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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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The Chrysler Building
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The Chrysler Building
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The Chanin Building was completed in 1929. The year before, located diagonally across the street, construction began on probably the most famous art-deco skyscraper in New York, the Chrysler Building, a building that, like the Flatiron and the Woolworth buildings, became a romantic iconographic symbol of New York. The building was designed by William Van Allen, a little-known architect, and mostly built by Walter Chrysler. But this was never the headquarters for his company. Chrysler's name was prominently displayed on the building, and it was designed to be so noticeable on the skyline that it would be, like the Woolworth and the Singer buildings before, a nonstop, 24-hour-a-day advertisement for the company. The building is actually quite interesting because it has a very dramatic base and probably the most spectacular top of any office tower ever built, with its shiny stainless-steel surface and its soaring spire. It was designed to be the world's tallest building, which it was for a very brief period. The middle section of the building, however, is not so interesting, but somewhat mundanely done in white brick with white marble trim. So you are supposed to look at the bottom, or at the very top, or at some of the setbacks, including the main setback that has these silver-winged forms, which are the hood ornaments from 1929 Chryslers. If you look very carefully at that setback, you will also notice silver circles—those are the hubcaps of stylized racing cars, sculpted in brick, that race around the building. They were designed to be a marketing tool. You were supposed to look up at these from the street and think very positively of the corporation, then of course go out and buy a Plymouth or a Chrysler.


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