midMOD monday: BG's astor tower
claass HAUS is finally back (and fully recovered) with a new midMOD monday.
Once a high-end hotel catering to America's favorite celebrities (The Beatles, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra), Astor Tower with its elegant modern aesthetic and prime location within Chicago's Gold Coast stood at the center of the city's social scene during the 1960s and 1970s. Designed by (can we say it?) Chicago's favorite architect Bertrand Goldberg, the building is a monument to mid-twentieth-century glamour and luxury, an unexpected modern tower hidden among the city's Art Deco highrises and Italianate mansions. While Mies' Lake Shore Apartments might be the city's most recognizable rectilinear highrise complex, Goldberg's nearby Astor Tower stands as a beacon of modern sophistication.
Completed in 1963, just a few years before Goldberg's formative Marina City, Astor Tower is one of the architect's only projects to combine his innovative poured concrete techniques with a rectilinear style. In many ways a structural prototype for Marina City, the tower is built around a central concrete core containing elevators, stairs, and utilities. In a dramatic visual twist, Goldberg lifts the glass Miesian box five floors above the ground, leaving the concrete core exposed in acknowledgement of its structural role. Poured in place in just three days, the core carries twenty-four floors with the help of slender perimeter columns. Like an "architectural peep show," the building's complex exterior exhibits Goldberg's experimental approach to structure and plan.
Another feature of Astor Tower's distinctive exterior- an unusual adjustable louver system- displays the architect's eagerness to design for the people who inhabited his buildings. Easily controlled by the resident of each room, the louver system provided privacy and shade, while glass panes behind the louvers could be removed for easy maintenance. When used on a large scale, the exterior louvers animated the glass facade, creating a unique patterned effect that Goldberg called “a happening.” Unfortunately, the louver system was removed in the 1990s.
In provocative contrast to Astor Tower's sleek, modern exterior, the architect looked to nineteenth-century Paris to create Maxim's, the hotel's legendary basement restaurant. A place "to see and be seen," the lavish culinary institution, managed by Nancy Goldberg, conjured Edwardian Paris and was a fixture in the Chicago Tribune's society pages. A contradictory blend of French glamour and late twentieth-century minimalism, Astor Tower remains a gleaming artifact of the city's cosmopolitan culture of the 1960s and 1970s. (Maxim's closed during the 1980s.)
Converted from a hotel to condominiums in 1979, Astor Tower still retains much of its modernist energy. At street level its glass entrance situated amongst a grove of slender white columns stands as a reminder of a stylish and sophisticated Chicago, where forward-thinking architects like Bertrand Goldberg challenged the notions of Modernism and the conventions of taste.
You can find more interior photographs of Astor Tower here.
Image at top:
Astor Tower, 1961. Bertrand Goldberg, Associates. Bertrand Goldberg Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2002.3.
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