the roof where no one will see it’ (Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/12/22)

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